The head of Japan’s Olympics committee apologized on Thursday for making sexist remarks during a board meeting, renewing a debate over the pervasive sexism in Japanese politics.
Yoshiro Mori, chairman of the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games Organizing Committee, on Wednesday said women talk too much in meetings and that “a board with many women will take time,” the Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun reported.
His comments were met with laughter during the meeting, the newspaper said. But they caused a backlash that threatened to derail preparations for the Tokyo Olympics scheduled to start in July.
“Before I felt angry, I felt so sad and disappointed,” Asuka Kitagawa, a cheese maker, told VICE World News. “Especially when I think of all those female athletes who’d be coming from overseas for the Olympics during the pandemic.”
She added that the response to the 83-year-old former prime minister’s remarks during the meeting—laughter—were “just as problematic as Mori’s statement.”
“If he retires, Japan has the opportunity to show the world they don’t tolerate this sort of language,” Kitagawa said.
On Thursday morning, Mori told the Japanese newspaper Mainichi Shimbu that he “may have to quit” over his remarks. In a press conference in the afternoon, Mori apologized for his “inappropriate remarks” but vowed to stay on as head of the organizing committee.
The faux pas could add to mounting disapproval at home of the 2021 Olympic Games. A poll conducted by Kyodo News in January suggested that about 80 percent of Japanese people wanted the country to postpone or cancel the games due to the pandemic.
Public trust in the government’s ability to manage the health risks during the games has taken a hit after local media caught several politicians breaking their own social distancing rules.
Mori’s remarks have prompted a debate over sexism in Japan, where men have long dominated politics.
Less than 15 percent of lawmakers in Japan’s two-house parliament are female. In a report on gender gap published by the World Economic Forum in 2019, the country ranked 121st overall and 144th for women’s representation in politics.
“I cannot overlook the fact that a public figure would make such openly disdainful remarks,” Izumi Uchida, a homemaker in her 30s, told VICE World News.
“In Japan, women often feel like they must bear great burdens, or that they’re as invisible as thin air. But we women do exist and we have the right to express our opinions.”
On social media, Mori’s critics have called him an “embarrassment to Japan.” On Japanese Twitter, women are sharing the trending hashtag #わきまえない女 (“women who don’t know their place”) to push back against discrimination.
For Japan’s Olympic Committee, gender equality is a distant prospect. Only one in five board members are women, a ratio that the committee in 2019 said it would double before the Tokyo Olympics.
On the social media app Clubhouse, Renhō Saitō, a member of Japan’s upper legislative chamber, criticized Mori’s remarks and lamented that women are held to unequal standards.
When her male counterparts make mistakes, Renhō told more than 2,000 listeners on Thursday morning, they are deemed errors. But if a female politician were to make that same error, the lawmaker said, she risks losing her platform entirely.