Japan MPs' disaster helmet drill sparks Twitter debate

TOKYO (Reuters) - Some Japanese lawmakers giggled this week during a drill to practice the use of disaster prevention helmets, at least one of which was put on backwards, prompting Twitter users to question if they were making light of a life-and-death matter.

Video images broadcast on television and other media showed Finance Minister Taro Aso smiling after successfully donning one of the collapsible plastic helmets, and Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi wore a broad grin.

“You never know when disaster will strike,” Tadamori Oshima, the lower house speaker, said at the end of Tuesday’s session, wearing one of the white helmets with gray chinstraps that are reminiscent of traditional samurai headgear.

“I want you always to be on alert.”

The drill in parliament’s lower house was the second since the kits, stowed under members’ seats, were introduced in 2017.

School disaster drills are not unusual in Japan, where earthquakes are common. A quake of magnitude 9.0 in March 2011 caused a massive tsunami that killed nearly 20,000 people and triggered the Fukushima nuclear crisis.

Despite getting instructions on how to unfold and wear the helmets, at least one parliamentarian put his on back-to-front. Others needed a helping hand.

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Some Twitter users called the lawmakers’ levity off-key.

“The Speaker (of the lower house) was talking about being on alert, but others were laughing,” said one.

“Before protecting themselves, they should protect people’s lives,” complained another.

Others took a lighter view.

“Mr. Aso’s and Mr. Motegi’s smiling faces are charming,” wrote one apparent fan of the cabinet ministers.

Reporting by Linda Sieg; Editing by Clarence Fernandez