Few recent scandals have been as entertaining as Lower House lawmaker Mayuko Toyota‘s verbal and physical attack on her secretary as revealed in a recording leaked to the weekly magazine Shukan Shincho. With the recording coming to light in the week before the Tokyo assembly elections, Toyota decided to resign from the Liberal Democratic Party (though not her seat) to save the party some grief, but the scandal has subsequently lingered on the fringes of the tabloid media, providing insight into everyday office shenanigans in Nagatacho.
Toyota’s tantrum was extreme by any standard. Making fun of her male secretary’s baldness (“Kono hage!“) as he was driving and she sat in the back seat and beating him hard enough to cause injury was bad enough, but what was really disturbing was Toyota’s comment about a hypothetical car accident in which his grown daughter’s “head is crushed.” Shukan Shincho, understanding that transcribing Toyota’s outburst could not do justice to its dramatic quality, released the recording publicly and it was picked up by every TV station in the country.
The performance was unjustifiable, but to some it was forgivable. Former LDP secretary-general Takeo Kawamura, Toyota’s mentor in the party, commented on his Facebook page that he “heard” it is “normal” for male lawmakers to treat their secretaries in such a way. His defense of Toyota was couched in the logic of anti-sexism — that because Toyota is a woman she was being punished for behavior that is not considered unusual among men. Most secretaries absorb the abuse and get on with their jobs, he implied. Certainly none would ever secretly record such a tirade and then take it to a weekly magazine. Kawamura eventually removed the Facbook post.
As it turns out, the secretary in question did not send the recording to Shukan Shincho. According to an article in the July 14 issue of the tabloid Nikkan Gendai, a source “who understands the whole incident” said that while the secretary was willing to talk to the media about it, it was probably other former secretaries of Toyota who secured the recording and sent it to the magazine. As to how many participated in this act of image sabotage, it’s difficult to determine, since, according to Business Journal, Toyota has had more than 100 secretaries in her 4½ years as a Diet member.
In other words, people don’t last long in the employ of Toyota, who was notorious for her irrational behavior even before the recording showed up. Political journalist Yumiko Yokota, writing in Asahi Shimbun’s June 26 edition of Webronza, mentioned a woman who worked on Toyota’s first successful election campaign in 2012. Such people are usually offered jobs in the office afterward, but this woman declined because during the campaign she noticed how often Toyota flew off the handle.
What’s interesting about the woman’s story is that she previously worked for a member of the now defunct Democratic Party of Japan and quit because of “power harassment” related to money. Lawmakers are allowed three government-paid (kōsetsu) secretaries, whose salaries can be as high as ¥14 million a year, and if the politician needs any more, they have to pay for them themselves. The woman told Yokota that in her office private secretaries, whose pay was lower, and public secretaries changed status every six months or so, with the public secretaries being forced to “donate” a good portion of their pay to their boss’ political organization. Apparently, this is a common practice, which is why some lawmakers hire family members as secretaries (though spouses have been forbidden since the early 2000s). Secretaries put up with the practice, as well as with the haughty attitude that comes with it. Almost anyone who rises to that level in politics learns that such an attitude is natural, and in that regard Kawamura’s opinion that Toyota’s fall from grace was accelerated by her gender has some truth to it.
Employed by the health ministry, which paid for her to attend Harvard, Toyota was nonetheless not on the ministry’s “elite track,” according to Yokota, so she was persuaded to run for office. The ease of her LDP-sponsored victory in 2012, when the DPJ was falling apart, sharpened her sense of herself as being superior to almost anyone. She was famous for snubbing office workers and kowtowing to her betters. The woman interviewed by Yokota said Toyota was called the “pink monster” in the halls of government because of her gaudy fashion sense.
Secretaries do many things. Those designated as policy (seisaku) aides, the people who are supposed to draft legislation and do research, should be certified as such, and only 6.5 percent of examinees passed the relevant test in 2016, according to Yomiuri Shimbun. Otherwise, they have to be employed as a secretary for a certain length of time and then take a training course. The certification is good regardless of which politician the secretary works for, but in the end most end up being high-paid personal servants.
The secretary in question was Toyota’s policy aide, so obviously such a position doesn’t shield one from the boss’ wrath. In fact, many are called upon to take a bullet. Whenever a lawmaker is caught in a money scandal, it’s often a secretary who is blamed. Several have even committed suicide, which seems to be taking loyalty to extremes.
Obviously, loyalty was not what Toyota’s secretary felt toward her, but it remains to be seen if his recording of her tirade is a one-off case of revenge or will encourage others to speak up about their lot.
Don’t count on it changing much. There aren’t many jobs for political secretaries. When they leave one politician they usually look for a new one, and rarely leave Nagatacho for the “real world.” The only alternative is to become politicians themselves, but in any case they’re trapped in that peculiar realm. Proof of this is the fact that in none of the reports about the Toyota scandal is the secretary named. If he was, it might be impossible for him to find another position.
Once a punching bag, always a punching bag.
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