The resignation of Olympic minister Yoshitaka Sakurada came far too late given that he has made so many remarks since he assumed office in October that have called his fitness for his Cabinet post into question.

Sakurada resigned on April 10 after making comments that aroused the ire of communities affected by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in a fund-raising party for a fellow Liberal Democratic Party lawmaker elected from Iwate Prefecture, one of the prefectures battered by the disaster.

Speaking at the party held in Tokyo for Hinako Takahashi, Sakurada called for support for the LDP Lower House member, saying, “What’s more important than the reconstruction (of disaster-stricken areas) is (support for) Takahashi.”

The Great East Japan Earthquake and the tsunami it triggered in March 2011 left more than 20,000 people dead or missing. Wide areas in eastern Japan are still plodding and slogging their way to recovery and reconstruction, while at least more than 50,000 evacuees are still living away from home, according to data collected and compiled by affected local governments.

It is hard not to feel indignant at Sakurada’s heartless remarks, which show callous disregard for victims and belittle the efforts to rebuild communities.

Sakurada’s latest gaffe came only two months after he came under fire in February for a comment he made regarding swimmer Rikako Ikee's announcement that she had leukemia.

“She was an athlete that Japan placed high hopes on, so I am very disappointed,” Sakurada said in a Feb. 12 interview with Japan Broadcasting Corp. (NHK).

This comment was roundly criticized as a sign suggesting that he was more concerned about the nation's medal prospects and national pride than her diagnosis of leukemia.

At the party, Sakurada made a joke of his Ikee gaffe, saying, “You (the audience) may be disappointed (at a series of speeches before a toast). But I should never say ‘disappointed.’”

Sakurada’s language has much in common with the rhetoric of Ichiro Tsukada, who resigned on April 5 as vice land minister after saying he had upgraded a local road project for the constituencies of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso as an unrequested favor for them.

Speaking at a rally for the LDP-backed candidate for the Fukuoka gubernatorial election, Tsukada said he decided to accommodate their assumed wishes and intentions, deliberately using the stigmatized term "sontaku” repeatedly to describe his move as if trying to get laughs.

Like Tsukada, Sakurada displayed a lack of the good judgment required for a politician.

Since Tsukada’s resignation, administration officials have been under strong pressure to be careful in speech and behavior. But Sakurada seems to have been unaware of this situation.

His foolish mouth, however, is not the only problem with Sakurada. During Diet sessions, it was disclosed that four months after he took office he had yet to read the Olympic Charter. Another shocking fact is that despite being also the minister in charge of cybersecurity he has never used a personal computer.

He once said his principal job as a minister was to read prepared written answers to questions at the Diet without making an error.

We can only conclude that this politician has never understood his duties as a Cabinet minister. That is far more serious problem with Sakurada than his regrettable tendency to commit gaffes.

Abe’s autumn Cabinet reshuffle, which gave Sakurada the Olympic portfolio, was done primarily to reward politicians and LDP factions that helped Abe’s re-election to a third term as LDP president in the party leadership election.

Many of the Cabinet appointments were made according to the lists of candidates submitted by the factions that supported Abe’s re-election, instead of being based on their personal capabilities and qualifications. Sakurada was one of the politicians who were given Cabinet posts as part of this political wheeling and dealing.

Abe consistently defended Sakurada as a lawmaker suitable for his Cabinet job. After his resignation, Abe acknowledged his responsibility for making this ill-fated appointment while talking with reporters. It is, however, unclear how seriously the prime minister takes this responsibility.

Abe’s immediate decision to effectively sack Sakurada in a radical shift from defending him was apparently driven by a desire to minimize the political fallout on the upcoming unified local elections and the summer Upper House poll.

Following Tsukada’s resignation, Abe stressed that all the Cabinet members and other senior administration officials had to pull themselves together and put their hearts and souls into carrying out the public's mandate.

Sakurada’s verbal blunder came just five days later. This will test Abe's commitment to real “soul searching.”

--The Asahi Shimbun, April 12