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New Cabinet minister Esaki admits little knowledge of issues in portfolio

Minister of State for Okinawa and Northern Territories Affairs Tetsuma Esaki (Mainichi)

ICHINOMIYA, Aichi -- Newly named Minister of State for Okinawa and Northern Territories Affairs Tetsuma Esaki told reporters on Aug. 5 that he has scant knowledge of the Northern Territories issue and would simply read out answers prepared by bureaucrats on the topic during Diet debate.

Esaki described himself as an "amateur" when it comes to Japan's dispute with Russia over the Northern Territories, a group of four islands off Hokkaido.

"I don't know much about the problem, so I will have to study. I will carefully read the documents written by bureaucrats," Esaki said. His comments are expected to spark opposition criticism for disrespecting Diet proceedings and being ignorant about his post.

The House of Representatives lawmaker from the Aichi No. 10 constituency took up his new portfolio in the Aug. 3 Cabinet shuffle. At his office in Aichi Prefecture on Aug. 5, the 73-year-old Esaki explained that he had first firmly declined Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's request to become the state minister for Okinawan and northern territorial affairs, adding, "I'm not getting any younger, and the position appeared to weigh heavily on me."

In a similar case, then Minister of Justice in the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ)-led government Minoru Yanagida was ousted from his post after stating in November 2010 that one "only has to remember two phrases (for Diet sessions): 'I will abstain from answering questions about individual cases,' and 'I am working appropriately based on the law and the evidence.'"

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