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Japan’s education minister apologizes after magazine reveals visit to a ‘sexy yoga’ studio using official car

Kyodo, Staff Report

Education minister Yoshimasa Hayashi apologized Wednesday after a magazine reported the day prior that he used an official ministry car to visit a “sexy yoga” studio in Tokyo, threatening to add further scandal to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s already embattled government.

The weekly magazine Shukan Bunshun reported Tuesday that Hayashi spent two hours at a studio where a female instructor gives a private yoga lesson and then an oil massage to customers in the capital’s Ebisu district on April 16.

The weekly publication said the studio is run by a former porn actress, an allegation the owner denies, and has been shown on TV as a “yoga hostess club” because its instructors are former hostesses and models.

Owning up to the allegation, Hayashi told reporters, “I should have made it clear between my public and private matters.”

Hayashi apologized for creating trouble as opposition parties are demanding that Finance Minister Taro Aso step down over multiple scandals involving officials in his ministry, including allegations of sexual harassment. The opposition camp is boycotting Diet deliberations.

The 57-year-old minister of education, culture, sports, science and technology said he went to the yoga studio after leaving his ministry in the afternoon on April 16, before heading to the Diet building.

While Hayashi said the use of an official vehicle did not violate regulations because he went to the facility in between his public duties, he said the visit was something that could invite misunderstanding, and that his judgment was “lacking.”

Hayashi dismissed the magazine’s depiction of the studio as a “yoga hostess club,” saying, “I understand it is a standard yoga studio.”

The minister revealed he has frequented the yoga studio several times a month for five or six years to maintain good health and had used official cars.

Faced with intensifying pressure by opposition forces, including this latest scandal, Hiroshi Moriyama, the Diet affairs chief for the Liberal Democratic Party, told reporters that the dissolution of the House of Representatives is “one option” that could be taken in the event a censure motion is filed against the Abe administration.

The prime minister dissolved the Lower House last October for a general election in which his ruling bloc won a landslide victory — due in part to the fractured state of the opposition parties.

Moriyama’s remark quickly sparked criticism from opposition lawmakers, with one saying it smacks of “intimidation” and another saying such a move would actually backfire on the government.

But a senior government official said, “There is no need for a dissolution,” pointing out that such a move is the “exclusive prerogative” of the prime minister.

LDP Secretary-General Toshihiro Nikai also dismissed Moriyama’s remark as too sudden, saying, “How could we possibly dissolve (the Lower House) now?”

The education ministry says the use of government cars is primarily for the smooth execution of official duties for high-ranking officials . As for Hayashi’s use of the official car to visit the studio, the ministry believes it did not violate regulations.