TOKYO (AP) - Japan's Deputy Prime Minister has described the country as the only one in the world with a single race, language and 2,000-year-old monarchy, sparking criticism that he was ignoring an indigenous ethnic group and Japanese racial diversity.
Mr Taro Aso, who is also Finance Minister and one of most influential lawmakers in Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's government, has made a series of remarks in the past deemed insensitive and discriminatory.
"No other country but this one has lasted for as long as 2,000 years with one language, one ethnic group and one dynasty," Mr Aso said in a speech on Monday (Jan 13).
Mr Aso, 79, apologised on Tuesday, saying he meant to say Japan has survived a long time without experiencing any major migrations or occupation by other ethnic groups.
Indigenous Ainu people have lived in what is now northern Japan for thousands of years and were officially recognised by a law enacted last year to protect and promote their culture.
Japan also has 2.7 million foreign residents, more than 2 per cent of its total population of 126 million, according to government statistics.
That includes more than 400,000 ethnic Koreans, many of whom came voluntarily or forcibly to Japan during its 1910-1945 colonial rule of the Korean peninsula, and about 360,000 Koreans who have been naturalised.
International couples comprised more than 3 per cent of the marriages in 2017. Last year, Japan relaxed visa requirements to allow more foreign workers to make up for a declining workforce in a nation with an ageing and falling population.
In his speech on Monday, Mr Aso also praised Japan's success in last year's Rugby World Cup and noted its ethnically diverse team.
Japan became "one team" while maintaining its own culture and language, Mr Aso said, stressing the importance of having a clear sense of Japanese identity as the country competes internationally in sports and in other ways.
Last year, Mr Aso blamed the elderly and childless for Japan's ageing and declining population.
In 2018, he defended a top bureaucrat in his finance ministry against sexual harassment allegations.
He was also criticised for comments interpreted as defending Adolf Hitler's motives for the killing of Jews by Nazi Germany.