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The Tokyo Games have once again been thrust into the limelight for the wrong reason after reports emerged of derogatory remarks made by Hiroshi Sasaki, the now-former creative director of the opening and closing ceremonies, toward actress and comedian Naomi Watanabe.

On Wednesday, weekly magazine Shukan Bunshun reported that Sasaki had suggested that Watanabe — who is slated to perform during the opening ceremony in July — should appear as a pig, giving his own idea the portmanteau “Olympig.”

In an apology published by the Tokyo Organising Committee, Sasaki announced his intent to resign and explained he had floated the idea in March 2020 in a group chat on the Line messaging app and was quickly and roundly criticized by his peers.

“To be honest, I’m surprised,” Watanabe said in a statement published Thursday by her talent agency. “I hope for a fun, more harmonious world in which we can all respect each other and our unique ways of thinking.”

Sasaki had been responsible for overseeing the opening and closing ceremonies for both the Olympic and Paralympic Games. As a former employee of advertising giant Dentsu Inc., Sasaki is well-known for a number of popular magazine and television commercials.

During a news conference on Thursday, Tokyo 2020 President Seiko Hashimoto said the organizing committee accepted Sasaki’s resignation.

“I was shocked when I read the headline,” Hashimoto said.

“Gender equality and representation have been a priority since I was appointed president,” she said. “These things should not and cannot be allowed to happen.”

Seiko Hashimoto, a 56-year-old former Olympian and Cabinet minister, was appointed president of the Tokyo Organising Committee in February after her predecessor, Yoshiro Mori, resigned in response to a global backlash triggered by his sexist remarks. | RYUSEI TAKAHASHI
Seiko Hashimoto, a 56-year-old former Olympian and Cabinet minister, was appointed president of the Tokyo Organising Committee in February after her predecessor, Yoshiro Mori, resigned in response to a global backlash triggered by his sexist remarks. | RYUSEI TAKAHASHI

Only a month has passed since Hashimoto, a decorated former Olympian and former Cabinet minister in charge of the Tokyo Games, replaced Yoshiro Mori, who stepped down after his sexist remarks about women engendered a fierce backlash both in Japan and abroad.

On Feb. 3, reports emerged that Mori had said during a meeting with the Japanese Olympic Committee that women can be competitive and speak too much.

“If one (female) member raises her hand to speak, all the others feel the need to speak too. Everyone ends up saying something,” he said. “If we increase the number of female board members, we have to make sure their speaking time is restricted somewhat. They have difficulty finishing, which is annoying.”

The response to Mori’s discriminatory remarks was swift and sizable.

The resignations of Mori and Sasaki arrived in quick succession just as the country prepares for the torch relay to begin in Fukushima Prefecture on March 25, marking the official start of the run-up to an Olympic and Paralympic Games marred by inflating costs, a pandemic and multiple scandals.

Soon after Mori’s resignation, the organizing committee announced on March 3 it had expanded its executive board by 12 seats, all of which would be filled by women from various disciplines — professional athletes, university professors and corporate executives, among others — in a bid to raise gender representation.

Upon being appointed president, Hashimoto announced a gender project team would be created to raise gender equality and representation at all levels of the organizing committee.

On Thursday, Hashimoto said the organizing committee will look to replace Sasaki as quickly as possible. Just over four months remain until the opening ceremony in July.

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