Japanese pop star turned politician apologises for affair with married man

Imai’s relationship with Hashimoto was revealed when the tabloid managed to take a photo of the two of them holding hands on a bullet train

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 29 July, 2017, 5:04pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 29 July, 2017, 11:10pm

Just over a year after she was first elected to parliament, Japanese pop star turned politician Eriko Imai has been forced to apologise after a tabloid newspaper revealed she has been having an affair with a married local politician from Kobe.

A contrite-looking Imai, 33, appeared on Thursday at the Liberal Democratic Party’s headquarters in Tokyo to give a brief statement in response to reports in the weekly news magazine Shukan Shincho.

“I am deeply sorry for creating a mess and betraying the trust of those who have supported me,” said Imai, who shot to fame as a member of the J-pop band Speed before a successful solo career.

She declined to comment on the accuracy of the reports about her alleged relationship with Ken Hashimoto, a 37-year-old LDP member of the Kobe Municipal Assembly, but said she would release a further statement at a later date.

Kyodo News has also reported that Hashimoto may have illegally assisted Imai’s election campaign last year by using public funds to produce a pamphlet featuring an interview of them both. The funds are officially to be used for political research and cannot be spent on political promotion activities.

I am deeply sorry for creating a mess and betraying the trust of those who have supported me
Eriko Imai

Imai’s relationship with Hashimoto was revealed when the tabloid managed to take a photo of the two of them holding hands on a bullet train. There are also reports that they went on overnight trips together that were listed as being for business purposes.

The reports of Imai’s affair comes at a bad time for the ruling LDP, which is already reeling after a string of political scandals and sharply declining public support rates.

Tomomi Inada, the defence minister, resigned on Friday after being unable to shrug off allegations that the ministry had falsified the logs of troops dispatched on a peacekeeping mission to South Sudan earlier this year.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is also not immune from suspicion and spent two days this week being grilled in parliament over suggestions that he intervened with officials at the Ministry of Education on behalf of a personal friend to arrange a permit to build a new veterinarian college. But the fall from grace of Imai has been spectacularly rapid.

When she announced in February last year that she would stand in Japan’s parliamentary elections in July representing the LDP, strategists were delighted to have a hugely popular singer on board to freshen up the party’s staid and dull image.

A single mother raising a 12-year-old son with a hearing impairment, the party said in its election literature that she would fit well with its policy of “promoting dynamic engagement of all citizens.”

Speed had released their first single, Body and Soul, in 1996 when all four members were aged between 12 and 15 years old. The band, all of whom are from Okinawa, were best known for White Love, a huge hit in 1997.