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Japan consumer affairs minister slammed for victim-blaming over pyramid scheme ad

Minister of State for Consumer Affairs and Food Safety Seiichi Eto (Mainichi/Masahiro Ogawa)
In this image provided by the Japanese Communist Party, a Japan Life Co. marketing pamphlet highlighting the then company chairman's invitation to the 2015 sakura party hosted by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is seen. The text at top reads, "A sakura party invitation from Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to Chairman Yamaguchi has arrived."

TOKYO -- Japan's consumer affairs minister is getting a licking online after comments critics say amount to victim-blaming in relation to a known pyramid scheme company suspected of using its chairman's invitation to the 2015 sakura party hosted by the prime minister to promote its business.

Healthcare product rental firm Japan Life Co. printed marketing pamphlets that included images of the invitation and a photo of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, with catch copy emphasizing the invite to the annual cherry blossom viewing party -- a government-funded event.

At a Nov. 29 news conference, Minister of State for Consumer Affairs and Food Safety Seiichi Eto said of the ads, "It seems there are some people who trusted the company (because of the party invitation), but there's something a bit strange about people who take out business cards they've received and say, 'I met this person and this person."

"Personally, I think I would be careful about such people from the very start," Eto added.

The backlash on Twitter was swift, with comments including, "This is message manipulation designed to leave the impression that the people who were conned are to blame," and "So, is the job of the Consumer Affairs Agency to protect the prime minister instead of consumers?"

Attorney and consumer issues specialist Masaki Kito said of Eto, "His comments were not made from the perspective of the consumer. Considering the original purpose of the sakura party, which is to invite people recognized for their achievements and hard work, then of course consumers would give the company their trust (due to the ad). Eto is offloading responsibility from the government onto the Japanese people."

(Japanese original by Takuya Yoshida, Integrated Digital News Center)

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