Last November, Kumamoto city councilwoman Yuka Ogata was at the center of a controversy when she brought her baby daughter to a session of the city assembly. Now, less than a year later, there’s an even bigger commotion stemming from an even smaller thing that her coworkers didn’t want her to bring to work.
On Sept 28, Ogata arrived at Kumamoto’s municipal assembly hall for a plenary session of the city council. As she approached the podium for her turn to speak, assembly chairman Shinya Kutuski, seated at the front of the hall, held up his hand and called out “Representative Ogata, wait. Do you have something in your mouth?”
Ignoring a snort of laughter from one of the other politicians, the 43-year-old Ogata politely replied “It’s a Ryukakusan cough drop,” being so thorough as to give the name of the manufacturer. At that, the hall was immediately filled with angry shouts of objection, including “Make her take out the cough drop!” and “Eating and drinking is against the rules!”
Ogata had been experiencing cold-like symptoms for the past few days, including a recurring cough. Figuring it would be best to take precautions against inconveniencing others with the noise, she’d decided to pop in a cough drop for the meeting. She also says that by that point she’d already heard other council members complain about her coughing, calling it “noisy.”
One could make the argument that even if your throat isn’t feeling the best, if you’re about to give a speech, it’s best to spit out the cough drop and try to soldier through. Of course, one could also take the stance that if someone’s throat is hurting, but they have a legitimate need to communicate (such as giving a speech regarding governmental affairs), then a lozenge is acceptable.
Regardless of which side of the debate you agree with, though, it’s really not something to get all that bent out of shape over, at least for reasonable people. Unfortunately, it seems that “reasonable people” and “members of the Kumamoto city council” were pretty much mutually exclusive demographics on that day. The other politicians found Ogata’s cough drop so disruptive that the scheduled proceedings were suspended while a Disciplinary Special Committee meeting was convened. This meeting took eight hours, despite the fact that the entire day’s plenary session was originally projected to wrap up in about 120 minutes.
Despite the shouted claim otherwise, it turns out there are no rules prohibiting members of the council from eating or drinking during sessions. There is, however a stipulation that members must “respect the dignity of the council,” and the committee decreed that Ogata was in violation of this regulation and thus must issue an apology. However, they didn’t want her to write it. Instead, the secretariat drafted an apology for her, then instructed her to read it to the rest of the assembly. Ogata disagreed, on the grounds that she didn’t want a statement crafted by someone else attributed to her, and instead explained that her throat had been in pain since a few days ago. This further upset the other council members, who then instigated a motion for Ogata to be removed from the meeting. Ogata was the only dissenting vote, with the rest of the council, including its female members, all voting to have her removed, and so she was.
As mentioned above, this was supposed to be a plenary session. In other words, all members were supposed to be in attendance. Nevertheless, once Ogata left the hall, the scheduled proceedings resumed, with the council voting on a 1.52-billion yen project related to repair and restoration work for Kumamoto Castle, as well as 62 other proposed bills.
Not even Kumamoto Mayor Kazufumi Onishi, who was in attendance, was willing to lend support to Ogata. “It’s unimaginable for a member of adult society to be using a cough drop during such proceedings,” Onishi said following the session. “It’s necessary for her to show recognition of her wrongdoing.”
Meanwhile, Ogata told reporters “I’ve been under the weather since a few days ago. I brought cough drops with me today so I wouldn’t burden my colleagues by coughing while speaking. I was not given the opportunity to explain my actions, and it’s regrettable that they chose to remove me.”
Sources: Sankei West via Jin, YouTube/rkknews, Huffington Post Japan
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