Japan's embattled finance minister steps down at 77

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The Independent Online

Japan’s 77-year-old finance minister is to quit because of poor health. Hirohisa Fujii, who took on the role after elections last summer, in the midst of the worst recession in Japan since the second world war, is said to be concerned that he may not be able to physically cope with days of questioning in the Japanese parliament, and other strains of official life.

Mr Fujii had already served as finance minister briefly in the early 1990s. He underwent treatment for high blood pressure and exhaustion at the end of last year.

Apart from his longevity, Mr Fujii is best known for recent remarks he made on the value of the yen, which sent the currency gyrating across the foreign exchanges. In November he said that he backed a stronger yen, which propelled it to a 14 year-high against the dollar, much to the dismay of Japan’s hard-pressed exporters. Later he relented, and the Japanese currency duly fell by about 8 per cent from its highs. Mr Fujii also enjoyed a reputation as a fiscal conservative. Neither the Nikkei share index nor the yen showed much reaction to the news of Mr Fujii’s imminent departure from office.

Attention now focuses on who he will be replaced by in the four month old Democratic Party of Japan administration, which broke the Liberal Democratic Party’s almost unbroken half century grip on power in elections last year. Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama faces a frail economy and huge public debt – approaching 200 per cent of GDP – and comparatively little experienced talent to draw upon (and hence Mr Fujii's re-emergence last year). Rumours suggest that Mr Fujii could be succeeded by one of his two deputies, Yoshihiko Noda or Naoki Minezaki. Other candidates are cabinet members such as National Strategy Minister Naoto Kan and Yoshito Sengoku, in charge of cutting waste from the national budget.