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Japan ruling party lawmakers apologize for visiting bars in Ginza despite virus emergency

Jun Matsumoto, former chairman of the National Public Safety Commission (Mainichi)

TOKYO -- Two senior Japan ruling coalition officials have apologized for visiting eateries including bars in the capital's upscale Ginza district separately at night in defiance of the national government's request for people to refrain from nonessential and nonurgent outings after 8 p.m. amid the coronavirus state of emergency.

    Jun Matsumoto, former chairman of the National Public Safety Commission and a member of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), and Kiyohiko Toyama, acting secretary-general of Komeito, the LDP's junior coalition partner, offered their apologies on Jan. 26.

    The revelations, which made headlines after reports by weekly magazines, are likely to deal a further blow to the Cabinet of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, which has been suffering from sagging public support ratings in recent opinion polls conducted by Japanese media organizations.

    Matsumoto and Toyama met the press in the Diet building following the reports, and generally admitted to what was reported by the magazines. The Jan. 26 online edition of the Shukan Shincho weekly magazine reported with photos that Matsumoto spent time at a restaurant in Tokyo until around 9 p.m. on Jan. 18 and then visited two bars in Ginza, before leaving the last establishment shortly past 11 p.m. Meanwhile, the Jan. 26 online edition of the Shukan Bunshun magazine reported that Toyama visited a members-only club in Ginza with an acquaintance shortly past 11 p.m. on Jan. 22.

    Matsumoto explained to the assembled media that he had only been drinking until 7 p.m. that night and that he visited the establishments to listen to their requests and petitions. "I regret that my behavior itself was a bit thoughtless. I took those actions during the night as I'm stuck (with duties) during the day," Matsumoto told reporters.

    Komeito's Kiyohiko Toyama (Mainichi/Naoaki Hasegawa)

    Toyama explained that after having dinner at a restaurant in the capital until around 8 p.m., he was asked out to another establishment. He denied drinking at the bar he visited, and said, "I'd like to fully exercise self-restraint in my behavior so I won't take this kind of action again. I'm seriously reflecting on what I did."

    Prime Minister Suga himself earlier came under fire for having a dinner meeting at a steakhouse in Tokyo with a group of eight people including LDP Secretary-General Toshihiro Nikai on the night of Dec. 14, 2020. Although it was before the government called the second state of emergency over the coronavirus, the gathering came on the very day that Suga declared the nationwide suspension of the government's "Go To Travel" subsidy campaign aimed at salvaging the pandemic-hit tourism industry. Following the incident, Nikai notified all LDP Diet members to refrain from attending gatherings for meals.

    (Japanese original by Itsuo Tokubo and Noriaki Kinoshita, Political News Department)

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