Yet another anti-LGBT gaffe: why are Japanese MPs so out of touch with modern society?

  • Katsuei Hirasawa warned the ‘nation would collapse’ if everyone embraced the LGBT lifestyle
  • Hirasawa later tried to walk back the comments, saying they had been made in the context of Japan’s problem with an ageing population
PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 08 January, 2019, 11:37am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 08 January, 2019, 11:50am

A senior member of Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party has attracted criticism for declaring the “nation would collapse” if everyone was LGBT, the latest in a long line of polarising comments by senior politicians.

The remarks late last week by 74-year-old Katsuei Hirasawa, to a crowd in Yamanashi Prefecture, in central Japan, indicate just how out of touch older generations of politicians are with modern-day Japan, analysts say.

More worrying, they point out, is that they seem to have been emboldened to make outrageous comments because the media and society no longer seem to hold them as accountable as they would have in years gone by.

Hirasawa told a meeting that he did not “understand” moves by a number of local governments to recognise same-sex marriages, adding: “Criticising LGBT people would create problems, but if everyone became like them then a nation would collapse.”

Hirasawa – who previously served as head of the LDP’s public relations operations – later tried to walk back the comments, saying they had been made in the context of Japan’s problem with an ageing population and the need to encourage young people to have more children.

The damage had been done, however, and contributors to Japanese internet chat rooms were stinging in their criticisms.

“Utter idiot. Incredible that such fools can get elected,” wrote one contributor to the Japan Today website. Another added: “Such a logic-free statement, you wonder how the guy can even get through the day.” A third commented: “The LDP, as out of touch and out of their minds as ever.”

You can’t take this sort of comment personally because it makes absolutely no sense
Alexander Dmitrenko, lawyer

Hirasawa’s verbal faux pas came just days after the Asahi newspaper named in an editorial the winners of its “abusive language award” of 2018. The left-of-centre broadsheet gave its unofficial award to two other LDP members.

Taro Aso, the finance minister and deputy prime minister, was one winner after he defended a vice finance minister against charges of sexual harassment towards a female reporter, declaring that “There is no crime called sexual harassment” and suggesting instead that the government official had been “framed”.

Aso shared the award with Mio Sugita, an LDP member of the Lower House of the Diet who wrote in a magazine article that same-sex couples should not be eligible for government assistance because they are “unproductive” members of society.

“You can’t take this sort of comment personally because it makes absolutely no sense and instead just shows how out of touch these people are,” said Alexander Dmitrenko, a lawyer in the Tokyo office of the Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer law firm and a member of the Lawyers for LGBT Allies Network.

“Bigotry like this comes from a lack of education and, simply, not enough awareness of LGBT Issues in Japan. They are demonstrating a lack of understanding of how reality functions.”

Dmitrenko pointed out that Hirasawa had been re-elected to the Diet eight times but never been given a cabinet portfolio, a failing widely attributed to his habit of saying the wrong thing.

“These are the attitudes of older, male members of the party and those of the ‘new right’ who are not satisfied with having their own opinion on issues, but want to be vocal and silence other opinions on our society,” said Makoto Watanabe, an associate professor of media and communications at Hokkaido Bunkyo University.

“LGBT rights was not an issue 50 years ago so someone like Hirasawa has no understanding of the matter and instead falls back on the old values of the far right. He has simply stopped thinking.”

What’s it like being a gay student in Japan?

Watanabe pointed out that in the past, politicians have resigned for a bad decision or a poorly worded comment – such as Yoshiro Mori, who stepped down in 2001 in part due to his decision to continue a round of golf after hearing that a fisheries research vessel had been sunk off Hawaii by a US submarine. Nine people died in the accident.

“I think our society has changed since then,” Watanabe said. “The media has been weakened and cannot hold these people accountable, while so many people have no interest in politics.

“And as Aso and Sugiyama were not pressured to step down, I think it is very unlikely that Hirasawa will be forced to resign. And that is extremely worrying because it shows them that they can say pretty much anything and there is no accountability.”