Japan mayor defends councilwoman’s ouster over assault claim

TOKYO (AP) — The mayor of a Japanese hot springs resort town on Monday denied sexual assault allegations by a former assemblywoman and defended her dismissal, saying he wanted to protect the town’s reputation.

Nobutada Kuroiwa, the mayor of Kusatsu, a famous hot springs resort north of Tokyo, said at a news conference that Shoko Arai had to be voted out of office because she wrongfully accused him of sexual assault, endangering the town because of its heavy dependence on tourism.

Arai, the only woman in the Kusatsu town assembly, accused Kuroiwa in an online book in November 2019 of forcing her to have sex with him in his office in 2015.

A month later, the town assembly voted to expel Arai, but the decision was overturned by the Gunma prefectural government.

Arai lost her seat in a Dec. 6 town referendum by a vote of 2,542 to 208.

Kuroiwa on Monday called Arai’s allegation “100% a lie and fabrication” and said there was not even room for an argument over whether there was consensual sex. “There was absolutely nothing at all,” he said.

Kuroiwa is seeking a criminal investigation of Arai as well as defamation damages in a civil suit. He accused her of making false allegations against him to pressure him to change a decision over a hot springs policy.

The case is seen as an example of how women who raise their voices over alleged sexual assaults are often treated in Japan. It is extremely rare for victims of assault to go public.

Kuroiwa said the recall referendum was a difficult but unavoidable choice. Experts say holding a referendum designed to expel one side of a sexual assault dispute is questionable.

Arai says she stands by her allegation. She said in a statement this month that the referendum was initiated by assemblymen trying to expel her, rather than by residents. She said the town’s reputation is being hurt by the referendum, not by her allegation against the mayor.

Arai declined to comment Monday in response to Kuroiwa’s news conference, saying she would have to consult her lawyer. So far she has not taken any legal action against the mayor. She is expected to tell her side of the story in a separate news conference later this week.

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Follow Mari Yamaguchi on Twitter at https://www.twitter.com/mariyamaguchi

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