The cabinet of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has received several setbacks so far in the month of October. Two female cabinet ministers have been forced to resign over alleged misuse of political funds.
And now the replacement for one of the recently departed ministers is under fire after only three days on the job for allegedly allowing his political support group to claim expenses for a trip to an S&M bar.
Yoichi Miyazawa, who replaced newly minted Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry Yuko Obuchi, is also himself under fire for holding shares in Tepco, the giant power utility he's responsible for regulating as trade and economy minister.
Members of Abe's cabinet are “falling like dominoes” according to horseracing tabloid Nikkan Gendai.
Abe's Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) government has been in power since December 2012, about 18 months after the “triple disaster” of a massive earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear accident devasted much of Japan's northeast coastline.
Much of Abe's mandate so far has been scandal free, in part because Abe and his supporters have displayed remarkable restraint and focus in achieving their goals, compared to previous governments (Japanese prime ministers typically have a life-span of about a year).
On the economic front, Abe's government has been focused on somehow stimulating the Japanese economy. Some attention has been paid to the phenomenon of relatively low participation by Japanese women in the labor force, and the status of women in general in Japan.
As a result, Abe recently tapped five woman to serve as ministers in his cabinet, but this renewed focus on “womenomics” was quickly derailed by a series of scandals involving four out of five of the female appointees, two of whom have since resigned in the last week.
The resignation of Trade and Industry Minister Yuko Obuchi on October 20 is considered to be a blow to Abe's efforts to focus attention on economic revitalization and the status of women in Japan by pledging to fill 30 percent of management positions with women by 2020.
Women on average account for just 6 percent of management positions. About half of Japanese companies don’t even have any female managers
Obuchi, the daughter of the late and fondly remembered former Prime Minister Keizō Obuchi, was appointed to her post just a month before at the beginning of September. She was forced to resign after questions arose about how campaign staff were spending political funds.
The second minister to resign in October, former Justice Minister Midori Matsushima, allegedly distributed custom-made uchiwa handheld fans to people attending a summer festivals in her Tokyo constituency. Giving voters even apparently insubstantial gratuities is against Japan's election laws.
Now, just a few days after assuming his post, Obuchi's successor, new trade and industry Minister Yoichi Miyazawa, has been accused of misspending political funds. Miyazawa's fate will shed a light on how men and women are treated differently in politics in Japan.
Shortly after Miyazawa assumed his post on October 20, it was alleged that members of Miyazawa's local constituency political support group in Hiroshima have claimed expenses for a trip to an S&M bar.
Miyazawa claims he didn't know anything about it and in any event his staff haven't actually broken and rules, but social media has been quick to pounce on this juicy story:
地元秘書が行ったというけど秘書のせいにするのは常套手段。野党にはせめて「その秘書にお仕置きはしたのか」くらいの引っかけ質問してもらわないと。 “ＳＭバー問題” 宮沢経産相「国会でも説明していく」（TBS系（JNN）） – Y!ニュース http://t.co/3c3VgP3UV3
— 中野晃一 Koichi Nakano (@knakano1970) October 24, 2014
It's standard practice to make the local constituency assistant the fall guy. The opposition parties could get some traction by asking if Miyazawa's real intention was to “whip” his constituency assistant for some sort of mistake…
“Trade and Economy Minister Miyazawa summoned to Diet to be questioned over S&M bar expense tab” (TBS, JNN, Yahoo! News) http://t.co/3c3VgP3UV3
It also turns out that Miyazawa, who as trade and industry minister now oversees Japan's power industry, also owns shares in Tepco, the largest utility in Japan:
日刊ゲンダイ|新経産相に東電株主…早くも「あり得ない人選だ」と異論噴出 http://t.co/ABEmweJE9O 宮沢洋一大臣（６４）に、早くも「脱原発派」から疑問の声が上がっている。なぜなら、宮沢大臣は党内屈指の東電株の保有者だからだ。
— 保坂展人 (@hosakanobuto) October 23, 2014
Nikkan Gendai reporting there is an eruption of criticism calling Miyazawa a “ridiculous choice” for trade and industry minister. http://t.co/ABEmweJE9O
Anti-nuke campaigners are also raising questions about the integrity of Miyazawa (64). Why? Because as a cabinet insider it turns out that Miyazawa is one the biggest Tepco shareholder of any [ruling party] LDP lawmaker.
Opposition lawmakers were quick to notice that Miyazawa hold shares in giant power utility Tepco, a clear conflict of interest for any trade and industry minister, who is in charge of regulating the power industry. Kouji Sugihara Green Party of Japan Diet and critic for decommissioning nuclear power in Japan wrote:
— 杉原こうじ（緑の党・脱原発担当） (@kojiskojis) October 25, 2014
Miyazawa must quit! Speak up and tell Trade and Economy Minister Miyawa to resign! Fax or telephone his Tokyo office, or phone his local constituency office. Say that it's a clear conflict of interest for the trade and industry minister to hold shares in Tepco, and that the minister must resign.
Not everyone thinks the revelations about Miyazawa are such a big deal.
Toshio Tamogami, a retired air force chief who has since transformed himself into a political pundit and darling of Japan's far-right netizens, poo-poohed the allegations against Miyazawa, in a statement that was re-tweeted hundreds of times and set off a lively debate:
— 田母神俊雄 (@toshio_tamogami) October 25, 2014
At a press conference on October 24, Defense Minister Akinori Eto said that the opposition parties are trying to gain concessions from the government regarding the issue of whether or not Miyazawa's staff used political funds to pay for a visit to an S&M bar. This is what the role of the opposition is all about in the Diet — to create a lot of sound and fury that means nothing. The government side has got to go on the offensive to nip this sort of behavior in the bud. The government should always be setting the agenda, not the opposition.
The Abe government may not be able to set the agenda for some time. New stories about the spending habits of other cabinet ministers are starting to pop up in the news.
Both Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Finance Minister and cabinet heavyweight Taro Aso are starting to come under scrutiny in Japan's tabloid press:
安倍晋三 「行事費」という名目で、3年間に3000万。 麻生太郎 「交際費」名目の飲食代に1億円。 愛人に1805万5000円。 はい、もう完全に「カネの亡者」。汚らしいなんてものではないね^_^(嘲笑) pic.twitter.com/odNRETAaam
— 数学Ｍ (@hiro_mmmm) October 25, 2014
Front page headline: “TOP TWO GOVERNMENT PLAYERS USING POLITICAL FUNDS TO PARTY ALL NIGHT.”
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has spent 30 million yen [about US$280,000] on “events” over the past three years. Finance minister Taro Aso has spent 100 million yen [about US$930,00] on entertainment expenses, and has passed on more than 18 million yen to a mistress.
It's all about spending money like a drunken sailor. Quite squalid, isn't it? FML
In any event, lurid shenanigans are nothing new for (male) Japanese politicians. Some Twitter users are digging up reports of misdeeds by members of the previous government led by the Democratic Party of Japan, now sitting in the opposition:
— すねいく (@daIkusam) October 24, 2014
MAFF deputy minister Iwamoto appears to have illegally spent political funds on a variety of nightclubs and cabarets, places where you can slip a 10,000 yen note into the cleavage of hostesses, or pay money to receive all sorts of wild services. If we're going to say the LDP Miyazawa's spent 18,000 yen at a club, then at least remember that the DPJ's Iwamoto spent at least the same amount.