A flippant reference to the North Korean missile crisis backfired on a senior official in the Hiroshima prefectural government, who was swiftly reprimanded by his superiors for his “extremely inappropriate metaphor.”

Go Tanaka, head of the department of health care and cancer countermeasures, caused offense with the words, “Hiroshima Prefecture’s demographic structure would remain the same unless North Korea landed a missile in the prefecture.”

“His comment lacerates atomic bomb survivors’ feelings,” was the withering response from one of Tanaka’s fellow senior officials.

Tanaka made the comment in an attempt to outline the prefecture’s current demographic bind of a dwindling birthrate and aging population at a lecture on health-care administration in Hiroshima attended by medical experts.

The prefectural government is particularly sensitive to war-related issues in general, given that Hiroshima suffered the world’s first atomic bombing during World War II.

Tanaka explained: “I meant to convey that the demographic structure would not alter unless war or a major catastrophe occurred.”

Tanaka is on loan to the prefectural government from the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare.

Officials in Shimane, Hiroshima and Kochi prefectures scrambled to prepare for possible contingencies in August after North Korea warned that its ballistic missiles would fly over the prefectures before falling in waters around Guam, home to U.S. naval and air force bases.

Instead of the U.S. territory, North Korea’s missile landed in the Pacific far away from the eastern coast of Hokkaido, Japan’s northernmost main island, on Aug. 29.

Tanaka is not the only official to discover the pitfalls of using less-than-sensitive language on a subject that tends to ignite tensions.

Referring to Pyongyang’s earlier warning, Wataru Takeshita, chairman of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s General Council, told a gathering of local LDP leaders in Hiroshima on Sept. 3 that he had been puzzled by the mention of Shimane Prefecture.

“Our reaction was, ‘What?’” said Takeshita, who represents a Lower House constituency in Shimane Prefecture. “There are many people in Hiroshima Prefecture. But that is not the case with Shimane Prefecture. It would be meaningless to drop a missile there.”

Hiroshima Prefecture is ranked 12th among Japan’s 47 prefectures in terms of population, according to the latest census in 2015. Shimane Prefecture is 46th.

Challenged by reporters about the appropriateness of his remarks, Takeshita said he disagreed and would not retract them.