As most readers would know, Japan is scheduled to host the Olympics in two years’ time. While this fact itself has been reported almost to death, what has not received quite as much exposure has been articles talking of cost blowouts, potential fatalities from running a marathon in the middle of Japan’s summer, and the churn in ministers responsible for keeping the Olympic schedule on track. After the recent LDP leadership election and subsequent reshuffle in responsibilities, it has fallen upon the rather obscure figure of Sakurada Yoshitaka to assume the mantle of minister responsible for this logistical and PR behemoth.
On Monday Sakurada did not exactly cover himself in glory when he fronted the Upper House Budget Committee to answer questions about his portfolio. The questions were, admittedly, pretty straight-forward; namely what was the vision for the Olympics, what were the key concepts involved in the Olympics, and how much were the Olympics likely to cost. The problem was that Sakurada was not able to answer these questions straight away, and on a few occasions proceedings had to be brought to a halt as Sakurada received some quick briefings on his portfolio by senior bureaucrats. On the following day, Sakurada fronted the media to explain his performance, claiming that because the opposition had failed to provide the government will a list of its questions beforehand (a unique aspect of the Diet system much commented on by other countries where parliamentary debate is less scripted) he had been unable to provide answers in a more ‘timely’ manner (the opposition claim that they did inform Sakurada’s staff ahead of time, which the LDP itself confirmed on Wednesday).
The problem was then exacerbated on Friday when Sakurada once again fronted the media, this time to withdraw his comments made to the Committee, saying that they were “somewhat different to the truth”, but against reiterating his claim that “if only the opposition had provided detailed questions ahead of time, then I could answer them in full”.
Naturally the opposition parties have been zeroing in on this performance, for the absence of anything else with which to berate PM Abe they have to take what is available. Questions were raised about Sakurada’s suitability to serve in cabinet, with past examples of his gaffes raised for good measure, most notably his comments while serving as Deputy Minister for Education in which he said any radioactive waste from the Dai-ichi nuclear plant should stay in Fukushima Prefecture “where nobody wants to live”, and when he described comfort women as “engaged in prostitution as a profession”.
Sakurada is probably not going anywhere in the time being – after all the reshuffle was only two months ago, and there is still time for Sakurada to gain more knowledge of his portfolio. Moreover he is a factional ally of Nikai Toshihiro, Secretary General of the LDP, and Nikai wanted one of his men in cabinet in exchange for support during the LDP leadership election. So Sakurada will most likely survive this round of scrutiny, however he will be closely watched, and any subsequent gaffes could bring his ministerial career to an abrupt (but possibly welcome) halt.