Finance Minister Shoichi Nakagawa came under fire Monday for what appeared to be drunken behavior at a press conference after a two-day meeting of the Group of Seven economic powers in Rome through Saturday.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Takeo Kawamura said at a news conference that when Nakagawa called him in the morning, Kawamura gave him a warning, telling him to watch how he conducts himself.
According to Kawamura, Nakagawa, 55, apologized for causing anxiety but denied being under the influence of alcohol during the news conference despite having had some drinks, saying he had taken too much cold medicine.
''It is regrettable the finance minister made people concerned,'' Kawamura said, while indicating his questionable behavior was due to his busy schedule and his cold.
Separately, Nakagawa told reporters in the Diet that whether he will stay in his position is up to Prime Minister Taro Aso, denying any intention to step down from the post immediately.
He also said he did not drink shortly before the press conference, though he did on the flight bound for Rome. ''I took a larger-than-usual portion of cold medicine. I am sorry for my behavior.''
Earlier in the day, former Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori criticized Nakagawa for his seemingly drunken behavior at the press conference.
''Since he really loves to drink, I advised him once to be careful about drinking,'' Mori said on a morning TV program when asked to comment on footage of Nakagawa's appearance at the press conference.
Observers say Mori's remarks seem to question Nakagawa's qualification as finance minister and the issue may deal a further blow to the already embattled administration of Prime Minister Taro Aso.
Opposition party leaders also lashed out at Nakagawa.
''It is not a matter of shame,'' said Yukio Hatoyama, the secretary-general of the main opposition Democratic Party of Japan on Monday morning. ''He is supposed to be dismissed right away.''
Major overseas news media reported Nakagawa slurring at the post-G-7 news conference and domestic broadcasters repeatedly aired the stories with zoom-in footage of Nakagawa's face.
ABC News ran a story online titled “Asleep at the Wheel: Japanese FM Nods Off During G-7 Talks,” in which they jibed that if the contracting economy and pursuant massive job losses at Japan’s biggest car manufacturers weren’t enough to keep him awake, there was always Italian favorite espresso.
Nakagawa slurred his speech and verged on the incomprehensible during a press conference with Japanese press Saturday afternoon, leading some to label him a disgrace. The incident has revived memories of a speech of his during the election campaign in 2000, in which he appeared quite drunk.
Nakagawa stumbled along in the interview: “The G-7 meetings…which were officially held today… started last night….there was something like a joint declaration. I heard America’s proposals…umm…and G-20 policies for moving forward…”
Nakagawa also cut in to a question aimed at Masaaki Shirakawa, the governor of the Bank of Japan, who was also in attendance. Nakagawa then misquoted the central bank’s interest rate, currently at 0.1%. “It’s going up from 0 to 0.25%? Well it’s still extremely low.”
Government aides said it was the worst they had ever seen Nakagawa.© Wire reports