Lacking experience in their Cabinet portfolios, Foreign Minister Koichiro Genba and Finance Minister Jun Azumi have been using the bulk of their U.S. visits to explain how Japan is rebuilding from the March 11 disaster.
The two ministers represent electoral districts that were particularly hard hit by the Great East Japan Earthquake, tsunami and accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant. So there is a personal touch to their statements.
However, at home they still face the daunting task of trying to convince various critics in the political world that they are cut out for their jobs in Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda's administration.
On Sept. 22, Genba served as a co-chair of a United Nations high-level ministerial meeting on nuclear safety and security. The fact that the crisis at the Fukushima plant is continuing was the main reason he was asked to co-chair the session.
Speaking in English, Genba explained that he was born 40 kilometers from the crippled Fukushima plant, and that people in the area were worried about the effects of radiation on their health. He also explained that negative publicity about Fukushima agricultural and manufactured products was hindering the rebuilding effort.
Genba represents the No. 3 district in Fukushima Prefecture. At 47, he is Japan's youngest post-World War II foreign minister.
When asked by Noda to accept the foreign minister's post, Genba said, "If I can transmit to the world the current situation in Fukushima, that would help in the rebuilding efforts."
One lawmaker within the ruling Democratic Party of Japan whom Genba considers a rival is Seiji Maehara, 49, the party policy chief. Both attended the Matsushita Seikei Juku, an institute of government and management established by Panasonic Corp. founder Konosuke Matsushita, at the same time.
Maehara, a former foreign minister, is considered an expert in foreign affairs and national security. When he visited the United States in early September, he suggested that Japan should review its three principles banning the exports of weapons.
Genba has told those close to him, "Even if policy proposals are made with a big splash, they are meaningless unless those proposals can be implemented."
With an eye toward a long stay in his post, the first instructions Genba gave Foreign Ministry bureaucrats was to look into how long past foreign ministers had served.
On his first trip to the United States, Genba was unable to display his style of diplomacy.
In a Sept. 19 meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Genba proposed "holding an international conference next year on nuclear energy at one of the disaster-stricken areas."
On Sept. 22, when he met Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi, Genba said the situation in Japan had improved to where flights between Fukushima and Shanghai could be resumed.
He continues to speak up on the Fukushima nuclear accident even though his name recognition on the international stage remains low.
"While the people are outstanding for enduring the suffering from the natural disasters and nuclear accident, a political situation that leads to the replacement of the prime minister and foreign minister in such a time as this is not right," a diplomat from northern Europe said.
Azumi also highlighted the rebuilding efforts in the Tohoku region during a meeting of the Group of 20 finance ministers and central bankers in Washington on Sept. 22.
"I want the people of the world to see what progress is being made in rebuilding the disaster areas," he told reporters. "I will explain how Japan is in the process of standing up again."
Azumi represents the No. 5 district in Miyagi Prefecture. The last finance minister from Miyagi Prefecture was Hiroshi Mitsuzuka, who last served in 1998 and died in 2004.
On Sept. 19, Azumi returned to Miyagi for the first time since becoming finance minister.
In a meeting with local politicians, Azumi said: "The circumstances and social background are different from the time of Finance Minister Mitsuzuka. I will have to work in difficult times and in a difficult post."
Having little experience in the taxation system or fiscal policy, Azumi was clearly surprised when he was offered the finance minister's portfolio.
But Noda considers a tax hike to pay for the rebuilding process as the most pressing issue facing his administration. The new prime minister needed the support of a lawmaker from the disaster area to gain the understanding of the public for a tax hike that will likely reach 10 trillion yen ($131 billion).
Azumi realizes what role he has to play, telling his close associates: "I understand very well what has happened in the disaster areas. It would be best for me to ask people to contribute with a sense of solidarity in the rebuilding process."
Because of his past statements, some of those close to him are concerned about possible gaffes.
When he served as chairman of the DPJ Diet Affairs Committee, Azumi openly criticized then Prime Minister Naoto Kan for not resigning after saying he would do so. Opposition party executives criticized Azumi for the lack of gravity in his statements.
For such reasons, Azumi has started out slow as finance minister. He has not given even a hint that he is opposed to a course of tax hikes, which has led high-ranking Finance Ministry officials to say he is an easy person to work with.
Some in the ruling and opposition parties criticize Azumi for being nothing but a mouthpiece of the Finance Ministry.
In response, Azumi said: "It is my responsibility to make the best choice among the information presented to me by Finance Ministry officials. I am not the type of politician who will not listen to what others say and only pushes through their own opinions."
(This article was written by Shigeki Tosa and Norihito Sato.)
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