His resignation is yet another setback for the image of the Tokyo Olympics, after the president of the organizing committee was forced to resign last month for remarks denigrating women.
“My idea would be a huge insult to Ms. Naomi Watanabe. This can’t be taken back,” Sasaki said in a statement. “I regret this from the bottom of my heart, and I deeply apologize to her and everyone who felt discomfort over this.”
Sasaki said his suggestion, made in a group online chat with staff last year, was supposed to be a play on words. He said he had spoken to Tokyo Olympic chief Seiko Hashimoto late on Wednesday to inform her he would be stepping down.
Hashimoto, who took over from Yoshiro Mori last month after his resignation, said she had been “shocked” by Sasaki’s comments, which she called “inappropriate and very regrettable.”
Hashimoto said Sasaki had played a crucial role in preparations for the Games, and had expressed his regret and repeated his apology to her. Nevertheless, after giving the matter serious consideration, she had accepted his resignation.
“When I became the Tokyo 2020 president, I made gender equality one of our key initiatives for restoring everyone’s trust,” she said. “In light of his firm determination to resign and the fact that the organizing committee has made gender equality a priority, I accepted his resignation.”
The weekly magazine Shukan Bunshun reported Sasaki’s remarks on Wednesday. It said his suggestion was rejected by colleagues, who told him it was inappropriate.
“I tend to joke often, so I said it just as something that slipped out of my mouth,” the magazine quoted him as saying. “Wearing a cute pink costume and sticking her tongue out as an ‘Olympig’ — I thought that would make her look charming, but I was immediately reprimanded. . . . I feel remorse.”
Watanabe has become a plus-size fashion icon and a real inspiration to many people in a country where overweight people face considerable discrimination. She had been subjected to bullying and insults on social media but shrugs the negativity off, saying, “I know who I am.”
In a statement, she said she was “honestly quite surprised” by Sasaki’s comment.
“I hope for a world that can be a fun and diverse place, where each person’s individuality and their way of thinking is embraced and respected,” she said. “It is true I am plus-sized and I am aware working that there will be expressions in relation to my appearance.”
She added that she was “very happy with my body.” “Therefore I want to continue to express myself as ‘Naomi Watanabe’ not focusing on being plus-sized.”
This month, she announced she will leave Japan and move to the United States to pursue her career there.
Julio Mio Inuma contributed to this report.