Finance Minister Taro Aso came under fire again on Friday for a comment during a Diet session that suggests a belittling attitude toward sexual harassment, saying his ministry’s former top bureaucrat might have fallen into a trap by a female reporter.
“Such a possibility can’t be ruled out,” Aso said during a session of the Lower House financial committee, after saying that the reporter had intentionally tried to get then-Administrative Vice Minister Junichi Fukuda to make sexual advances.
Aso’s statement sparked strong words from opposition lawmakers. Seiji Osaka, a senior member of the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, told reporters he was “past being surprised by the unwillingness to admit fault and downright angry.”
The remark follows the recent resignation of Fukuda for alleged sexual harassment, and protests from women over comments made by Aso in connection with the scandal.
Aso later retracted the remark, saying, “It was careless, and I’ve been told it makes light of sexual harassment. I’ll be more careful in the future.”
Aso drew criticism after making similar comments last month, saying, “There are many opinions among the public, including that (Fukuda) was entrapped and now he is being accused.” He also said before that “there is no such thing as a sexual harassment charge (in the Penal Code).”
A lawmaker from the Liberal Democratic Party, meanwhile, is being criticized for saying this week that newlyweds should have at least three children.
The remark by Kanji Kato — a 72-year-old Lower House member — at a meeting on Thursday with members of the ruling party is the latest in a series of gaffes by Japanese politicians.
While Japan’s gender gap remains wide and sexual harassment scandals involving public figures have been grabbing headlines in recent weeks, what Kato said sparked a wave of criticism even from his ruling party peers.
One female lawmaker said, “This is exactly sexual harassment,” and many others also expressed discomfort with the remark.
Yoshihisa Inoue, secretary-general of the Komeito party, the LDP’s junior coalition partner, said Kato’s view is inappropriate, noting that he seems not to understand what is needed to reverse the nation’s declining birthrate.
“It is fundamental to build a society that makes it possible for people to give birth and raise kids if they wish. That’s our most important job,” Inoue told a news conference.
At the meeting, Kato said that when attending wedding receptions, he always tells brides and grooms that he wants them to raise three or more kids.
Kato also said that when he meets young women at a wedding reception, he tells them that if they don’t get married they won’t have children, meaning they would have to enter a nursing home using tax money paid by someone else’s offspring.
Kato initially told reporters that he didn’t intend to retract his comment. But his office later released a statement saying that, while the remark was “not intended to disrespect women,” he apologizes for making a misleading comment and retracts it.
Kato, who has been elected to the Lower House three times, has served as vice minister at the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, among other posts.