Steak Dinner Party Could Worsen Woes for Japan Premier Suga

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, suffering a support slide over his virus management, set off fresh criticism for flouting government advice to keep gatherings small by attending an upmarket steak dinner with several celebrities.

The 72-year-old took part in the meal at a restaurant in Tokyo’s posh Ginza district Monday, shortly after announcing the government would suspend its travel incentive program over the New Year holidays amid a record spread of the coronavirus. There were about eight people at the dinner, TV network FNN reported, against government advice to keep gatherings at four or less.

“There was plenty of distance from other people, but I am sincerely reflecting on having caused a misunderstanding,” Suga told reporters Wednesday. He added he is taking the situation seriously after Japan set a record for confirmed infections over the weekend and experts have warned of the high risks of eating and drinking with others.

The event trended on Twitter Wednesday morning and was a staple of gossip TV programs, which showed footage of those leaving the eatery and had panelists asking what Suga was thinking. Opposition Constitutional Democratic Party secretary general Tetsuro Fukuyama said Suga should have shown restraint.

“The prime minister’s schedule is published and it sends a message to the public, so I want him to think about that carefully,” Natsuo Yamaguchi, head of Suga’s coalition partner party Komeito, told reporters Tuesday.

Suga’s meal gaffe comes as several politicians have come under criticism for acting against their own government’s advice. This includes California Governor Gavin Newsom, who has repeatedly apologized for flouting state guidance on socializing by attending a birthday party at a famed wine country restaurant in the state last month.

The taciturn son of a strawberry farmer, Suga enjoyed public support rates of over 60% when he was installed in September as the first new premier since 2012, replacing Shinzo Abe, who stepped down due to poor health. Three months later, a poll by public broadcaster NHK published Tuesday found approval had sunk by 14 percentage points to 42%, with the majority of respondents saying they disapproved of his virus management.

Suga inherited the remaining year of Abe’s term as leader of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party. With the clock ticking on an election that must be held before the lower house term ends on Oct. 21, Suga must shore up support if he is to parlay that year into a longer period in Japan’s top job.

Asked about the steak dinner in parliament on Wednesday, Economy Minister, Yasutoshi Nishimura said there was no blanket ban on gatherings of five or more people. “We are asking people to avoid them as far as possible,” he said.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

BQ Install

Bloomberg Quint

Add BloombergQuint App to Home screen.