Japan's finance minister Taro Aso apologises for comment on childless couples

Finance Minister Taro Aso said he was simply stating that people weren't having as many children these days and moving toward a longer lifespan itself isn't bad.
Finance Minister Taro Aso said he was simply stating that people weren't having as many children these days and moving toward a longer lifespan itself isn't bad. PHOTO: REUTERS

TOKYO (BLOOMBERG) - Japan's gaffe-prone Finance Minister Taro Aso apologised over comments seen as blaming childless couples for economic woes caused by a rapidly aging country, trying to halt a political storm that has embarrassed the ruling party.

The comments come as Aso's Finance Ministry has been implementing policies to manage an ageing and shrinking population that has put strains on Japan's social welfare safety net and contributed to a labour shortage in the country of about 126 million people.

Aso, a senior member of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, told reporters Tuesday (Feb 5) he was simply stating that people weren't having as many children these days and moving toward a longer lifespan itself isn't bad.

But opposition politicians said the comments showed him being out of touch with struggles faced by many families.

"Some women may have heard my comments and thought 'I'd wanted to have children and couldn't' and I apologise if I'd caused offence," Aso said.

The original comment that sparked the fuss was made over the weekend in Fukuoka prefecture.

"Many people try to put the blame on older people, but there is no sense in that. Rather, those who aren't bearing children are the problem," Aso was quoted as saying by the Asahi newspaper, one of Japan's largest. He later withdrew the comment.

Opposition politician Renho Murata blasted Aso on her Twitter feed, saying: "This isn't a misunderstanding. He's not even trying to understand the women who can't give birth, even if they want children."

But Aso has been able to survive a political career strewn with verbal blunders, with many Japanese accepting them as part of his persona.