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Food mislabeling scandal spreads to department stores

64 Comments

Japan's hotels, restaurants and food shops were being warned Wednesday over dishonest labeling amid a growing scandal that is threatening to undermine the country's reputation for safe, high-quality produce.

The direction comes as top department stores Takashimaya and Daimaru became the latest Japanese firms to admit they had been selling food with labels falsely claiming high-quality or expensive ingredients.

"It's extremely worrying as it seriously undermines consumer confidence," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a regular press conference, speaking about the widening scandal.

"The Consumer Affairs Agency will take strict actions under the law (against misleading representations)," he said.

Suga, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's right-hand man, was speaking after luxury department store chain Takashimaya admitted that for years labels claiming the use of top-of-the-range prawns or freshly-squeezed orange juice sat on produce made with inferior ingredients on 62 menu items at its stores in Tokyo's Shinjuku, Nihonbashi, Yokohama and Okayama.

For example, the department store used giant tiger prawns to make a "Japanese tiger prawn" terrine, sold under the luxury French brand Fauchon.

Japanese tiger prawn is widely considered a top shrimp and one that can command premium prices in this seafood-loving nation, while giant tiger prawns are more widely available.

The company insisted that the wide range of false labeling were honest mistakes, echoing excuses from a string of hotels that had long served meals claiming quality ingredients that were not part of the dish.

Daimaru Matsuzakaya said some of its "osechiryori" New Year's bento sold last year contained black tiger shrimp instead of the advertised kuruma shrimp.

Whatever their excuses, "the fact remains they deceived consumers by making their products seem more luxurious than in reality," the Asahi Shimbun said in a front-page commentary, calling for tougher regulations.

A number of major hotel chains including Hankyu Hanshin Hotels, which operates the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Osaka among others, have admitted that their restaurants have long falsely labelled food on their menus.

The Ritz-Carlton Osaka has admitted that it also used cheaper prawns while the menu claimed the expensive species, among other falsehoods.

Tokyu Hotels, which operates 45 hotels, also admitted on Tuesday that 22 of its restaurants and seven banquet facilities have misleading food labels, largely involving shrimps and steak meat.

Hotel New Otani Kumamoto also said it too used cheaper shrimps and meat but claimed them as high-end.

A traditional ryokan-style hotel in the ancient capital of Nara also said it used Australian beef but labelled it as "wagyu", high-end Japanese beef, among other things.

Japanese food has built a worldwide reputation for quality and safety, with producers of luxury products able to charge premium prices at home and abroad.

Consumers in China have long preferred Japanese imports to locally produced fare, a preference that was reinforced following a series of adulteration scandals there, including one in which an industrial chemical was added to infant formula milk with fatal results.

But the nuclear disaster at Fukushima, which sent clouds of radiation over a swathe of Japanese farmland, dealt a blow to producers, who found their offerings shunned around the globe for fear they were tainted.

The food mislabeling scandal unfolded last month after Hankyu Hanshin Hotels admitted it had mislabeled ingredients used in 47 menus at its restaurants and hotels. Eight hotels and four restaurants operated by Hankyu Hanshin in Kyoto and Osaka misrepresented ingredients in dishes that were eaten by an estimated 79,000 customers. The company said it had refunded more than 10,000 customers who ate at the restaurants in question.

© (c) 2013 AFP

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64 Comments
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The Consumer Affairs Agency will take strict actions under the law

nonsense, until jail sentences are handed out there will be no such thing as safe food Japan. Usually all that is required is a stand down from sales period and a public apology.

20 ( +22 / -2 )

Honest mistakes? Are you kidding me?

23 ( +25 / -2 )

The company insisted that the wide range of false labeling were honest mistakes...

That statement makes you wonder what they consider dishonest behaviour, or is that when you are caught with irrefutable evidence?

22 ( +24 / -2 )

Japanese companies are trustworthy right ... right ? Also related, there was a show on TV that labeled differently food from the same exact packaging. One label is "frozen food", the other is "made by some famous chef". Most people claimed that the food "made by some famous chef" was tastier and described it richly. Just shows you how easy it is to manipulate people into paying more for something that is labeled as "better". Similar show also by "Penn & Teller" magician in the US.

17 ( +19 / -2 )

People are angry because their snobbery and pretentious tastes are being shown up. In other words they've been made mugs of. In my opinion it's no less than I would expect. If you don't cook it yourself, you can't trust.

