Tokyo Tidbit: Minister Calls Tsunami Victims ‘Idiots’

The new ministers just can’t keep their mouths under control—that’s the problem with the cabinet of Prime Minister, Yoshihiko Noda, himself in office only since September 1. This time it was Tatsuo Hirano, ironically the Minister for Disaster Management, who issued the latest gaffe by calling tsunami victims “idiots.”

Hirano was in Fukushima prefecture to inspect the area and later attended a meeting in Nihonmatsu with his Democratic Party colleagues. He is from Iwate prefecture, part of which was destroyed by the tsunami that followed the Great East Japan Earthquake, and so he was recounting stories he’d heard from his high school classmates.

Apparently, a group of 20 – 30 people fled to an area that had been high enough during the previous tsunami, thinking they’d be safe there—rather than seeking higher ground. The whole group was swallowed up. And he added, “Then there were idiots like my old classmate who didn’t even try to escape. He is gone now.”

What grated the most was the relaxed, practically amused tone with which he used the word baka (idiot) while talking about people who’d perished under horrible circumstances (video of his remarks in Japanese).

The opposition Liberal Democratic Party slammed him when reports about it began to circulate on TV, and he was forced to apologize. But the media’s treatment of him was relatively timid, compared to the ruckus they’d raised in July when his predecessor, Ryū Matsumoto, made remarks that were deemed arrogant and offensive—he was forced to resign after less than two weeks in office; and Hirano was promoted into the slot. More recently, there were these gems:

“A town of death,” is what the new trade minister, Yoshio Hachiro, called the vicinity of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant on September 8 after his visit to the no-go zone. The remark, though truthful, was criticized as insensitive to residents of the area who didn’t know if they’d ever be able to return home. A wave of apologies seemed to settle the problem. But then it was revealed that he also made a gesture of rubbing the sleeve of his protective coat against a reporter as if trying to contaminate him, jokingly saying, “Here’s the radiation.” He was forced out after nine days in office.

“I am an amateur on security issues,” said Defense Minister, Yasuo Ichikawa, to the press on his first day on the job in early September. And then he tried to rationalize his comment. “But that’s what you call real civilian control.”

“That remark itself warrants his dismissal,” retorted Shigeru Ishiba, former Defense Minister when the LDP was in power. But Ichikawa got to keep his job.

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