Japan minister quits over execution remark

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has delayed his departure for three upcoming summits in Southeast Asia to sack and replace his justice minister, who was widely criticised over a remark he made about capital punishment.

Justice Minister Yasuhiro Hanashi told reporters he submitted his resignation to Kishida on Friday, two days after he commented at a party meeting that his low-profile job only made the noon news when he used his "hanko" stamp to approve death penalties in the morning.

The remark quickly sparked criticism from the opposition as well as within Kishida's governing party, which is already mired in a controversy over its decades-long ties to the Unification Church, a South Korea-based religious group accused in Japan of improper recruitment and brainwashing of adherents into making huge donations.

At least two other members of Kishida's scandal-prone cabinet are facing allegations of accounting irregularities.

"I carelessly used the term death penalty as an example" and made people and ministry officials "feel uncomfortable," Hanashi said.

"I decided to resign to express my apology to the people and my determination to restart my political career."

Japan has faced international criticism for continuing to use capital punishment and for its lack of transparency.

Hanashi said he had consulted with Kishida over the past two days about his possible resignation and was advised to do his best to apologise and explain.

"I apologise and retract my remark that faced media reports that created an impression that I was taking my responsibility lightly," he said on Thursday.

He made another apology on Friday and denied any intention to resign.

But media reports later revealed that he had made similar remarks at other meetings over the past three months.

Kishida, who has a reputation as indecisive, denied that he took Hanashi's comments lightly.

He later told reporters that he accepted Hanashi's resignation because his "careless remark" damaged public trust in justice policies and could stall parliamentary discussions of key issues, including support for people with financial and family troubles caused by the Unification Church.

Kishida said he appointed former agriculture minister Ken Saito, a Harvard-educated former trade ministry bureaucrat, as Hanashi's replacement.

Kishida was forced to urgently deal with the problem before leaving on a nine-day trip to attend the summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in Cambodia, the G20 meetings in Indonesia and the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Bangkok.

Hanashi, a member of Kishida's own faction within the governing Liberal Democratic Party, was in office only three months and is the second minister to be dismissed since the prime minister shuffled his cabinet in August in a failed attempt to turn around his government's plunging popularity.

Last month, Daishiro Yamagiwa resigned as economy minister after facing criticism for failing to explain to his links to the Unification Church.