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Industry minister resigns after Fukushima remark

Industry minister resigns after Fukushima remark

Yoshio Hachiro resigned as trade minister late Saturday. (Kyodo News/Associated Press photo)

Trade Minister Yoshio Hachiro resigned after just eight days in office over a remark he made about radiation contamination at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant.

While touring the plant and its vicinity nearly six months after the disaster struck Thursday, Hachiro said: “Unfortunately, there was not a soul in sight in the streets of the surrounding towns and villages. It literally resembled a town of death.” Hachiro also reportedly rubbed his jacket on a journalist and said, “I will infect you with radiation,” in a joking manner. He denied the latter report, however.

Hachiro was strongly criticized for the “town of death” (in Japanese, “shi no machi”) comment, prompting apologies from Hachiro and newly appointed Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, and an abrupt resignation from Hachiro late Saturday. This was a strong blow to Noda’s fledgling government. Noda came into office barely a week earlier with a relatively strong approval rating of 60 percent.

While some might have found Hachiro’s comment blunt or tactless, I don’t think his comment was offensive. I think Hachiro’s mistake was telling it like it is, rather than sugarcoating the truth. Granted, many people who evacuated the vicinity of the plant are eager to return to their homes, and they don’t want to hear a top minister saying anything to bring their hopes down. But I don’t think his comments were particularly insensitive.

I also think its telling that the loudest criticisms came from the opposition Liberal Democratic Party. LDP Secretary General Nobuteru Ishihara (son of controversial Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara) said, “The prime minister should be held responsible for the appointment in a cabinet which he claims to have the right people in the right positions.”

Mainstream media sources are focusing mainly on the partisan bickering and political fallout from Hachiro’s comment, rather than the actual feelings of the Fukushima evacuees themselves. While nearly all media outlets claim Fukushima residents were “angered” by Hachiro’s remark, I have yet to see or hear one quote expressing this anger from an actual Fukushima resident.

I think the backlash against Hachiro’s comment was mainly opportunistic opposition tactics from the LDP. Constant childish opposition from the LDP was a hindrance to both Yukio Hatoyama’s and Naoto Kan’s administrations, and it appears the LDP is starting early on Noda. The foreign policy implication here is that these opposition tactics may hamper the new prime minister, leading to yet another change at the top within a year. World leaders grow weary of the constant revolving door of Japan’s top ministers.

Noda appointed Yukio Edano, chief cabinet secretary under previous prime minister Naoto Kan, to replace Hachiro. Edano is highly regarded in Japan for giving tireless press conferences in the days and weeks following the March 11 quake and tsunami.



Dustin Dye

Dustin Dye is the author of the YAKUZA DYNASTY series, available through the Amazon Kindle.

He lived in Okayama, Japan, where he taught English at a junior high school through the Japan Exchange and Teaching Program for three years. He is a graduate from the University of Kansas, where he received a bachelor's degree in anthropology.

His interest in Japan began in elementary school after seeing Godzilla fight Ghidorah, the three-headed monster. But it wasn't until he discovered Akira Kurosawa's films through their spaghetti Western remakes that he truly became fascinated in the people and culture of Japan.

He lives in Kansas with his wife, daughter and guinea pig.

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