National / Politics

'Give birth to at least three kids': Japan ex-minister under fire for linking single women to low birthrate

by Tomohiro Osaki

Staff Writer

Just a little over a month after resigning as the Olympics minister over a gaffe, Liberal Democratic Party lawmaker Yoshitaka Sakurada has again found himself in hot water, this time by urging women to have at least three children.

While attending a gathering hosted by another LDP lawmaker in Chiba Prefecture on Wednesday, Sakurada addressed the problem of the nation’s shrinking population in a speech where he reportedly urged the audience there to tell their children and grandchildren to “give birth to at least three kids,” according to domestic media.

He was also quoted as saying “unfortunately, there has been an increasing number of women who are content to remain single.”

Sakurada’s comment was immediately slammed by critics as being insensitive.

His remarks echoed a similar gaffe made by Kanji Kato, also an LDP lawmaker, in a faction meeting last year. Kato revealed that when he attends wedding receptions he often tells newlywed couples that they “must raise at least three children.” Kato was immediately forced to apologize and retract his remark.

In a statement addressed to media later Wednesday, Sakurada said he had “no intention of hurting anyone’s feelings.”

“I only wished to convey the importance of creating an environment where people who wish to have children can give birth and raise them easily and with a sense of security.”

The comments have placed Sakurada back into the media spotlight after he was effectively forced out of his post as the Olympics minister just last month over comments he made about reconstruction efforts in Tohoku, large areas of which were devastated by the March 2011 quake, tsunami and nuclear disaster.

At a fundraising party for LDP lawmaker Hinako Takahashi, Sakurada reportedly said in a speech that Takahashi was “more important than reconstruction” in Tohoku.

Even before that, Sakurada, a seventh-term lawmaker who represents a Chiba constituency, had repeatedly made headlines over misstatements and blunders. He once admitted at a Diet committee that, despite doubling as the minister in charge of cybersecurity, he had never used a computer.

Renho, a Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan lawmaker and the former leader of the now-defunct Democratic Party, posted a series of tweets lambasting Sakurada on Thursday, saying his comment underscored how out of touch he is with the reality faced by women.

“When you’re 10 months pregnant, you do feel happiness at the prospect of motherhood, but part of you also feels trepidation about how your maternity/child care leave might affect your work, not to mention the problem of day care shortages. … Giving birth is not easy,” wrote Renho, a mother of two grown children.

“The fact a former Cabinet minister thinks the declining number of children is because of unmarried women says so much about why our birthrate never improves.”

Gaffes by LDP lawmakers are a recurring issue. The party, ahead of the crucial Upper House elections in July, created a code of conduct to instruct its lawmakers on how to avoid making headlines over ill-advised comments.

Lawmakers from other parties have also been prone to putting their foot in their mouth.

Hodaka Maruyama, a former Nippon Ishin no Kai lawmaker, was roundly condemned earlier this month for suggesting in an apparently drunken state that Japan wage war with Russia to regain control over the disputed islands off Hokkaido.

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