Japan minister resigns over remark about 2011 tsunami

Cheryl Sanders
April 26, 2017

The Japanese cabinet minister overseeing reconstruction of areas devastated by the 2011 tsunami and Fukushima nuclear disaster resigned on Wednesday after saying it was better the disaster struck the northeastern region instead of Tokyo.

During his speech, the Minister said that it was estimated that the disaster has caused losses in social infrastructure worth $226 billion.

Masahiro Imamura plans to submit his resignation to Abe Wednesday morning, national broadcaster NHK said late Tuesday, adding that Abe had already chose to appoint Masayoshi Yoshino, a veteran politician of Abe's ruling party, as his successor.

Imamura was replaced by Masayoshi Yoshino, former deputy environment minister from Fukushima, which was also hit by radiation leaks from a tsunami-hit nuclear power plant.

The ministry was created in 2011 to deal with the reconstruction of the areas affected by the 2011 quake and tsunami, as well as to address issues related to the nuclear accident in Fukushima.

Imamura came under fire after he told a party gathering on Tuesday that it was "a good thing" that the 2011 disaster occurred in northeast Japan.

"If it had been close to the greater Tokyo area, there would have been vast, enormous damage", he said. His tone was strikingly different from the one he displayed during a news conference earlier in the month, when he lashed out at a reporter asking about people who had evacuated voluntarily following the Fukushima nuclear disaster. If it hits places near the Tokyo area, it would have been an unimaginable disaster. They were boycotting Wednesday's parliamentary committee meetings. Abe's administration has suffered from gaffes by minor officials recently, causing some critics to say the government, which faces little viable opposition, is becoming overly complacent.

Abe later referred to public criticism such as that in the Mainichi editorial in his remarks to reporters, saying, "We have to take such views very seriously".

"That came just weeks after the resignation of Shunsuke Mutai, a vice-minister for reconstruction, who had joked last month the "(rubber) boot industry made money" following a deadly typhoon which claimed 19 lives in the northern town of Iwaizumi past year.

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Mr Imamura's predecessor faced allegations he stole female underwear.

A week ago the vice minister of Economy, Trade and Industry, Toshinao Nakagawa, was forced to resign from his position after news broke of an extramarital affair.

Justice Minister Katsutoshi Kaneda has faced criticism over his shaky responses and a lack of expertise in divisive criminal legislation now debated in parliament.

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