TOKYO (AFP) - Two newly promoted Japanese politicians moved on Monday to distance themselves from allegations of extremism after pictures emerged of them posing alongside the leader of a domestic neo-Nazi party.
Minister Sanae Takaichi and party policy chief Tomomi Inada are seen in separate photographs next to Mr Kazunari Yamada on the home page of the National Socialist Japanese Workers Party.
The pictures will add fuel to claims that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is increasingly surrounding himself with people on the right of Japanese politics.
Mr Yamada's blog postings indicate admiration for Adolf Hitler and praise for the 2001 attack on the World Trade Centre. In video footage posted on the website, Mr Yamada is seen wearing a stylised swastika during street demonstrations.
Captions for the photographs claim they were taken "sometime in June or July 2011 when (Mr Yamada) visited the conservative lawmakers for talks".
Spokesmen for both senior lawmakers acknowledged on Monday that the photographs were genuine and had been taken in their offices over the last few years, but denied there was any political affiliation.
"He was an assistant for an interviewer, and was taking notes and photos," a member of staff at Ms Takaichi's office told AFP, referring to Mr Yamada.
"We had no idea who he was back then, but he requested a snap shot with her. (The minister) wouldn't refuse such requests." Following media enquiries, the office has asked that the pictures be removed, he said.
"It was careless of us," he said, adding that Ms Takaichi did not share Mr Yamada's view "at all... it is a nuisance".
A staffer at Ms Inada's office said the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) policy chief did not subscribe to Nazi ideology.
"It is disappointing if there are people who would misunderstand that she does," he said.
Mr Abe has courted criticism for his strident nationalism and views on history that some find unpalatable.
In particular his unwillingness to condemn Imperial Japan's behaviour up to and during World War II has proved a sticking point in international relations.
His equivocations about the formalised system of sex slavery - known euphemistically as "comfort women" - has particularly irked South Korea and China, and both regularly call on him to re-think his views.
Mr Abe's new 18-strong Cabinet, announced last week, includes a number of people with hawkish views.
Ms Takaichi and Ms Inada have both visited Yasukuni Shrine, the supposed repository of the souls of Japan's war dead, including a number of convicted war criminals. The shrine is seen in Asia as a symbol of Japan's lack of repentance for the war.
Mr Yamada's website can be visited at: http://nsjap.com/jp/index.html oh/hg/as/st Japan-politics-extremism