It was politics as usual for Yoshihiko Noda on the morning of March 11.Prime MinisterPrime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, center, speaks to workers during a visit to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant on Sept. 8.
As Japan’s finance minister, he swatted away questions at his regular post-cabinet meeting news conference on then-prime minister Naoto Kan receiving political donations from a foreign national – forbidden in Japan. The biggest thing on his plate was trying to find ways to deal with the grinding crush of the strong yen on the world’s third-biggest economy.
Just under six months on from the disasters that struck Japan later that day, Mr. Noda’s world is very different: Thursday’s morning mission was a trip to the Fukushima Daiichi power plant to see first-hand the site of the country’s worst-ever nuclear-power incident.
Mr. Noda, who was formally named Japan’s prime minister Sept. 2 after putting recovery in the Tohoku disaster zone at the heart of his agenda, arrived in the regulation blue overalls that became familiar during the first few weeks of the crisis before passing on messages of encouragement and commitment to workers at the site, according to local reports. In the brief footage made available, Mr. Noda was then filmed talking to a group in a white protective suit and a blue cap – but without a face mask, presumably indicating the location was some way removed from highly dangerous areas inside the plant’s perimeter.
With areas to the west of Japan still drying out after the impact of the deadly Typhoon Talas, Mr. Noda’s visit to Fukushima is just the start of a busy spell on the road. Friday will see him travel to Wakayama, Nara and Mie prefectures to inspect clean-up efforts, and on Saturday he will head north again to visit the tsunami-ravaged prefectures of Miyagi and Iwate. On Sunday, the full six months on from March 11, Mr. Noda will be back in Tokyo, according to government officials.
But having selected a novice as finance minister — expected back in Japan over the weekend after a meeting of G7 officials in France — it seems clear that Mr. Noda has elected to keep one issue with which he now has plenty of experience in his sightline, along with the rest of Japan’s problems: how to deal with the stubborn yen.