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New docs suggest more guests invited to Abe sakura party in politicians' endorsement quota

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, center, and his wife Akie, center right, pose for photos along with guests during a cherry blossom-viewing party at Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden in Tokyo's Shinjuku Ward on April 13, 2019. (Mainichi/Shinnosuke Kyan)

TOKYO -- Newly presented documents suggest some 8,800 people may have been invited to 2019's controversial cherry blossom-viewing party by lawmakers including Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, a figure around 800 attendees higher than those previously provided by the government.

Documents the Cabinet Office showed to the Diet on Jan. 21 indicated that a total of 15,420 cherry blossom party guests were classified into 14 categories depending on who recommend they attend, with the Imperial Family and foreign ambassadors to Japan among proposed attendees.

A total of 8,894 guests are believed to have been recommended by lawmakers, including Prime Minister Abe, members of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and its junior coalition partner Komeito. They were all classified under the category "Those who contributed to their respective fields (the prime minister, etc.)."

However, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told the Diet in November 2019 that of the roughly 15,000 people invited to the event, some 1,000 of the guests were recommended by the prime minister, another 1,000 by the deputy prime minister, chief and deputy chief Cabinet secretaries, and about 6,000 were recommended by the LDP.

He also claimed that those recommended by Komeito, estimated at somewhere between several dozens and 100, were part of the 1,000 guests who were classified as contributors to international and cultural affairs and arts, press-related parties and former national Diet members, among others.

While Komeito is not mentioned in the recently revealed documents, those invited by the coalition partner are believed to appear under the "lawmaker" category, the same as the guests recommended by the prime minister and LDP affiliates, rather than in the categories of "arts and cultural affairs" and others.

When the estimated number of guests recommended by Komeito is subtracted from the 8,894 mentioned in the newly presented documents, the figure turns out to be roughly 8,800 -- about 800 more than the number from Chief Cabinet Secretary Suga's explanation to the Diet.

Suga told a news conference on Jan. 22 that the government will not reinvestigate the matter or revise its explanation based on the new documents. He said, "I'm not aware of the documents in detail as it's highly administrative material, but I understand that the figures (in the new documents and the government's previous account) have little difference."

Jun Azumi, Diet affairs chief of the main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, slammed the government in his response to the documents, saying, "The government has been denying its knowledge, but it turns out all the documents exist. It's surprising that 8,800 guests were recommended under the 'prime minister and others' category. It only proves that the party was being used for the prime minister's personal gain."

(Japanese original by Shinichi Akiyama, Political News Department)

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