Struggling to constrain rising sentiment against U.S. military bases on Okinawa, the Japanese government Thursday forced a high-level defense official to resign for characterizing as "stupid" Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama's efforts to solve base problems through dialogue.
The incident heightened emotions in an uproar that started when three American servicemen were accused of raping a 12-year-old Japanese girl on Okinawa.
Although U.S. officials--from Ambassador Walter F. Mondale in Tokyo to President Clinton--have apologized, calls have been made in Japan for changes ranging from more stringent regulations on the 44,000 American troops in Japan to a reduction of U.S. bases on Okinawa.
Noboru Hoshuyama, a civilian in charge of the Defense Facilities Administration Agency, submitted his resignation after officials bombarded him with criticism.
"Coming at a crucial time when the entire administration is tackling the Okinawa issue, my careless remarks were a great imposition," Hoshuyama said in an evening news conference.
The night before, he had told reporters that efforts to renew leases on land used as U.S. bases on Okinawa had stalemated "because the prime minister is stupid."
"I don't say we should forget the anger of the Okinawa people, but logical measures must be taken to deal with this problem," he said, urging Murayama to exercise his authority to sign the new leases.
Okinawa Gov. Masahide Ota, who opposes the bases, has refused to requisition the land.
Although Hoshuyama's remarks were made at a briefing in which reporters had agreed not to identify him, the journalists decided in a middle-of-the-night meeting to name him because of the importance of his statements, the newspaper Asahi Shimbun reported.
Thursday morning, Hoshuyama, in an on-the-record news conference, claimed he "could not remember" calling Murayama "stupid." But he stood by his comments urging the prime minister to stop trying to placate the Okinawa governor and sign papers requisitioning the base land immediately. He also insisted he would not resign.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Koken Nosaka condemned Hoshuyama for "brushing the fur of public sentiment in the wrong direction." Hoshuyama then resigned to forestall an ouster.
Wataru Kubo, secretary general of Murayama's Socialist Party, meanwhile, agreed to head a delegation of Socialist members of Parliament that will visit Okinawa on Saturday. A rally in opposition to the bases is scheduled for that day, and sponsors claim that it will attract 50,000 people.
Until only a year ago, the Socialists themselves officially opposed U.S. bases in Japan.