“I do not think it is right to end this incident by blaming just Suzuki,” Ayaka Shiomura, 35, said on June 23.
Shiomura that day received an apology from Akihiro Suzuki, a 51-year-old member of the Liberal Democratic Party, who acknowledged that he heckled her during the June 18 assembly session.
When Suzuki was apologizing, Shiomura noted that he was not the only one in the Tokyo metropolitan assembly who shouted jeers at her.
“There were other taunts directed at me,” she said. “I think you know who it was since you were sitting nearby. I hope you will tell me who made the other remarks.”
Suzuki did not give a clear response.
During the June 18 assembly session, Shiomura, a 35-year-old member of Your Party, was explaining the difficulties that women face in giving birth and raising children in Japan.
Suzuki admitted to shouting during Shiomura’s presentation, “You are the one who must get married as soon as possible.”
Suzuki initially denied making the jeers in response to questions from reporters as well as during an investigation conducted by the LDP Tokyo metropolitan assembly caucus.
At a news conference on June 23, Suzuki said he lied in response to questioning by the LDP caucus. He also seemed to blame the other taunts for his delay in coming forward and apologizing to Shiomura, who was reduced to tears during the June 18 session.
“As news reports emerged about other remarks not made by me, such as ‘Can’t you even bear a child?’ I lost the opportunity to apologize,” Suzuki said.
Suzuki resigned from the LDP caucus on June 23, but he said he would not give up his seat. He represents Ota Ward and is currently serving his third term.
There were also signs that the public was offended by Suzuki’s behavior. Raw eggs were found thrown at the office Suzuki uses in Ota Ward around 8:20 p.m. on June 23. The office was empty at the time.
On his website, Suzuki said one of his policy goals is to create “a society where women can easily work.”
But he was perhaps better known as one of the 10 Japanese who landed on the Senkaku Islands in August 2012, despite the central government’s ban on entry to the islands. The isles in the East China Sea are at the center of a sovereignty feud between Japan and China.
Suzuki again made international headlines, this time about the status of women in Japan.
Miyoko Tsujimura, a constitutional law professor at Meiji University who is also knowledgeable about women’s rights issues, pointed to the atmosphere in the metropolitan assembly when the sexist heckling was directed at Shiomura.
“Laughter arose in the assembly chamber, and the LDP was initially not aggressively dealing with the issue,” Tsujimura said. “This is not an issue involving only a single individual. The fact that the words and deeds were by someone in a public capacity reveals that human rights awareness within Japanese society has not yet reached international standards.”
Nobuo Kochu, a professor of constitutional law at Kansai University, said a bigger problem was the lack of human rights awareness among those in the assembly who laughed at Shiomura or took the matter very lightly.
“If the assembly member who was taunted had not taken such a strong stance, the issue likely would have been swept under the rug,” he said. “If Japan is truly a society where the spirit of the Constitution has taken root, someone nearby would have immediately stopped the heckler as soon as the jeer was shouted.”
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