Arai Lacked Awareness of Heavy Responsibility for Key National Policies

It must be said that an executive secretary to the prime minister lacked awareness of his position at the center of decision-making for important national policies.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has replaced Masayoshi Arai, executive secretary to the prime minister, over his discriminatory statements about LGBT people and same-sex marriage. It is extremely unusual for an executive secretary to the prime minister to be removed over problematic remarks.

Arai told reporters at the Prime Minister’s Office: “I would hate it if [a same-sex couple] lived next to me. I would hate to even see [them].” Regarding legislation of same-sex marriage, he said, “If [Japan] recognizes [same-sex marriage], some people will abandon the country.”

Although the interview was conducted off the record, on the condition that reporters would not reveal the source of their information, it was first reported by The Mainichi Shimbun, followed by other media organizations, including The Yomiuri Shimbun.

Individuals are free to hold whatever view they wish on same-sex marriage. There must be some people who argue that it should be widely allowed, and others who feel uncomfortable about same-sex marriage.

However, an executive secretary to the prime minister is in a position involving decision-making on policies and the exercise of power. Arai also served as the prime minister’s speechwriter.

Considering this heavy responsibility, his remarks cannot be perceived as just comments about his personal feelings.

Two days before Arai’s remarks, Kishida said at the Diet that the legalization of same-sex marriage was “an issue that will change society.” Arai may have intended to supplement Kishida’s statement on the matter, but his remarks crossed the line.

Overseas, an increasing number of countries are said to be recognizing same-sex marriage. In Japan, it cannot be said that there is a social consensus to legalize it.

However, it feels strange to hear an argument that Japan is “lagging behind” other countries based on this. Each country has its own history and culture. Mutually recognizing these differences may also be respecting diversity.

Discussion should be calmly and carefully deepened on this matter, taking into account social awareness and changes in the times.

At the same time, it is worrisome that remarks made off the record were reported and led to the ouster of a key government official.

Off-the-record interviews are aimed at gaining insight into the background of policy decision-making and other factors.

The Mainichi Shimbun said in its morning edition on Feb. 5 that it deemed Arai’s remarks to be a “serious issue” and posted the article on its website “after informing Arai in advance that the newspaper would report it under his own name.”

There is no point in off-the-record interviews if off-the-record remarks appear on the record at the discretion of media organizations after the person who made them is informed that the comments will be published. If people who are interviewed keep silent, that will make it difficult to obtain information and could in turn impede the public’s right to know.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Feb. 7, 2023)