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Civil servant suing Fukuoka for one yen over employee drinking ban

37 Comments
By Casey Baseel

In Japan, work comes first. For most people, their professional life takes priority over their family, romantic, and personal lives, with long hours and short vacations being the norm.

Given that environment, it’s no surprise that after their shift ends, many people want to stop off at a bar for a cold beer to wash the taste of work out of their mouth. For a one-month period, though, that wasn’t an option for civil servants in Fukuoka City, due to a temporary ban on drinking outside their homes. Obviously, this wasn’t a popular rule among workers, and one man was so upset he’s now suing the city, asking for a single yen in compensation.

When Soichiro Takashima spent his first day in the mayor’s chair in 2010, Fukuoka was less than five years removed from a tragic drunk-driving accident that had claimed the lives of three young children. On August 25, 2006, an inebriated city employee driving on the Umi no Nakamichi Ohashi Bridge rear-ended the car in front of him, sending it plummeting into Hakata Bay. While the two adult occupants survived, their children did not. Citizens were further outraged to hear that the city employee had tried to flee the scene, before being caught and sentenced to 20 years in prison.

Wanting to regain the public trust after this scandal, Takashima couldn’t have been pleased when, in two separate incidents in early 2012, a member of the Fukuoka fire department and the vice principal of an elementary school within the city were caught driving under the influence. The livid mayor declared, “To put a stop to the climate of drinking and improper behavior emanating from City Hall, shock therapy is necessary.”

This was followed by a notice to the 10,000-plus city employees and educators, explaining that for the month of May 2012, consumption of alcohol at restaurants, bars, and homes of friends’ and acquaintances was fundamentally prohibited. An exception was made for wedding ceremonies, but for other functions where the employees’ attendance was required but alcohol was being served, they were strongly encouraged to opt for soft drinks such as oolong tea instead. Employees caught violating the instructions would be “dealt with directly by the mayor or bureau heads,” the statement cautioned.

It’s that last part that rubbed one unnamed city employee the wrong way, and the man is now suing on the grounds that the directive was a violation of his rights. “My constitutionally guaranteed freedoms were infringed upon, which resulted in great mental suffering,” he claims. While the city is maintaining its stance that the no-alcohol policy was merely an advisory suggestion, the plaintiff argues that the disciplinary action it alludes to brings it to the level of an outright ban.

Opening statements for the case were heard at the Fukuoka district court on September 16. “The decision to drink outside of working hours is an individual freedom,” the plaintiff asserted. In a written response, the city stood its ground that its actions had “a logical, reasonable basis as a component of a plan to avoid loss of public trust in city employees.”

So why is the plaintiff asking for just a single yen? Part of his reasoning is practical, as he admits that putting a monetary value on the emotional distress he experienced is difficult. More importantly, though, he’s been quite open that he isn’t looking to get rich through these legal proceedings. “My aim is not money,” he has said, instead making it clear that his goal is “to have official judgment as to whether or not the mayor’s order was illegal.”

Should he win, one yen may not be anywhere near enough to pay for a victory drink, but for the plaintiff, it’s likely satisfaction would taste as good as any ice-cold brew.

Source: Naver Matome

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37 Comments
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Good for him for having the courage to stand up and for also not doing it for money but the principle of the matter. Drinking and driving is inexcueable, but this was not the right way to go about solving the problem.

16 ( +17 / -1 )

I salute this guy. The "cute mayor" of Fukuoka was way outside the law when telling all city employees they were not allowed to drink anywhere outside their homes. He was showboating for the voters. A grown-up would address the issue seriously - but what can you expect from the man who promotes "kawaii Fukuoka?" Because, you know, telling the world that Fukuoka has lots of cute girls is the way to attract international investment and serious business. Hopefully, they will take him back as a TV weather reporter.

10 ( +12 / -2 )

Tiny, incremental incursions into what should be the realm of individual choice..... I like the 1 yen amount, because that shows the guy is arguing the principle, not trying to get rich or be silly.

Dear Baseel-san: your expression "...to wash the taste of work out of their mouth." is such a brilliantly and well-said phrase. Kudos to you for being poetic and realistic at the same time.

11 ( +12 / -1 )

Japan seems to have a thing for punishing the innocent. Lets remember that with zero tolerance, now even people who drank the night before cannot drive the next morning for mere traces of alcohol in their system, supposedly above what is there naturally. The fireman and the VP busted for DUI might well have been legal to drive anywhere sane.

2 ( +4 / -2 )

I don't get it. How can not drinking cause mental suffering?

