Osaka mayor Toru Hashimoto apologized Friday for making unsavory comments earlier this month about Japanese "comfort women," who were forced into prostitution at military brothels during World War II.
The Japanese mayor was scheduled to meet two former comfort women, but the South Korean women cancelled last-minute with fears of becoming enwrapped in a political issue that has divided Tokyo and Seoul for years, the AFP reported.
"It is a shame that I couldn't meet them," Hashimoto said at a press conference. "I wanted to tell them I am sorry for this misunderstanding. I hurt them with my words so it's natural that I want to apologize."
Earlier in May, Hashimoto said that wartime comfort women were "necessary" to ease high-strung soldiers and maintain military discipline.
The Japanese military is historically known for its involvement in the sex slave industry, especially in Korea, a former Japanese colony that was forced to contribute over 200,000 comfort women to the Japanese military in the 1930s and 1940s.
Before the South Korean women were scheduled to meet with Hashimoto, supporters of the former comfort women expressed apprehension over the possibility that the women might be exploited as political pawns.
They also were worried that Hashimoto would not revoke his comments.
"He has to retract his past comments if he wants to apologize and make us believe it is genuine," said supporter Pang Chung-Ja.
Hashimoto did, in fact, make a public statement of his regret. He said his original comments were misunderstood.
"I happen to have used the word 'necessity,' but it doesn't mean I personally meant it was necessary," he said. "I mean that it is a historical truth that soldiers were using women. Was it not necessary for them?"
Since Hashimoto said those fateful words earlier this month, Japan's national image has been further compromised by controversial commentary.
Co-leader to Hashimoto's Japanese Restoration Party Shingo Nishimura got booted from his position in the political party when he made more jokes about South Korean prostitutes in Japan just a few days after Hashimoto made his comfort women comments.