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Indeed, Mr. Kan was under pressure to resign when the catastrophic earthquake hit at 2:46 on a gloomy Friday afternoon.

Kevin Maher, who headed the Japan desk at the U.S. State Department until April, told reporters in Japan last week that nobody appeared in charge of Japan during the first week of the crisis, when radiation spewed out of damaged nuclear reactors in Fukushima province.

Mr. Maher cited Japan’s cumbersome tradition of slowly building consensus before reaching important decisions and the lack of information sharing between ministries and state agencies. “Nobody in the Japanese political system was willing to say ‘I’m going to take responsibility and make decisions,’” he said.

Mr. Kan’s advisers and deputies, including Goshi Hosono, the state minister in charge of the nuclear crisis, often told reporters about Mr. Kan’s frustrations in dealing with the Tokyo Electric Power Co. (Tepco), whose nuclear reactors melted down after the tsunami.

At the height of the crisis, Mr. Kan, whose nickname “Ira-Kan” refers to his alleged short-temper, reportedly charged into a meeting of Tepco officials and hollered, “What the hell is going on in here?”

Despite having approval ratings below 20 percent among Japanese citizens, Mr. Kan has been popular with foreign residents here. He also won praise from President Obama, who lauded the Japanese prime minister at the Group of Eight summit in Deauville, France, in May.

But Mr. Kan announced this week that he won’t be able to accept Mr. Obama’s invitation to visit Washington in September.

As a lame-duck leader, Mr. Kan recently avoided the press, choosing instead to write comments on his personal blog.

During what appear to be his final days in office, local media have spotted Mr. Kan stocking up on books to read after his departure. The books include the memoirs of a former Fukushima governor who claims that he was ousted due to his anti-nuclear views, and another titled “Emergency Explanation! The Accident at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant and Radiation,” which suggests that Mr. Kan himself is trying to figure out what hit him — and Japan — during his tumultuous tenure in power.