(Repeats with no changes)
By Terril Yue Jones
TOKYO, March 20 The head of the Japanese power
company at the centre of one of the world's worst nuclear
disasters has all but vanished from the public eye.
And many Japanese, on a knife edge waiting to see if the
nuclear power plant and radiation leaks can be brought under
control, are beginning to ask where he is and questioning how
much he is in control of the crisis.
Masataka Shimizu, chief executive of Tokyo Electric Power Co
(TEPCO), has not made a public appearance in a week.
And he has yet to visit the crippled nuclear power plant
north of Tokyo that was badly damaged in the massive earthquake
and tsunami that struck on March 11, and where 300 workers are
desperately trying to find ways to cool down the reactors.
According to the Mainichi Shimbun newspaper, he did not even
show up at company headquarters until a day after the disaster
because he was stranded in the west of the country after trains
At his last news conference, a week ago, the 66-year-old
apologised for the situation. Since then, he has all but
vanished from public view, issuing one statement on Saturday
expressing regret for "causing such trouble."
Shimizu is a consummate company man, joining the company
where his father worked, at the age of 23. Japanese media have
quoted him as saying he wanted to work at a company "which
serves public interests."
At the country's biggest power supplier, he made a name for
himself as a cost-cutter in the procurement side of the
business, becoming company president in June 2008.
Shimizu lives in a 43-story upscale apartment building in
central Tokyo. Beyond its locked glass door, it resembles a
hotel lobby, where a woman receptionist answers phone calls.
It was not clear if Shimizu is staying there these days.
Since the crisis, he has largely left it to TEPCO
spokespeople in Tokyo to be the public face of the company and
answer increasingly aggressive questions, and criticism, from
reporters frustrated at the lack of information.
Mid-level executives often have no answers other than
something along the line of "We are in the process of
"He's making the low-ranking people do all the hard work,"
said Satomi Aihara, a 46-year-old Tokyo resident. "I wonder
where he's hiding -- it makes me mad."
Taro Kono, a prominent member of parliament with the
Liberal Democratic Party and an opponent of nuclear power, was
more blunt about TEPCO officials: "They don't tell the truth ...
It's in their DNA."
Even Prime Minister Naoto Kan has been unable to hide his
frustration. "What the hell is going on?" he was overheard
telling TEPCO executives on Tuesday.
TEPCO officials say their boss is, understandably, busy.
"He's been leading the troops at headquarters," company
spokesman Kaoru Yoshida said. As for another news conference,
"We'll create an opportunity at an appropriate time," was all
Yoshida would venture.
Japanese company chiefs may not be as closely associated
with the successes of their companies as they are in the West,
but they are to any failures.
They are expected to take responsibility for shortcomings,
scandals or disasters that happen on their watch, apologising
profusely and often resigning.
Indeed, a former president and chairman of the company both
stepped down in 2002 after it was disclosed the company had
deliberately falsified data and safety reports.
TEPCO's numerous brushes with scandal, including what the
company acknowledged was "nonconformance" in repairs to a
nuclear power plant following an earthquake in 2007, has made
the press and the public suspicious of company statements during
the current catastrophe.
The 2007 quake showed that another nuclear plant's
infrastructure was insufficient to withstand quakes and, as
Shimizu said last September, "left us with a mountain of
"We devoted our efforts to overcoming the crisis and
creating a tougher business foundation by taking measures so
that our nuclear power plants can withstand disasters," he said.
Whenever Shimizu does decide to reappear, he is likely to
find he will need more convincing words.
(Additional reporting by Yuka Obayahi and Taiga Uranaka;
Editing by Jonathan Thatcher)