Japanese Prime Minister Suga Yoshihide apologized on Wednesday after lawmakers from his ruling party admitted to visiting Tokyo bars late at night during the capital’s coronavirus state of emergency, which discourages unnecessary outings and urges bars and restaurants to close by 8:00 p.m.
“I’m terribly sorry that this happened when we are asking people not to eat out after 8:00 p.m. and to avoid non-essential, non-urgent outings,” Suga said at a meeting in the Japanese parliament on January 27.
“Each lawmaker should behave to gain the public’s understanding,” the prime minister added.
Japanese weekly magazines published separate reports on January 26 revealing that Matsumoto Jun and Toyama Kiyohiko — two legislators from Japan’s conservative ruling party, the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) — had frequented Tokyo bars and restaurants late into the night despite a federal edict prohibiting such outings.
Matsumoto dined at an Italian restaurant in Tokyo until around 9 p.m. on January 18 before visiting two hostess bars in the posh Ginza district. He left the last establishment after 11:00 p.m., according to a report by Shukan Shincho magazine, which included photos of the lawmaker’s night out.
“Toyama visited a members-only club in Ginza with an acquaintance shortly past 11:00 p.m. on January 22,” Shukan Bunshun magazine reported on January 26.
Matsumoto told reporters on Tuesday that he “had only been drinking until 7:00 p.m.” on the night of January 18 and that he “visited the establishments to listen to their requests and petitions,” presumably related to Tokyo’s current state of emergency, which urges restaurants and bars in the city to limit their service and hours.
“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 said.
Hostess bars have been likened to an extension of the office in Japan, with some companies reportedly footing the bill for staff who use the establishments to seal business deals.
Toyama told reporters on Tuesday that after having dinner at a Tokyo restaurant until around 8:00 p.m. on January 22, he was invited to another establishment. The lawmaker denied drinking at the high-end night club he visited.
“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,” Toyama added.
Matsumoto is a senior legislator and member of the LDP. Toyama is a member of the LDP’s junior coalition partner Komeito, also a conservative party. Prime Minister Suga is the LDP’s current president.
Japan’s federal government declared a limited state of emergency in Tokyo and three surrounding prefectures on January 7 in response to a surging number of new Chinese coronavirus cases at the time. The edict focused largely on restricting service or shutting down Tokyo-area bars and restaurants. It also encouraged people in the affected communities to work from home and avoid non-essential outings. About 30 percent of Japan’s population of 127 million reside in the national capital region. Tokyo’s limited state of emergency is currently slated to last until February 7, though Japanese government officials are said to be mulling an extension of the order for an additional month past that date, Kyodo News reported on Wednesday.