A Tokyo city assemblyman apologized Monday for shouting out a sexist remark at a female counterpart last week — but denied he meant to insult her.
Akihiro Suzuki, 51, reversed his earlier denial and came forward five days after officials scrambled to identify the voices heard during Ayaka Shiomura's presentation on issues such as infertility, maternal support and delaying marriage during an assembly session Wednesday.
A voice from the floor said "You are the one who should get married first," followed by laughter and more heckling, including "She must be single" and "Can't you even have babies?"
Suzuki apologized over the first remark, but denied making the others. He said he never meant to insult her but wishes she could marry soon.
"I really hoped she could marry soon, bearing in mind this ongoing trend where women are delaying marriage and having fewer children," he said. "But there are people who cannot do so even if they want to, and I realize what I said lacked consideration."
Suzuki said he personally apologized to Shiomura, a 35-year-old former TV personality, and her colleagues of opposition Your Party before the news conference. He left the ruling Liberal Democratic Party to take responsibility for causing the embarrassment to his fellow members, but vowed to keep his seat in the Tokyo assembly.
Japan still has a large gender gap in the workplace, raising concerns that the country's fertility rate would continue to drop amid lack of public support for women and working mothers.
Although women make up 40 per cent of Japan's workers, they face discrimination in hiring, promotion and pay. On average, a Japanese woman makes 70 per cent of a man's wage for equal work, government data show. Women make up just over 10 per cent in parliament or in private-sector managerial positions.
The case underscores the level of awareness of the issue at the assembly in Japan's capital city. It could embarrass Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's efforts on women's advancement and Tokyo's image as host of the 2020 Olympics.