Here’s this week’s Media Mix, which is about the methods used by politicians to avoid responsibility for poor choices. In the column I mentioned two examples of “dinner meetings” where the official protocol for gatherings as stated by the government panel on the COVID-19 pandemic was violated. The Harbor Business article where I got most of the information listed many others, and what ties them together, in addition to the excuses that violators came up with to explain their actions, is the lack of what Harbor Business calls “a sense of crisis.” Reading through the anecdotes, you get the feeling that the people involved don’t think they did anything wrong, which means they probably don’t consider the virus that much of a big deal. This is, of course, a common sentiment, and, to a certain extent, understandable if not particularly defensible. Nevertheless, as public servants, all these people are required to at least put up the appearance that the directives they supposedly support have some kind of meaning.
In that regard, the most startling anecdote was the one involving LDP lawmaker and former cabinet minister Mitsuhiro Miyakoshi, who went on a bender at a “drinking party” with members of the local “fishing industry” on Christmas Day in Toyama, collapsed, and then had to be taken to a hospital by ambulance. Though Mainichi said his injuries were minor, Harbor said he required “emergency treatment.” Miyakoshi apologized but not so much for violating the COVID restrictions. He seemed more concerned about looking like a fool. At any rate, at the time of the incident Toyama was experiencing a sharp spike in infections and medical facilities, including ambulances, were being stretched. In another case, Naoichi Takemoto, the 80-year-old IT minister, was cited for attending a party fundraiser at an Osaka hotel on December 18 that was attended by 80 people. Actually, as Harbor found out, Takemoto himself was not at the fundraiser, but rather at a “study session” in a different room of the hotel at the same time where he supposedly discussed “national politics” with whoever was in the room with him. Harbor implies that “study session” is just another term for “drinking party,” and later Takemoto and two of his aides tested positive for the virus. Then there was a party held by 30 members of the Saitama prefectural assembly on December 15 to commemorate the year’s last session. All the attendees were LDP politicians and their excuse when the press later chided them for breaking a prefectural guideline asking residents to refrain from bonenkai was that they just showed up to the restaurant, ate quickly, and left. Given that the party was at a Chinese restaurant where diners share dishes, it’s difficult to believe they didn’t party at least a little bit. But my favorite story was the one about 14 members of the Nishio city council in Aichi Prefecture attending a drinking party on December 18 at an inn for the purpose of helping the inn, which was having economic difficulties due to the pandemic. Harbor said it was a “full-scale” affair, complete with three “female companions,” meaning women expressly hired to attend to the needs of the male participants.