Controversial Politician Sugita Mio: “I’ve Never Slandered the Ainu People”

Controversial Politician Sugita Mio: “I’ve Never Slandered the Ainu People”

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Sugita Mio looks concerned, superimposed over an image of Ainu individuals performing a traditional dance.
Japanese politician Sugita Mio is no stranger to controversy. Now, a Sapporo legal bureau says she's slandered the Ainu people - but she says otherwise.

Like a broken record, the story keeps on repeating: controversial Liberal Democratic Party politician Sugita Mio is back in the news once again for denying her record of discriminatory commentary and political writings. This time, she’s denying her slandering of the Ainu, an indigenous people of Hokkaido, Sakhalin, and the Kurils.

Sugita Mio, 56, currently serves as a member of the Japanese House of Representatives. An LDP stalwart since joining the party in 2017, Sugita is infamous for her long history of what has often been termed “hate speech.” She spreads her hateful commentary like a buckshot, lashing out at a wide variety of minorities in Japanese society; she’s called LGBT people “unproductive“, saying government funds should not be used to assist sexual minorities. As regards women who’ve come forward regarding sexual assault, well, Sugita feels that women “lie a lot.” Plus, she stated, “‘women’s advancement’ goes hand in hand with the destruction of the family and the destruction of Japan.” So too does allowing married couples to maintain separate surnames, which is “an outrage and the root of the destruction of the family.”

Sugita’s current controversy relates to a 2016 blog post, back when she wrote a regular column expressing her right-wing views. At the time, she was attending a United Nations meeting in Switzerland, wherein women wearing traditional Korean and Ainu garb seemed to have set her hackles on end. Sugita wrote that:

“There were even old biddies in Ainu folk cosplay. We have a complete problem with dignity here.”

In March of this year, Hokkaido-based Ainu activist Tahara Ryoko submitted a human rights redress request regarding Sugita’s remarks to the Sapporo Legal Affairs Bureau. In September, that court ruled that “a violation of human rights did occur.”

The Price of Denialism

Reports also claim that the Legal Affairs Bureau urged Sugita to learn about Ainu culture and be careful with her future proclamations. A staffer from her office confirmed that a representative from the bureau visited Sugita’s office to discuss the matter.

Tahara expressed satisfaction with the bureau’s ruling. “The acknowledgment is a major step given the current environment in which some Ainu feel they cannot come forward.”

Discrimination against Ainu has historically been bad enough that Ainu parents, having moved away from ancestral lands in Hokkaido to places like the metropole of Tokyo, would often choose not to inform their children of their Ainu ancestry. While official government estimates put the Ainu population at around 25,000, the rate of assimilation means the actual number may be closer to 200,000. Many ethnic Ainu included in this estimate would not even be aware of their Ainu heritage.


This stark reality allows for conspiracy theories about the Ainu people to fester; online, right-wing posters are known to opine that Ainu activists are in fact Chinese or Korean agents. The assumed goal is to use the indigeneity of a “disappeared” Ainu people to break Hokkaido off from Japan. Sugita’s comments embolden right-wing elements in Japan that strive to deny the modern reality of the Ainu people, marking their traditional clothing as mere “cosplay.”

And yet, Sugita Mio insists she has not slandered the Ainu people.

Ainu individuals at the Upopoy cultural facility. Their clothing is similar to the traditional outfits Sugita mocked back in 2016.

At Odds with the Bureau

On October 11th, Sugita Mio fielded questions related to the recent Sapporo Legal Affairs Bureau acknowledgment. The Tokyo Shimbun recorded the following back-and-forth between Sugita and reporters at LDP HQ:

 Reporter:  Give us your reaction to the official acknowledgment of your human rights violations.

 Sugita: This is something I’ve already rescinded and apologized for. I have no comment.

 Reporter: Who did you apologize to?

 Sugita:  I apologized during a session while I was a general affairs official. I rescinded the comment and deleted the blog, and have no more comments to make on the matter.

 Reporter: The reality that you’ve been officially acknowledged as having infringed upon human rights is a heavy one. Are you considering leaving your post as a member of the National Diet?

 Sugita: Not at all.

 Reporter:  You’ve insulted Ainu individuals. Do you recognize that you discriminated against them?

 Sugita: I do not recognize that at all.

 Reporter:  Do you believe you are worthy of your position as Deputy to the Environmental Chief?

 Sugita: What?

 Reporter: How do you feel about being chased around by the media, despite not admitting your own prejudicial actions?

 Sugita: I find it shocking.

 Reporter: So, you don’t think you were prejudicial towards the Ainu nation.

 Sugita: I have nothing else to say on the matter. I already deleted the blog and offered apologies. I’m truly shocked that all this is happening over a deleted blog post. 

The Colonization of Hokkaido

How a mysterious frontier island peopled by “barbarians” became one of the four main islands of Japan – and how the original inhabitants suffered as a result. ► For more Japan-related content, visit our website at: ► Support us on Patreon:…

Learn about the history of the Ainu people in our video on the colonization of Hokkaido.

Persona Non Grata?

Sugita’s reference to an “apology” came last year, during the height of controversy regarding her appointment to the Kishida Cabinet. She’d only recently been court-ordered to give financial recompense for “liking” various tweets mocking rape victim Ito Shiori; then, Matsumoto Takeaki, internal affairs minister from her own party, had called for her to formally apologize for her wide-ranging controversial statements. This was the extent of that apology:

“I regret my past inconsiderate comments, and have been instructed by Minister Matsumoto to retract them. As a member of the Cabinet, I will act in accordance with government policy, apologize to those who have been hurt, and withdraw those remarks.”

The official acknowledgment of Sugita’s slander of the indigenous Ainu people only adds to the cloud of controversy hanging over the politician’s head. Last year, Sugita was even forced to vacate her position within the Kishida cabinet following a furor over her derogatory comments regarding LGBT individuals; that she’s now received another major position within the LDP was a source of consternation, even before this ruling.

For the government of PM Kishida Fumio, Sugita Mio’s constant controversy is surely an unneeded headache. His approval rating recently sunk to a historical low of 26.5%. Likely, Kishida is just as tired of reading new headlines about the politician as we are of writing them.


(2023年10月11日). 杉田水脈氏、アイヌ民族への差別との認識「全くない」 ブログが人権侵犯と認定 記者に囲まれ「びっくり」. Tokyo Shimbun.

(2023年 9月20日). 杉田水脈議員の「人権侵犯」認定 アイヌ民族侮辱投稿で 札幌法務局 アイヌ文化学び発言注意するよう啓発. HBT Hokkaido News.

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Noah Oskow

Serving as current UJ Editor-in-Chief, Noah Oskow is a professional Japanese translator and interpreter who holds a BA in East Asian Languages and Cultures. He has lived, studied, and worked in Japan for nearly seven years, including two years studying at Sophia University in Tokyo and four years teaching English on the JET Program in rural Fukushima Prefecture. His experiences with language learning and historical and cultural studies as well as his extensive experience in world travel have led to appearances at speaking events, popular podcasts, and in the mass media. Noah most recently completed his Master's Degree in Global Studies at the University of Vienna in Austria.

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