Yokohama’s anniversary snafu sparks suits over losses

by Yusuke Takebe

Kyodo News

YOKOHAMA — A legal mess is brewing between the sponsor of Yokohama’s 150th anniversary celebration last year and the companies recruited for the event, which produced a massive ¥2.5 billion deficit after failing to draw enough visitors.

The Association for the 150th Anniversary of the Opening of the Port of Yokohama, backed by the Yokohama Municipal Government, is blaming the companies that were entrusted with handling events related to the Grand Exposition for Yokohama’s 150th Year.

“If the travel companies had exerted more effort, visitors would have increased. There were also problems with plans by the advertising companies,” Yoshihiro Saito, deputy secretary general of the association, told a news conference in February.

An unnamed travel agency official denied the accusations.

“During the exposition, we called for improvements, but the association did nothing,” the official said.

One travel official reacted angrily.

“If the association was a private one, it would have been near bankruptcy. It regards its problems as someone else’s, and it has no sense of tension. If enterprises entrusted with the job bore the full responsibility, how did the sponsor shoulder responsibilities?” the unnamed official asked.

In late March, the association filed complaints against Kinki Nippon Tourist Co. and Sotetsu Travel Service Co., asking them to pay ¥145 million for ticket proceeds it said the two companies failed to pay. A similar lawsuit is being prepared against Nippon Travel Agency Co.

The association said it concluded contracts with the three to sell 330,000 tickets and that only about 146,000 were actually sold.

Nippon Travel has retaliated by filing a complaint with the Yokohama District Court, asking the association to return part of the expenses it paid in advance.

“The contents of events were different from what the sponsor had explained beforehand,” Nippon Travel said.

The company said in the complaint that the contract included a provision to have a menu at the exposition offering meals like those were served when the port first opened but the association failed to do this. It also said the company once again asked the association to improve some events so they could not be seen from outside the site, resulting in fraudulent conduct and an obstacle to sales.

But the association said: “The travel companies knew the contents of events when the contracts were concluded. The complaints are unbelievable.”

The association also blamed advertising companies for planning events that were said to have problems and applied to the Yokohama District Court for mediation, asking a joint venture that included Hakuhodo Inc. to reduce the value of a ¥3.4 billion contract.

The exposition was expected to attract 5 million visitors from April to September but actually got only 1.24 million. The association was originally scheduled to be disbanded at the end of March but will continue operating because of the lawsuits.