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YouTube video where announcer says comedian could 'knock up' female idols faces backlash

Kazuo Tokumitsu (Mainichi/Jun Sekiguchi)

TOKYO -- A YouTube talk show has come under fire after guest Kazuo Tokumitsu, a TV announcer and variety show regular, commented that a certain famous comedian "could still knock up one or two members of AKB," referring to the all-girl J-pop group AKB48. The remark also raised concerns about men boasting about their reproductive capacity to prove their manhood.

    Tokumitsu, 80, made the comment on a talk show released on the "Dr. Strangetalk" YouTube channel of comedian Suidobashi Hakase, one half of comedy duo Asakusa Kid. The comedian invites guests from all walks of life onto his shows, and Tokumitsu is a featured guest on six episodes posted from Oct. 20 to Nov. 6. The controversial remark slipped out during Part 4. The problematic section was edited out after it received criticism.

    During one part of the talk show, Suidobashi Hakase interviewed Tokumitsu about his thoughts on TV star and comedian Akashiya Sanma, 66. After the comedian said, "Sanma doesn't age at all, right?" Tokumitsu commented, "When I saw him recently, he looked very youthful. He could still knock up one or two members of AKB." The comedian laughed while clapping his hands, and what seem to be staff members could be heard laughing in the background.

    Criticism erupted on social media after the video was posted, including, "Women are not child-bearing machines," and, "He's looking at them (women) as just tools." Obstetrician-gynecologist Kanako Inaba took to Twitter to say, "A pregnancy is something that can only happen with both a man and a woman, so both have responsibility." She added, "Terms like 'knock up' that present a pregnancy as a one-sided act are unhealthy, and boasting about it like something heroic poses ethical problems."

    Tokumitsu was the moderator of AKB48's annual "general election" -- a popularity contest where fans vote for their favorite group member -- from 2010 to 2018, and some people also insisted that the comment "isn't something that should come from the host."

    What is problematic about the announcer's remark? Toshiyuki Tanaka, an associate professor at Taisho University specializing in men's studies, said, "Amid a growing interest in debate on sexual consent, the presupposition that it is OK for a man to engage in a sexual act based on his will without the other party's consent is a huge problem." He also pointed out, "By using the group name AKB48 and placing it within this same context, the individuality of the women, who are actually unique persons, is erased, which may lead to the notion of treating and counting them like objects."

    "It is also necessary to take note of the phrase 'knock up,'" said Tanaka. "The physical burden pregnant women deal with, and consideration of the child to be born, are outside their (Hakase's and Tokumitsu's) imaginations, and reproductive capacity is simply being used to prove one's masculinity. Isn't this logic extremely self-serving?"

    Noboru Saijo, a professor at Edogawa University familiar with comedians and idols, said, "The remark deviates from today's values. This is a prevalent issue among older celebrities and commentators, not limited to Tokumitsu, but he has great influence. The comment should have been cut out."

    The Mainichi Shimbun made an inquiry to Tokumitsu's talent agency, Sony Music Artists, but had not received a reply as of 4 p.m. on Nov. 11.

    (Japanese original by Maki Nakajima and Miyuki Fujisawa, Digital News Center)

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