A Tokyo city lawmaker from Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's ruling party admitted yesterday he had been responsible for a sexist taunt shouted at a young assemblywoman in a debate on motherhood.
In a case that has cast a harsh spotlight on the attitudes of many of the older men who occupy senior positions in Japanese public life, 51-year-old Akihiro Suzuki said he had yelled, "Why don't you get married?" at the opposition assemblywoman.
The episode last Wednesday has undermined Abe's repeated appeals for Japan to boost the role of its underemployed women and encourage them into more senior positions. Suzuki had previously repeatedly denied shouting the taunt.
"I made the comment out of my feeling that I would like her to get married soon, as we see the issue of a shrinking population and an increasing number of women not marrying until late," Suzuki told a press conference.
"It was such an inconsiderate remark to those who cannot get married even if they wish to," said Suzuki, who is married with three children.
The object of his taunts was Ayaka Shiomura, 35, who was questioning senior figures in the Tokyo city administration on plans to help mothers when abuse erupted from seats occupied by Liberal Democratic Party members. Suzuki's shout was captured on tape, while some in the chamber said they also heard laughter and taunts such as "Are you not able to have a baby?"
The story initially only appeared in two liberal-leaning newspapers last Thursday, but gathered pace both domestically and internationally.
By the weekend, it dominated television talk shows, resulting in Suzuki admitting his part yesterday and apologising to Shiomura in a room full of journalists.
He resigned his party membership, but insisted he would stay on as an assemblyman.
While Suzuki's apology has taken some of the sting out of the issue, there will doubtless be calls for more heads to roll, with commentators on his Facebook page pointing out he was not alone.