20 ( +22 / -2 )

The company insisted that the wide range of false labeling were honest mistakes

Honest mistakes???. One or two perhaps but not "62 menu items" over a number of years.That is deliberate. Another example of honesty "J-Inc" style.

13 ( +16 / -3 )

Who would be shocked at this? I'd be surprised if the food labels I buy every week were not blatant lies

11 ( +14 / -3 )

Dumb arse, laws, dumb arse consumers ....Japan at its finest.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Honest mistakes my arse.

Luckily, this can all be fixed by a representative of the companies involved giving a tearful speech, bleating "Moshiwake Gozaimasen" and performing a nice deep bow.

Hey presto! Clean slate and we all have to trust him again.

6 ( +9 / -3 )

When I first came to Japan I was pretty shocked by this kind of behaviour. However, after years and years of reading headlines just like this I have to agree with hoserfella. Nothing will change until the punishment fits the crime. Since I've never seen anyone really punished for these kind of lies I guess it's not really a crime.

7 ( +8 / -1 )

It's all about da dollar bill yo! Corporations using any means possible to screw ordinary folk out of their hard earned money.

6 ( +6 / -0 )

We are the guardians of the see, our food is worthy of unesco recognition....chotto matte...this appears to be mislabeled?

8 ( +9 / -1 )

Ritz-Carlton hotel in Osaka among others, have admitted that their restaurants have long falsely labelled food on their menus

Goes very, very deep and the labelling scandal has been going on for more than 20 years, I know for a fact as I saw some of it going on when I first arrived here. It is wide spread and accepted in the industry as the norm.

But a simple bow will fix it all up and make everything better

6 ( +8 / -2 )

I enjoy eating at, I guess some people would say, "low-class" joints. I know the food is cheap, but often I hit the jackpot because what is being served really tastes good. As for the high-class restaurants, I usually eat there when invited by someone. And sometimes I wonder, why is this stuff so high-priced? I can get better chow at my favorite lower-class diners.

12 ( +12 / -0 )

Let the bowing rituals begin!

These companies have (and will soon go back to it as soon as this little period of attention has passed) of course done the "mislabeling" with the utmost intention. To save money. By doing so, they have been forced to show what they really think of their customers. The have showed a great deal of disrespect and taken people for fools.

This is also, mark my words, not a new way of doing business. Happens everywhere. Just because Japan is rumored to be honest and decent, doesn't make it true. In fact, it's probably the other way around - they try to fool the pants off you every chance they get.

8 ( +9 / -1 )

This sort of mislabeling of agricultural products and brand-name fashion goods is an extremely widespread practice that has been going on for decades — lots of profit to be had. I wonder what is motivating the Consumer Affairs Agency to suddenly crack down on it now?

Obviously, in most cases consumers are unable to tell the difference between mislabeled foods and the real thing, despite decades of many claiming otherwise (Japanese rice versus foreign rice particularly comes to mind here). Just maybe by making consumers aware that they are already eating imports yet are unable to tell the difference will help remove opposition to agricultural imports required for Japan's inclusion in the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement.

6 ( +7 / -1 )

I have to admit that at first I didn't think it was really that big a deal and thrown way out of proportion, until now it seems that it is common practice and done all over Japan. At least I am too poor to buy nice food.... so chances are it doesn't effect me.

3 ( +5 / -2 )

That old Japanese notion of quality and honesty has really gone down the drain in these recent years. Seems like the newer generations in Japan is forgetting what got them here. If Japan loses its competitiveness due to the perception and reality of poor quality and dishonesty. You're looking straight across the East China Sea. There's an example for you. Difference is they got 1.4 billion in a growing consumer market. You got a rapidly aging and shrinking one that has the biggest national debt in ratio in the world.

Not the type of future you want.

8 ( +10 / -2 )

Japan business translation:

It was an honest mistake - how did we slip up and let the public know.

It wasn't really mislabelled - the contents were just different.

HIghly regrettable - we regret we were caught.

We shall reflect on our actions - we'll wait a few months, then resume the action.

We shall improve our business practices - we'll try better to hide the mislabelling.

15 ( +16 / -1 )

You mean that I've been buying that expensive food products and its actually cheap crap? Damn, where is the tradition that Japanese do honest business! Its like the Chinese import food with poor quality but only we know it cause we pay next to nothing for it.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

For about a week on the TV news, there seems to be daily press conferences with long bows and camera flashes.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Old news.

