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West Japan mayor meets PM aide after 3,300-yen mask remarks ignite 'rip-off' claims

Izumiotsu Mayor Kenichi Minamide is seen responding to reporters' questions while wearing a cloth mask during his visit to the prime minister's office, in Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo, on April 22, 2020. (Mainichi/Kan Takeuchi)

TOKYO -- In an effort to quell a controversy of its own making, the central government met on April 22 with the mayor of a western Japan city which produces masks that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe appeared to criticize as expensive during a recent press conference.

On April 17, the prime minister lashed out at an Asahi Shimbun daily journalist who asked a question that referred to public derision of the government's plans to distribute two free masks to every household in the country. Abe caused a stir by responding forcefully, saying, "I'm aware that your company's online shopping site was also selling cloth masks for 3,300 yen a pair."

In an apparent attempt to avert some of the fallout caused by the comments, Kenichi Minamide, mayor of Izumiotsu, Osaka Prefecture, met face-to-face with Special Advisor to the Prime Minister Minoru Kihara at the prime minister's office on April 22. There, Kihara stated that Abe wished to convey that his comments were "in no way saying that they (the masks) were expensive, but rather that they were products with value."

Minamide also used the meeting as an opportunity to promote Izumiotsu's well known textiles industry. In his message, Prime Minister Abe said about the city's masks, "I recognize that they represent Japan's skill at producing goods. Let's work hard together."

Both the meeting and the comments conveyed seem to have been triggered by a hail of social media criticism of Izumiotsu's masks following Abe's remarks at the April 17 news conference, with some Twitter users calling the products "a rip-off." After the meeting, Minamide told reporters, "An exchange between the prime minister and the media has led to unexpected consequences for Izumiotsu, so I came here to meet Mr. Kihara and convey the truth."

Minamide also sold Kihara some of the cloth masks handmade and traded in the city and neighboring areas, and said, "I hope that the prime minister will try them on for us." Kihara reportedly replied, "I will convey the message fully to the prime minister. Please allow me to hand them over to him."

Minamide furthermore said during the post-meeting media scrum, "There was a discussion (at the April 17 press conference) which progressed in a mistaken direction, but my thinking and that of the prime minister are the same."

(Japanese original by Tadashi Sano, Political News Department)

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