TOKYO – Former Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano was named Japan's new trade minister Monday, replacing a politician who resigned over comments considered insensitive to evacuees in the country's nuclear crisis.
Yoshio Hachiro resigned over the weekend, after just eight days in the post, after he called the area around a crippled nuclear power plant a "town of death." The resignation was an embarrassment for the government Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda as it tries to tackle the massive task of rebuilding the tsunami-battered northeast coast.
Edano's appointment was announced by Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura.
Edano, 47, became a familiar figure on television as the government's chief spokesman during the crisis at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant.
Some 100,000 people who used to live around the plant have been evacuated and it remains unclear when they will be able to return to their homes.
Hachiro, Noda and other government ministers were visiting the Fukushima plant Thursday when Hachiro made his comments. He later told reporters he just meant to convey the seriousness of the situation and his commitment to decontaminate it so residents can return.
Announcing his resignation on Saturday, Hachiro said the remarks "rubbed the feelings of Fukushima people the wrong way" but that he did not intend to be hurtful.
Hachiro, 63, was less forthcoming about a second comment that also was criticized. According to local news reports, he joked with journalists that radiation he acquired on his clothing during his visit to Fukushima might be contagious.
Support for Noda's new government has started out strong, with an approval rating of 62.8 percent in a Kyodo poll released last Saturday. But that rating could take a hit over Hachiro's gaffe.
Past leaders have had honeymoon periods of relatively high approval ratings that declined steadily as the public grew impatient.
Noda's predecessor, Naoto Kan, had early approval ratings topping 60 percent that crashed to below 20 percent near the end of his 15-month tenure due to perceptions his government mishandled the tsunami disaster and nuclear crisis.