March 17 (Bloomberg) -- Yukio Edano followed Prime Minister Naoto Kan through the creation of a political party in 1996 and the ascent of their Democratic Party of Japan to power 18 months ago. Now, as Japan faces its worst crisis since World War II, he embodies Kan’s strategy of transparency.
Edano, who as chief cabinet secretary is a combination deputy and chief of staff, has held an average of five televised briefings a day since the 9.0 quake and tsunami hit northeastern Japan on March 11, damaging several nuclear reactors and killing at least 5,178 people. In the process he also has raised his profile as a possible successor to Kan, in a country that has had five premiers in less than five years.
“He is truly giving everything he can as the government’s spokesman,” said independent political analyst Hirotada Asakawa in Tokyo. “Every day, several times a day, he’s up there in front of the press. Whenever the post-Kan era begins, he’ll be a candidate to replace him.”
The prime minister makes one public appearance a day at his offices in central Tokyo, usually appealing for calm and expressing his conviction that Japan can overcome this disaster as it did the devastation from the war. Edano, wearing the same type of blue emergency jumpsuit as Kan, provides details on radiation levels, evacuation orders and recovery efforts.
Edano, 46, also has given information that conflicted with reports from Tokyo Electric Power Co., owner of the Fukushima Dai-Ichi plant, where explosions have occurred at three reactors and another has caught fire. On March 14, company officials couldn’t confirm Edano’s statement about one of the explosions.
That confusion has led to some frustration between the government and Tokyo Electric. Kan on March 15 said it took an hour before he was informed about an afternoon fire at the No. 1 reactor.
“What the hell is going on?” Kyodo News and other news agencies quoted him as saying within earshot of reporters. The same day, the government set up a task force with Tokyo Electric and Kan appointed lawmaker Goshi Hosono as his coordinator.
Alma Mater Closed
Edano was born in Tochigi Prefecture, which borders the province holding the stricken nuclear reactors in Fukushima. His alma mater is the University of Tohoku in Sendai, a coastal city devastated by the tsunami. The school is closed indefinitely and hasn’t yet accounted for every student, according to its website.
The government’s communication and mobilization is a change from past responses to crises, such as the 1995 Kobe earthquake, which killed about 6,400 people. Then-Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama came under criticism after bureaucrats blocked foreign doctors from treating victims because of a lack of Japanese medical credentials and initially refused foreign aid.
The first prime minister in five who isn’t descended from past premiers, Kan has a history of favoring more transparency. As health minister in 1996, he forced bureaucrats to release documents exposing their role in allowing as many as 5,000 Japanese to contract HIV through contaminated blood products.
When he became finance minister in 2010, a post he held for six months before assuming the premiership, he vowed more openness in Japan’s most powerful ministry.
“I think we’ve gotten more information out of the Kan administration than you would have out of a U.S. administration or a British administration or a French administration partly because they’re new at it,” said Steven R. Reed, a political science professor at Chuo University in Tokyo.
More than 300 workers raced to prevent a meltdown at the crippled Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear power station north of Tokyo with the aftermath of the quake, which has left hundreds of thousands stranded without food and water. Failure to prevent the release of radiation prompted countries including the U.S. and U.K. to advise citizens to consider leaving the country.
Japanese stocks fell, paring earlier declines amid optimism that plans to connect a power line to start damaged cooling systems later today will help avert disaster. The Nikkei 225 Stock Average fell 1.4 percent, and the yen traded near a post-World War II high on concern Japanese investors will redeem overseas assets to pay for damages.
“The nuclear factor is the game-changing wildcard,” said Kirby Daley, a Hong Kong-based senior strategist with Newedge Group’s prime brokerage business. “The level of skepticism on disclosure from officials is only confusing the situation.”
Edano slept at Kan’s residence for four straight nights before going to his official home on March 15. Asked about it the next day, he shrugged it off.
“The people in the disaster zone are the ones who are truly suffering,” he told reporters yesterday. “There are lots of people telling us ‘it’s important to make the right decisions.’ The prime minister hasn’t gone home either and we’re all on sort of a rotation.”
Edano is taking on his public role in part because campaign-financing scandals have claimed the jobs of DPJ cabinet members, including former Foreign Affairs Minister Seiji Maehara, said Arpita Mathur, research fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore.
“When Kan was in a state of crisis, the DPJ didn’t seem to have a backup because all the political leaders seemed to have already resigned for one reason or another,” she said. “Edano is very likely to emerge as a contender for the premiership in case Kan has to resign ultimately.”
On Twitter, users set up several threads praising Edano for his work ethic. They included “Edano_my_Angel,” “Edano_go_to_bed” and “Edano_nero,” which transliterates a Japanese word meaning “go to sleep.” Some Twitter users converted Edano’s name into a verb by adding the suffix “ru.” One user, Shinseitaro, said the new word meant “not sleeping, working too hard and not having a good boss.”
Edano took over his position in January when Kan shuffled his cabinet, replacing Yoshito Sengoku. A patent lawyer, he was first elected to parliament in 1993 as a member of a now-defunct party Kan helped form and has served six terms.
Now a member of the ruling DPJ, Edano stepped down as DPJ secretary-general -- a position he had said he wanted to use to “promote transparency” -- after three months in part to take responsibility for losses in last year’s upper-house elections.
Edano supported Kan in his party leadership contest last September with Ichiro Ozawa, who in January was indicted for his role in a campaign finance scandal.
“Kan can rely on Edano to keep things under control, as much as that’s possible,” said Robert Dujarric, director of the Institute of Contemporary Asian Studies at Temple University’s Tokyo campus. “The truth is, this is such an unlikely catastrophic event you can’t as an organization prepare for it.”
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