-1 ( +2 / -3 )

So Japanese companies, restaurants AND hotels have been ripping off and lying to customers for years? Why am I not shocked? No sentences, no arrests, nothing? Again, not shocked. There have been numerous scandals here with regards to labeling - snowbrand, Fukushima beef being served in Gifu schools, Fukushima food being labeled from other prefectures... Let's not forget the tainted beef, needles in food, food being reserved.... Anyone who thinks Japanese food quality of better and beyond what you would get in a developed nation is clueless. That isn't to say the west is better - horse meat anyone?? However, the prices people here is criminal and I'd like to finally see some arrests on this. None of this useless "Moshiwa...." and then a silly bow while the boys all have a good laugh over it later.

1 ( +6 / -5 )

Takashimaya fessed up on prawns and OJ too.

Was this mere coincidence, or have they simply audited these two product groups in isolation?

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Get real, I figure the media knows something we don't know so this is just to get the minions occupied.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

a growing scandal that is threatening to undermine the country’s reputation for safe, high-quality produce.

Pardon! This kind of thing has been rife in Japan for as long as I have been here (over a decade). Rice, milk, eels, meats, the list goes on and on! Remember those scumbags from a few years ago that were using cheap pesticide laden rice from China to make sho-chu? A reputation for safe high-quality foods my foot! I'll only buy cheap imported foods cos at least I know that is exactly what I am buying!

7 ( +8 / -1 )

Trust me, this is only the tip of the iceberg. Expect more of this to come out, trust me.

6 ( +6 / -0 )

Yeah...they all made the mistake? Suddenly when someone gets busted they all own up.... Scummy dogs. Ever wondered why they got so rich fast?

1 ( +1 / -0 )

@tmarie,

The media will do nothing that threatens their ad revenues.

7 ( +7 / -0 )

@wanderlust

Japan business translation: It was an honest mistake - how did we slip up and let the public know. It wasn't really mislabelled - the contents were just different. Highly regrettable - we regret we were caught. We shall reflect on our actions - we'll wait a few months, then resume the action. We shall improve our business practices - we'll try better to hide the mislabelling.

LOL @ this!!

3 ( +3 / -0 )

This is pure and simple fraud to deliberately make abusive profit from products/producers equity. The actual quality of the product is irrelevant in this case.

This is not more and not less than stealing and should be prosecuted as such!

6 ( +6 / -0 )

I've always wondered about those 7/11 burritos I've been scarfing back for 23 years in Japan.....

4 ( +5 / -1 )

The longer I live here, the more I see that Japan's reputation for espousing all the finer human qualities is a sham. So disappointing.

7 ( +10 / -3 )

This goes on in all countries. Most people moaning here are tight wads or too poor to shop at department stores anyway.

-8 ( +5 / -13 )

This goes on in all countries.

Just because lying goes on does not mean we have to accept it.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

I've never seen so many honest mistakes in my life.

5 ( +7 / -2 )

So should UNESCO recend there decision to award Japan "Intangerbal cultural Heratige", I THINK SO! or rename there listing to Intagerbal labeling. "http://www.japantoday.com/category/national/view/japanese-cuisine-submitted-for-unesco-intangible-cultural-heritage-status"

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Gallows.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

Is this phenomena really confined to just Japan? I seem to remember the horse meat case in the UK not so long ago and over reaction there.

The longer I live here, the more I see that Japan's reputation for espousing all the finer human qualities is a sham. So disappointing.

Why wouldn't it be? They are as human as anywhere else and as susceptible to greed and selfishness.

I'll only buy cheap imported foods cos at least I know that is exactly what I am buying!

They are probably tested to a far higher standard as well.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

The company insisted that the wide range of false labeling were honest mistakes

Mistakes ? So they seem to employ a lot of real ignorants. Then honest ? no, dishonest.

Daimaru Matsuzakaya said some of its “osechiryori” New Year’s bento sold last year contained black tiger shrimp instead of the advertised kuruma shrimp.

