Prime Minister Fumio Kishida on Saturday dismissed an executive secretary for making discriminatory remarks regarding the LGBT community and the issue of same-sex marriage.
"I take [what Masayoshi Arai] said very seriously and decided to remove him from his position," Kishida told reporters Saturday afternoon in Sakai, Fukui Prefecture, during an inspection tour.
Speaking earlier on Saturday morning at the prime minister's official residence, Kishida said, "His flagrant comments totally conflict with my administration's policies."
It is rare for an executive secretary to the prime minister to be removed for a verbal gaffe.
Opposition parties will likely seize on the issue to criticize the Kishida Cabinet during Diet deliberations. Observers have also noted that Arai's remarks could tarnish Japan's image in the West and have a negative impact on international relations.
"My administration has stated its desire to realize a sustainable and inclusive society in which diversity is accepted by all," Kishida said Saturday morning. "I have to deal with the affair in a strict manner."
Arai, 55, had originally been scheduled to accompany the prime minister on the inspection tour, but this plan was scrapped.
Arai made the controversial remarks during unofficial talks with media on Friday evening at the Prime Minister's Office, which he took part in on condition that his comments be off the record.
During the talks, Arai was asked about Kishida's answer to a Diet question on same-sex marriage that arose during a meeting of the Budget Committee of the House of Representatives. Kishida had noted that legalizing same-sex marriage "could change perceptions of the family, values and society itself."
In reply, Arai said: "I would hate it if [such a couple] lived next to me. I would hate to even see [them]. All executive secretaries say the same."
On the issue of same-sex marriage, Arai said, "If it's allowed, there will be people who will abandon Japan."
Later that night, Arai apologized for his remarks during an official interview with media saying: "I'm terribly sorry for using expressions that may have caused misunderstanding. It doesn't mean I hold discriminatory views. My opinions were solely my own and I withdraw [the remarks]." However, voices within government circles were increasingly of the opinion that Arai's removal was inevitable.
Arai joined the International Trade and Industry Ministry -- predecessor to the Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry -- in 1991. After serving in such posts as director general for policy planning and coordination, he was appointed as an executive secretary to the prime minister in October 2021, upon the launch of the Kishida Cabinet.
Executive secretaries provide advice on policy affairs, prepare answers for Diet sessions and coordinate the prime minister's schedule. The prime minister has eight executive secretaries -- two in charge of policy affairs and six from ministries and agencies including the Foreign Ministry and the Finance Ministry, which oversee administrative work.
The prime minister's eldest son, Shotaro, 32, serves as a policy affairs secretary. Shotaro was reported to have used official cars for sightseeing purposes when his father visited European and North American countries. The prime minister was grilled over the matter in Diet sessions -- primarily those of the Budget Committee.
In the second Kishida Cabinet, launched in November 2021, four Cabinet ministers have been removed from their posts over scandals and gaffes.
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