A Cabinet reshuffle in Japan is coming, and is likely to include the removal of a defense minister who outraged the public with gaffes about a rape by U.S. servicemen.
Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda told reporters Sunday that a change in his Cabinet was coming soon. Japanese media reports said new ministers may be named Friday.
The opposition has been demanding that Defense Minister Yasuo Ichikawa be fired after he made a series of gaffes, including a remark that he did not know details about the 1995 rape of a schoolgirl by three U.S. servicemen on the southwestern island of Okinawa.
The rape sparked one of the biggest anti-U.S. protests in Japan and raised concerns over America’s military presence there.
Ichikawa further outraged the public in trying to apologize for his comment and mistakenly using the Japanese word for “sexual orgy” instead of “rape.” He later said he had meant to say “violence,” which sounds like the word for “sexual orgy.”
Angering Okinawans is a problem for the government because Tokyo has been trying to woo them to accept a plan to move a major U.S. base to a less crowded part of the island.
Moving the base, Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, is an essential step in Washington’s plan to relocate about 8,000 Marines from Okinawa to the U.S. Pacific territory of Guam.
Even before the gaffes, Ichikawa raised eyebrows by telling reporters he was no expert on defense. In November, he skipped a banquet with the king of Bhutan to attend his fundraiser.
Ichikawa also had come under fire for an earlier remark by him and one of his top officials that reportedly compared the planned Okinawan base relocation to rape.
The opposition has grilled Ichikawa in Parliament and is threatening to block key tax legislation. The nation needs to raise funds for reconstruction from the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.
Ichikawa was appointed just four months ago, when Noda, the latest in a revolving door of prime ministers, took office.
Also likely to be fired is Kenji Yamaoka, consumer affairs minister, for ties to dubious business groups and for a gaffe that compared the collapse of the euro to the tsunami, according to Japanese media.
The trade minister resigned in September, just eight days into his job, over comments viewed as insensitive to people evacuated near a nuclear power plant that went into meltdown because of the March tsunami.