Two weeks after his agency informed him of Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s narrow escape from a pipe bomb attack, the head of Japan’s public safety agency made the remark that he relished eel rice so much that he continued eating it.
Tuesday, Koichi Tani, chair of the National Public Safety Commission for Kishida’s Cabinet, told a gathering of the ruling party that he was eating a local delicacy when his phone rung.
“I had heard that they serve a delicious unagi (eel) rice bowl there, and I was eagerly anticipating it,” Tani told party legislators. Tani stated, “Just as I was about to investigate, I received a call from the National Police Agency informing me that something was thrown at the prime minister in Wakayama.”
I thoroughly enjoyed and devoured… my unadon (eel rice bowl),”
During the attack, Tani was in the Shimanto region of the southwestern prefecture of Kochi, approximately 250 kilometers (150 miles) southwest of Wakayama, where a man hurled an explosive device at Prime Minister Kishida as he was about to deliver a campaign speech in support of a local candidate of the governing party. Kishida was not injured, and the suspect was apprehended.
The prime minister was attacked less than a year after former leader Shinzo Abe was murdered during a campaign speech. The investigation into the assassination revealed flaws in police security, which led to the strengthening of dignitary protection. The attack on Kishida, however, prompted experts to query whether any lessons were learned from the Abe case.
Tani’s eel remark prompted immediate criticism and concern in Parliament and on social media regarding Japan’s public safety as the nation makes its final preparations for the Group of Seven summit that Kishida will host in Hiroshima from May 19-21. During a session of parliament, opposition legislators demanded Tani’s resignation.
“As the head of the National Public Safety Commission, (Tani) lacks a sense of urgency,” said Jun Azumi, an executive of Japan’s largest opposition party, the Constitutional Democratic Party. “Is it not a detriment for the prime minister to have such a person as Japan’s chief security officer?”
Kishida, however, deemed Tani’s performance satisfactory and wished for the public safety director to remain in his position.
Hirokazu Matsuno, the chief cabinet secretary, also defended Tani. According to him, the public safety chief, who was in Kochi as the minister of disaster prevention, juggled both responsibilities and gave adequate instructions to Wakayama officials responding to the detonation.
“I also spoke with Minister Tani and urged him to carry out his responsibilities firmly.”
Tani later told reporters on Wednesday that he intended to emphasize eel as a local delicacy of the region he visited, but that he had “poorly expressed himself in his brief comment and may have caused misunderstanding — and I must take it seriously.”
Tani added, “With the upcoming G-7 summit, I am aware of the importance of protecting Japan’s public safety, and I will perform my duties with vigilance.”
Last week, Kishida informed a group of foreign media journalists that he intended to enhance security prior to G-7.
Tani is the most recent member of Kishida’s administration to be criticized for controversial remarks. In November, the then-Justice Minister Yasuhiro Hanashi resigned after stating that his low-profile position only creates headlines when he stamps a death penalty approval. A Kishida aide was fired in February after making homophobic remarks about not wanting to reside next to or see LGBTQ+ people.