TOKYO (AP) — On the Internet, no one can save you from yourself. That is a lesson many Japanese politicians have learned recently in painful, awkward and at times costly fashion.
In the latest flap, a senior reconstruction official in charge of helping victims of the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear crisis was dismissed last week after he used a scatological insult on Twitter to deride civil activists.
Another official's loss of composure at a U.N. committee meeting might have gone unnoticed in another time, but today it's on YouTube. Even Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has been reproached for remarks on Facebook that some deemed disrespectful to his opponents.
Japan only began allowing use of social media in political campaigns in April. As campaigning heats up for a pivotal July 21 election for the upper house of parliament, this relatively new tool for reaching the public appears as much a liability as it is a blessing.
Japanese politicians and government agencies control access to information through a system of press clubs, and to keep their memberships, traditional Japanese media often have overlooked politicians' gaffes. Politicians' aides also help them avoid making embarrassing comments on TV and in print media. But those filters disappear when a politician posts a comment online.
"It takes only one emotional sentence. Once you hit the comment or tweet button, it's too late. You're caught by gaffe watchers on the net, with your true nature exposed," said Junichiro Nakagawa, an editor at the Internet news site Shunkan Research News.
Yasuhisa Mizuno, the former Reconstruction Agency official for Fukushima-Dai-ichi victims, was fired over this tweet: "Attended a meeting where I was merely yelled at by leftist (vulgarity). Surprisingly, I'm not outraged. I only have pity for their lack of intelligence."
He posted the comment March 7, but it was overlooked for several weeks before "gaffe watchers" discovered it and made it more widely known.
In late May, Hideaki Ueda, Japan's representative to the United Nations' committee on torture, shouted while defending Japan's judicial system against criticism by an envoy from Mauritius who said its lack of protections for suspects' rights was "medieval."
Speaking in somewhat broken English in footage shown on YouTube and an official website, Ueda said, "Certainly Japan is not the Middle Age. We are one of the most advanced country in the field."
To giggles from the audience, he shouted, "Don't laugh! Why you are laughing?"
"Shut up! Shut up!" he said. By Wednesday the video had been viewed on YouTube more than 200,000 times. The footage was also repeatedly shown on mainstream Japanese TV and in newspapers until the Foreign Ministry reprimanded him last week.
Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto said and tweeted that sex slavery by Japan's Imperial Army before and during World War II was a "necessary" wartime evil. He also used Twitter to post his suggestion that the U.S. military patronize adult entertainment to help reduce sex crimes committed by American troops.
U.S. officials characterized the comments as "outrageous and offensive." Hashimoto, a co-founder of the nationalist Japan Restoration Party, apologized, but only for his adult entertainment remark. He has continued tweeting his assertions about the Imperial Army's use of prostitutes.
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