Japan's Finance Minister Taro Aso at a G7 summit of finance ministers on May 12, 2017 in Italy.
ALBERTO PIZZOLI/AFP/AFP/Getty Images
Japan's Finance Minister Taro Aso at a G7 summit of finance ministers on May 12, 2017 in Italy.

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Taro Aso has a history of controversial public statements involving Nazis

The problem is omnipresent in Japan, Holocaust research organization says

Tokyo CNN —  

One of Japan’s top leaders has apologized for making controversial remarks about Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany.

Taro Aso, the country’s finance minister and deputy prime minister, cited Hitler in a speech when discussing motives for entering politics.

“I won’t ask you about the motive (of becoming a politician). What’s important is a result. Hitler, who killed millions of people, was no good even if his motive was right,” Aso told a group of political trainees Tuesday.

A day later, Aso apologized in a statement posted to the Finance Ministry’s website.

“My intention was to point out that what matters most for politicians is to bring the best results,” said Aso, who has previously held the position of prime minister. “I mentioned Hitler as an example of bad politician … his motives were definitely wrong as a matter of course. My quotation about Hitler was inappropriate, and I would like to take it back.”

Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (left) and Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso (right) attend a budget dommittee meeting in parliament on July 25.
KAZUHIRO NOGI/AFP/AFP/Getty Images
Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (left) and Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso (right) attend a budget dommittee meeting in parliament on July 25.

Aso has a history of making public gaffes and inappropriate remarks, including previous references to Nazis.

During the contentious 2013 debate on whether to amend Japan’s pacifist constitution, which was written after World War II, Aso suggested that the country could learn from the way Nazi Germany revised the country’s Weimar Constitution.

He later retracted the comments but refused to apologize for them or resign, saying they had been taken out of context.

That same year, he also suggested people on life support should “die quickly” to save the country money. He later said he was expressing a personal view that he would feel guilty if his life was prolonged on the government’s dime.

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“This is just the latest of a troubling list of ‘misstatements’ and are downright dangerous,” Rabbi Abraham Cooper, the director of global social action for the Simon Wiesenthal Center, said in a statement.

“These words damage Japan’s reputation at the very time when all Americans want to show their solidarity with Japan, our sister democracy and ally, following the missile launch from Kim Jong Un’s North Korea.”

’Something fundamentally missing’

The casual use of Nazi comparisons, imagery and paraphernalia is a problem in Japan and much of Asia.

Sony Music had to apologize last year after Japanese girl band Keyakizaka46 wore black capes and hats similar to the SS uniform during a stage performance.

Rabbi Cooper, who says Sony flew him to Japan in the aftermath of the Keyakizaka46 incident, told CNN he believes the issue boils down to better education, not implicit bias.

“These continued incidents that come out from the elites are troubling – we can only point it out but can’t resolve it,” Cooper said, pointing also to a case in July when a Bank of Japan official reportedly praised Hitler’s economic policies. He later apologized.

“There is something fundamentally missing and lacking. It definitely impacts Japan’s good name.”

Cooper said he met with Aso shortly after his 2013 comments and did not believe the man was anti-Semitic.

“I found someone who was ignorant but not someone who was an enemy,” he said. Cooper declined to discuss specifics about their conversation.