TOKYO, OCT. 21 -- Apparently convinced that the heat is off in the United States over a recent slur on American blacks by this country's justice minister, Japan's dominant Liberal Democratic Party has called off plans to send a delegation to America to apologize.
LDP leaders decided not to make the trip after the House Foreign Relations committee passed a watered-down version of a resolution condemning Seiroku Kajiyama, Japan's equivalent of the U.S. attorney general, who recently compared U.S. blacks to prostitutes. The committee rejected a proposed resolution demanding that Kajiyama resign and replaced it with language saying he should be reprimanded.
Meanwhile, the Kajiyama case prompted a curious argument of the who-said-what-to-whom variety between the White House and Japan's prime minister, Toshiki Kaifu.
President Bush and Kaifu met in New York last month. After the meeting, officials from the two governments briefed reporters on what the two leaders said. The briefers did not mention the Kajiyama matter, which had not yet become a major issue in either country.
At his regular press briefing Friday, White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater said Bush had expressed concern about Kajiyama in the meeting. Talking to reporters here this weekend, Kaifu emphatically denied that. Fitzwater "must be making a mistake," the prime minister said. "There was no such conversation."
Both Kaifu and Kajiyama have written to U.S. officials and black groups apologizing for Kajiyama's comment.
Whether or not the Kajiyama affair is fading from public concern in the United States, it promises to be a continuing embarrassment to Kaifu and his cabinet.
The justice minister's future has become a hot political issue. Opposition parties are demanding Kajiyama's dismissal, and the Liberal Democratic Party has been on the defensive.
To the consternation of the ruling party, Japan's best-known business newspaper, the Nihon Keizai Shimbun, forcefully declared this weekend that Kajiyama must be fired, saying his racial comment can only feed the belief in other countries that "Japan doesn't understand the notion of fairness."