National / Politics

Defense Minister Taro Kono apologizes for 'rain man' joke as Japan reels from typhoons

Kyodo

Defense Minister Taro Kono apologized Tuesday for joking about his “rain man” moniker at a time when Japan is reeling from the impact of multiple typhoons in recent months.

“I would like to apologize to all those to whom I caused offense,” he told an Upper House committee on foreign and defense affairs, referencing the comment he made at a fundraiser on Monday.

“I was often called ‘ame-otoko‘ by local residents,” Kono joked in his address at the event, using a term meaning a man who seems to attract rain wherever he goes. “Since I became defense minister, there have already been three typhoons.”

While explaining himself to the Diet committee, the former foreign minister said his intention had been to bring attention to “the Self-Defense Forces’ efforts (to support disaster-hit areas) and the necessity to improve their working conditions.”

Kono, who was appointed defense minister on Sept. 11, said he had spoken with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and apologized for causing offense, a government source said.

The death toll from Typhoon Hagibis, which ripped through a wide area of the country this month, stands at 87. The storm cut off electricity and water supplies, caused mudslides and flooded tens of thousands of homes.

His apology came on the same day education minister Koichi Hagiuda retracted a comment critics had said advocated educational policies that discriminated against disadvantaged families.

On a TV program Thursday, when asked about private-sector English tests set to be introduced as part of entrance exams, Haguida said that students should compete for university places “in accordance with their (financial) standing.”

Students will be able to take English tests provided by private organizations and submit those scores as part of the university admissions system from the next fiscal year.

But as the tests cannot be sat nationwide, some students in rural areas may have to travel a long way to test centers or be left with fewer opportunities to take such tests compared to those in urban areas.

Abe apologized for the remarks made by both politicians during his meeting Tuesday with Natsuo Yamaguchi, who leads Komeito, the junior partner in the ruling coalition with Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party.

The prime minister said he would “ensure discipline (among ministers) going forward,” Yamaguchi told reporters after the meeting.

The remarks drew criticism across party lines, from opposition lawmakers as well as members of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party.

“Each Cabinet member must be self-aware and make an effort to secure people’s trust,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters at a news conference Tuesday.

Environment Minister Shinjiro Koizumi told reporters, “A politician must refrain from doing things that cause pain to victims in disaster-hit areas.”

Toshihiro Nikai, the LDP’s secretary general, also said that lawmakers need to avoid saying or doing things that invite criticism.

Opposition parties piled in regarding the two ministers’ comments, with Yuichiro Tamaki, who heads the Democratic Party for the People, calling Kono’s remarks “thoughtless.”

Yukio Edano, the leader of the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, said Hagiuda’s comment suggested the education minister was implying the entrance exam system would not ensure equal opportunities for candidates.

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