Tokyo’s Governor Spent a Crazy Amount of Government Money on Overseas Trips

Tokyo Governor Yoichi Masuzoe held a press conference Friday to defend spending government money on lavish trips, resort hotels, and expensive art.

TOKYO, JAPAN - MAY 13:  (CHINA OUT, SOUTH KOREA OUT) Tokyo Metropolitan Governor Yoichi Masuzoe speaks during a press conference at the Tokyo Metropolitan Government headquarters on May 13, 2016 in Tokyo, Japan. Masuzoe admitted to use political funds for dinner and accommodations, as the weekly magazine Shukan Bunshun reported.  (Photo by The Asahi Shimbun via Getty Images)
TOKYO, JAPAN - MAY 13: (CHINA OUT, SOUTH KOREA OUT) Tokyo Metropolitan Governor Yoichi Masuzoe speaks during a press conference at the Tokyo Metropolitan Government headquarters on May 13, 2016 in Tokyo, Japan. Masuzoe admitted to use political funds for dinner and accommodations, as the weekly magazine Shukan Bunshun reported. (Photo by The Asahi Shimbun via Getty Images)
TOKYO, JAPAN - MAY 13: (CHINA OUT, SOUTH KOREA OUT) Tokyo Metropolitan Governor Yoichi Masuzoe speaks during a press conference at the Tokyo Metropolitan Government headquarters on May 13, 2016 in Tokyo, Japan. Masuzoe admitted to use political funds for dinner and accommodations, as the weekly magazine Shukan Bunshun reported. (Photo by The Asahi Shimbun via Getty Images)

Tokyo Governor Yoichi Masuzoe said at a press conference Friday that he spent over $2 million dollars on eight overseas trips during his first two years in office, reportedly to help Japan look “prestigious” on the world stage.

His sacrifice for his country included staying in $1,820-a-night London hotel suites, spending $11,700 to rent airport VIP rooms, and traveling with an entourage of 19 staff members. Masuzoe’s spending was not limited to international travel. He frequently used an official car and driver for transportation to his vacation house at a hot springs resort.

Masuzoe has been under scrutiny since early April when the Japanese Communist Party revealed that spending on his eight overseas trips had already outstripped that of former governor, Shintaro Ishihara, a rightwing nationalist who spent $4.3 million on 28 trips during his tenure.

Tokyo Governor Yoichi Masuzoe said at a press conference Friday that he spent over $2 million dollars on eight overseas trips during his first two years in office, reportedly to help Japan look “prestigious” on the world stage.

His sacrifice for his country included staying in $1,820-a-night London hotel suites, spending $11,700 to rent airport VIP rooms, and traveling with an entourage of 19 staff members. Masuzoe’s spending was not limited to international travel. He frequently used an official car and driver for transportation to his vacation house at a hot springs resort.

Masuzoe has been under scrutiny since early April when the Japanese Communist Party revealed that spending on his eight overseas trips had already outstripped that of former governor, Shintaro Ishihara, a rightwing nationalist who spent $4.3 million on 28 trips during his tenure.

Since then, repeated new revelations about spending have put the governor in the spotlight, with some saying that his actions may have violated the law.

In response to criticism over Ishihara’s spending, the government in 2007 ordered officials to find the cheapest accommodation that meets security requirements. Masuzoe insists that his spending remained within the law.

Masuzoe’s latest embarrassment came Wednesday when Japanese magazine Shukan Bunshun reported that he had spent about $3400 in government money on two visits to a resort hotel in Kisarazu in 2013 and 2014 to discuss what he called “urgent” and “highly important” matters related to upcoming elections. His family joined him on the trips because, he said, he had promised he would spend time with his children. He expensed the costs as “conference fees.”

Masuzoe took office as governor of Tokyo in 2014. Before that, he served as a lawmaker in Japan’s Upper House and as the nation’s minister of health.

Between 2012 and 2014, he purchased about $82,000 worth of art with state funds, which he said he used for diplomacy, giving the art as gifts to visitors from overseas.

At the press conference Friday, the governor said: “Having caused so much distrust, as a politician I feel embarrassed.” He promised to cut back on spending and use his own car to visit his vacation home.

But at least he didn’t try to buy an island.

In 2012, the Japanese government had to spend about $20 million to buy the Senkaku islands, not far from China, from their private owners in order to head off an offer from Tokyo’s then-governor: Ishihara himself. Ever since, those disputed islands have soured ties between Tokyo and Beijing.

Photo credit: The Asahi Shimbun via Getty Images

Megan Alpert is a fellow at Foreign Policy. Her previous bylines have included The Guardian, Guernica Daily, and Earth Island Journal. Twitter: @megan_alpert

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