Tourism minister apologizes for gaffes

New tourism minister Nariaki Nakayama wasted no time putting his foot in it. The day after stating that Japanese do not like foreigners and that the country is ethnically homogeneous, Nakayama apologized Friday and retracted his statements.

“I am sorry for having caused trouble to the people,” the land, infrastructure, transport and tourism minister told a news conference. “I retract my remarks that I think fell too short (of an explanation) or went too far.”

Nakayama, who took up his post on Wednesday, added that he had no intention of resigning to take responsibility for his remarks.

Nakayama’s gaffe comes just ahead of the Oct. 1 launch of a tourism agency charged with drawing 10 million foreign visitors to the country by 2010.

Asked how more foreign travelers might be enticed to come to Japan in the face of opposition from some locals, Nakayama responded, “Definitely, (Japanese) do not like or desire foreigners.”

He added that Japan is extremely inward-looking and “ethnically homogeneous.”

However, he also said it is important for Japanese to open up the nation and their minds to welcome foreign travelers.

Nakayama is not the first politician to land in hot water for referring to Japan as a homogeneous nation. When in 1986 then Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone described Japan as a nation with a homogeneous race, he was met with a strong backlash mainly from the Ainu, an aboriginal people from north Japan.

Yukio Hatoyama, secretary general of the Democratic Party of Japan, called Nakayama’s remarks on homogeneity Thursday extremely rude and told reporters he “needs to give up his post, not the remarks.”