“It is clear from my overall remarks that I regard Hitler in extremely negative terms, and it’s clear that his motives were also wrong,” Aso said in a statement, adding that he did not intend to defend Hitler, but to stress the importance of politicians achieving results.
“It was inappropriate that I cited Hitler as an example and I would like to retract that.”
The Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Centre, which monitors anti-semitic activities, voiced “distress and disappointment” at the comments.
“This is just the latest of a troubling list of ‘misstatements’ and are downright dangerous,” the centre’s head, rabbi Abraham Cooper, said in a statement.
It is not the first time the gaffe-prone Aso has made controversial remarks about the Nazis.
In 2013, he came under pressure to resign after suggesting that Japan should follow the Nazis’ example when considering how to change its constitution.
Criticising the lack of support among older people for revising Japan’s postwar pacifist constitution, Aso said it could learn from how the Nazi party changed Germany’s constitution by stealth before the second world war.
Since revising Japan’s constitution could trigger protests, Aso suggested “doing it quietly, just as in one day the Weimar constitution changed to the Nazi constitution without anyone realising it. Why don’t we learn from that sort of tactic?”
He later retracted the comments but refused to resign.
His comments came soon after another public figure in Japan attracted criticism for voicing admiration for the Nazis.
Earlier this week, the Simon Wiesenthal Centre said it had called for an investigation into Katsuya Takasu, a well-known plastic surgeon and TV celebrity, who highlighted the Nazis’ contribution to science and medicine, and appeared to deny the Holocaust.
The centre asked the American Academy of Plastic Surgeons to expel Takasu, whose posts, according to Cooper, “violate all norms of decency and reveal a person who is a racist anti-Semite and outright lover of Nazism”.
The academy said it took the allegations against Takasu seriously and was investigating Takasu’s comments.
Takasu posted the tweets in 2015 but they recently generated a huge response on social media after a Japanese blogger translated them into English.
After saying he had learned “how great Nazism was” while studying at Kiel University in Germany, Takasu wrote: “There is no doubt that the Jews were persecuted. But we only know it from hearsay and all of it is based on information from the Allies.”