The comments provoked an unprecedented reaction in Japan, with more than 146,000 people signing an online petition calling on him to step down. Nearly 500 Olympic volunteers withdrew, and one poll found fewer than 7 percent of respondents thought Mori was qualified to continue in his role.
Mori’s intention to resign was reported by public broadcaster NHK and the Kyodo news agency, among other outlets, citing unnamed sources.
The initial reaction to Mori’s outburst among Japan’s elderly, conservative male elite was to brush off the outrage. Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, 72, first told parliament he was “not familiar with the remarks,” to boos from the opposition, before saying they were “unfavorable to the national interest” but claiming it was not up to him whether Mori resigned.
Toshihiro Nikai, the 81-year-old secretary general of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, tried to play down the withdrawal of the volunteers, predicting they would return “when things calm down.” The International Olympic Committee (IOC) also closed ranks, saying last week the issue was “closed” after Mori’s “apology.”
But the issue was not closed as far as the Japanese public was concerned, and the attempts to brush off the comments provoked more anger.
Female legislators from the opposition parties wore white in parliament to protest Mori’s comments, while the president of Toyota, a leading Olympic sponsor, said he was “disappointed” by the remarks.
Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike said Mori had “disgusted many people” and vowed that she would not take part in a high-level planning meeting for the Games next week.
As the outcry grew, the IOC said Mori’s comments “were absolutely inappropriate” but still declined to press for his resignation on Tuesday.
The World Economic Forum ranks Japan 121st out of 153 countries in terms of gender parity, with the largest gender gap among advanced economies.
Kazuko Fukuda, one of the women who started the petition, said she had wanted a way to get the message across to politicians in their “boys’ club” who had closed ranks around Mori and cling to old attitudes.
Ironically, it is elderly men in senior positions who often have a reputation for talking endlessly during meetings and resenting any challenge to their authority, especially from women, experts say.
“Actually, I think that many people have faced these kinds of attitudes or words in their workplace or school,” Fukuda said. “It’s not like there’s only one person who is sexist and it doesn’t have any effect.”
Yayo Okano, a professor of feminist theory at Doshisha University, said the remarks had come at a time when women were suffering disproportionately from the coronavirus pandemic, with more having lost their jobs than men, with many facing a greater burden as parents or caregivers, with nurses overwhelmed and suicide rates among women surging.
“And yet, these women’s voices are not covered in the media, and society is being run in the majority by men, with large corporations and government focusing only on profit, continuing to ignore the struggles and efforts being made by women,” she said. “And that’s why this has resonated with so many people.”
The scandal has come as polls show Japan’s people are increasingly opposed to holding the Olympics this summer because of the pandemic. While officials argued that Mori’s presence at the helm of the organizing committee was needed to ensure the Games went ahead, it became apparent that his continued presence risked sinking the ship.
The Kyodo news agency reported that former Japan Football Association president Saburo Kawabuchi was the front-runner to take over from Mori. The 84-year-old Kawabuchi played soccer for Japan in the 1964 Olympics and now heads the athletes’ village for the Games.
But many women took to social media to express their dismay that Japan’s elite had apparently chosen to replace Mori with an even older man, who has a reputation as a right-winger and has courted controversy in the past for supporting corporal punishment.
Fukuda said she was disturbed by the way the decision to replace Mori with Kawabuchi was apparently made behind closed doors, in the typically clubby way that excludes women.
“Repeating this way of decision-making has already shown us that they don’t understand what kind of change needs to be made, to see they are now really supporting gender equality,” she said.