She added that Suga had encouraged her to make the Games successful but declined to say anything further until after a Tokyo 2020 executive board meeting later in the day, when an official announcement on the post was likely to be made, Reuters reported.
Her resume was a decisive factor in her appointment after the Olympics committee said the key criteria for the new boss would include a “profound knowledge” of the Olympic movement and a “deep understanding” of key principles including gender equity.
She also said she deeply regretted her behaviour from seven years ago, when she faced scrutiny over reports she had made unwanted advances towards a sportsman during the Sochi Olympics.
“Both then and now, I deeply regret my behaviour,” Hashimoto said at a press conference.
Mori’s resignation from the top post came after weeks of rising pressure from female opposition MPs and youth leaders who protested the country’s entrenched institutional bias towards octogenarian males.
The resignation of the 83-year-old, a former prime minister, over the sexist comments is a first for someone of his profile. His preference was to be replaced by his 84-year-old male colleague Saburo Kawabuchi, but this was swiftly shutdown after a further backlash.
“It is very unusual for men in power to make these comments and resign. They usually just apologise and move on,” said Dr Emma Dalton, an expert in the political under-representation of women in Japan at RMIT university.
“The backlash to Mori’s comments does indicate a real groundswell of women’s discontent and anger. The pressure had become so big that he had to resign.”
Hashimoto, a conservative politician, did not personally call for Mori to step down but she is seen as a safe choice to steer the Games towards a July start date.
“She is very status quo,” said Dalton. “She’s an Olympic athlete and a cabinet minister. So it was just a no brainer. In this instance selecting her is probably enough to placate people.”
The Liberal Democratic Party, which has largely governed Japan since 1955, has also been condemned by female opposition leaders for its lack of representation after decades of being dominated by male ministers, prime ministers and their sons. Women have also been largely frozen out of top level corporate positions on the expectation they would resign after starting a family.
Those criticisms were compounded on Wednesday when the LDP said it would invite five female politicians to its top party meetings, but only as silent observers.
Hashimoto resigned from her ministry on Thursday to take up the role. The Mainichi Daily reported that one of Hashimoto’s rivals for the Olympic’s job, Tamayo Marukawa, was expected to replace her, restoring the proportion of women in cabinet to 10 per cent.
The controversy and the sudden upheaval to the Olympics leadership team has not helped preparations for a Games already hampered by rising local unpopularity and coronavirus restrictions. A Kyodo News survey in January found around 80 per cent of Japanese people wanted this year’s Olympic and Paralympic Games to be cancelled.
Tokyo confirmed 378 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday. The country recorded less than 1000 cases for the first time in three months on the same day as it began its vaccination rollout by inoculating health and emergency workers.
What in the World
Eryk Bagshaw is the North Asia correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age. Due to travel restrictions, he is currently based in Canberra.