National / Crime & Legal

Imperial swindle: Scammers reportedly handing out Japanese flags and then asking for money

by Magdalena Osumi

Staff Writer

Reports of scammers across Japan taking advantage of the celebratory mood ahead of this week’s Imperial succession have caused a stir on social media.

The nation is now in the middle of an unprecedented 10-day Golden Week holiday period, made longer this year after the government designated Wednesday a national holiday to put Japan in a festive mood for the Imperial changeover. After Emperor Akihito abdicates Tuesday, his son, Crown Prince Naruhito, will ascend the Chrysanthemum Throne the following day.

But the occasion has apparently become a golden opportunity for con artists trying to make a profit by selling tiny Japanese flags on the streets of major cities, according to reports from social media users who either fell victim to the scam or managed to escape it.

It is customary for Hinomaru flags to be displayed during national holidays, and well-wishers wave them when greeting the Emperor at the Imperial Palace.

On Thursday, a Twitter user with the handle @makibikeisi warned of an encounter with a foreign man who was trying to hand over a Japanese flag and then showed a card with a message asking for ¥500 in payment. The user, who said the incident occurred in Tokyo’s Akihabara district, refused to pay and managed to get away. “Everyone watch out,” @makibikeisi wrote in a post last Thursday.

In response to the message, which was shared almost 33,000 times, others reported similar experiences. They said the scammers claimed to be hearing-impaired.

Some users said they had seen scammers, including women, working in pairs and that they had spotted them in numerous locations around Tokyo and Osaka.

In most cases, the individuals tried to trade the flags for money while showing cards with similar messages saying they came to “learn about your culture.” For example, one of them said: “If you pay me ¥500 for the flag I will be able to learn about Japan’s richness.”

Some people said they fell victim to the scam. Twitter user @JzglGv wrote: “I bought a flag from that person … It’s the guy who shows you a small card, right?”

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