Japan town's sole female councillor ousted after accusing mayor of sexual assault

By Justin McCurry

The only female member of a town assembly in Japan has been voted out of her seat after she accused the mayor of sexual assault, in a setback for the country’s nascent #MeToo movement.

Shoko Arai, until Monday a councillor in Kusatsu, a popular hot spring resort north-west of Tokyo, lost her seat after more than 90% of residents voted to recall her, saying she had damaged the town’s reputation, Japanese media reported.

Her plight has highlighted the male domination of local and national politics in Japan, which performs poorly in international comparisons of female representation in politics.

Arai claimed in an e-book published in November last year that the Kusatsu mayor, Nobutada Kuroiwa, had “forced her into sexual relations” in his office in 2015.

She said Kuroiwa, 73, had “suddenly pulled me closer, kissed me and pushed [me] down on the floor”, adding that she “couldn’t push him back”.

Kuroiwa has denied sexually assaulting Arai, saying his office door and curtains were open on the day of the alleged incident. He has filed a defamation complaint with local police.

Arai’s allegations triggered an angry backlash among male members of the assembly and a campaign of personal attacks against the assemblywoman, who had represented her seat as an independent since 2011.

Fellow councillors voted her out of office in December last year, but the move was overturned by prefectural authorities. Local politicians, who accused her of “harming the dignity” of the council, then gathered enough signatures to hold a recall vote.

Agence France-Presse quoted a town hall spokesman as saying that of the 2,835 residents who voted, 2,542 had backed her removal.

Arai, 51, was unrepentant, describing the vote as “unjust and unreasonable”. She added that she would “not be terrorised by pressure from people with power”, according to the Asahi Shimbun.

Her former colleagues defended the decision, with a representative of the lawmakers who organised the vote telling public broadcaster NHK they “want to work on restoring the damaged reputation” of Kusatsu, a town of 6,200 people that attracts large numbers of tourists.

A local woman, one of the few residents who supported Arai, told the Asahi: “If someone loses their job after making a sexual assault allegation, people in other workplaces will also find it difficult to raise their voices for fear of being fired.”

The reaction to Arai’s allegations has refocused attention on what campaigners say is Japan’s failure to properly investigate allegations of sexual violence. According to a 2017 government survey, just 4% of women come forward with sexual assault allegations.

Pressure on Japanese authorities to take rape allegations more seriously has increased since Shiori Ito, a reporter and symbol of Japan’s MeToo movement, accused Noriyuki Yamaguchi, a prominent TV journalist, of raping her in 2015.

Police decided not to arrest Yamaguchi, prompting Ito to launch a civil suit, which she won late last year. Yamaguchi, who has denied the allegations, was ordered to pay Ito damages.

With Agence France-Presse