In Japan, Remarks By Finance Minister Spark #MeToo Outrage

May 8, 2018
Originally published on May 8, 2018 9:01 am

Women in Japan rallied in Tokyo to protest remarks made by the country's finance minister that appeared to downplay charges of sexual harassment against his former deputy.

Carrying signs in Japanese and English, reading #MeToo and #WithYou, protesters, including a few men, lined the sidewalk outside the Finance Ministry in Tokyo.

On Friday, Taro Aso appeared to push back against alleged sexually suggestive comments made by former Vice Finance Minister Junichi Fukuda, who resigned over the matter last month although he denied the allegation.

Earlier, Shukan Shincho magazine released an audio clip of a man alleged to be Fukuda who is heard saying to a female television reporter, "Can I give you a hug?" and "Can I touch your breasts?"

The 77-year-old Aso, a former prime minister known for his blunt talk, said there is "no such thing [crime] as a sexual harassment charge."

He defended his comment on Tuesday, saying he had "merely stated a fact."

"It's not the same as charges of murder or sexual assault," he told reporters in Manila, Philippines, where he is on an official visit.

According to Japan's Kyodo news agency, "Under Japanese law, perpetrators of sexual harassment can be charged with crimes such as sexual assault, rape or libel."

Aso's penchant for speaking freely has gotten him into hot water in the past. Last August, for example, he said that while Hitler was "no good ... his motive was right." He later retracted the comment.

His latest remarks have sparked outrage among some in an otherwise deeply conservative, male-dominated culture because they appear to condone sexism and the sexual harassment that has long been a feature of Japanese society.

An editorial published in The Mainichi newspaper acknowledges that while there is a legal nuance in this case, "The Penal Code is not the sole component of social norms. Ethics, manners and other factors are also part of the framework."

"Sexual harassment is a serious human rights violation. Politicians must strive for its elimination, as they should fight bullying. Aso's remarks are, in any case, completely out of line," the editorial reads.

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