State Minister for Okinawa and Northern Territory Affairs Yosuke Tsuruho told reporters on Nov. 10 that he couldn't understand why calling Okinawans "dojin" -- also meaning aborigine -- is being described as discriminatory.
A riot police officer dispatched from Osaka Prefecture hurled the term at people protesting the construction of new U.S. military helipads in Okinawa Prefecture in October.
A number of Japanese dictionaries define "dojin" as a term meaning "aborigine" or "native" as well as a derogatory term for a person leading a primitive life.
Tsuruho said on Nov. 8 that the remarks "cannot be declared discriminatory," and provided an explanation for his position at a House of Councillors Cabinet Committee directors meeting on Nov. 10. While refraining from passing judgment on whether the term "dojin" was itself discriminatory, he said, "It is dangerous for a third party to pass judgment on whether it is a human rights issue."
Tsuruho criticized the heavy-handed approach of the riot police officer as impermissible, but in response to claims that the use of "aborigines" was discriminatory, he said, "A judgment should be made primarily from the viewpoint of the side the words were directed at."
"I can't understand why it's described as a discriminatory remark," he told reporters after the meeting.
Opposition parties have stepped up their criticism of the minister over his comments. In a news conference the same day, Kazuo Shii, leader of the Japanese Communist Party, stated, "He doesn't understand the seriousness of this and is not qualified to be a Cabinet minister. The Abe administration has lapsed into a moral hazard."
Okinawa Gov. Takeshi Onaga criticized Tsuruho's comments in a news conference on Nov. 11.
"The Minister for Okinawa and Northern Territory Affairs should have the deepest interest in Okinawa and be making an effort to promote it, so it's extremely regrettable and deplorable that the words and actions of someone in that position have come to be talked about numerous times," he said.
"We saw some issues causing us to wonder if Mr. Tsuruho's understanding toward Okinawa as the minister in charge was lacking. If the opportunity arises I would like to have a proper talk to him, including about the issue of why there is a minister in charge of Okinawa affairs."