A senior member of the ruling coalition offered to quit the Diet Monday after angering the public by visiting a Tokyo hostess bar despite government calls to avoid unnecessary outings under a state of emergency to rein in the spread of the coronavirus.
Kiyohiko Toyama, former acting secretary-general of Komeito, the junior coalition partner of the Liberal Democratic Party, has admitted to visiting a hostess bar in Tokyo’s Ginza district late at night on Jan. 22.
The visit triggered an outcry from the public, who have in particular been requested to refrain from outings in the evening under the state of emergency, which is in effect in the capital and other areas.
The development, which came along with similar recent visits to two Ginza hostess bars by Jun Matsumoto, former acting chairman of the LDP’s Diet Affairs Committee, is set to give the opposition camp ammunition to attack Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s administration.
Matsumoto and two other lawmakers who accompanied him to the bars — Takashi Otsuka, an executive of the Lower House steering committee, and senior vice education minister Taido Tanose — have offered to leave the LDP over the matter.
Their party also recommended their departure, the most serious reprimand after expulsion.
Suga sacked Tanose from the senior vice minister post after criticizing his visit to the bars as “inappropriate” in a meeting with him at the Prime Minister’s Office, Tanose told reporters. Upper House lawmaker Hideki Niwa was chosen to replace Tanose.
“It is extremely regrettable, and as a government we apologize to the people,” said Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato over Tanose’s action.
Otsuka and Tanose earlier decided to give up their posts in the Diet and the government, respectively, although the three scandal-tainted politicians will all remain as lawmakers.
Matsumoto had said earlier that he had gone to the hostess bars alone and apologized Monday for hiding the fact that the two junior lawmakers had accompanied him.
Jun Azumi, Diet affairs chief of the main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, asked Suga to explain to the Diet about the visit by the three lawmakers.
Toyama has also drawn fire after it was recently learned that he used political funds to cover the around ¥110,000 cost of visits to nightlife establishments including kyabakura hostess bars in the Kyushu region by his state-paid secretary and himself in 2019.
The former senior vice finance minister was elected in the Kyushu constituency. The expenses for the visits to the bars, where hostesses typically engage in more intimate contact with guests, were originally booked as restaurant trips.
Toyama apologized for the visits Monday, telling reporters, “I have deeply hurt public trust in politics by my inappropriate behavior and the scandal involving my fund management body.”
Komeito leader Natsuo Yamaguchi also apologized for “causing strong political distrust among the people.”
“Our party will work as one to restore trust,” he added.
Toyama, the 51-year-old Komeito member, has won a seat in the House of Representatives four times from the Kyushu district under the proportional representation system, after serving two terms as a House of Councilors member.
Komeito, which is backed by Japan’s largest lay Buddhist organization, Soka Gakkai, had intended to field Toyama in a constituency in Kanagawa Prefecture in the next Lower House election, which must be held by October.
But Toyama told reporters Monday he does not intend to run in the upcoming Lower House election.
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