They can't be confused. Raw kuruma ebi are brown, black tigers are gray, a 5 yr old kid can tell the difference. If you can't, you are not qualified to work with food, even in a fast-food. Anyway, unless shrimps fall from the sky onto the kitchen counter, someone has to order them either from Japan or Thailand and someone knows the price difference well enough to do the accounting. Or do they also cook the books and someone pockets the difference when the lobster is replaced by monkfish or whatever trick ? I don't believe in the mistake excuse. They have it all automatized, the CEO can see in real time on his computer where any branch of the group buys salt, shrimps, whatever. There never were occasional tired staff blunders , you know the baker apprentice, he handed you a margarine croissant instead of a butter one, oops... well, no, not in big stores like that. It's a deliberate policy to cheat customers.

This is not more and not less than stealing and should be prosecuted as such!

I agree, that's as if they added 1000 yen to your supermarket bill each time and blamed it on the register staff doing "honest mistakes".

5 ( +5 / -0 )

@slumdog

Do you shop at these places? It is only a small amount of items anyway. The type of people who keep moaning are the types who are going on and on about a piddling 3% increase in consumption tax.

-15 ( +0 / -15 )

How deep is the Yakuza in this?

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Honestly... Honor were is it?

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

This is business as usual.

When I first came to Japan, I lived in Kobe. There did not seem to be many cattle in the area, yet all the beef in the butchers was Kobe beef. Later, when I moved to Tokyo, a girlfriend had a job in a famous hotel and told me that their Kobe was, in fact, American beef. As others have said, the list is endless.

Hamamatsu is famous for unagi, yet people who come from there have told me that nearly all, if not all, the unagi sold in restaurants is imported.

Words like fresh, home-made and organic have no meaning in Japan.

It was interesting to note that steak is one of the products mentioned. I expect the steak is manufactured from cheap meat and stuck together with meat glue. A search for meat glue will explain this kind of skullduggery.

Note that this is not limited to restaurants. Supermarkets are the same.

6 ( +7 / -1 )

wow thanks for opening my eyes to meat glue, that is really shocking!

2 ( +2 / -0 )

the horse meat case in the UK not so long ago and over reaction there.

What over-reaction ? You think consumers should accept to be fed toxic horses meat when they were made to believe they bought edible beef meat ? Then I guess you don't mind if I replace your coffee by the black oil from my car.

Do you shop at these places?

Everybody does some day. The list is long. Even if you are poor and living a low key life, you have occasions. Someday you need to give presents for some event or whatever. And foreign residents tend to go to those stores to get food from home once in a while. Whether you get all your food from there or whether you buy departo sweets only once every 10 years, whether you dine at the Ritz once in your lifetime or you have an apartment suite for the year, you deserve being given the quality items they advertise without any mistake.

It is only a small amount of items anyway

When I buy a truckload of potatoes at 2000 yen per ton, I expect finding a few are rotten and maybe there are a one or two stones in them and I accept the small amount of NG. . Not at Daimaru, they include the checking of each individual potato in their price. And if they can't do their job, they don't need to stay in business.

6 ( +6 / -0 )

It is only a small amount of items anyway.

One lie is too many. One of the

The type of people who keep moaning are the types who are going on and on about a piddling 3% increase in consumption tax.

Yes, it must be nice not to have to care about money. However, for many, it matters. Spare a thought for them, won't you?

3 ( +3 / -0 )

im happy how an incident shakes off all the dust in the industry and more efforts will be put to ensure quality n food is just the beginning!

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Reading the article I started laughing. My wife asks, "What's so funny?" I said "All these years I've been eating better than the rich and wealthy!" LOL

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Most people moaning here are tight wads or too poor to shop at department stores anyway.

Tight wads who have been wise not to spend a lot of money on the same things you're getting at the cheaper places. I'd rather be a tight wad than someone who is buying into lies and snobbery.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

The ones moaning are not tightwads. Us tightwads by definition don't throw our money away paying premium prices for stuff that's no better than and often not as good as stuff that can be bought cheaper elsewhere.

Seriously though, all other things being equal (radiation and other 'hidden qualities') if you can't tell the difference, why pay top price? It doesn't make sense to me.

Two days running, tmarie and I are in full agreement. Must be something in the air. :-)

1 ( +2 / -1 )

@tmarie

Some people have no choice being a tightwad i understand that as they need to shop around to save the pennies in their purse. If you think the premium stuff is the same as in the cheaper places, then you don't know what you are talking about. These places have a lot of stuff at the same type of prices at regular stores , it is mostly stuff most here can"t seem to afford that is a lot better.

