Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Yoshio Hachiro's infelicitous remark and gesture about radiation have sparked calls for his resignation among the ruling and opposition parties.
"Here's some radiation," Hachiro allegedly said Thursday evening, gesturing as if to press the sleeve of his jacket against a reporter after returning from his inspection tour to areas around the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.
His remark and gesture have sparked a controversy within the ruling Democratic Party of Japan over whether he should stay in Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda's Cabinet.
According to members of the ruling coalition parties, such behavior is inappropriate for a Cabinet minister in charge of nuclear power plants, and is bound to spark calls for his resignation.
About the incident, Hachiro explained to the press Friday evening, "Actually, I wanted to talk about the disaster-hit areas, as there were many reporters whom I know well."
"I don't think I said anything like that [such as contaminating someone with radiation]," he added.
Prior to the latest trouble, Hachiro said at a press conference Friday morning: "I saw not a single person [in areas around the nuclear plant]. They were literally towns of death."
He withdrew the remark and apologized at a press conference in the afternoon.
"It was an expression that might lead to misunderstanding among the disaster victims," Hachiro said. "I sincerely regret it, withdraw the comment and deeply apologize for that."
While an increasing number of DPJ members have been discussing the possibility of Hachiro's resignation, senior officials of the opposition Liberal Democratic Party have begun calling on Noda to dismiss him outright.
"I know of the news report [about Hachiro]," Noda told reporters Saturday while on a visit to inspect the tsunami-hit city of Kesennuma, Miyagi Prefecture. "Since I want to know his real intention, I'll meet him as soon as possible."
Noda was to return to Tokyo later Saturday, while Hachiro was scheduled to visit a plant in Sagamihara, Kanagawa Prefecture, in the afternoon. Thus, a meeting between them may not occur until Saturday evening at the earliest.
Meanwhile, Hachiro apologized over the remark and gesture on Saturday afternoon in a dormitory building for House of Representatives members in Tokyo's Akasaka district.
"If I upset people in Fukushima Prefecture [who are victims of the nuclear disaster] and made them lose faith in the government, I want to apologize," Hachiro said.
However, Hachiro also said: "I want to work hard as far as I can. I'll consult [the prime minister on whether to resign]."
About his remark and gesture Thursday evening, Hachiro said, "I just made a little feint [toward a reporter], and I did never catch his arm. I might have done something like that."
Criticism against Hachiro was mounting in the DPJ.
Seiji Maehara, chairman of the DPJ Policy Research Committee, told reporters in Tokyo on Saturday morning: "If it's true, it's a very serious problem. It's important to explain his real intention by the end of today."
Former Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Tetsuro Fukuyama said on a TBS program Saturday: "The remark was improper. There may be various debates from now on." He suggested the problem may develop into a controversy over whether Hachiro can stay in the post.
Shigeru Ishiba, chairman of the LDP Policy Research Council, told reporters in Tokyo on Saturday, "Unless he resigns or Prime Minister Noda dismisses him, nothing can move [in the next extraordinary Diet session]."
(Sep. 11, 2011)