Japan mayor mounts lengthy sex slave comment defence

The combative mayor of Osaka took on Japan's foreign press corps Monday in a nearly three-hour defence of his comments on wartime sex slaves.

Toru Hashimoto again insisted Japan's soldiers were not uniquely guilty in their widely-condemned "comfort women" system, claiming systemic trafficking for sexual purposes by armies around the world.

Hashimoto drew ire earlier this month after suggesting the approximately 200,000 women from Korea, China, the Philippines and elsewhere who were forcibly drafted into brothels during World War II played a "necessary" role in maintaining discipline.

Under questioning from journalists at the Foreign Correspondents' Club in Tokyo, he stepped back from that assertion, but pressed his point that Japan was not alone.

"(Sexual violation) existed in the armed forces of the United States, Britain, France, Germany and the former Soviet Union among others during World War II," Hashimoto said.

The abrasive mayor said many militaries worldwide relied on businessmen to operate wartime brothels where trafficked women were often forced to provide sex for their soldiers.

"I believe there were some forms of human trafficking at such local facilities operated by the private sector and used by the US and British militaries during World War II," Hashimoto said.

Hashimoto offered no proof of his assertions and there is no mainstream evidence that other modern militaries have employed a formal sex slavery system.

Like many on the right of Japanese politics, Hashimoto has questioned whether there was direct state or military involvement in the running of "comfort stations".

"From a historical viewpoint, it is unclear if Japan, as a national policy, carried out abduction or human trafficking," he said.

But, he added, it was immaterial and did not lessen the wrong.

"In terms of human traffic, there is no difference between facilities operated with the military involvement of Japan and similar facilities run by the private sector," he added. "Both were bad."

Newspaper polls have shown an overwhelming majority of the Japanese public thought Hashimoto's earlier comments on "comfort women" were "inappropriate".

The press conference was well-attended by foreign media, and also attracted a goodly share of Japanese journalists wanting to write stories on how news outlets abroad had covered Hashimoto's colourful sideshow of recent weeks.

The lawyer-turned-politician, who co-leads the national Japan Restoration Party, used the occasion to retract advice he gave to US military commanders in Japan urging them to allow their charges to use the country's licensed sex businesses.

He said his comments, which provoked scorn from the Pentagon, had been intended to help reduce crimes committed by service personnel in Okinawa, which has a large US military presence.

But, he accepted, they had been misjudged.

"I retract my inappropriate remarks to the US Army and the American people and sincerely apologise to them," he said.