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Docs suggest Abe may have invited shady character to controversial sakura party

A portion of government documents shows a categorized list of guest numbers apparently created for the 2005 cherry blossom-viewing party hosted by the then prime minister, in this picture taken at the National Archives of Japan in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward on Dec. 24, 2019. The figure "60" is specified as the prime minister's quota and "61" as the Liberal Democratic Party's. (Mainichi/Ken Aoshima)

TOKYO -- Freshly disclosed government documents suggest guests invited to a tax-funded cherry blossom-viewing party in 2005 at the recommendation of the then prime minister were classified with the number "60," raising suspicions that an ex-boss of a questionable firm invited to a 2015 party with the same numbering may have been nominated by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

The finding came as the National Archives of Japan in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward disclosed the documents on Dec. 24. The papers, which contain a categorized list of guests for the 2005 gathering, are part of documents prepared by the Cabinet Office for a cherry blossom-viewing party held in 2006.

Takayoshi Yamaguchi, former chairman of Japan Life Co., which went under after engaging in a malicious pyramid marketing scheme, is said to have received an invitation to the sakura party in 2015 under the number "60." While Prime Minister Abe has insisted that he has no personal connection to the ex-chairman, the latest finding raises the possibility that Yamaguchi was invited under the prime ministerial quota.

The roughly 80 pages of documents were produced to prepare for the 2006 party hosted by then Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi. The documents were sanctioned on April 14, 2006, the day before the party was held in a Tokyo park, with the stamps of approval of Koizumi and Abe, then chief Cabinet secretary.

After the party, the documents were moved to the National Archives in 2009, indicating that they had been retained at the Cabinet Office for around three years. No other related documents from the years preceding and following 2005-2006 were found at the National Archives, signaling that the Koizumi administration may have kept those documents to hand them over to the next government.

In the list of guests for the 2005 party, the quota number "60" was specified as that of the prime minister, "61" for the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), "62" for the LDP's coalition partner Komeito, "65" for the chief Cabinet secretary and "66" for deputy chief Cabinet secretaries. Hiroyuki Hosoda was serving as chief Cabinet secretary at the time the 2005 party was held.

At a hearing of an opposition party investigation team on Dec. 24, Toru Miyamoto, a House of Representatives member of the Japanese Communist Party, who has also confirmed the same documents, questioned if the number "60" is still set aside for the prime minister's quota today. In response, an official of the Cabinet Office stated, "It may have been so back in 2005." The official then added, "When I confirmed with an individual associated with the matter, they said, 'I think numbers in their 60s were traditionally (quotas) for the prime minister's office and ruling parties'" -- thereby effectively dodging Miyamoto's question.

However, documents obtained by the Mainichi Shimbun through freedom of information requests filed with the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism and other bodies indicate that the classification of quotas with those numberings had not changed at least since 2010.

This raises the possibility that the number "60" is still assigned for the prime minister's quota of guests. While the Cabinet Office is said to have compiled the lists of nominees by the prime minister, the office has not disclosed related documents.

Furthermore, it has also emerged from those documents that for the 2005 party, 737 people were invited under the prime minister's quota, 1,483 under the LDP's quota and 200 under Komeito's slot. Altogether, the 2,420 guests in these three quotas were categorized as "nominees by the prime minister." The documents also indicate that the chief Cabinet secretary had a quota of 132 guests and the deputy chief Cabinet secretaries had spaces for 192 guests. In total, slots for 2,744 guests were set aside for the prime minister and ruling parties.

At a lower house Cabinet Committee meeting on Nov. 20, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga revealed that Prime Minister Abe recommended about 1,000 guests for this year's cherry blossom-viewing function and those affiliated with the LDP nominated around 6,000 guests. The figures show a sharp spike from guest numbers for the 2005 party.

(Japanese original by Ken Aoshima and Taku Soda, City News Department, and Shinya Hamanaka, Political News Department)

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