TOKYO -- The furor inside and outside Japan over sexist comments by Tokyo Olympics chief Yoshiro Mori has persisted to the surprise of those who are accustomed to wheeling and dealing in the insular world of Japanese politics.
Mori and those around him no doubt thought he could ride out the storm by withdrawing the comments and apologizing. And that may well have been true years ago.
The former prime minister still enjoys influence both in the political world and far beyond it. When interests clash or emotions run high, he can resolve the situation with ease. He is the very model of a consensus-minded leader of the long-ruling Liberal Democratic Party.
For politicians who have built their careers on power struggles and political favor-trading, challenging this type of leader head-on takes quite a bit of courage. Mori once led the LDP's Hosoda faction, the party's largest, and still wields tacit influence there. That explains the lack of politicians calling for his resignation from the LDP.
But underlying these circumstances is a more fundamental problem, entangled in the basic principles of a party that has adopted a insular village-style mentality to its consensus-building.
The main elements of this practice are deference to party elders with countless elections under their belts; relationships built on obligation, personal feelings and gifts; and the principle of unanimous consent.
Using whatever means are necessary behind the scenes to secure this consent, then toeing the party line and avoiding dissent once the matter is settled, is how the "village" works. This is why LDP congresses tend to be rubber-stamp sessions.
LDP factions were once called "villages," and the LDP was essentially one big village formed by five or six smaller ones coming together. Mori remains a chief of the LDP village, and his fellow villagers are naturally inclined to let his "slip of the tongue" slide, given that he apologized.
That thinking may have worked when the country was looking inward, ruled with Japan-specific standards that put seniority and community values ahead of individuals.
But society has undergone vast changes since then. No one objects to the idea of gender equality. The International Olympic Committee has broken its silence and responded to Mori's comments with a declaration that "inclusion, diversity and gender equality are integral components" of its work.
On top of that, this is the era of social networking platforms, where everyone is their own media outlet and information can race around the world in an instant.
Embassies in Japan, including those of Germany and the European Union, have tweeted photos of people raising their hands with the hashtags #DontBeSilent and #GenderEquality. Some of these posts have gone viral, racking up nearly 20,000 retweets.
It is undeniable that the Mori affair has exposed the male-centered thinking common among older generations. At the same time, it has unveiled the ways in which Japanese politics are built on that concept.
A tragedy caused by someone whose thinking is so far behind the times can be seen as a comedy if the consequences fall only on him. But the stage of the show itself is put at risk when the entire country is involved. It is not too late to put out the fire -- and the sooner the better.
After all, a village chief can lead only with the respect of his villagers.