Outspoken Japan mayor cancels US trip after "comfort women" fiasco

TOKYO (AFP) - The outspoken mayor of Japan's Osaka city said he had cancelled a trip to the United States after sparking a furore by saying "comfort women" played a "necessary" wartime role.

Toru Hashimoto, the joint leader of the national Japan Restoration Party, had been set to visit San Francisco and New York to meet local politicians and businessmen starting from June 10.

But he told reporters on Tuesday that the trip was off.

"Travelling to the United States under the present circumstances will not bring any merit and will cause difficulties for local people," he said.

Mr Hashimoto prompted outrage at home and abroad by suggesting that battle-stressed soldiers needed the services of up to 200,000 sex slaves from Korea, China, the Philippines and elsewhere, who were forcibly drafted into Japanese brothels during World War II.

The US denounced his remarks as "outrageous and offensive", while countries across Asia responded similarly and many at home sought to distance themselves from the comments.

Seeking to contain the fallout from his remarks, the lawyer-turned-politician said on Monday that Tokyo should apologise to former comfort women for past wrongdoing. But he still insisted that Japan's wartime soldiers were not unique in brutalising women.

He also retracted advice he gave to US military commanders in Japan, urging them to allow their troops to use the country's licensed sex businesses as part of what he called a crime reduction strategy.