Japanese Defense Minister Taro Kono apologized on Tuesday after he was widely criticized for joking about his moniker as a “rain man” at a time when Japan is reeling from the impact of multiple typhoons that hit the country in recent months.
“I would like to apologize to all those to whom I caused offense,” he told an upper house committee on foreign and defense affairs, referencing the joke he made at a fundraiser the previous day.
“I was often called ‘ame-otoko’ by local residents,” Kono joked Monday, using a term meaning a man who seems to attract rain wherever he goes. “After I became defense minister, there have already been three typhoons.”
His remarks, which elicited laughs from some in the audience, were made in an address meant to express thanks to Self-Defense Forces members who assisted in typhoon-hit areas.
While explaining himself to the Diet committee, the former foreign minister said his intention was to bring attention to “the SDF’s efforts (to support disaster-hit areas) and the necessity to improve their treatment.”
Kono, who was appointed as defense minister on Sept. 11, said he has already spoken to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and apologized for causing offense, a government source said.
His remarks drew criticism across party lines, from both opposition party lawmakers as well as members of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party to which he belongs.
“Each Cabinet member must be self-aware and make an effort to secure people’s trust,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters at a news conference.
Environment Minister Shinjiro Koizumi told reporters, “A politician must refrain from doing things that cause pain to victims in disaster-hit areas.”
Toshihiro Nikai, the LDP’s secretary general, also said lawmakers need to avoid saying and doing things that make them subject to criticism.
Opposition parties piled on Kono, with Yuichiro Tamaki, who heads the Democratic Party for the People, calling his remarks “thoughtless.”
Jun Azumi from the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan told reporters, “I can’t believe that he would consider it a topic that can be joked about.”
The death toll from Typhoon Hagibis, which ripped through a wide area of the country earlier in October, stands at 87, with the victims in 13 of Japan’s 47 prefectures, according to a Kyodo News tally as of Monday.
The typhoon also cut off electricity and water supplies, caused mudslides and flooded tens of thousands of homes.