Hotel Okura latest to own up to fraudulent menus

by Mizuho Aoki

Staff Writer

Hotel Okura on Thursday became the latest in a seemingly endless string of established hotels and department stores to admit to misrepresenting the items on its restaurant menus.

Hotel Okura Co., the operator of the landmark hotel in central Tokyo and others nationwide, said 13 hotels and three restaurants under its wing had misrepresented 235 menu items.

According to the hotel chain, a total of 386,000 dishes stemming from false menu descriptions, amounting to ¥870 million, had been sold since 2007.

Separately, JAL Hotels Co., a unit of Hotel Okura, reported similar menu misrepresentations at its 13 hotels that amounted to 130,000 dishes worth ¥200 million since 2006.

Hotel JAL City Tamachi Tokyo in Minato Ward, for example, served barnacle rock shell as premium “awabi” abalone. Also served was shark fin soup using fins made of artificial ingredients.

Okura’s announcement came just a day after Japan’s three leading department stores — Isetan Mitsukoshi Holdings Ltd., Sogo & Seibu Co. and Odakyu Department Store Co. — admitted using ingredients different from those listed on their menus.

Though all three claimed the food fraud was committed by tenants, they’ve nonetheless taken heat for lack of oversight.

Isetan Mitsukoshi Holdings said that 14 restaurants in its group nationwide served misrepresented items.

The fraud involved 52 menu items at eight department stores and one shopping mall, included the mislabeling of Vannamei shrimp as more expensive Shiba shrimp and processed beef as steak, Isetan Mitsukoshi said.

In other cases, the origin of the food was false, such as pork raised in Iwate Prefecture being sold as from Miyazaki, and chestnuts from China baked into cakes labeled from Europe.

Isetan Mitsukoshi said it will give refunds for those items.

Meanwhile, Sogo & Seibu Co. admitted to misrepresenting 13 items at seven restaurants in its group stores nationwide. At a Sogo Tokushima restaurant in Tokushima Prefecture, for example, Awa beef, a local delicacy, was listed on the menu, though the beef was in fact from Kagoshima Prefecture.

Odakyu Department Store Co. also acknowledged the same day that it had falsely represented dishes, including a product that claimed to contain prawns, not the tiger shrimp it actually did.

“It’s the department stores’ responsibility to check how their tenants are managing food. Otherwise, they should not let (those restaurants) use their space,” said Yasuko Kono, director general of the National Liaison Committee of Consumer’s Organization. “The department store business, after all, is built on trust. And as a consumer, I am fuming by knowing the reality.”

The Consumer Affairs Agency is studying whether the food fraud falls under the scope of the competition and policy law, which forbids mislabeling of any product, an agency official said. If it determines there were violations, it will order those companies to take preventive steps toensure they never happen again.

Regardless of what the agency decides, the industries must stick to their own rules and guidelines to regain consumer trust, Kono said.

“They are convicted criminals. They are professionals and there is no way they couldn’t have realized (the items were mislabeled). Their management culture has a huge problem and it needs to be changed,” Kono said.

She also stressed that Japan needs to establish systems to track ingredients to their source. “At the moment, there is almost no such tracking system in Japan,” she said.

The Consumer Affairs Agency instructed the hotel industry on Wednesday to take steps to correct its conduct.

The agency handed written requests to representatives of the Japan Hotel Association and two other hotel industry groups. The groups received explanations of the law for preventing misleading representations of goods and services, and were shown past instances of menu descriptions found to violate regulations.

The agency is currently discussing handing out similar requests to department stores, an official said.

Companies implicated in the scandal include Prince Hotels Inc., Hankyu Hanshin Hotels Co., the Ritz-Carlton Osaka and department store operator Takashimaya Co.

Information from Kyodo added

  • Logo Blogo

    Ordering businesses to “take preventive steps to ensure (violations) never happen again” is about as effective as a slap on the hand with a wet bus ticket. No wonder they get away with this kind of fraud! Hefty fines for first offences, and a possible prison term for repeat offenders ‘might’ be more of a deterrent! In this day and age, when food consumers demand to know for sure (and have the right to know) that their food is NOT from some irradiated spot, this issue is even more urgent!

    • Charlie Sommers

      If first offenses were punished with hefty fines I seriously doubt that any businesses would be stepping forward and admitting past wrong doing. Taking preventative measures now with the threat of hefty fines in the future might be the best thing to do.