Choco Arai, 51, was voted on Sunday in Kusatsu, which is famous for its natural hot springs and spas. The dismissal application claimed that Arai’s allegations might “disparage” the women in Gunma county town.
In total, 92% of the submitted votes demanded her removal, according to Kusatsu officials.
The controversy began in November last year, when Arai published an e-book claiming she was forced to have a sexual relationship with the city’s mayor, Takashi Kuroywa.
A proposal to dismiss the mayor was voted on, and Arai was fired from the assembly a month later. However, the expulsion decision was appealed, and the governorate eventually overturned it.
After its reinstatement, a group of 19 residents and councilors – led by Koroya, who is also the council’s president – sent a request for dismissal to the council, triggering a residency referendum that toppled my views last weekend.
The dismissal request also alleged that Arai’s statements to the media about the abuse allegations had damaged Kusatsu’s reputation. He cited several specific observations made by Arai, including those that city women are “treated as objects,” and that women often become mistresses of powerful male resort owners to obtain perks.
The request indicated that the mayor denied these allegations, and that Arai’s salary as a member of the council was considered a “waste” of taxpayers’ money.
In an official response to the council, Arai said that the mayor and other council members who called for her removal were the ones who harmed the city’s dignity and reputation.
Sunday’s ouster pushed the resort into the national spotlight. Kusatsu official Kenji Hajiwara said that since the weekend, the city council has received dozens of calls criticizing Arai’s dismissal, most of them from outside the city. Several callers described the decision as unfair and biased against women.
“This is an unprecedented situation,” Hagiwara told CNN. “We are concerned that the image of this city will be damaged.”
Sexism and Power in Japan
The gap in politics gets wider. As of October of this year, 46 out of 465 members of Japan’s House of Representatives were women. That’s less than 10%, compared to a global average of 25%.
But seven years later, the campaign has had limited success, as gender discrimination and inequality remain rampant. The #MeToo movement has led to tangible advances in other countries and a shift in cultural conversation – but it has met with resistance in Japan.
In a case that garnered international attention in 2017, independent journalist Shiori Ito alleged that a prominent journalist invited her to dinner two years ago, then raped her.
The response was not supportive – she had received threats and violent reactions on social media, and had even fled Japan, fearing for her and her family’s safety. She said even the authorities tried to dissuade her from pursuing due process.
Her supporters celebrated the victory as a step towards justice – but “winning does not erase everything that happened,” she told reporters after the verdict. “I need to face the emotional scars from now. This isn’t the end.”
CNN’s Amy Guzuka contributed to this report.