Photo/Illutration Nagoya Mayor Takashi Kawamura speaks at a city-hosted public forum in Nagoya on June 3. (Tomomi Terasawa)

NAGOYA--Mayor Takashi Kawamura apologized for the city’s failure to prevent discriminatory remarks from being uttered toward a physically disabled man during a public forum held to discuss plans to rebuild Nagoya Castle.

Kawamura said at a news conference on June 5 that he should have acted more swiftly to stop the offensive words at the city-run forum.

About 40 randomly selected citizens, aged 18 or older, attended the June 3 forum in Nagoya.

One focus of the discussions was the city’s policy to conduct a “faithful restoration based on historical facts” while providing barrier-free access.

The city intends to rebuild the castle to its original wooden design. But it also plans to install small elevators that wheelchair users can use to move from the main tower’s stone wall part to at least the first floor.

A 70-year-old man in a wheelchair said that without an elevator that goes to the top floor of the tower, it would seem like “people with disabilities are being excluded.”

Soon after, two men argued against the need for any elevator.

“Mayor Kawamura wants to reconstruct (the castle) built in an era without elevators and electricity. I don’t understand why barrier-free access is even being discussed. It’s just ridiculous,” one of the men said.

He added: “(Disabled people) should endure it. You just have to accept it.”

The other man used expressions that are discriminatory against physically disabled people.

“Who will maintain the elevator? I think it’s a waste of tax money,” he said.

Others in the crowd applauded after the two men spoke.

Kawamura on June 5 apologized for being unable to prevent the discriminatory expressions.

“I don’t know if I could have immediately said, ‘Please refrain,’ but I should have,” he said.

Asked whether remarks such as “endure it” should have been stopped, Kawamura said, “I don’t know.”

An official from the city’s tourism and cultural exchange bureau, who attended the news conference, said the comments against the man in the wheelchair, including “endure it,” were “inappropriate.”

“I’m sure those who received the discriminatory remarks were deeply hurt, and I apologize for that,” the official said.

Yuji Nasu, professor of constitutional law at Seinan Gakuin University, said city officials should have immediately stopped and condemned the discriminatory remarks as soon as they were made at the city-hosted forum.

“In particular, the mayor, as the top official, should issue a strong message of condemnation,” he said.

In recent years, Japanese society has shifted toward a “social model” that emphasizes the need to reform society and remove barriers for disabled people.

Nasu said remarks such as “endure it” contradict the fundamental spirit of Nagoya city’s ordinance, which is rooted in the social model and is aimed at eliminating discrimination.

He said that some of the remarks from the participants were malicious hate speech, and the “endure it” remark could also be considered hate speech.