It wasn't so long ago that women in Japan were employed in businesses to do little more than serve tea and make copies. Having a job as a woman was seen as an interim between graduating and marriage. Times have changed, but not enough as Japan still sits at the bottom of the global rankings for gender equality among developed countries. These old-fashioned ideas die hard, especially when those at the top seem stuck in the age of female tea servers and copy makers.
When Yoshiro Mori, the former prime minister and prime gaffe maker, made his comments earlier this month, he seemed to know that he would get in trouble, and that at the very least the newspapers would write it up badly. That didn't stop him. Aware enough of the potential repercussions he went ahead anyway and more or less suggested that women should be seen and not heard in meetings. The fallout must have been more than he had anticipated with women across Japan being rightly upset and the torrent of criticism finally leading him to resign.
Many women dismiss Mori as silly, but as one of the ruling class in Japan, he is the visible tip of what many men of his era think, but are wise enough not to say out loud or at least in public. It is clear that issues of gender equality still need to be addressed in Japan's board rooms and parliamentary corridors. Worse still, perhaps, is that while being a domestic issue, Mori's role as the head of the Japanese Olympic Committee (JOC) has surely embarrassed Japan abroad, tarnishing its image by highlighting such backward thinking just when they are trying to keep people optimistic about the Tokyo Olympics going ahead.
For all the commercial and political manipulations, the Olympics still represents the best of humanity. The bringing together of men and women from every corner of the global on a level playing field to compete in a grand sports event is something to be cherished and celebrated. Clearly Mori doesn't quite fit those ideals. However, the ongoing pandemic makes holding the Olympics exceedingly unlikely despite the reluctance to cancel it or postpone it further.
Ironically perhaps, given Mori's comments, the pandemic in Japan has highlighted the competence of women to lead. Yuiko Koike, the first female governor of Tokyo, has demonstrated the best leadership of all Japan's leading politicians, outshining her male counterparts at the national level. The suggestion that a woman should replace Mori at the JOC is far from amiss and would surely go some way towards bandaging Mori's Olympic size gaffe.
If there had been no global pandemic the games would already be over and the wider world would have been spared the ignobility of Mori's latest comments. Perhaps, by now he would be gainfully employed serving tea and making copies. We can only hope that is what his next job will be.