In a move that smacks of desperation, Defense Minister Tanaka Naoki sacked his bureaucrat minder Mannami Manabu on Saturday. Replacing Mannami will be Yoshida Takahiro, the minder for former Defense Minister Kitazawa Toshimi. (J)
The move is not entirely cynical. At the time Kitazawa was named defense minister, he was basically a novice at defense issues. Still, with Yoshida's steady hand on the tiller, Kitazawa managed to serve with distinction if not inspiration in two successive Democratic Party of Japan-led cabinets.
Mannami, however, was unable to corral the worst instincts of his two charges, former Defense Minister Ichikawa Yasuo and Tanaka. That the House of Councillors censured Ichikawa for his idiotic remarks and general lack of knowledge was a black mark on Mannami's record.
Tanaka's move, however, smells to high heaven. The news media are speculating that Tanaka has taken cues from his wife, the more famous Makiko, whose tenure at the Foreign Ministry was rife with sudden and wrenching personnel changes. (E)
Just watching Tanaka bumbling, stumbling, umming and ahhing in Diet committee testimony, making, for example, his already much-mocked pledge to give up his coffee habit (E) shows a man so far out of his depth one cannot even see the top of his scalp above the waterline.
You say Iejima, I say Iojima
Should Tanaka soon get the boot, he will leave behind a trinket for geography buffs.
During his embarrassing visit to Okinawa last month, Tanaka paid a social call on Okinawa Governor Nakaima Hirokazu. Tanaka tried to make small talk, telling how his family had come to Okinawa Prefecture to vacation many times, visiting places including Iojima (or Iwojima, as it is more commonly written in English).
Only, of course, Iojima is not in Okinawa Prefecture. The famous battleground is at the tail end of the Ogasawara Islands chain, thousands of kilometers away from Okinawa.
What Minister Tanaka had been trying to say was Iejima, which is part of the Okinawa island chain -- as the minister's staff made clear after the awkward meeting (J).
As it turns out, there is not even an Iojima anymore. According to an announcement of the Geospatial Information Authority of Japan of June 18, 2007, "Iojima" is now officially "Ioto" -- where the character for "island" is to be read in the Chinese, not the Japanese fashion. (J - check out the Powerpointesque explanation with arrows at the bottom of the press release)
Just to be on the safe side of this issue, during Diet questioning from House of Representatives member from Okinawa Teruya Masaaki on February 2, an aide, most likely Mannami, wrote out in kana "i-o-u-to-u" so that Tanaka, should Teruya ask him about his Iejima-Iojima mixup, might respond using the island's official name.
Seeing the passing of the note, the either crestfallen or exasperated Teruya could only blurt out, "Oh c'mon. Don't be instructing him." (J - ibid)