'Sex harassment' scandal rocks skating in Japan

Japan's skating world has been rocked by a sexual harassment scandal involving skater-turned politician Seiko Hashimoto (left) and hearthrob Olympian Daisuke Takahashi. -- PHOTOS: WIKIMEDIA COMMONS, DAISUKE TAKAHASHI FAN PAGE/FACEBOOK
Japan's skating world has been rocked by a sexual harassment scandal involving skater-turned politician Seiko Hashimoto (left) and hearthrob Olympian Daisuke Takahashi. -- PHOTOS: WIKIMEDIA COMMONS, DAISUKE TAKAHASHI FAN PAGE/FACEBOOK

TOKYO (AFP) - A sexual harassment scandal was gripping Japan's skating world Wednesday after pictures emerged of a young heartthrob Olympian in the arms of the 49-year-old boss of his sport.

Snapshots purportedly taken at a party held after the Winter Olympics closed in Sochi show skater-turned-politician Seiko Hashimoto hugging and kissing the now 28-year-old Daisuke Takahashi.

In one photo Mr Takahashi, dubbed the "Prince on Ice" by his huge band of female followers, appears to be turning his face away from the older woman as the two danced at an alcohol-fuelled party in February.

Ms Hashimoto, a married mother-of-three and a former Olympic speed skater and cyclist, was Japan's chef de mission in Sochi.

Shukan Bunshun, the best-selling of Japan's lurid weekly magazines, broke the story, describing the encounter between Mr Takahashi and Ms Hashimoto as "an unprecedented sexual harassment incident".

"Hashimoto is the supreme figure in the skating world. This could be called power harassment or sexual harassment using her power," the magazine said.

The magazine quoted one participant at the post-Games party as saying Ms Hashimoto had suddenly - and very insistently - pounced on her younger charge.

"Naturally Daisuke didn't like it but he may have eventually resigned and accepted her kisses," the witness said.

"It wasn't once or twice... It must have continued for several minutes," the witness was quoted as saying.

"She couldn't stop once she started. She did it again and again, even while everybody was watching." Former men's world champion Takahashi, who is admired by legions of female fans for his smouldering good looks and well-toned body, has not made any formal complaint, according to his management agent.

"Takahashi does not think he experienced power- or sexual-harassment," the agent was quoted as saying.

Ms Hashimoto, who heads the Japan Skating Federation and sits in the Upper House of Japan's parliament, denied any wrongdoing.

"All athletes and officials (in Sochi) had respect and gratitude towards Mr Takahashi and I have no further particular feelings," she said in a statement.

As athletes and officials have opportunities to socialise with those in foreign teams, they "hug and kiss (each other) very naturally", she said.

"If this invited misunderstanding from other people, I regret it and think I should be careful," she said.

Ms Hashimoto's name has been mentioned in connection with an expected Cabinet reshuffle Prime Minister Shinzo Abe plans for early September.

Her elevation would fit with Mr Abe's stated aim of boosting the number of women in senior positions by 2020, when Tokyo will host the summer Olympic Games.