Junior minister resigns over 'boot' wisecrack

Mr Mutai being piggybacked by a subordinate during a visit to typhoon-hit Iwaizumi town in Iwate prefecture last September.
Mr Mutai being piggybacked by a subordinate during a visit to typhoon-hit Iwaizumi town in Iwate prefecture last September.SCREENGRAB: YOUTUBE

A Japanese junior minister, who was slammed last year for taking a piggyback ride across a large puddle in a typhoon-hit town so as not to damage his shoes, was out of a job yesterday after he put his foot in his mouth.

Mr Shunsuke Mutai, 60, the parliamentary vice-minister for reconstruction, was denounced for making a wisecrack about the gaffe at a fund-raising event on Wednesday.

The ruling Liberal Democratic Party lawmaker said the "boot industry really made some money" as his gaffe led to the government buying more rain boots to loan to officials.

Mr Mutai, a former career bureaucrat who was first elected in 2012, tendered his resignation on Thursday night, and the Cabinet accepted it yesterday. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a news conference: "It was extremely regrettable as his comments were inappropriate, raising questions over whether he sincerely reflected on his behaviour last year."

Last September, Mr Mutai was leading a damage inspection team to Iwaizumi town in Iwate prefecture, where Typhoon Lionrock had killed 19 people. He asked a subordinate to piggyback him as he was not wearing rain boots.

A video of the incident and his flippant remark - "I'll be in trouble if this is caught on camera" - was captured and leaked to private news broadcaster TBS.

Mr Mutai, who apologised after the incident blew up, said sorry again on Thursday for his remarks, which were slammed by both the ruling and opposition camps.

The scandal erupted days before the sixth anniversary of Japan's earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster today.

Mr Mutai's successor is two-term lawmaker Yasumasa Nagasaka, 59.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 11, 2017, with the headline 'Junior minister resigns over 'boot' wisecrack'. Print Edition | Subscribe