Credit Jiji Press, via Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
TOKYO — The highest-ranking civil servant in Japan’s Finance Ministry offered his resignation on Wednesday amid swirling accusations that he had sexually harassed several female journalists.
At a news conference, the official, Junichi Fukuda, 58, the administrative vice minister, said allegations that he had made sexually suggestive remarks to the women were “not factual.”
Still, Mr. Fukuda’s resignation, which was accepted by Taro Aso, the finance minister, was a small sign that Japan might be joining the international reckoning of the #MeToo movement, spurred by widespread accusations of sexual harassment and assault.
Two days earlier, Mr. Fukuda threatened to sue Shukan Shincho magazine, which originally reported the accusations. On Wednesday, he also vowed, “I am going to dispute it in court.”
Mr. Fukuda offered to step down on the same day that Ryuichi Yoneyama, the governor of Niigata, on Japan’s western coast, said he would resign over what he called a “women problem.” The weekly magazine Shukan Bunshun is set to report on Thursday that Mr. Yoneyama had paid multiple women he met through an online dating site.
Mr. Fukuda said he had decided to resign because “right now the Finance Ministry is going through a severe time,” a tacit reference to a scandal involving leaks of tampered documents related to a sweetheart land deal that might be connected to Mr. Abe.
“I thought it would be difficult to fulfill my duty,” Mr. Fukuda said. “I apologize to everyone to whom I have caused trouble.”
In the allegations reported by Shincho magazine about Mr. Fukuda, several unidentified journalists said he had repeatedly made sexually suggestive remarks in meetings and at bars.
The magazine also posted a video online with clips taken from an audio recording said to be of Mr. Fukuda asking a woman, “Can I touch your breast?,” “Should we have an affair when the budget is enacted?” and “I will tie your hands.”
At the news conference on Wednesday, when a reporter asked Mr. Fukuda if he recognized his own voice in the recording, he responded, “I hear my voice through my body, so I can’t recognize my true voice when listening with my ears.”
Asked whether he remembered making any of the remarks described in the magazine article, he said, “I do not recall making such remarks,” adding, “I don’t have any memory of having such an awful conversation.”
According to the public broadcaster NHK, Mr. Fukuda would be the first top-ranking official in the Finance Ministry to resign since 1998, when the official who held the same post quit, along with the finance minister and the head of the Bank of Japan, to take responsibility for a corruption scandal.
In Japan, public discussions of sexual harassment and assault are avoidedand such resignations are rare. But this year, the president of NH Foodsresigned after a junior executive with whom he had been traveling asked a flight attendant sexually explicit questions in an airport lounge.
And last year, Yuki Kishi, the onetime executive creative director of Dentsu, Japan’s largest advertising agency, resigned from a company he had founded after a woman accused him of harassing her while they worked at Dentsu.