TOKYO — A Japanese government official is under fire for riding on a colleague’s back to get through a big puddle of water during his recent visit to a town devastated by a deadly storm.
Vice Minister of Reconstruction Shunsuke Mutai headed a government team’s visit to the northern town of Iwaizumi earlier this month to assess damage from the storm, which killed more than 20 people in the region.
Mutai, who had forgotten to bring rubber boots, was shown in television footage being carried on the back of another government official wading through the puddle. The scene triggered sharp criticism on social media, with Mutai accused of not taking his job seriously.
The case resurfaced over the weekend when his boss, Reconstruction Minister Masahiro Imamura, visited the region and apologized over the incident.
“When I heard the story, I said what on earth was he doing,” Imamura said as he apologized to local residents. He said that Mutai had to rush over to the disaster area and forgot his boots.
On Monday, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga criticized Mutai for lacking sensitivity. Other politicians from both the ruling party and the opposition also leveled criticism.
“He went there as head of the government investigation team, so naturally he should have brought his rubber boots to begin with,” Suga said. “I must say he lacked sensitivity to the residents hit by the disaster and the region, and we should make sure not to repeat the same problem.”
Later Monday, Mutai told reporters that what he did was “inappropriate.”
“I deeply regret it,” he said.
Some people have said on social media that the scene was “embarrassing,” while others wondered whether Mutai was wearing expensive shoes, or if he simply did not want to get wet.
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