"Some say it is useful to compare the brothels to college cafeterias run by private companies, who recruit their own staff, procure foodstuffs and set prices," he said.
"Where there's demand, business crops up," he said.
Women's rights activists in the Philippines denounced Mr Abe's denial.Mr Abe visited both countries during his first month in office and received what aides describe as a private lecture from South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun on the importance of acknowledging past crimes.But Mr Abe comes from the conservative flanks of the ruling LDP, part of a new generation of politicians calling for more assertive nationalist politics.As a rising politician, he also questioned the validity of the Tokyo war crimes tribunal.He muted those views after becoming Prime Minister last September."But to say women were forced by the Japanese military into service is off the mark.This issue must be reconsidered, based on truth, for the sake of Japanese honour." Historians believe about 200,000 women Koreans, Chinese, Taiwanese and Filipinos, as well as Japanese, Dutch and other Europeans were forced to serve in Japanese military brothels.In Japan, in keeping with a recent trend to revise wartime history, about 120 legislators from the governing Liberal Democratic Party want Mr Abe to alter the apology, which has become a pillar of Japanese diplomacy and a litmus test of its sincerity about atonement for war crimes.The legislators say there is no evidence the military coerced women.But critics inside and outside Japan contend that the move is an insidious attempt to chip away at the international consensus over its guilt and war crimes.The issue is awkward for Mr Abe, who must balance the demands of his conservative base with Japan's national interest that requires better relations with China and South Korea, both of which nurse raw wounds from Japanese occupation.