Japan FM Apologizes for Alzheimer’s Joke

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The Associated Press
Friday, July 20, 2007; 9:28 AM
TOKYO — Japan’s outspoken foreign minister apologized Friday for joking that “even people with Alzheimer’s disease” would know the difference in price between Japanese and Chinese rice.

Taro Aso, who has drawn criticism before for his off-the-cuff remarks, retracted the comments he made Thursday about the merits of exporting Japanese rice to China.
“I have now realized that I used an inappropriate allusion, and so am retracting my remarks and apologizing to all those who were offended,” Aso told reporters Friday.

The government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, which is struggling with a series of scandals just ahead of parliamentary elections, suggested that no action would be taken against Aso. Abe’s defense minister resigned just weeks ago.

“I understand that Foreign Minister Aso has admitted that his comment was inappropriate, and apologized,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuhisa Shiozaki said Friday when asked what the government would do about Aso.

Remarks about the elderly are taken seriously in Japan, one of the world’s fastest-aging societies. More than 20 percent of Japan’s population are 65 or over.

Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia among older adults and affects areas of the brain that control memory, judgment, behavior and intelligence.

On Thursday, Aso was discussing how rice was much more expensive in China than in Japan. “Even people with Alzheimer’s disease could understand” the vast disparity in prices, he was quoted as saying by Kyodo News agency.

The opposition jumped on the comments.

“The remarks were just too insensitive,” said Yukio Hatoyama, a leader of the main opposition Democratic Party of Japan. “Abe’s Cabinet is filled with too many shameful ministers.”

Aso has been in trouble before. He has angered Beijing by calling China a military threat. Earlier this year, he said “blue-eyed, blond” Westerners probably wouldn’t be as successful as Japanese in Middle East diplomacy.

The Abe Cabinet has faced serious problems in recent months. Defense Minister Fumio Kyuma resigned earlier this month after suggesting the 1945 U.S. nuclear bombings of Japan were justified.

Elections for the upper house of parliament are on July 29.

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