Japanese Politician Resigns Over Claims That He Gave People Expensive Melons

Isshu Sugawara signed off Friday after a tabloid accused him of violating election campaign laws by handing out pricey melons, crabs, and cod roe.

Until a couple of days ago, if you visited Isshu Sugawara's page on the official website for the Prime Minister of Japan and his Cabinet, you could have read an overview of his entire political career, starting with his early 1990s appointment to the Nerima Ward Assembly. He served as Parliamentary Secretary of Health, Labour and Welfare during Shinzo Abe's first stint as Prime Minister, and after a five month term as the State Minister of Finance, he was recently named Japan's Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry.


Today, though, Sugawara's brief bio has been replaced by a single sentence that says "The page you requested is not found." Just a month-and-a-half into his new role, Sugawara has resigned, accused of giving melons, crabs, and pricy cod roe to his constituents.

According to The Japan Times, Sugawara called it quits on Friday, after a Japanese tabloid accused the 57-year-old of violating election campaign laws by handing out high-dollar melons. Last week's issue of Shukan Bunshun also included photos that allegedly showed one of Sugawara's secretaries handing an envelope full of "incense money" to a grieving family in his district. The gift of ¥20,000 ($183) was allegedly given in Sugawara's name—and it's also illegal for a politician to give anything to voters in their districts, regardless of whether it's an election year or not.

The tabloid also listed the foods that Sugawara had reportedly given as gifts, and it had the receipts, publishing a number of 'thank you' notes that the recipients sent back. (Only in Japan could allegations of a scandal be supported by documentation of politeness.)

The BBC reports that even though Sugawara said that he was "still confirming" whether he'd broken the law, he decided to resign on Friday anyway. “I feel deeply ashamed of myself to resign in the middle of my tenure amid mounting pending issues. I apologize,” he said. "It’s not my intention to stall the deliberation of bills because of my problems, as debates in each committee pick up speed starting today.”

Prime Minister Abe said he, too, was sorry. "I bear the responsibility of having appointed Sugawara to his position, and for that, I offer my deepest apologies to the people of Japan," he told reporters.

Hiroshi Kajiyama will take over as the Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry, and he'd better hope that there's not much of a learning curve, because Japan is trying to resolve a nasty trade dispute with South Korea.

He'd also better hope that nobody will come forward to say that he gave them a melon.