Photo/IllutrationDefense Minister Takeshi Iwaya, left, apologizes to Akita Governor Norihisa Satake on June 17 during a meeting at the Akita prefectural government building. (Shigetaka Kodama)

AKITA--The Defense Ministry is having a hard time extricating itself from the mess it made over its selection of Akita Prefecture as the primary candidate site for an Aegis Ashore ballistic missile defense system in northeastern Japan.

A series of blunders involving the study itself and explanatory meetings to local residents have exacerbated the sense of mistrust felt by many here about hosting the missile interceptor system at the Ground Self-Defense Force's Araya exercise area in the prefectural capital.

Defense Minister Takeshi Iwaya rushed to Akita on June 17 in the hope of convincing Governor Norihisa Satake and other prefectural officials that Akita is perfectly geographically located for the system to shoot down North Korean missiles.

Meeting with Satake here, Iwaya bowed deeply before apologizing for the various errors that have come to light in recent days.

Afterward, Satake told reporters that the time was not yet right to decide about hosting the system.

In the meeting, Satake spent about 10 minutes lambasting the ministry for its string of glaring blunders.

He was referring to a report submitted to the Akita prefectural and municipal governments on May 27 containing the results of the Defense Ministry study into potential sites. These included mountain heights in other locations that were higher than they actually are. Areas surrounded by towering mountains are not considered suitable because they block radar pulses used by the Aegis Ashore system to detect and track ballistic missiles.

At an explanatory meeting for local residents, a Defense Ministry official was caught nodding off during the course of the session, leading to harsh criticism from participants.

"A situation has arisen that questions the stance of the entire ministry," Iwaya said June 17. "I am deeply apologetic about that situation."

He pledged a new round of studies and said the contents of the earlier report would be revised after receiving input from the local community.

Satake said he felt sadness more than regret.

"There were some who had expressed understanding for the deployment, but now even those people do not feel like supporting the measure," the governor said. "The Defense Ministry faces a start not from zero, but a minus position."

Earlier, Iwaya was forced to admit the report was also flawed because it said the Araya area did not need any anti-tsunami measures for the deployment.

In a separate June 17 meeting, Akita Mayor Motomu Hozumi criticized the inadequacy of the Defense Ministry explanation.

Iwaya promised to conduct another explanation to city government officials after admitting the explanation about the anti-tsunami measures had been insufficient. He added that ministry officials felt the concerns about tsunami could be dealt with as the exercise area was being prepared for installation of the Aegis Ashore system.

But even with the series of meetings on June 17, Iwaya had still not changed his view that the Araya exercise area was the most suited in eastern Japan as host of the ballistic missile system.

"At this stage, there are no factors that would lead us to change that stance," he told reporters.

(This article was written by Hayato Jinno, Mikito Soda and Daizo Teramoto.)