TOKYO — A YouTuber-turned-lawmaker was expelled from Japan’s upper house on Wednesday following his continuous absence from parliamentary sessions since being elected last year.
Yoshikazu Higashitani, who also goes by GaaSyy including on a popular YouTube account that has since been suspended, lost his seat after he failed to appear in the House of Councilors while residing abroad, angering colleagues.
The 51-year-old received almost 300,000 votes last July in his campaign for the Diet, Japan’s parliament, as a member of a single-issue party that advocates reforms to NHK, the Japanese public broadcaster. He had been living in the United Arab Emirates even before the election and has not returned to Japan since, citing concerns he might be detained by police investigating defamation complaints stemming from the celebrity gossip that propelled him to YouTube stardom.
Last week, GaaSyy said on Instagram that he was in Gaziantep, Turkey, to help with earthquake relief and that it was too early for him to return to Japan. He is currently believed to be back in the U.A.E. city of Dubai.
He is the first Japanese lawmaker to be expelled from the legislature in more than 70 years and the first to be expelled over an extended period of absence. The decision does not bar him from running for office again.
The vote was 235 to 1, with the only opposition coming from his sole fellow party member in the chamber.
That lawmaker, Satoshi Hamada, said he had hoped GaaSyy could continue to serve as a member of parliament.
“I would like to apologize to Congressman GaaSyy and to everyone who voted for him,” Hamada told reporters after the vote.
Ayaka Ohtsu, the head of GaaSyy’s party, said she was “disappointed” by the decision and that GaaSyy could have carried out his duties remotely on behalf of his constituents, some of whom protested outside parliament on Wednesday.
“I believe that those close to 300,000 people who voted for GaaSyy knew that he would be working from overseas,” she said at a news conference in Tokyo.
Lawmakers from other parties said it was an easy call.
“Despite being given the opportunity to apologize on the floor of the Diet, he never responded to it and continued to ignore the opportunity,” said Hiroshige Seko, a member of the governing Liberal Democratic Party.
Jeff Kingston, director of Asian studies at Temple University Japan in Tokyo, said the decision made sense from the point of view of taxpayers, who have paid GaaSyy an estimated $149,000 since his election.
“His expulsion is no surprise as he never attended Diet sessions and didn’t represent the disillusioned voters who supported him,” he said in an email. “Not showing up is not the same as shaking up politics as usual.”