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Senior defense official loses job over tactless remark

Date Posted: 2011-12-03

The Okinawa Defense Bureau's chief got his walking papers Tuesday night, fired for his gaffe over a controversial U.S. base relocation plan.

Defense Minister Yasuo Ichikawa made the decision in an apparent effort to prevent the central government's relationship with local governments and residents in Okinawa Prefecture from deteriorating further. Satoshi Tanaka, director-general of the Japanese Defense Ministry Bureau, was summoned to Tokyo after he made the remark Monday night, when he said, “Before you rape a woman you cannot tell her you will rape her now.” Tanaka had refused to comment prior to his meeting with Defense Minister Yasuo Ichikawa.

Tanaka made the comments when reporters asked him about why Defense Minister Yasuo Ichikawa has not made clear when to submit a key environmental impact assessment report to Okinawa Prefecture in connection with the relocation plan.

The remark was made at an off-the-record meeting with the ten media members at an “izakaya”, a Japanese-style pub, in the prefectural capital of Naha City. JiJi Press released details of the off-the-record session, saying that other media had begun reporting the story and it was a media responsibility to provide a full accounting.

The submission of the environmental report is part of the process to relocate the Marine Corps' Futenma air station, currently in Ginowan, to the Henoko district of Nago City in northern Okinawa. As the people of Okinawa are calling for moving the base outside the southernmost prefecture, the prefectural assembly has adopted a resolution calling on Tokyo not to submit the environmental report. The remark by the Okinawa bureau chief is likely to fuel opposition from local communities to the Futenma relocation plan. “The remark will make the situation even tougher,” a senior ministry official said on condition of anonymity.

Ichikawa had no choice but to fire Tanaka, people familiar with the situation said. “I apologize to the Okinawans for the distress,” Ichikawa said, telling the Upper House Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defense “We will take stern measures after finding out the precise facts.” Speaking at a parliamentary committee, Ichikawa said, “He will respond in an easy-to-understand, strict manner.” Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura said at a press conference earlier that if the remark is confirmed, it cannot be tolerated.

Tanaka also told the press at the off-the-record meeting that the Futenma base will remain as it is due to opposition to the relocation. He also said that it is impossible that Okinawa has no bases. Tanaka, 50, became the Okinawa bureau chief in August after serving such posts as head of the ministry's public relations office.

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