A senior Japanese politician has been forced to apologise after sparking outrage by appearing to condone rape.
Mr Ota said he had meant to add that rape was a serious crime
Seiichi Ota, a lawmaker with the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), said at a debate on Japan's declining birth rate that at least gang rapists had a healthy appetite for sex.
"Gang rape shows the people who do it are still vigorous, and that is OK. I think that might make them close to normal," the former cabinet minister told a symposium.
Female legislators issued a joint statement on Friday condemning the remarks as an insult to all women.
One legal official said he thought the comments showed that Japanese society was too accepting of rape.
Gang rape shows the people who do it are still vigorous, and
that is OK
Mr Ota told reporters on Friday that he deeply regretted the "inappropriate, exaggerated expression" after he was reprimanded by LDP secretary-general Taku Yamasaki.
The remarks came as the veteran politician attributed the country's declining population to a lack of courage among Japanese men to enter into married life, the Mainichi Shimbun reported.
Asked by the debate's moderator whether this explained the behaviour of five college students who were arrested earlier this month for gang raping a peer, Mr Ota said that rape showed a healthy attitude.
"I know I'll get in trouble for saying that, though," he reportedly added.
Later he told the paper that his comments needed to be considered in context.
"If you only took what I said, well of course it would be regarded as extremely careless remark. I wanted to add that rape is a serious crime that should be punished severely, but the topic had changed and I wasn't given the chance to speak any further."
"I think the fact that such comments were reported made
victims... and many women feel unpleasant, so I want to reconsider and express my apologies," he told reporters.
Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi said the remarks were inexcusable.
"He deserves to be criticised. Rape is an atrocious act of cowardice and has nothing to do with virile qualities," the leader told reporters.
"I don't understand why he should make such a comment," he added.
Yasuyuki Takai, vice chairman of the Japan Federation of Bar Association's committee on victim support, said Mr Ota's remarks were indicative of Japanese society's passive attitude to rape, which often goes unreported.
"It shows that in Japan, rape is not thought of enough as an
awful act... Japan's social views against incidents of rape need to be made more strict," Mr Takai told the French news agency AFP.
Prison sentences for rape in Japan range from two to 15 years, but it is unusual for a sentence to be more than five years.