Hata to go full throttle on Yanba Dam


Staff Writer

New infrastructure minister Yuichiro Hata plans to pick up where his predecessor left off and to controversially proceed with the stop-start Yanba Dam project in Gunma Prefecture.

“There is no change in policy” over the dam, Hata said during a group interview with media outlets Wednesday.

“I will continue drawing up a river development plan” necessary for resuming construction “in an appropriate way, taking various considerations into account,” he said.

Hata was appointed land, infrastructure, transport and tourism minister Monday, when Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda reshuffled his Cabinet.

The ruling Democratic Party of Japan pledged to halt the decades-long Yanba Dam project during the 2009 general election, slamming it as a symbol of wasteful public works spending. After coming to power, former infrastructure minister Seiji Maehara suspended work on the dam the same year.

But Hata’s predecessor, Takeshi Maeda, announced in December the project would restart, arguing it is necessary to prevent flooding and other disasters in the volcanic area. It was one of a number of controversial public works projects that were initially frozen but later restarted by Maeda.

Hata said he plans to continue them, including granting approval to build new shinkansen lines in Hokkaido, Kyushu and the Hokuriku region, but stressed he has no intention of hiking public works expenditures.

“Under (the current) harsh economic climate, I’m not thinking of increasing” such spending, Hata said. “I plan to proceed only with vital infrastructure” projects.

On the plunging number of overseas visitors due to the nuclear crisis, Hata, who will oversee the tourism sector in his new post, said the ministry must move to quash harmful rumors about the disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 plant.

The total of foreign travelers plummeted amid the nuclear crisis, dropping a staggering 62.5 percent in April 2011 compared with the year before, according to the Japan Tourism Agency. Although numbers have gradually started to pick up again, they have yet to reach predisaster levels.

“The first thing we need to do is to eliminate damage from misinformation. . . . I hope overseas travelers will come to realize how safe Japan is” and that unfounded concerns about visiting the country will ease, the new minister said.

Hata, the eldest son of former Prime Minister Tsutomu Hata, entered politics in 1997 as a secretary to his father. He won a seat in the Upper House on the DPJ ticket two years later, and is currently in his third term.

He has served as the ruling party’s chief negotiator on parliamentary proceedings in the House of Councilors, and is known to have a close relationship with DPJ Secretary General Azuma Koshiishi.

Hata majored in childhood studies at Tamagawa University in Tokyo. He is a qualified nursery school teacher and during his college days toured the country staging puppet shows with a troupe of fellow students.