Sexual harassment in the workplace is always a problem–there’s nothing to debate in that statement. But it becomes a doubly serious problem when you’re a politician and your workplace is the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly.

While we’d like to think that politicians would, at the very least, know how to behave themselves in public, it turns that some Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly members could use a lesson.

The story, which has swept rapidly across Japan and produced an online petitions with over 70,000 signatures, started on June 18 at a Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly meeting. While giving a speech explaining the need for support for pregnant women and working mothers in general, 35-year-old assemblywoman Ayaka Shiomura, a member of the Minna no To party, was verbally harassed by an as-yet-unidentified man, who shouted “Before talking about that, why don’t you hurry up and get married?” following later with the remark “Can’t you have babies?” And if the harassment wasn’t bad enough, Shiomura also had to endure the laughter of other assemblymen.

▼Ayaka Shiomura


While Shiomura did an admirable job of finishing her speech in the face of the sexist jeering, a blog post by Shun Otokita revealed that the assemblywoman had been understandably upset by the harassment. The blog post, along with a tweet by Shiomura herself, set off an online furor which has only intensified in the past few days. Otokita, a fellow Minna no To party member who was in attendance at the meeting, started his post by writing, “First of all, I need to say, I am angry. Incredibly.” The post then goes on to describe the events before deriding politicians who claim to support women on the campaign trail but continue to make sexist remarks in the assembly hall. Otokita adds, “Surely these are the honest thoughts of many of the old, conservative male politicians.”

▼Shun Otokita


Otokita then went on to explain that when all the Minna no To members (excluding the upset Shiomura) confronted the group they suspected of the sexual harassment, the only response they got was: “What’s your proof that one of our members said it?” and “Since it wasn’t official speech in the assembly, there’s nothing you can do about it.”

Following this, Reiko Ueda, another Minna no To member, also made a blog post about the meeting about 30 minutes after Otokita, explaining the situation further. It turns out that this was Shiomura’s first time appearing before the assembly during general questioning, which should have made it an exciting day for her. Instead, the assemblywoman found herself in tears after the harassment. Ueda posted another blog post on the 20 explaining how she and Shiomura had gone together to submit a request for punishment.

▼Reiko Ueda


The request specifically asked that the person who made the comments be punished, but unfortunately that person remains unidentified. While the assembly does not have specific rules against heckling during meetings, there is a bylaw stipulating that if an assemblymember is insulted by another member during a meeting, the insulted party can request a punishment of the offender. However, in such cases, a specific person must be named, and so Shiomura’s request was immediately denied.

However, the story isn’t over yet. A petition (Japanese only) has appeared, asking the LDP to identify the member who made the sexist remarks so that he can be appropriately punished. Even though over 70,000 people have signed in agreement, it’s hard to say if anything will come of it. LDP politician  Osamu Yoshiwara, who is secretary-general of the LDP assembly members and who was the one to deny Shiomura’s request for punishment, claims not to have heard any of the comments and simply responded to the situation by asking assembly members to avoid saying rude things.

▼Osamu Yoshiwara


What will happen next remains unclear. As long as the party member(s) who made the comments remain anonymous, there’s little the Minna no To or Shiomura can do, and so far it seems unlikely that those who know their identity will give up their name. With an ever-growing list of people showing support for Shiomura, there’s a possibility that the governor might take actual action, but we wouldn’t count on it.

Sources:, Blogos, Minna no To (1, 2), MNS Sankei (1, 2, 3), Twitter (Ayaka Shiomura)
Images: Twitter (Shiomura, Ueda, Otokita), Wikipedia (Morio), Osamu Yoshiwara