Unprepared for the post

The verbal gaffes by transport minister Nariaki Nakayama, which led to his resignation after only five days in the post, show that he lacked qualifications both as a politician and Cabinet minister. Prime Minister Taro Aso admitted that he was responsible for Mr. Nakayama’s appointment. His responsibility in this regard should be scrutinized in the Diet.

On Sept. 25, immediately after becoming transport minister, Mr. Nakayama described local residents’ long-standing opposition to the expansion of Narita airport as grumbling just to get money. When asked about the government’s policy to promote tourism, he said in part that Japan is rather inward-looking and a “monoethnic” nation.

Touching on the teachers recruitment scandal involving the Oita prefectural board of education, he said the Japan Teachers’ Union (Nikkyoso), the nation’s largest teachers’ union, was the cause of the scandal. He added that in areas where Nikkyoso is strong, children’s scholastic achievements are low.

Mr. Nakayama’s remarks betrayed a poor grasp of history and facts. Although ultraleftist groups joined the anti-Narita struggle, transport ministers Shizuka Kamei and Toshihiro Nikai in 1995 and 1999, respectively, apologized to residents for the government’s forceful way of pushing airport construction.

And, in June 2008, both Diet houses unanimously passed a resolution urging the government to recognize the Ainu as an indigenous people. Mr. Nakayama’s “monoethnic” remark was an insult to ethnic minorities in Japan. As for his remark about Nikkyoso, there is no objective evidence to support it.

He later retracted his remarks on Narita and ethnicity issues, but not his remark about Nikkyoso. On Sept. 27, he called Nikkyoso a “cancer” in Japanese education. He said Nikkyoso must be “broken up” as it is against moral education. In explaining his resignation, there was no soul-searching or reflection on his remarks. He said only that his remaining in the Cabinet would delay Diet deliberations. Regrettably, Mr. Aso did not take strong action against Mr. Nakayama from the outset and just let him tender his resignation.