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Ex-minister's support group held 'year-end' party at Osaka hotel amid virus concerns

Naokazu Takemoto, former minister in charge of information technology policy, is seen in the Diet in this Oct. 16, 2019 photo. (Mainichi/Masahiro Kawata)

OSAKA -- The support group of a former information technology minister held a political fundraising party at a hotel here on the evening of Dec. 18, with around 80 people in attendance, it has emerged, amid the Japanese government's calls to refrain from having meals in large groups to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

    The party was held for Naokazu Takemoto, 80, former minister in charge of information technology policy. According to a secretary to Takemoto, of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), about 80 guests attended the two-section party, which involved a study meeting and a wining and dining session.

    The revelation comes just when the central government is calling on the public to refrain from participating in dining sessions in a group of five or more amid the surge in coronavirus cases across the country.

    While Takemoto had left the party venue before the dining session started, he told the Mainichi Shimbun, "I didn't know there would be a dining session. But it wasn't appropriate to hold such an event where alcoholic beverages were served."

    Since Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga recently came under fire for attending a dinner party in a group of some eight people around a week ago, LDP members have been refraining from taking part in year-end parties and dining sessions.

    According to Takemoto's secretary and other sources, the Dec. 18 function was planned also as a year-end party, and the ex-minister's office effectively made preparations for the event. The party comprised of a study meeting including Takemoto's speech and the wining and dining session, each taking about an hour.

    The dining session was held in a banquet hall with round tables at the hotel, which was separate from the study meeting venue, and meals and alcoholic beverages were served to around 80 people. The fee was 20,000 yen (about $194) for each guest, and a thank-you note signed by Takemoto was handed to the participants. The note stated, "Thank you very much for your attendance at the 'year-end party in the 2nd year of the Reiwa era.'"

    Prior to the event, Takemoto's office had examined whether to hold the party in light of the recent surge in coronavirus cases in Osaka, as well as criticism over Prime Minister Suga's attendance at dinner meetings. The office also reportedly confirmed the hotel's coronavirus prevention measures and then decided to go ahead with the event. "We thought we would cause trouble to the hotel if we abruptly canceled our plan," the office said.

    When reached by the Mainichi Shimbun on Dec. 19, Takemoto commented, "I should have avoided an environment where people's droplets would spread when they've had drinks, but I'm not responsible for it as I was unaware there would be a dining part of the party." Meanwhile, his secretary apologized, saying, "My awareness was lacking."

    (Japanese original by Yuta Kumamoto and Masaki Ishikawa, Osaka City News Department)

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