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Japan state minister spent 146 nights at Tokyo hotel at taxpayers' expense

State Minister of Defense Tomohiro Yamamoto (Mainichi)

TOKYO -- Japan's State Minister of Defense Tomohiro Yamamoto stayed 146 nights at a Tokyo hotel using taxpayers' money before he moved into a Diet members' dorm, the Defense Ministry disclosed on March 2.

Yamamoto, a House of Representatives member belonging to the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, has explained that he stayed at the hotel for precautionary measures such as when the defense minister was away. He spent a total of roughly 1.18 million yen (about $10,900) on hotel stays. Yamamoto stopped staying at the hotel after Defense Minister Taro Kono told him he should move into a Diet members' dorm.

The state minister stayed at Hotel Grand Hill Ichigaya run by a Defense Ministry-related organization, which is located near the ministry building in Tokyo. He spent 134 nights at the hotel between August 2017 and October 2018 during his first stint as state minister of defense, for which accommodation expenses totaled 1,077,780 yen. Following his reappointment in September 2019, Yamamoto had stayed 12 nights at the hotel through the end of October that same year at a cost of 97,650 yen. All of his stays were covered by taxpayers' money. The Defense Ministry has not asked Yamamoto to pay back the funds.

Yamamoto is a fourth-term lower house member elected in the Kanagawa Prefecture No. 4 constituency, which includes parts of Yokohama and the prefecture city of Kamakura, through the proportional representation system. The Defense Ministry reportedly arranged the hotel for Yamamoto since he didn't have a home in the capital nor was he renting a room in a Diet members' dorm. An outside party told Kono in October 2019 after Yamamoto was reappointed to the ministry's No. 2 position that he was staying at a hotel using taxpayers' money. Yamamoto moved into a Diet members' dorm in Tokyo's Minato Ward in the fall of 2019.

In the Defense Ministry, the state minister and parliamentary vice-ministers take turns to stand by in Tokyo when the minister is away, and to respond to any crises such as North Korean missile launches. Since this practice became an official system in 2003, there had been no cases where a minister, state minister or parliamentary vice-ministers did not have a home in the capital's 23 wards or had a room in a Diet members' dorm. The ministry has not confirmed any similar spending on hotel stays over the past five years for which records exist.

(Japanese original by Yusuke Tanabe, Political News Department)

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