Japan's justice minister undone by cheap paper fan

Staff Writer
Columbus CEO

TOKYO (AP) — In the heat of summer, they are ubiquitous in Japan: cheap paper fans, advertising this or that company or product, handed out at outdoor events or busy strain stations. On Monday, they brought down a politician.

One of two Cabinet ministers who resigned Monday over election-law issues, Justice Minister Midori Matsushima was accused of distributing fans to constituents.

That a paper fan valued at 80 yen (75 cents) could run afoul of Japan's election laws is testament to the strict prohibition on gifts to constituents. It's a legacy of once-common vote-buying in Japan, says Koichi Nakano, political science professor at Sophia University in Tokyo.

The simple fans, known as "uchiwa," are a sheet of paper, rounded at the corners and stretched across of web of bamboo or plastic. Traditional uchiwa have painted art, but today's fans are as likely to have a company logo and announce a sale.

Opposition members of parliament held up the offending fan during debate last week. On one side is a drawing of a smiling Matsushima in her trademark red jacket. On the other is a list of legislation of local interest.

Matsushima says the fan should be viewed as an informational pamphlet for constituents, but that argument didn't protect her from the heat of parliamentary scrutiny.