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The ritualization of sex scandals in Japanese politics

In a nation where you can ‘lose face’ for being a bit late for a meeting, nobody seems to mind the sins of its politicians

Japan's Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Yoichi Miyazawa answers a question about a scandal involving his subordinates spending office cash at a sex bar, in Tokyo on Oct. 23, 2014. A few weeks ago there was a huge sex scandal concerning Japanese lawmaker Takeru Yoshikawa

Japan's Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Yoichi Miyazawa answers a question about a scandal involving his subordinates spending office cash at a sex bar, in Tokyo on Oct. 23, 2014. A few weeks ago there was a huge sex scandal concerning Japanese lawmaker Takeru Yoshikawa. (Photo: Jiji Press/AFP)

Published: August 11, 2022 03:54 AM GMT

Updated: September 01, 2022 06:37 AM GMT

When it comes to sexual harassment Japan is probably top of the world's list. There are explanations, starting with the rigid social structure (pyramidal by age and position) and the innate nature of the relations between men and women.

But the heavyweight that creates an uneven balance of the two sexes is definitely the power structure, still predominantly male, and the place where this is even more evident is in parliament where legislators are at work.

A few weeks ago there was a huge sex scandal concerning one of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) lawmakers Takeru Yoshikawa.

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The government party politician was caught on camera taking an 18-year-old into a restaurant where he made her drink (illegal in Japan for those under 20) and then paid her 40,000 yen (US$300) and went to a hotel together.

As of today, Yoshikawa is still sitting in parliament and has the gall to sue the newspaper which caught him.

In the land where you “lose face” for simply being five minutes late for a meeting, nobody seemed overly concerned that a lawmaker (a family man with children) committed an illegal act such as making an underage girl drink and then used taxpayers' money to pay the barely adult girl for acting as his personal sex toy. 

"You have to know that the ruling Japanese party has its own man in every important newsroom. It checks what is allowed to go on the air and what is not"

Even though the story appeared here and there in the media, it was not such a major scandal. So much so, that only one English version of the report appeared.

Just to give you an idea of what would have happened if such a scandal erupted in Europe, a few years ago the husband of a female Italian politician was caught in a similar sex scandal, and all, and I mean all, Italian newspapers had the news for weeks. Debates abounded on radio and television.

An ordinary person knew what had happened even if they hadn’t read the papers, or watched television, as the media echo was so vast. It was like those summer songs that keep popping up in every cafe or store that you happen to go to, and are unable to ignore. 

Goto Teruo, 75, now retired but once the producer of a very important Japanese television network told me: “You have to know that the ruling Japanese party has its own man in every important newsroom. It checks what is allowed to go on the air and what is not, especially near an election.”

The only person who came out in the open was Hireshoge Seko, the ruling party's secretary-general in the House of Councilors. Seko said that he would urge Yoshikawa to quit.

“We had him quickly leave the LDP,” Seko said while pointing out that the proportional representation seat given to him belongs to the party. Yoshikawa’s resignation from the LDP was accepted (and probably forced by the party itself as this scandal happened just before the latest election).

"He had to add later that it was just a joke and therefore it didn’t happen when public disgust could not be silenced"

The governing party despite efforts to “cover” public humiliations seems to have an addiction when it comes to sexual harassment.

Lower House Speaker Hiroyuki Hosoda, a 78-year-old man in one of the highest political positions in the country, reportedly asked a young reporter in her twenties to come to his home late at night to discuss political things. Just like Harvey Weinstein asked would-be-actresses to come up to his room after dinner to discuss “job opportunities.”

Of course, Hosoda has denied the allegation. Japanese politicians “deny” their own words even when caught on camera.

It happened two years ago when House of Representatives member Hiranao Honda, 56, publicly stated that he would find it absurd if a 50-year-old man had sex with a 14-year-old girl and went to jail for it. He had to add later that it was just a joke and therefore it didn’t happen when public disgust could not be silenced.

And guess what? Hosoda’s reaction, and defense strategy, like Yoshikawa, was to complain to the magazine which published the story. He will discuss the matter with his lawyer and consider suing the magazine, his statement said.

There is a pattern here, as apparently there is a pattern in Hosoda’s behavior after the alleged invite to his home was discovered — was it directed toward multiple female reporters, not just one?

Members of the ruling and opposition parties are demanding Hosoda explain himself now. Even Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said he believes an appropriate explanation will have to be given.

In the meantime, they still maintain their positions and salaries.

Just a final note. A Japanese lawmaker makes around 25 million yen per year (US$185,000), or $15,000 per month, $500 a day, including weekends. And in order to reap all that wealth, apparently, they don’t even need to meet the most basic moral standards. 

*The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.

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