JAPAN: From Dollars to Disgrace

LEXIE TUCKER WRITES – On October 19, Japanese media was quick to announce the resignation of Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Yuko Obuchi after claims that groups supporting her had misused political funds.

If anybody knows how to handle a scandal, it’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’ and his team. Since adding five new female cabinet members in September to show support for women in political roles, all five appointees have been caught up in sticky situations.

It has been alleged that Chair of the National Public Safety Commission Eriko Yamatani has had ties to the extremist group Zaitokukai who harass ethnic Koreans living in Japan. Justice Minister Midori Matsushima has been accused of giving away free handheld fans to voters with her name, picture, and title on them, which is considered a breach of Japanese election campaign law. Gender Equality Minister Haruko Arimura and internal affairs minister Sanae Takaichi have both been criticized for their conservative views on gender issues and their support of Yasukuni Shrine, a monument to Japanese war criminals. Until now, Obuchi was the only female minister considered to be controversy-free.

Obuchi’s resignation could definitely mean bad news for Abe. With his current focus on two main issues, economic recovery and female empowerment  in Japanese society, this scandal will only make things easier for the opposing political party to win the favor of the majority.

Originally seen as the next contender for prime minister, it would seem that Obuchi’s chances of assuming the position have been dashed. In a recent press conference, she stated, “I feel that ignorance is no excuse,” referring to reports of misappropriated use of funds by two Obuchi-supported political groups. Public broadcaster NHK reported that these groups spent approximately $400,000 on annual theater events between 2009 and 2011 and kept no spending record for their 2012 event. It would appear that the media is doing their job as the fourth estate in the land of the rising sun.

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