Most of Japan’s political scandals have revolved around bribes and misappropriation of funds by top Japanese officials. Powerful private sector firms have been found to be in cahoots with government officials in carrying out these large scale corrupt activities. There is a systematic misuse of funds to meet the needs of influential businessmen and the political elite. Here are the most infamous political scandals that have rocked the Japanese government and politics over the years.
Navigation of the Top 6 Political Scandals in Japan
This scandal of the early twentieth century took place during the late Meiji and Taisho period of Japanese politics. During World War I, the administration of Prime Minister Okuma Shigenobu requested for funds for military expenditure from the lower house of the Diet of Japan and the requests were passed by the house. But when the request for additional funds to support another 86,000 men in the Imperial Japanese army was made, it was turned down by the lower house.
The majority of the lower house was then controlled by opposition political parties hostile to Shigenobu, who decide to vote against the request. On March 25th, 1915, Shigenobu dissolved the house and called for fresh elections.
Okuma won by a landslide margin and was able to get the bill passed on military spending. But a couple of months after the election, allegations against Home Minister Oura Kanetaka began to surface. It was alleged that he had given funds from the Rikken Doshikai party to Hayashida Kametaro, the Chief Secretary of the lower house, for distribution among undecided members to vote in favor of Okuma’s military spending bill. Kametaro resigned and was subsequently arrested. Oura was also forced to resign, but was not prosecuted.
Another political scandal of late Meiji and Taisho period of Japanese politics involved several high ranking members of the Imperial Japanese Navy, the British company Vickers and the German industrial conglomerate of Siemens AG.
The Japanese navy was importing advanced weaponry from Europe and most naval contracts were signed with Siemens after a 15% bribe was given to the Japanese naval authorities. In 1914, British company Vickers offered a 25% bribe to authorities with an extra 40,000 Yen offered to Vice Admiral Matsumoto Yawara. When Siemens learnt out about the deal, they demanded a clarification. During this time, an employee of the Siemens Tokyo office stole documents providing proof of Siemens’s backdoor tactics to the Reuters news agency.
The scandal became public and investigations were launched into the scandal. A Japanese newspaper reported that the navy procurement office had received payments from Vickers amounting to a total of 210,000 yen. Violent, large-scale protests erupted in Tokyo. The public was further incensed when it was revealed that the large scale investments in the naval expansion program would have left room for little else in the government budget and the government were planning to raise taxes to make up for the expenditure.
The Teijin scandal resulted in the fall of Prime Minister Saito Makoto’s administration. In June 1933, a body of young businessmen, the Banchokai bought 100,000 shares of the textile firm Teijin from the Bank of Taiwan at 125 yen per share. By the end of the year, the stock had gone up to 200 yuan. There were rumors that the Banchokai had somehow managed to manipulate the stock market.
The Ministry of Justice subsequently accused officials in the Ministry of Finance and Prime Minister Saito’s cabinet members of conspiring with the Bank of Taiwan to allow the Banchokai to buy the shares at low prices in return for cash and stock bribes. In 1934, the Minister of Finance, the Director of the Bank of Taiwan and the President of Teijin were arrested. Following this, Prime Minister Saito had to dissolve the government on 3 July 1934.
Ichiro Ozawa, kingpin of the ruling Democratic Party has recently been embroiled in a funding scandal alleging that he took bribes from construction firms to invest in property.
Known as the “Shadow Shogun” in Japan, he claims that he is innocent. In question is a $4 million plot of land bought in 2004 by Mr Ozawa’s political fundraising organization. Prosecutors are still investigating how the party sourced such a large sum of money. Reports suggest involvement of construction firms seeking public contracts. The scandal is likely to have major implications on the political future of Japan’s Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, who has resigned recently.
Japan’s agriculture minister Toshikatsu Matsuoka committed suicide after being embroiled in a political scandal where he was charged with manipulating the utility costs of his parliamentary office. He took to the drastic measure after being subject to questioning in the parliament.
In 2007, it was alleged that Matsuoka had claimed $236,600 in utility costs even though his rented parliamentary office offered utilities free of cost. He was also accused of not declaring $8,500 in political donations.
In this shocking incident, close to two thousand haemophilia patients in Japan contracted HIV after using non-heat treated blood products. The Health Ministry was criticized for not introducing heat-treated blood products that prevented spread of infection. After the incident, high-ranking officials in the Ministry of Health and Welfare were charged with involuntary manslaughter.
In 1989, the HIV-infected hemophiliacs in Osaka and Tokyo filed lawsuits against the Ministry and five Japanese drug companies. The head of the Health Ministry’s AIDS research team, Dr. Abe Takeshi was also tried but found not guilty in 2005.
This is a corruption scandal in the 80’s involving Recruit, a Tokyo-based human resources company and many high-profile Japanese politicians. Chairman of Recruit Hiromasa Ezoe offered senior politicians a number of shares in its subsidiary, Cosmos, shortly before Cosmos went public in 1986. Following the initial public offering, Cosmos’s share price shot up and those involved made profits up to 66 million yen each.
Among the politicians involved in the scandal were Prime Minister Noboru Takeshita, former Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone and Chief Cabinet Secretary Takao Fujinami. Members of Takeshita’s cabinet were forced to resign after the incident became public.
Political scandals in Japan time and again have revolved around fraud, money laundering and election funding. Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama’s approval ratings dipped after he had to face humiliation in a political funding scandal. It is high time that Japan’s politicians focus their energies on solving the country’s debt woes instead of indulging in corruption for personal gain – do you think the future Japanese politicians will come clean and honest?