Japanese Minister of Defense Yasuo Ichikawa faces the sack, reports said yesterday, after a series of gaffes including describing the rape of a 12-year-old girl by three US servicemen as a “sexual orgy incident.”
Ichikawa, who has only been in office for four months, was censured by the Diet’s opposition-controlled upper house last month, as was Japanese Minister of Consumer Affairs Kenji Yamaoka, who backed an alleged pyramid sales firm.
Both men are expected to be removed in a Cabinet reshuffle by Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, Jiji Press news agency and other media reported.
Noda, who took office in early September, is considering dismissing them in a bid to gain cooperation from the opposition to pass a budget and a package of tax and social reform bills through parliament, they said.
Ichikawa has committed or been linked to a series of gaffes that have offended the people of Okinawa, reluctant hosts to a large US military presence.
One of his officials was dismissed after likening the government’s foot-dragging on plans to relocate the US military base to forewarning a woman of the intention to rape her.
In 1995 three US servicemen raped a 12-year-old girl on Okinawa, a crime that galvanized local resentment of the US presence.
Ichikawa claimed not to know the details of the rape, and at a press conference called it a “sexual orgy incident.”
He also skipped a palace banquet in November in honor of visiting royals from Bhutan in favor of a political fundraiser he said was “more important.”
In addition to being admonished for alleged ties to shady business groups before he became consumer affairs minister, Yamaoka has also come under fire over comments he made in a New Year address.
“I privately think the next biggest tsunami that will come soon could be the collapse of the euro,” he said, remarks seen as belittling the victims of the earthquake and tsunami that devastated northeast Japan and left more than 20,000 people dead or missing.
Noda, the latest holder of Japan’s revolving-door premiership, is expected to conduct the reshuffle possibly on Friday or in the following week, before the Diet reopens at the end of this month, the reports said.
The main opposition Liberal Democratic Party has threatened to boycott the legislature if the pair stay in place.
Jiji said Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura had told all ministers to make sure that they attend a Cabinet meeting scheduled for Friday, while Japanese Minister of Economic and Fiscal Policy Motohisa Furukawa has cancelled a visit to the US originally scheduled to take place from Tuesday to Sunday.
However, the expected Cabinet reshuffle could be delayed until early next month to coincide with the planned launch of a new government agency tasked with reconstructing areas devastated by the disasters in March last year, the reports said.
Kyodo News agency said the reshuffle would be minor.
Possible candidates to succeed Ichikawa as defense minister include ruling-party lawmaker Yuichiro Hata, son of former Japanese prime minister Tsutomu Hata, Kyodo said, quoting anonymous sources.
In recent polls support for Noda’s government has fallen to somewhere between 30 percent and 40 percent from 50 percent to 60 percent soon after its launch, amid criticism over his handling of the nuclear crisis that followed the disasters in March last year and plans to raise taxes.