-11 ( +3 / -14 )

I support this guy. But I must say, his mental difficulties must weigh sometging more than a yen. This undoubtedly , is against rights and the constitution therefore he can sue them with severe damages and compensations.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

An employer has no say in what a person does outside of working hours. By all means sack a person who brings opprobrium on his workplace through illegal acts, including DUI - but enjoying a quiet drink with friends after work is not illegal. The 'mental suffering' is not from not drinking, but from the feeling of Big Brother watching over one's shoulder 24/7.

I hope this man wins his case, and that the stupid overbearing mayor gets a legal slap up the back of the head.

13 ( +15 / -2 )

It will be interesting to see if the courts rule that this was a "suggestion" or a "ban". I suppose that since exceptions were made for weddings, and employees were free to get as plastered as they wanted - at home - that he will lose his case. Good on him for trying though.

they were strongly encouraged to opt for soft drinks such as oolong tea instead

Oolong tea is not a "soft drink". Nor are juice, tea, ice coffee or many of the other drinks found on the "soft drink" menu.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

I guess the public servants of Fukuoka see how the American service members feel with their prohibitions on drinking now in place. The vast majority didn't do anything wrong, yet they must suffer for what somone else did.

I don't see how the lawyers let the mayor get away with this. I know that the company is all important but I don't believe that they can really regulate your life like that. And who was going to police this?

2 ( +3 / -1 )

Good stuff. How about someone suing Osaka mayor Baka for his ban on tattoos?

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Well done sunshine. See people, look hard enough and the heros are out there!

0 ( +1 / -1 )

I wonder if this is in reach of the constitution and civil rights. Can he actually do this?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

They can call it a "suggestion" as much as they want, but it was pretty obvious when they made the decision that it was a "ban" by saying that the mayor or bureau would deal with it. How do you deal with someone not following a "suggestion"? "Suggest" that they quit? How was this one month ban supposed to deal with the problem? Sounds like making a small child take a time out in the corner to think about what they did.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

"“a logical, reasonable basis as a component of a plan to avoid loss of public trust in city employees.”

What a load of hogwash. This wouldn't stand up in any logical, reasonable court of law charged with protecting rights ennumerated in the Japanese constitution.

is against rights and the constitution therefore he can sue them with severe damages and compensations.

Sometimes -- believe it or not -- people argue on principle alone and that is enough. It's not about the payday from a punative lawsuit. It's about setting things right. I applaud this man for not trying to turn what is really a civil rights issue into an opportunity for monetary gain. After all, if he sues the city of Fukuoka for huge amount of money, and wins, who do you think will pay out that settlement? Ultimately, it will be the taxpayers of Fukuoka. How does that help anyone?

0 ( +2 / -2 )

Well done on this.. Totally unconstitutional. Also how was this monitored? Breath tests every morning?

1 ( +2 / -1 )

I hope he wins his case, and further people start to fight for freedoms.

Things like drinking, dating (as in the idol groups) and choosing what to do in your free time should be a personal choice. I have no idea about what the actual law in Japan says, but I highly doubt it says employees have the right to dictate your personal decisions.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Don't except any sympathy from American Sailors or Marines stationed in Japan...

-7 ( +1 / -8 )

An employer has no say in what a person does outside of working hours.

that's not true at all. in most countries, you can get sacked for behavior that could reflect badly on your company. if a person gets arrested for drugs or DV, their boss has every right to sack them, even if they are later found out to be innocent. take a look at what the NFL is doing and tell me i'm wrong.

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

seems to me if you do not like or agree with the rules your employer has set than find another job. unless you are an overpaid and non working government worker.

-8 ( +0 / -8 )

seems to me if you do not like or agree with the rules your employer has set than find another job. unless you are an overpaid and non working government worker.

The employer set these rules illegally and on a whim.

Government employees in Japan put in really, really long hours, too. Go see how many in Kasumigaseki are working very late into the night, every night.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

rickyvee

that's not true at all. in most countries, you can get sacked for behavior that could reflect badly on your company. if a person gets arrested for drugs or DV, their boss has every right to sack them, even if they are later found out to be innocent. take a look at what the NFL is doing and tell me i'm wrong.

No. Drugs, DUI, DV are all illegal. Consuming alcohol is legal. An employee has every right to ban an activity that's already prohibited by law and fire an employee for violating said ban (and law). It however shouldn't be able to ban a perfectly legal activity for all employees. The act of consuming alcohol isn't the cause of a DUI. Poor judgment is.

