The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

YouTuber elected to Japan’s parliament is expelled for never showing up

Members attending a session of parliament in Tokyo on March 10. (Str/AFP/Getty Images)
3 min

Japanese lawmakers voted Wednesday to expel a fellow member for failing to show up for work — even once.

Yoshikazu Higashitani, better known as the celebrity gossip YouTuber GaaSyy, was elected to Japan’s upper house in July and hasn’t set foot in parliament — or in the country — since.

The 51-year-old made a name for himself exposing alleged celebrity scandals on YouTube, garnering more than 1.2 million subscribers. That following helped him win 287,000 votes, and a seat in the House of Councilors, for a populist party that opposes license-fee funding for the NHK public broadcaster.

It also brought him to the attention of local police, who began investigating complaints from celebrities that he had allegedly defamed and intimidated them in his videos. Tokyo police searched several locations linked to him in January, according to Japanese media reports. His YouTube account was suspended in the summer.

GaaSyy launched his election campaign from abroad, claiming that he was afraid of being detained by police if he returned to Japan. On March 7, he announced on Instagram that he was in Turkey supporting earthquake relief efforts and would not return to apologize to parliament for his absence as he had previously promised.

His ouster from parliament was approved on Wednesday by 235 votes to 1. It was the first expulsion from Japan’s parliament in 72 years, and the first time a lawmaker has been ejected for continued absence in a country where the work culture demands regular face-time and employees are judged on the hours they work.

GaaSyy has been paid about $149,000, which is all of his salary and bonuses calculated from his election to the time of his removal.

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Experts say GaaSyy appealed to some voters because he was a political outsider — an antihero who railed against Japan’s tightly controlled entertainment sector. Before his YouTube career and brief foray into politics, he lived a flamboyant lifestyle, mixing with many of the celebrities he later dished up gossip on in his videos. On social media before his election, some had expressed hope that he could bring about change in Japan’s political system, which is dominated by one party, and unveil any political secrets.

Populist parties haven’t gained as much of a foothold in Japan as in other industrialized democracies in recent years.

Jeffrey J. Hall, a political expert at the Kanda University of International Studies, said teaming up with GaaSyy helped the NHK party reach a large enough share of the national vote to qualify for a seat in parliament.

“Over a million people voted for this party in the last election,” he said in an email. “It is significant that so many people could be mobilized around a fringe party that mainly spreads its message through YouTube and other social media.”

He noted that GaaSyy’s expulsion doesn’t bar him from competing in future elections. Many of those who voted for GaaSyy see him as a truth-teller being targeted by the Japanese establishment, and “probably don’t care” about his absences, Hall said. “They aren’t expecting their politicians to sit in (parliament) sessions and do the same things normal politicians do.”

Dozens of supporters turned out in front of parliament Wednesday to protest his expulsion.

His party may be moving on, however. It recently changed its name to the Female Politicians 48 party. Under Japan’s electoral system, another member from the party will be appointed to take his place in parliament.

In a statement read out in parliament Tuesday, GaaSyy said: “There will continue to be people like me running for office. If you do not want the world you have made to be destroyed, please exclude those people from the candidacy process from the very beginning.”