Sen. Ernest F. Hollings' "joke" about Hiroshima and Nagasaki drew angry responses Wednesday from survivors of the atomic bombings, but Japanese officials sought to play down the controversy.
The South Carolina Democrat's remarks come amid severe Japanese-American tensions, brought on by long-term trade problems and recent remarks by Japanese officials that Americans are lazy and lack a work ethnic.
Hollings told a group of workers in his home state Monday that they "should draw a mushroom cloud and put under it: 'Made in America by lazy and illiterate Americans and tested in Japan.' "
He called his remark a joke and said his point was to criticize the recent Japanese comments about American work habits.
On Tuesday, Hollings expressed anger that the remark had turned into a controversy, telling a reporter outside the Senate chamber that he was glad he made the comment.
"I come through here with important stuff, day in and day out, for 25 years and you all stop me with this bull----. Good God!" Hollings was quoted as saying in The State newspaper of Columbia, S.C. "I'm glad I said it, glad I said it."
In Japan, most evening newspapers Wednesday carried reports of Hollings' remarks, though generally on page 2. Japan Broadcasting Corp. (NHK), the public TV network, also carried reports on the issue through the evening.
An article in Yomiuri, Japan's largest-circulation newspaper, carried the headline: "Is (the U.S.) Countering the 'Laziness Remark' With an Atomic Bomb!? Senator Makes an Irrelevant Statement."
A leader of a group of Japanese survivors of the World War II atomic bombings that took thousands of lives in the two cities had harsher words.
"This kind of remark cannot be permissible to the people of a nation that suffered the world's first atomic bombing," said Yoshio Saito, acting director of the Japan Confederation of Atomic and Hydrogen Bomb Sufferers.
"The use of a mushroom cloud and making bashing comments are two issues of quite different dimension," he said by telephone.
In an apparent attempt to prevent the senator's remarks from fueling the war of words that has strained U.S.-Japan relations, Foreign Ministry spokesman Sadaaki Numata said Hollings' comment was not worthy of an official response.
"One could comment on the taste of it, but that's all I need to say," Numata said in a telephone interview.
Chief government spokesman Koichi Kato said Wednesday that he does not think Hollings was speaking for most Americans and added: "A joke that uses the atom bomb cannot be said to be a good joke," Kyodo News Service reported.