Tokyo assemblyman admits to sexist taunting; Shiomura says 'too late'

June 23, 2014

THE ASAHI SHIMBUN

Pressed by the ruling party, a Tokyo assemblyman on June 23 belatedly admitted to sexually taunting a female colleague, but criticism continued to rage over the scandal that has brought “shame to the country.”

After a meeting of the Liberal Democratic Party’s group of Tokyo assembly members, Akihiro Suzuki, 51, acknowledged that he heckled Ayaka Shiomura during the June 18 assembly session.

He also expressed his intention to leave the party’s assembly group.

Although his LDP colleagues suspected Suzuki was one of the assemblymen who shouted sexist remarks at Shiomura, he initially denied his involvement in the jeering.

“It marks progress, but it was a bit too late (for Suzuki) to come forward,” Shiomura, a 35-year-old member of Your Party, said.

Suzuki, who was elected from the Ota Ward constituency and is serving his third term in the assembly, is believed to have interrupted Shiomura’s presentation by shouting, “You are the one who must get married as soon as possible.”

The assemblywoman was calling on the Tokyo metropolitan government to help increase the nation’s low birthrate by providing support to women for child-raising activities and to deal with infertility issues.

Another taunt directed at Shiomura, apparently from the assembly section reserved for LDP members, was, “Can’t you even bear a child?”

While assembly members laughed at the heckling, Shiomura rushed through her presentation and was later seen wiping away tears.

Osamu Yoshiwara, secretary-general of the LDP group of assembly members, apologized for his colleague’s actions that caused disarray in the assembly.

Yoshiwara was initially hesitant to identify those responsible, saying there was no evidence that the jeers came from the LDP members. The Tokyo assembly president also rejected Shiomura’s request to identify and punish those responsible.

However, the sexist taunts made international headlines, and pressure to identify the hecklers heightened within and outside the assembly chamber.

On June 21, LDP Secretary-General Shigeru Ishiba called for the hecklers to come forward and apologize.

The change.org online site collected 70,000 signatures demanding the identification and punishment of the sexist harassers.

“The taunts represent the bottom-line feelings of the assemblymen,” said Emmy Suzuki Harris, a 30-year-old representative of change.org’s Japanese version. “Their intention to bury the offense has angered many people.”

Naoki Ogi, an education expert and popular TV commentator, wrote on his blog that the harassers’ refusal to come forward has brought “shame to the country.”

“The assembly members sitting around them have heard the taunts, and it is impossible that they could not nail down the perpetrators,” Ogi told The Asahi Shimbun. “If the issue becomes unsolved, the self-governing ability of the assembly will be judged as below that of an elementary school class.”

Lawyer Hideo Yamada, who is familiar with sexual harassment issues, said that if a company worker hurls such sexist remarks at a colleague, he would receive at least an official reprimand.

THE ASAHI SHIMBUN
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Akihiro Suzuki, a Tokyo metropolitan assembly member, apologizes to his colleague Ayaka Shiomura at the assembly building in Tokyo's Shinjuku Ward on June 23. (Yosuke Fukudome)

Akihiro Suzuki, a Tokyo metropolitan assembly member, apologizes to his colleague Ayaka Shiomura at the assembly building in Tokyo's Shinjuku Ward on June 23. (Yosuke Fukudome)

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  • Akihiro Suzuki, a Tokyo metropolitan assembly member, apologizes to his colleague Ayaka Shiomura at the assembly building in Tokyo's Shinjuku Ward on June 23. (Yosuke Fukudome)
  • Akihiro Suzuki, a Tokyo metropolitan assembly member, in the assembly building on June 23 (Yosuke Fukudome)
  • Akihiro Suzuki (Asahi Shimbun file photo)
  • Your Party assemblywoman Ayaka Shiomura talks to reporters June 19 about sexist taunts made during a Tokyo metropolitan assembly session. (Atsuko Kawaguchi)

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