Top finance official Junichi Fukuda quits over sexual harassment allegations
Administrative Vice Finance Minister Junichi Fukuda has resigned over allegations he sexually harassed a female reporter. Despite resigning, Fukuda has fiercely denied the claims published by the weekly magazine Shukan Shincho that he made sexually suggestive remarks to an unnamed female reporter who is an employee of the private broadcaster TV Asahi.

The magazine, which also released an audio clip of the incident, claimed Fukuda told the journalist he wanted to kiss her. A voice allegedly belonging to Fukuda is heard saying on the recording; “I’ll tie up your hands. Can I touch your breasts?” “Shall we have an affair once the budget is approved?”

Fukuda has told reporters he could not confirm if it was his voice in the audio clip, but he is not aware of making any remark that could be taken as sexual harassment. The recording does not feature the voice of the reporter making the harassment allegations. The magazine has also alleged that Fukuda made similarly inappropriate remarks to other female journalists covering the ministry.

Finance Minister Taro Aso initially appeared to dismiss the allegations against Fukuda, saying he had given the top bureaucrat a verbal warning and felt he was “sufficiently remorseful”. However, under public scrutiny Aso reversed his course by stating that Fukuda would be fired if the claims were proven, and the Finance Ministry has asked independent lawyers to investigate, urging any women who had experienced harassment to cooperate with the inquiry. This approach of coming forward publicly has come under fire, with more than 25,000 people signing a petition demanding the Ministry protects the rights of victims.

Having joined the Finance Ministry in 1982, Fukuda took the position of Administrative Vice Minister in July last year after playing several key roles at the ministry, including head of the Budget Bureau. After initially claiming he had no intention of resigning and would sue the magazine for libel, he has now buckled under the pressure and argued that the allegations had left him unable to do his job. Fukuda still maintains that he will take the allegations against him to court.

A government beset by scandal
Fukuda offered to step down on the same day that Ryuichi Yoneyama, the governor of Niigata, announced his resignation in another allegation of sexual impropriety. Yoneyama resigned over claims that he paid money and given gifts to women with whom he had sex after meeting them on an internet dating site. In spite of insisting he had not paid for sex with the women, Yoneyama nevertheless acknowledged his actions could “look to some like prostitution”.

Both scandals further weaken the political clout of the Ministry, which has already seen its reputation greatly damaged by admission of document-tampering in the heavily discounted land deal involving ultra-nationalist school operator Moritomo Gakuen leading to accusations of cronyism against Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

Japan’s #MeToo movement

The #MeToo movement has been slow to gain traction in Japan, which has had few reported #MeToo cases about sexual harassment involving public figures. The fact that TV Asahi has stated their intention to lodge an official complaint against the Finance Ministry has led to Fukuda’s resignation being described as the country’s #MeToo moment. The director of TV Asahi's news department, Hiroshi Shinozuka, has apologised for the way in which the network managed the employee’s claim with bosses dissuading the reporter from going public with her allegations on the basis that they would damage her reputation. This is in accordance with the global #MeToo inspired seismic shift on how businesses, the entertainment industry and politics handle allegations of sexual harassment and violence.

Lewis Silkin A Lasting Change

Prior to Fukuda's resignation, Japan's newspaper employees union had issued a statement calling for better protection of women in the workplace. Lewis Silkin is campaigning with the same objective of creating a lasting change on sexual harassment in the workplace by helping organisations to make permanent improvements to the workplace experience of women.

Lewis Silkin is committed to supporting any organisation that wants to positively engage with gender issues through delivering tailored advice focusing on specific aspects of business culture.

For further information, please contact Koichiro Nakada – Head of Japan Business Group (koichiro.nakada@lewissilkin.com) and Yoko Nakada - Senior Associate, Deputy Head of Japan Business Group (yoko.nakada@lewissilkin.com).
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