For four years, citizens of Osaka, Japan's second-largest city, loved their governor, Knock Yokoyama. Running as an independent candidate, he was reelected in April 1999 by the largest margin in history. And many remembered him entertaining the country in the 1960s as a member of the slapstick Manzai Torio comedy troupe.
But last week there were no laughs, as Yokoyama finally admitted in court to charges of indecent assault on a young female student during his successful reelection campaign. It was Japan's biggest sex scandal in a decade.
According to court documents, the incident occurred while they were riding in the back seat of a campaign vehicle. Yokoyama touched the lower part of her body for about 30 minutes. He claimed that the woman and he were only sharing a blanket over their knees, a practice that, to him, is apparently completely common between a 68-year-old politician and a 21-year-old campaign volunteer. Or perhaps he thought he was simply being funny, who knows.
The victim certainly didn't find humor in the incident, and filed a civil suit against Yokoyama. He responded by filing a criminal complaint against her, claiming she lied. But in December a court found no motive for her to lie, and ordered him to pay her 11 million yen ($107,000) in compensation. He resigned from office in shame.
"It is true that I did something inexcusable," the now-unemployed comedian/politician told Osaka District Court. "I apologize from the bottom of my heart for having left a scar that cannot be erased in the memory of the woman." As he left the court, he was blinded by the lights of television cameras.
"Now it is clear who told a downright lie," said the chief prosecutor in the civil case, after Yokoyama's public confession. "He should have admitted it earlier."
But this is the culture of Japan. If something similar had occurred in the United States, in, say, the White House -- and we're just talking hypothetically here -- the politician would probably also deny the incident. He might even spend a great deal of time covering it up. But he certainly wouldn't resign from office. He would probably send troops overseas to start a dust-up with another country. And the woman involved probably wouldn't file a civil suit. She would probably use the exposure to her advantage -- give interviews, endorse weight-loss programs and sell purses. But everybody's different, aren't they?