Minister Resigns In Japan After Controversial Comments
Japan’s minister in charge of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics stepped down on Wednesday after comments seen as hurtful to survivors of the 2011 tsunami, the latest in a series of gaffes.
Yoshitaka Sakurada’s resignation comes less than 500 days before Tokyo hosts the Summer Games, and follows a decision by the head of Japan’s Olympic Committee to step down as French authorities investigate him.
Sakurada “requested to resign after he hurt the feelings of victims” of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told reporters. “And I accepted it.”
“I deeply apologise for his remark to the people in the disaster-hit areas,” the prime minister added, saying he accepted responsibility for having appointed Sakurada as minister.
The resignation comes after Sakurada made comments at a political gathering to the effect that a lawmaker from the disaster-hit region was more important than the recovery of the area, according to the public broadcaster NHK.
The March 2011 tsunami, triggered by a massive undersea quake, killed around 18,000 people and swamped the Fukushima nuclear plant, sending its reactors into meltdown and leading to the world’s worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl.
More than 50,000 people have not returned to their home towns and Japan has dubbed the 2020 Games the “Reconstruction Olympics” in a bid to showcase recovery in affected regions.
NHK reported that Abe had decided to reappoint a previous Olympics minister, Shunichi Suzuki, to replace Sakurada.
The resignation comes after a string of gaffes that had already raised questions about Sakurada’s suitability for the post of Olympics minister, which he held in addition to a portfolio for cybersecurity.
In February, he was forced to apologise after suggesting that the leukaemia diagnosis of star Japanese swimmer Rikako Ikee could dampen enthusiasm for the 2020 Games.
The shock announcement of 18-year-old Ikee’s diagnosis had prompted an outpouring of support in Japan, but Sakurada came under fire after responding to the news by saying: “She is a potential gold medallist… I’m really disappointed.”
“When one person leads, she can boost the whole team. I am slightly worried that this type of excitement could wane,” he said.
After a backlash, he sought to clarify his stance and admitted his comments had “lacked consideration.”
But they were hardly the first time he had become a lightning rod.
Despite serving as minister for cybersecurity, he has admitted that he “does not use computers,” sparking widespread ridicule.
And in 2016, he sparked anger when he described the women forced to work in military brothels for Japan’s wartime troops as “professional prostitutes.”
Sakurada’s resignation comes only a month after the head of Japan’s Olympic Committee Tsunekazu Takeda announced he would step down from his position in June.
That decision came after it was revealed that Takeda was the subject of French investigations involving payments made before Tokyo was awarded the 2020 Summer Games.
Takeda also stepped down from the International Olympic Committee, after French authorities said they believed they had evidence of corruption in the awarding of the 2020 Games.
Takeda has denied any wrongdoing and said his decision to step down was related to a desire to pass the role on to a younger generation.