National / Politics

Japanese government facing mounting criticism over initial response to Typhoon Faxai

JIJI

The government is facing mounting criticism over its allegedly insufficient initial response to a recent powerful typhoon that left tens of thousands of households without electricity in Chiba Prefecture.

“A political vacuum” was created as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe reshuffled his Cabinet on Sept. 11, two days after Typhoon Faxai made landfall, some critics claim.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga rebutted the criticism at a news conference Wednesday.

“We’ve been dealing with the typhoon promptly and appropriately since before its landing,” the top government spokesman said.

On the prolonged power outages still crippling many areas in Chiba, he said that the government has taken “all possible measures,” although it needs to examine its initial response.

At a news conference on Tuesday, Suga said that a cross-ministerial disaster response task force comprising working-level officials held five meetings after Typhoon Faxai’s landfall, stressing that there was no flaw in the Abe administration’s response.

Still, questions remain over the government’s reaction to the disaster. The typhoon made landfall near the city of Chiba shortly before 5 a.m. on Sept. 9. The cross-ministerial task force didn’t hold its first meeting until 2:30 p.m. on Sept. 10, about 33 hours after the storm made landfall.

In comparison, when Typhoon Krosa, the 10th named storm this year, crossed the Chugoku region in western Honshu in August, the government held two meetings of relevant ministers before and after the typhoon landed.

This time, however, the government has yet to hold such a meeting.

As Abe reshuffled his Cabinet on Sept. 11, the government was preoccupied with relevant events on the day, such as an attestation ceremony for ministers of the new Cabinet and their inaugural news conferences.

The working-level task force held its second meeting on Typhoon Faxai last Thursday, a day after the Cabinet shake-up and two days after the first meeting.

Relevant ministers, including disaster management minister Ryota Takeda, visited typhoon-hit areas in Chiba on Thursday, three days after the typhoon hit.

Meanwhile, Suga has criticized Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc. for failing to present accurate information about when the power outages in Chiba would be resolved.

Tepco has been under fire for repeatedly changing its power restoration outlooks and failing to promptly confirm damage to its power grid system in affected areas.

But the government also fell behind in its response to the disaster, a senior administration official said.

Opposition parties are slamming the Abe government for its response. Former Prime Minister Naoto Kan, a member of the major opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, said on Twitter: “Abe had been busy with the Cabinet reshuffle, and it’s clear that the administration’s initial response was slow. So he bears great responsibility.”

Members of Abe’s new Cabinet were “dressed in tailcoats and in a mood of celebration, leaving bureaucrats to take disaster countermeasures,” CDP Secretary-General Tetsuro Fukuyama told reporters, suggesting that the party will examine the series of government responses to the typhoon.

In a bid to defend itself, the government is making efforts to highlight its support for the disaster areas.

At a ministerial meeting on Tuesday, participants reported that 290,000 servings of food, 240,000 bottled beverages and 190,000 tarpaulins have been sent to affected areas.

Abe urged the ministers to “make all efforts to fully resolve the power outages as early as possible.”