Disaster reconstruction minister Ryu Matsumoto at a press conference on Tuesday
Disaster reconstruction minister Ryu Matsumoto resigned Tuesday after serving only nine days in the newly created post, following his controversial remarks that angered people affected by the Great East Japan Earthquake.
Prime Minister Naoto Kan on Tuesday appointed Senior Vice Minister Tatsuo Hirano to succeed Matsumoto in the post.
Matsumoto, 60, told Kan on Tuesday of his intention to step down from the post, as well as another post as state minister for disaster management. Kan initially tried to persuade Matsumoto to stay on, but finally accepted the resignation.
On Sunday, Matsumoto visited the governors of Iwate and Miyagi prefectures for discussions on disaster reconstruction and said the government "will help [local governments] that come up with ideas, but will not help those without them." The comment annoyed the Miyagi governor and angered people in the afflicted areas.
As the resignation is expected to negatively impact reconstruction efforts, opposition parties will likely hold Kan accountable for the appointment by mounting further pressure on him to resign.
Matsumoto met Kan before Tuesday's ministerial meeting, saying: "Regardless of what I meant to say, my comments hurt the feelings of those affected by the earthquake. And my actions may cause trouble for the current Diet session and the Cabinet.
"This [my staying on as minister] would have a negative impact on reconstruction, which should be carried out as soon as possible," Matsumoto added.
Kan said at a ministers' informal meeting, "I accepted his resignation because [Matsumoto] had such a strong will."
After talking with Kan, Matsumoto held a press conference at the Cabinet Office.
"I felt that I was siding with those affected by the disaster, but I sincerely apologize for my lack of tact. It was inappropriate that my words came out so short and rough," he said.
During Sunday's visit to the devastated prefectures, Matsumoto told Iwate Gov. Takuya Tasso, "I'm from Kyushu and don't know which cities belong to which prefectures...It'll become a wisdom battle. We'll help [local governments] that come up with ideas, but will not help those without them. I want [local governments] to face the issues with firm determination," he said.
Matsumoto also met Miyagi Gov. Yoshihiro Murai to discuss the prefecture's project to eventually consolidate a number of fishing ports.
"You're talking about the idea of reducing the number of ports to one-third or one-fifth [of the previous level], but get the consensus in the prefecture already. Otherwise, we won't help with your project," Matsumoto said.
When he met Murai, Matsumoto appeared angry after having to wait for a few minutes in the governor's reception room.
Matsumoto told Murai: "When a guest comes, you have to be present and then invite the guest. You get that? That's common sense in the Self-Defense Forces, where the relationship of seniority is understood.
"What I've just said is off the record. If you [media] write this in a paper, that media is out," Matsumoto added.
When asked why he resigned, Matsumoto told reporters that it was "due to personal reasons."
His reconstruction efforts, Matsumoto said, "'Kicked off' in Iwate Prefecture and reached 'full-time' on Sunday."
"I still hate those ruling and opposition parties, but I want them to team up to tackle reconstruction," Matsumoto said.
In response to Matsumoto's resignation, Kan first asked Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshito Sengoku on Tuesday morning to fill the post, but he declined.
Hirano, 57, who was elected from Iwate Prefecture, was appointed Tuesday afternoon.
Matsumoto joined the Cabinet for the first time as environment minister and state minister for disaster management when Kan reshuffled his Cabinet in September.
On June 27, Matsumoto assumed the new disaster reconstruction minister post while still serving as a disaster management minister. He was also vice chief of the government's reconstruction implementation headquarters.
(Jul. 6, 2011)