Japanese disaster minister resigns over insensitive remarks


Japanese Prime Minister Noato Kan (C), Yukio Edano, Chief Cabinet Secretary (L) and Ryu Matsumoto, Environment Minister take a moment of silence prior to an emergency disaster measure meeting in Tokyo on April 11, 2011.


Koji Sasahara

After just a week on the job, Japan's minister for disaster reconstruction resigned on Tuesday over insensitive remarks he made during a visit to tsunami-devastated coastal communities.

In another blow to Prime Minister Naoto Kan's embattled government, Ryu Matsumoto, 60, said he would resign amid widespread anger over comments he made in televised meetings with governors of some of the areas hardest hit by the massive March 11 earthquake and tsunami.

The minister threatened to withhold aid from officials who lacked good ideas and scolded another about being late to a meeting during a weekend trip to Miyagi and Iwate prefectures, AFP reported.

Matsumoto told Iwate governor Takuya Tasso that the government "will help areas that offer ideas but will not help those without. I want you to work with that kind of resolve."

In another meeting, he refused to shake hands with Miyagi governor Yoshihiro Murai, who was a few minutes late.

"You came in late. When a guest comes, you have to be here first before you call in your guest to the room," he told the 50-year-old governor.

"The Self Defense Force does that because they understand the young must honor their elders. Do you understand? Work hard," he added.

The AP reported that Matsumoto warned journalists not to report his words, advice that was roundly ignored.

Kan, who is likely to face increased pressure to step down himself, has been under fire over the government's handling of the twin disaster and had appointed Matsumoto in a bid to counter criticism for dithering and poor coordination.

Kan took office just over a year ago and is Japan's fifth leader in four years.

The disaster left more than 22,600 people dead or missing.