An elected politician in Japan hasn’t been to work since his election. That’s because he’s fled the country. And if you follow Japanese politics at all, you can probably guess which party he belongs to. Meet GaaSsy (ガーシー), Japan’s only active elected official with a goose-egg for an attendance record.
Welcome to the…Female Politicians 48 Party?!
Some people think all politicians are a joke. But in Japan, one party’s politicians stand out for their militant unseriousness and their brazen antics.
How brazen? Well, in the time between drafting this article and finishing it, the party changed its name.
I mean, I shouldn’t be surprised. This is only the eighth time.
The party began life in 2013 as the No Payment of the NHK Broadcast Fee Party (NHK受信料不払い党; NHK jushinnryou fubarai tou). Founder Tachibana Takashi was actually an NHK employee from 1986 until 2005. After resigning amidst a scandal, he spent years as a freelance journalist and pro pachinko player. Eventually, he turned his attention to eliminating the universally despised NHK reception fee, which the government-sanctioned corporation collects from anyone who even looks at a television sideways.
Tachibana changed the party’s name numerous times. In 2019, Tachibana changed the name to the Protect the People from the NHK (NHKから国民を守る党). Then, once again in 2022, he changed it to simply the NHK Party (NHK党).
Now, in a bid to re-invent the party’s image in the wake of the GaaSsy scandal, they’ve changed their name again. They’re the Female Politicians 48 Party (政治家女子４８党). Yes, they’re making a play for the youth vote by mimicking the popular “48” idol group format. They’re also trying to claim some of the spotlight surrounding Japan’s push to elect more female politicians, as currently there are…well, not enough.
I wrote about this joke party a few years back when they were stinking up NHK’s airwaves with their antics. (Yes, the anti-NHK party took advantage of free talk time on NHK. Because of course they did.) Sadly, the joke is now on the Japanese public, as they’ve managed to get some of their people elected.
But as the case of GaaSsy proves, just because you’re elected doesn’t mean you have to show up for work! You could just, say…flee the country instead.
The GaaSsy scandal explained
So who is GaaSsy, exactly? And why did he prompt the party to change his name?
Buckle up, folks. This one’s a real humdinger.
GaaSsy is a former YouTuber (we’ll get to that in a minute) whose real name is Higashitani Yoshikazu. Before that, Higashitani was a successful businessman who gained fame running multiple bars in Tokyo, Osaka, and other cities. He also started an apparel company.
That’s when things went south for Higashitani. Like his father, he developed a gambling addiction, racking up close to USD $1M in debts. At one point, he retreated to the snowy mountains and attempted to drink himself to death. He survived the attempt. His mother, who’d also lost her husband to suicide, begged him not to let her lose a second family member to gambling.
The YouTube Era
So rather than take his own life, Higashitani – according to his victims – instead turned to fraud. He reportedly used the name of popular YouTubers like Hikaru to accept “booking fees” for famous YouTubers and celebs. Those bookings, however, never happened.
Told by his lawyer that he could face up to five years in prison over these charges, Higashitani did what any upstanding citizen would do: he borrowed money from his relatives and fled to Dubai.
When Hikaru spoke out against Higashitani on his YouTube channel, Higashitani responded in 2022 by creating his own channel: Higashitani Yoshikazu’s GaaSsy Channel – The Underbelly of the Celebrity World (東谷義和のガーシーch【芸能界の裏側】). Thanks to Higashitani’s controversy as a public figure and his feud with Hikaru, the channel exploded. It gained a million followers in 49 days, making it YouTube’s 9th fastest growing channel ever.
It didn’t last long, however. Fearing that YouTube would freeze his channels (he had a primary channel and a sub-channel) over his explosive rhetoric, he deleted nearly all of his channel content. But it was too little, too late: YouTuber permanently suspended both channels on July 13th, 2022.
You may ask: how, then, does Higashitani afford to stay in Dubai, of all places? It seems the entrepreneur started his own pay-per-view video stream. GASTYLE. He charges 3,980 yen/month and supposedly has around 40,000 subscribers. That would put his yearly income over 1.9 billion yen, or close to USD $15 million a year.
I guess crime does pay.
The job he never showed up for
On May 25th 2022, Higashitani threw his hat into the ring as a candidate for Japan’s Diet in the upcoming election under the NHK Party. At the urging of Tachibana, he ran under his YouTube nickname of GaaSsy.
On July 10th, 2022, the NHK Party won a seat to the Diet’s House of Councillors. The win occurred through the proportional election system (比例区; hireiku), in which a party gains seats relative to the votes in receives in the election. For proportional seats, the party creates a ranked list of candidates and awards them seats accordingly. And GaaSsy’s name was at the top of the NHK Party’s list.
There was just one teensy tiny problem. GaaSsy was still in Dubai. And, absent a guarantee that he wouldn’t face arrest, he refused to return to Japan.
As the months dragged on, GaaSsy’s legal situation only got worse. Multiple celebrities filed charges accusing him of online threats and slander. (It later came out that one of them was actor Ayano Go, a onetime friend.) Police conducted home investigations in a search for evidence.
Will authorities actually arrest GaaSsy?
Needless to say, this gives GaaSsy even less incentive to leave Dubai. It’s now all but certain that the Diet will move to strip GaaSsy of his seat, given that he hasn’t shown up for a single day of work since July 2022.
Will the police arrest him, though? According to a lawyer interviewed by Daily Shincho, that’s less than clear. Normally, an active member of the Diet is immune to arrest. There are only two exceptions: if the suspect is caught in the act of committing a crime, or if the Diet votes to allow the arrest.
The latter procedure – 逮捕許諾請求 (taiho kyodaku seikyuu) – has been invoked 16 times in the post-war period. The most recent case was 20 years ago, in 2003, when Sakai Takanori was arrested on charges of violating campaign finance laws.
In other words, it’s rare. But it isn’t impossible. There’s no love lost in the Diet towards Higashitani right now. And he’s proven he’s a flight risk by…well, fleeing.
It’ll likely be a moot point soon, though. If the Diet strips GaaSsy of his job, he no longer has his job’s legal protections.
GaaSyy is supposedly in the UAE under a remote work visa. The so-called “golden visa” allows him to remain in Dubai for 10 years.
With millions in the bank and no incentive to return to Japan, it’s clear GaaSsy intends to run out the clock for as long as he can.
Note: This article was updated on 4/15/2023 with corrected details of GaaSsy’s visa status.
NHK党が「政治家女子48党」に 党名変更は8度目. TBS News Dig
国会欠席ガーシー氏「かならず日本に帰国」表明…今後逮捕される可能性は？Bengoshi Dot Com
ガーシー議員「告訴人は綾野剛」と戦闘モードも 弁護士は「さらなる名誉棄損はやめて」で八方塞がり. Friday Digital
ガーシーを訴えたのは綾野剛だった！ 新田真剣佑は「手打ち」 . Tokyo Sports Web
ガーシー議員が電撃帰国へ 「逮捕逃れ」のためのウルトラCと「逃げ切り阻止」をはかる当局との頭脳戦. Daily Shincho
ガーシー 会員ビジネスで「年商20億円級」も影響力減少の煩悶. Friday Digital