TOKYO (AFP) - South Korean soldiers were guilty of abusing women in wartime, Osaka's mayor said in comments reported on Tuesday, days after provoking a storm by labelling sex slaves a military necessity.
In a remark likely to fuel outrage and further stoke tensions in an already uneasy relationship, Mr Toru Hashimoto said the South Korean military used women for sex to keep servicemen's frustration in check in Vietnam.
Sex slavery is a particularly sensitive issue in Korea, whose people made up a large number of the around 200,000 "comfort women" forcibly drafted into brothels catering to the Japanese military during World War II.
Mr Hashimoto said last week these women served a "necessary" role keeping battle-stressed soldiers in line, setting off a volley of criticism from places that came under Japan's yoke in the 1930s and 1940s, as well as from the US.
In the days since his original comments, Mr Hashimoto, the co-leader of the national Japan Restoration Party, has continued to fan the flames with each new pronouncement.
"Japan was bad," he told a party meeting on Monday, the Asahi Shimbun reported.
"It is true that we used women to solve the problem of sex on the battlefield.
"Having said that, America, Britain, Germany and France, and even the South Korean military in Vietnam after WWII, they all used women to address the issue.
"Japan was bad, but you all should face up to the history. This is what Japanese politicians must say," the Asahi quoted him as saying.
Under military strongman Park Chung Hee, the father of current President Park Geun Hye, South Korea deployed more than 300,000 soldiers to Vietnam in the 1960s and 1970s to support US forces.
There is no mainstream evidence that any modern military, other than Japan's up to and during World War II, employed any system of sexual slavery.
Two surveys carried out over the weekend showed few Japanese approved of Mr Hashimoto's opinion, despite regular foreign criticism that the Japanese public has still failed to come to terms with the country's bellicose past.
Mr Hashimoto's political ally and party co-leader, Shintaro Ishihara - who also is known for his nationalistic views - reportedly advised his younger colleague to stop Tweeting.
The octogenarian, who rose to prominence as a novelist and essayist, said the 140-character format was not long enough for a proper explanation of a position.
But Mr Hashimoto, who has more than a million followers, rejected the criticism, saying Twitter is "an important tool to convey views", Daily Sports and Sports Hochi tabloids said.