The agency for K-Pop superstars BTS apologised Wednesday for members wearing a T-shirt depicting the explosion of an atom bomb and a hat with a Nazi emblem.
Japanese TV broadcasters recently cancelled planned appearances by the band in that country after images went viral of the musician wearing the shirt. The South Korean band ran into more troubles after news broke out that another member wore a hat featuring a Nazi symbol in a magazine photo book and band members flew flags with what appeared to be the Nazi swastika during a concert in the past.
"We would like to again offer our sincerest apologies to anyone who has suffered pain, distress and discomfort due to our shortcomings and oversight in ensuring that these matters receive our most careful attention," the band's agency, the Big Hit Entertainment, said in a statement.
The T-shirt portrayed an atomic bombing juxtaposed with the celebration of Korea's 1945 liberation from Japan at the end of the World War II. The United States dropped atom bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki before Tokyo's surrender.
Before its division into North and South Korea after the liberation, the Korean Peninsula was colonised by Japan from 1910-1945. Many in both Koreas still harbour strong resentment against the Japanese colonial masters. But in South Korea, it's extremely rare for anyone to publicly celebrate or mock the atomic bombings. The US atomic attacks killed more than 200,000. According to South Korean experts, about 50,000 of the dead were Koreans, many forcefully mobilised as labourers by the Japanese.
The BTS's agency said the A-bomb shirt's wearing was "in no way intentional" and that it wasn't designed to "injure or make light of those affected by the use of atomic weapons." It said it still apologises for "failing to take the precautions that could have prevented the wearing of such clothing by our artist."
Regarding the hat furore, it said all apparel and accessories used for the photo book were provided by a media company involved in its publication. It said the flags in question were aimed at symbolising South Korea's restrictively uniform and authoritarian educational systems, not the Nazism.
"We will carefully examine and review not only these issues but all activities involving Big Hit and our artists based on a firm understanding of diverse social, historical and cultural considerations to ensure that we never cause any injury, pain or distress to anyone," the agency statement said.
The Simon Wiesenthal Center, a Jewish rights organisation which had condemned BTS over the issues, said it welcomes the apology issued by the band's agency.
Here's how people have reacted in Japan:
"The outrageous incidents reveal a basic lack of knowledge of history's darkest chapters that endangers the future of younger generations," said Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean at the US-based centre. "We are reaching out to BTS and their management to urge that they harness their international fame to celebrate the good not serve the forces of evil."
The seven-member band, which has a worldwide following, is the first South Korean artists in May to top the Billboard 200 albums chart with Love Yourself: Tear. The band began its Japan tour earlier this week.
South Korean K-Pop and movie stars are extremely popular in Japan and other Asian countries.