Photo/IllutrationLower House member Hodaka Maruyama, center, apologizes to Japanese visitors to Kunashiri during lunch on May 12. (Pool)

  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion

A Lower House member is under fire for making a drunken comment invoking the specter of war to former residents of the disputed Northern Territories during their visit to one of the islands.

Hodaka Maruyama, a member of Nippon Ishin (Japan Innovation Party), made the comment on the evening of May 11 at a friendship center on the island of Kunashiri, according to reporters accompanying the group.

Maruyama approached the leader of the former residents, who were on a four-day trip, and bellowed, "Are you in favor of or opposed to going to war to take back this island?"

When Koyata Otsuka, 89, said he opposed war, Maruyama said, "Nothing will be accomplished unless we go to war."

Maruyama, who was drunk at the time, continued the discussion in a loud voice and even attempted to leave the facility, which would have been against the rules.

Kunashiri is one of the four islands comprising the Northern Territories that were occupied by the Soviet Union in the waning days of World War II. The islands continue to be a contentious issue between Japan and Russia.

However, the latest visit was allowed without the issuance of visas as a step toward encouraging exchanges between people of the two nations.

The group of former residents raised a protest over the comment on May 12. When the group returned to Nemuro Port in Hokkaido the following day, Maruyama told reporters he was only trying to gauge the thinking of the group's leader.

Maruyama was part of a delegation that visited Kunashiri because he is a member of a special committee in the Lower House looking into issues related to the Northern Territories as well as Okinawa.

The ensuing media uproar led Maruyama to express regret over the incident before reporters on May 13 after returning to Tokyo. "I deeply apologize for the comment and would like to retract it," he said.

Meanwhile, Ichiro Matsui, the Osaka mayor who heads Nippon Ishin, said Maruyama's comment was uncalled for and apologized to those who were offended.

Matsui said the party would encourage Maruyama to resign.

For his part, Maruyama submitted a document on May 14 saying he was leaving Nippon Ishin. However, the party refused to accept it and instead expelled Maruyama.

(This article was compiled from reports by Masami Ono and Takashi Narazaki.)