February 6, 2023 at 13:37 JST
Masayoshi Arai, right, with Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, left, in Tokyo in December (Asahi Shimbun file photo)
Startling discriminatory remarks came from the mouth of Masayoshi Arai, who regularly accompanied Prime Minister Fumio Kishida as his executive secretary.
Arai, who was in charge of media relations, also acted as a spokesman for the prime minister.
Kishida has championed a “diverse and inclusive society” since he took office but has failed to take actions to deliver on his promise.
Even though he decided immediately to dismiss Arai, the prime minister must face up to many questions.
His administration’s apparent lack of awareness of human rights has to be rigorously scrutinized.
Arai, speaking with reporters at the prime minister’s office on the night of Feb. 3, said he would not want to live next to sexual minorities and loathed even looking at them.
He also said some Japanese would “abandon” their country if same-sex marriage was legalized.
Arai, a former industry ministry career bureaucrat, was one of the eight secretaries to the prime minister.
The blatantly discriminatory remarks, made by a close aide to the prime minister who was in an important public post, are simply appalling.
Did he just speak his mind because he was having an off-the-record conversation with reporters?
When critical news media began to report on his remarks, Arai fully retracted his comments, saying it was “not appropriate to express personal opinions as a secretary (to the prime minister).”
But it is hard to believe his claim that he has no discriminatory sentiment toward sexual minorities.
Kishida acted swiftly and decided to dismiss him on the morning of Feb. 4.
He said Arai’s remarks were “outrageous” and “completely incompatible with the administration’s policy.”
Still, Kishida should not forget that his own remarks at a recent session of the Lower House Budget Committee provided a context for Arai’s comments.
Asked about his stance toward the legalization of same-sex marriage, Kishida said careful considerations are necessary because the issue could fundamentally “change the views about family and values, as well as society, for all the people.”
His response was bitterly criticized on social media and elsewhere, with critics saying society is already changing and Kishida lacks consideration for human rights.
Arai made the discriminatory comments during his exchanges with reporters over Kishida’s remarks.
Arai also reportedly said secretaries under Kishida would all oppose legalizing same-sex marriage, although he later admitted that he had not asked them about their views.
Asahi Shimbun opinion polls show that the ratio of respondents who support the proposal to legalize same-sex marriage rose from 41 percent in 2015 to 65 percent in 2021.
Supporters have increased regardless of gender or age and across the political spectrum.
A growing number of local governments have also started a program to officially recognize same-sex partnerships.
Despite the prime minister’s promise to promote diversity, the very people around him appear to share values that run counter to the principle.
In a Cabinet reshuffle last summer, Kishida appointed Lower House member Mio Sugita, who had repeatedly made remarks that discriminate against sexual minorities and deny gender equality, as parliamentary vice minister for internal affairs and communications.
He continued defending Sugita until he was forced to dismiss her at the end of last year.
Kishida’s track record casts doubt on his own awareness of human rights.
--The Asahi Shimbun, Feb. 5
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