Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori came under fire Wednesday for skipping a reception the night before hosted by Norway’s visiting King Harald V, only to later dine at a sushi restaurant with his LDP colleagues.

“I recognize nothing controversial about it,” Mori told reporters at his Official Residence, saying that he skipped the king’s reception because of a backache.

“You guys do not listen to anybody and are just being selfish,” he said, lashing out against the media coverage of the issue.

Mori’s dining decision was criticized by opposition leaders and members of the ruling bloc. Takenori Kanzaki, chief of New Komeito, one of the LDP’s coalition partners, said he wished Mori had attended “because it was a public event” hosted by the visiting King and attended by the Emperor.

Yukio Hatoyama, leader of the opposition Democratic Party of Japan, said Mori does not understand the importance of diplomacy. Hatoyama said Mori “does not act like a prime minister,” adding that it seemed his faction dinner was more important to him than the King’s reception.

According to Mori’s itinerary, released by the Cabinet Secretariat on Tuesday, the prime minister was originally scheduled to attend the reception. His cancellation was announced around 6 p.m.

Mori told reporters Wednesday that he decided to skip the reception at the Government Guesthouse in Akasaka because he might not have been able to make it to an appointment with an acupuncturist at 8 p.m. “It would have been impolite if I had to leave the reception halfway,” he said.

He then went out for sushi with junior members of his faction “because they had offered to buy me dinner.”

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda insisted Mori’s action was not problematic, stressing that the Emperor, not the prime minister, was the main guest.

“First of all, it was a decision made by Norway to invite the Emperor (in return for the dinner party the Emperor hosted Monday for the King),” Fukuda said.

“I assume the prime minister decided not to go given that he had already met the King as many as three times the day before,” he added.

On Monday, Mori hosted a welcome ceremony for King Harald V in the morning, held a luncheon at the Prime Minister’s Official Residence and attended a dinner hosted by the Emperor.

“If there are people in the media who are trying to deliberately tarnish (Mori’s) image, things can always turn out that way,” Fukuda said. “I expect the media to report neutrally and try to always understand the circumstances.”

Meanwhile, Foreign Ministry Press Secretary Norio Hattori said Mori’s decision is not impolite in terms of protocol because Mori had properly notified the King of his nonattendance.

“It is not uncommon (for a prime minister) not to attend such a reception . . . we have had the same kind of experience at our embassies abroad,” Hattori said.

He added that it was up to Mori to decide whether to attend the reception and that the Foreign Ministry had no say on the matter.

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