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What Japanese think of PM Kan's response to the crisis

A new poll shows 58 percent of Japanese do not approve of the handling of the Japan nuclear crisis. Still, 58 percent do approve of overall disaster-victim support in northeast Japan.

By Correspondent / March 28, 2011

In this March 25 photo, Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan gives a speech during a news conference at his official residence in Tokyo, two weeks after a catastrophic earthquake and tsunami hit northeastern Japan.

Itsuo Inouye/AP

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Tokyo

Amid the destruction and nuclear crisis caused by the March 11 tsunami, there is a joke making the rounds in Japan: President Obama telephones Naoto Kan, Japan’s prime minister… and asks to speak to his spokesman, Yukio Edano.

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The joke reflects a widespread feeling that Prime Minister Kan has slipped into the background – he has made just three public addresses since the disaster – while Chief Cabinet Secretary Edano has become the government’s public face in the midst of Japan’s worst crisis since World War II.

Two weeks after an earthquake and tsunami laid waste to large parts of Japan’s northeastern coastline, opinion is divided over Mr. Kan’s handling of the relief effort and the nuclear emergency at Fukushima Daiichi power plant. According to a survey by Kyodo news agency this weekend, 58 percent of respondents said they did not approve of the government's handling of the nuclear plant crisis. Still, 58 percent said they did approve of the government's overall disaster-victim support in northeastern Japan.

But Koichi Nakano, a political science professor at Sophia University in Tokyo, says few people are looking to Kan for inspiration, preferring him to address myriad problems facing the country away from the media glare.

“The Japanese people aren’t really looking to him for inspiration or to make rousing speeches, but to get on with relief and reconstruction and resolve the nuclear crisis,” Mr. Nakano says.

Nakano shares a widely held view that no political leader could have prepared for the magnitude of the disaster. “These are not ordinary times. People aren’t interested in politics right now, only in rebuilding their lives and securing food and water. Kan’s not doing a perfect job, but I can’t think of a single person who would have done better. This is a terribly difficult and messy situation.”

Newspapers refrain from criticism

Newspaper editorials have called for a coordinated political response to the crisis but have so far refrained from criticizing Kan, who issued a plea for national unity at a rare press conference on March 25.

The opposition’s promise to put aside partisan politics only stretches so far, however, as Kan discovered. The Liberal Democratic party leader, Sadakazu Tanigaki, turned down an invitation to become part of a grand coalition.

Kan had hoped to bring opposition politicians into an expanded cabinet and secure smooth passage for additional spending on relief and reconstruction.

But a senior Liberal Democratic Party of Japan (LDP) official told the Yomiuri Shimbun news outlet that Mr. Tanigaki feared guilt by association should the situation at the Fukushima plant deteriorate. "The prime minister may pass the buck to us,” the unnamed official said.

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