His insensitive remarks meant Hachiro had to go
The administration of Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda started with high approval ratings, only to suffer an immediate setback.
Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Yoshio Hachiro resigned Saturday over careless remarks he made on his recent inspection tour to the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant and the surrounding area.
While the nuclear crisis has yet to be controlled, Hachiro repeatedly made remarks that appeared to ride roughshod over the feelings of those affected. His qualification as the minister in charge of nuclear power policy was cast into doubt.
A chorus of calls for his resignation arose from members of the ruling parties plus members of opposition parties.
His resignation is quite reasonable. Noda himself shares in the blame for having appointed Hachiro as a Cabinet member.
'Here's some radiation'
Accompanying Noda, Hachiro made an inspection tour to the nuclear plant in question and neighboring municipalities Thursday.
After he returned from the tour and was questioned by a reporter at a housing facility for Diet members, Hachiro reportedly gestured as if to press the sleeve of his jacket against the reporter, saying, "Here's some radiation."
"I don't remember exactly what I said," Hachiro explained later. But as a politician who is supposed to prevent radiation-related rumors and misinformation from causing harm, such remarks and behavior are insensitive.
At a press conference Friday morning, he called the areas he visited near the nuclear plant "towns of death." ９日の記者会見では、視察した原発の周辺市町村を「死のまち」と表現した。
Those affected by the crisis must have been dismayed to hear their hometowns called "towns of death" by a member of the Cabinet, which should be doing its utmost to tackle the crisis.
At a press conference later the same day, he apologized for his remark and withdrew it.
Even regarding trade and industrial policies, Hachiro made faltering remarks.
Concerning the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade accord, he said, "It is difficult to reconcile the elimination of tariffs and revitalization of the nation's agriculture," thus showing his backward-looking stance on the issue.
On nuclear power policy, he expressed his view that nuclear plants will, in principle, be eliminated in the long run, showing little understanding of the need for a stable energy supply.
Noda tries damage control
Noda tried to put an early end to the matter, probably because of his judgment that, with an extraordinary Diet session--his administration's first--scheduled to start on Tuesday, he might face a hard time steering Diet proceedings with the opposition raising questions concerning Hachiro's gaffe.
The situation whereby a key minister has resigned just nine days into the job is, indeed, a heavy blow to the Noda administration.
In another resignation related to the Great East Japan Earthquake, Ryu Matsumoto resigned as minister in charge of rebuilding areas ravaged by the March 11 disaster after making offensive remarks in July.
Public distrust in politics thus continues to grow.
In addition to Hachiro's gaffes, inappropriate remarks have been made by members of the Cabinet and the ruling Democratic Party of Japan.
Defense Minister Yasuo Ichikawa has described himself as an "amateur" on national security issues.
Hirofumi Hirano, the DPJ's Diet Affairs Committee chairman, told his opposition party counterparts his idea of not holding a Budget Committee meeting during the extra Diet session, saying, "As the [newly launched] Cabinet remains in an incomplete condition, we cannot properly reply to interpellations."
The Noda administration has many policy issues waiting to be handled, including post-disaster reconstruction efforts, ways to deal with the rapid rise of the yen, and diplomatic issues.
Noda must rebuild his Cabinet quickly and make doubly sure that he is fully prepared to manage the administration.
(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Sept. 11, 2011)