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Minister apologetic after resigning for insensitive comment on disaster area

Reconstruction Minister Masahiro Imamura is surrounded by reporters after submitting his resignation, at the prime minister's office on April 26, 2017. (Mainichi)

Reconstruction Minister Masahiro Imamura remained apologetic on April 26 upon his resignation a day after he said it was "a good thing" the March 2011 quake and tsunami struck northeastern Japan rather than Tokyo. His tone was strikingly different from the one he displayed during a news conference earlier in the month, when he lashed out at a reporter asking about people who had evacuated voluntarily following the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

Imamura entered the prime minister's office at about 9:30 a.m. on April 26, dressed in a dark suit and navy colored tie, with a tired expression on his face. When a reporter asked him, "Are you going to report your resignation (to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe)?" he remained silent.

Appearing before reporters again following a roughly 10-minute meeting, Imamura stated, "I'm sorry for the trouble I caused to everyone in the Tohoku area," bowing deeply. He said that Abe had accepted his resignation.

In a news conference on April 4 Imamura had angrily yelled at a reporter who asked him about people who had evacuated voluntarily following the outbreak of the disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant. But on April 26 he was profusely apologetic, and as he left, he lowered his head again, saying, "Sorry for the trouble I've caused."

During the April 4 news conference Imamura remarked that voluntarily evacuees were themselves responsible for being unable to return to areas hit by the Fukushima nuclear disaster. After this the Reconstruction Agency received some 200 critical emails. Hundreds of phone calls complaining about his remarks were also made. More criticism is expected after his latest comment.

One worker at the Reconstruction Agency who had to deal with the backlash appeared fed up.

"Why couldn't the top reconstruction official be a little more careful with his remarks?" the worker asked.

There has been a stream of verbal blunders by Cabinet members who should be leading the way in siding with disaster areas. Commenting on the ongoing replacement of Tokyo reconstruction officials, one former Reconstruction Agency worker said, "From the perspective of the continuity of work, it's difficult and causes problems. People in disaster areas may get the impression that the government is making light of its response to them."

On April 26, a House of Councillors committee was expected to vote on a revision to a law on special measures for Fukushima reconstruction and revitalization covering the use of state funds for decontamination work, but the vote was called off. The delay caused by Imamura's resignation comes in spite of the government's stated policy to help the disaster areas recover as soon as possible.

"This can only be described as regrettable," a Reconstruction Agency official said.

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