Tatsuo Hirano, the minister in charge of post-disaster reconstruction, is under fire for remarks he made Tuesday about tsunami victims being “idiots” for not moving to safety faster.
Hirano made the remarks at a meeting of lawmakers from the ruling Democratic Party of Japan in Nihonmatsu, Fukushima Prefecture. Fuji TV reported that Hirano told the gathering, “There were those who moved to safety and thought ‘We’ll be safe here.’ Then there were idiots like my old classmate who didn’t take shelter. He’s dead now.”
Many firefighters were killed by the tsunami because they stayed behind to try and close levee gates. Referring to them and other victims of the March 11 disaster, Hirano said the government needs to examine why so many people left it too late to flee, in order to be better prepared for future disasters.
After Japanese media widely reported his remarks about his friend, Hirano apologized, saying, “I had long wondered why my friend didn’t escape and I let my personal opinion slip out. I apologize if my remarks upset anyone,” Fuji TV reported.
Hirano was appointed to his position in July after his predecessor, Ryu Matsumoto, was forced abruptly to resign after just nine days in the job. Matsumoto stepped down after making remarks widely criticized as offensive during a visit to the tsunami-devastated northeastern coast, where he refused to shake the Miyagi governor’s hand, berated him for being late to a meeting, and threatened to withhold aid. Matsumoto was also heard telling the governor of Iwate, “We won’t help municipalities whose leaders don’t use their common sense to come up with good ideas for rebuilding.”