Yuko Obuchi
Resigning trade minister Yuko Obuchi is hounded by reportersReuters

Japan is in the midst of a huge political crisis after two female ministers have resigned in one day over accusations of misusing election funds to "bribe" voters with make-up, gifts and trips to the theatre.

The resignations of trade minster Yuko Obuchi and justice minister Midori Matsushima are a blow to conservative Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, whose first term in 2005-06 was marred by gaffes, meaning he eventually had to step down, citing ill health.

Since then, the political situation in Japan has been fragile, with prime ministers swapped on an annual basis until Abe took power again in 2012.

Abe apologised for the scandal on Monday (20 October), telling reporters that he was responsible because he appointed the two women to his cabinet. The two ministers were among five women Abe named to his cabinet in a reshuffle in early September, and this weekend's events are a big step back for the country's plans to promote women in politics and business.

Obuchi and Matsushima fell on their swords after days of allegations that they had misspent campaign funds in an attempt to buy votes.

Obuchi, whose father is a former prime minister, is accused of spending political funds on make-up and accessories as gifts for supporters. These were followed by claims she had subsidised theatre trips for voters from her rural constituency.

Japan's "princess of politics"

It's an unexpected fall from grace for Obuchi, who has been touted as Japan's "political princess" and who was expected to be the country's first-ever female prime minister.

The claims, priced at tens of millions of yen (thousands of pounds) over a number of years, have been taken as evidence by the opposition as evidence of attempted vote buying.

Obuchi resigned on Monday during a high-profile press conference broadcast live on multiple channels in Japan. She said she would step down to focus on the probe, though did not admit any wrongdoing.

Matsushima, in similar allegations, is accused of handing out cheap handheld fans – known as "uchiwa" in Japanese – with her name and picture printed on them, reports Associated Press.

One such fan was for sale on an Internet auction site on Monday, with the price having reached 2,100 yen (£12), says Business Insider.

Political funding scandals are a chronic problem in Japan, and a key factor behind the 'revolving door' of political parties in the country in recent decades.