9 ( +9 / -0 )

The mayor thinks he owns every hour of the city employees life.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Good for him, the mayor set a precedent of controlling conduct outside of work. If the mayor goes further, he could ban smoking by public officials or worse imposing a curfew on employees. If the mayor really wants to curb the activity of city employees, he could have bared the use public money for financing alcoholic entertainment.

-6 ( +0 / -6 )

DUI is an absolute abhorrent act, despicable and those who act out such selfish behavior need to feel the full weight of the law; however, drinking is legal and the pleasure of socialising should not be curtailed by banning the consumption of alcohol. Enjoy your life but DON'T take others.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

It amazes me how so many in Japan just cant logically analyze things & apply common sense, no one expects perfection but this mayors idea was just plain STUPID & is trying to make HIMSELF look good! What a PUTZ!

As another poster correctly said the simple thing to do was that put in a rule the DRINKING & DRIVING are grounds for dismissal or penalties as appropriate.

This don't drink till you get home "thinking" is so pre-school!

0 ( +2 / -2 )

Governments have made laws aimed at stopping me from smoking pot outside of my home (and inside too). Is this that different?

-8 ( +0 / -8 )

Nice to see that at least one lemming is a tiger in disguise!

Now it's time for the tattooed one's to stand up too!

2 ( +3 / -1 )

In light of the hideous act and loss of trust in which 3 small children drowned while the drunk civil servant coward sped away, I think the mayor's intentions are understandable. I would suggest he lead by example however and say "I will not drink for the month of May, and urge all my staff to do so as well."

-2 ( +3 / -5 )

I'd say drinking causes mental suffering and not drinking results in clearer thinking and less mental suffering. If people in Japan weren't so busy driving each other nuts there'd by no need to drink!

-4 ( +0 / -4 )

@MeanRingo: It is, as pot is illegal according to Japanese law.

The point of law is that it takes time to discuss and iron out the details before maturing into a widely agreed upon rule that should be enforced equally on all citizens. This was a snap decision by a small specific group imposed upon another specific group. Unless there is something specific written out in the contract, the employer has no right to suddenly the terms of employment like this. Additionally, imposing things like this through intimidation is power harassment.

I don't know where this case will go, but I will be interested to see if the man will later claim harassment from his boss or pressure to quit his job....

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Any civil servant caught driving while under drunk should be fired and blacklisted from holding any other government related job. That should be the penalty.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

@USNinJapan2SEP. 19, 2014 - 09:57AM JST Don't except any sympathy from American Sailors or Marines stationed in Japan.

''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''

US Military men were prohibited to drink off base. Then that regulation was expanded that military men were prohibited to drink in their home, I believe that rule is still on. ..

1 ( +1 / -0 )

toshiko

US Military men were prohibited to drink off base. Then that regulation was expanded that military men were prohibited to drink in their home, I believe that rule is still on.

And you would be misinformed. The liberty/alcohol policy for CNFJ uniformed personnel was only restricted to that degree for a brief period over a year and a half ago.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

I wonder if this is in reach of the constitution and civil rights. Can he actually do this?

Me too. It will depend on whether Court finds

Whether drinking constitutes a 'fundamental right' How that 'fundamental right' or lessor right if held so, balances against the needs of the city to restore confidence, bla bla bla.
0 ( +0 / -0 )

I think it should be like don't drin'ndrive if u get cough you'll lose your job, walk or get cabed but Japan is the xtreme laws country where people live for their jobs and the more u got the happier u get are like rules, a little LOT of beers would chill u for a while.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

The old school mentality of the Mayor. What a rationale to prevent road accidents caused by drunking ..

How about NAGOYA City, NAKAMURA Ward. To open a music bar, the applicants must submit the complete architectural plan, things to be used in the bar all inclusive I.e lights, wirings etc to the POLICE Dept in that area. Not to mention the real time appearance and lay out of the chairs and tables inside the bar. I did not know Police are in Architecture and Construction expertise too for issuing permits.. I thought their main job is PEACE and ORDER?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I'm from Fukuoka. Got busted around 2007 drink-driving with a 0.25 alcohol rating. No excuses but I felt completely sober at the time, walked in a perfect straight line. Didn't even think if fail the breathalyser. It was about 3 hours after having about a pint and a half of beer. The punishment was severe- I lost my license, had to pay 200,000 yen, and was not even applicable to take a driving test until 2 years later. Jesus Christ that was harsh, even the prosecutor was like 'if this had been any other prefecture in Japan you'd have probably gotten off with a slap on the wrist' 7 years ago the legal-limit was about 0.75.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

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