Matsumoto rips Tohoku governors

Reconstruction czar angers region with inflammatory remarks

by Natsuko Fukue

Staff Writer

High-handed remarks by newly appointed Tohoku reconstruction minister Ryu Matsumoto rocked the political world Monday, inflaming the opposition and inflicting another headache upon the ailing Cabinet of Prime Minister Naoto Kan.

Opposition lawmakers said they might call on Matsumoto to resign after he chastized the governors of Miyagi and Iwate prefectures, and also seemed to threaten reporters on Sunday.

“You should form a consensus within the prefecture, OK? Otherwise, we won’t do anything (to help). Understand?” Matsumoto said to Miyagi Gov. Yoshihiro Murai in an abrasive meeting that has already seen local TV footage make its way to YouTube.

Matsumoto initially appeared irritated because he had to wait a few minutes before meeting Murai. When the governor entered the room smiling, Matsumoto refused to shake hands and insisted that it was the governor who should have been waiting.

“When a guest is coming, you should enter the room first and then call the guest, right? You damn well should do that.

“Someone from the Self-Defense Forces would do that if they understood how seniority works. Understand?” Matsumoto said. Murai was an SDF helicopter pilot before becoming a politician.

Speaking to reporters in the room, Matsumoto added: “The last words I said are off the record. OK with everybody? If (anyone writes) about this, that will be the end of that firm.”

“(The remarks) are eccentric and horrible. They’re nothing but offensive,” said Ichiro Aisawa, Diet affairs chief of the Liberal Democratic Party, the main opposition force. “Depending on developments, Prime Minister Kan might have to dismiss him from his post,” he said.

On Sunday, Matsumoto, who was antidisaster minister before becoming reconstruction minister, also acted haughtily with Iwate Gov. Takuya Tasso Sunday: “I’m from Kyushu. I don’t know which Tohoku city belongs to which prefecture.

“(Since the March 11 quake), I’ve been absent-minded, but everybody has done a good job,’” the ex-disaster minister reportedly said.

A day after the remarks, Matsumoto held a news conference in Tokyo on Monday afternoon to apologize to the survivors of the disasters in the Tohoku region.