The minister, Taro Aso, is only saying out loud what many government officials in countries with nationalized health care are thinking: people are getting older, living longer, and becoming a drain on our national budgets.
Japan's new government is barely a month old, and already one of its most senior members has insulted tens of millions of voters by suggesting that the elderly are an unnecessary drain on the country's finances.
Taro Aso, the finance minister, said on Monday that the elderly should be allowed to "hurry up and die" to relieve pressure on the state to pay for their medical care.
"Heaven forbid if you are forced to live on when you want to die. I would wake up feeling increasingly bad knowing that [treatment] was all being paid for by the government," he said during a meeting of the national council on social security reforms. "The problem won't be solved unless you let them hurry up and die."
Aso's comments are likely to cause offence in Japan, where almost a quarter of the 128 million population is aged over 60. The proportion is forecast to rise to 40% over the next 50 years.
The remarks are also an unwelcome distraction for the new prime minister, Shinzo Abe, whose first period as Japan's leader ended with his resignation after just a year, in 2007, partly due to a string of gaffes by members of his cabinet.
I am probably too old to see it, but I have little doubt that eventually, a "Solyent Green" scenario will become real and government will set up suicide centers for the elderly to "hurry up and die" if they wish. But given that rationed care will probably make the decision on whether to die for them, perhaps they won't even need the suicide centers to accomplis their goal.