If the problem was through contaminated food or illegal additives i would be concerned but there is no danger to health unlike a lot of the packet junk at the cheapo places, full of transfats, preservatives and such.

These places are not so expensive these days and are mostly good value for what you get. Had lunch at a Hankyu on Tuesday and bought some cakes for the ladies in the family, can't see any prices increases since my first visit to the store in 1993.

-4 ( +0 / -4 )

Some people have no choice being a tightwad i understand that as they need to shop around to save the pennies in their purse.

I continue not to understand the point of you bring this up. This has nothing to do with cheap or expensive. It has to do with people lying. Lying about what is in a food or what kind of food it is can get people killed. It is serious business. Have you not had a chance to read about the Kintetsu hotel serving meat they claimed was 'wa gyuu' or Japanese beef that actually contained milk, eggs and wheat in it? To someone with a severe allergy, this could mean death. Wake up and smell the meat. This is nothing to take lightly.

http://mainichi.jp/shimen/news/20131103ddm041040078000c.html

0 ( +1 / -1 )

as long as there is nothing that can cause illness or disease it is not so serious

falseflagsteve, I don't understand you. On other topics you are quite level-headed, but here you seem to be way off on a tangent. So long as what you eat doesn't actually kill you, you're happy paying through the nose for inferior products? People aren't complaining about paying high prices for 'the premium stuff', they're complaining about not being served what they're paying for. The hotels and restaurants are admitting that the 'premium stuff' they've been serving up is actually low-grade rubbish.

Not that I'm going to eat either, but 'high quality steak' that is actually scraps of low-grade meat held together with glue is contaminated and does contain illegal additives, since 'high quality steak' should consist of nothing but a lump of high-quality bovine flesh, not bits and pieces and adhesive.

These places are not so expensive these days and are mostly good value for what you get. Had lunch at a Hankyu on Tuesday and bought some cakes for the ladies in the family, can't see any prices increases since my first visit to the store in 1993.

For what you get? What you're getting is rubbish in place of the good stuff, while still being charged the good stuff price. If you can't tell the difference and paying more than you need makes you feel good, fine, but please stop the 'only the poor people are complaining' nonsense. As for no price increases, well if they're using cheaper and cheaper ingredients and people are happy to keep buying, they've had no need to raise prices, have they?

2 ( +2 / -0 )

@Cleo

Not true in factt. If all the foodstuffs were falsely labelled and cheap crap then the places would be closed down, this is a small amount of things that BTW are not the sort of stuff i have myself. I don't go for these premium meat and fish things as they are not a part of my diet..

These places have many individual places letting out space to businesses and they are not all selling wrongly labelled food, that's for sure. The reason the prices have not risen as there were higher sales = more profits during the bubble. The mark up used to be huge and these places were far more expensive than awful places like Aeon but that is no longer the case in Kansai area anyway.

-4 ( +0 / -4 )

If you switch on the tv, chances are, you'll be confronted by some restaurant owner, or any other business representative for that matter, babbling about okyakusama no tame this and okyakusama that. Just be honest for a change and say okyakusama no kane no tame. Latest scandal involves parcel delivery services that charge almost double for cool takukyubin, but don't deliver it cooled. One small parcel can get them a profit of 2,000 yen no less. How many parcels deliver they again on a yearly basis? Pure profit. It's not going to kill anybody, but it is plain and simple stealing. You can just trust nobody anymore.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

If all the foodstuffs were falsely labelled and cheap crap then the places would be closed down...they are not all selling wrongly labelled food

No one is saying it's all the foodstuffs. No one is complaining about the stuff that isn't falsely labelled. But it's apparently enough that isn't above board that the people at the top feel the need to bow down and apologise now that they've been found out - or to own up before they're outed.

Let's say you ordered and paid for a spanking new Merc, and when it was delivered it was a second-hand Ford with rust patches and a paper map instead of the state-of-the-art navi system you paid for. It's still a car, it runs, it will get you from A to B, it won't kill you - but it isn't what you paid for. You wouldn't be angry, because you're not a tightwad and you can afford the price of a new Merc even if that's not what you get?

1 ( +2 / -1 )

No kidding Cleo. I'll leave you to it - I don't get how spending money equals something being better quality! More so when it turns out that things are indeed not better quality...

1 ( +1 / -0 )

this is a small amount of things that BTW are not the sort of stuff i have myself. I don't go for these premium meat and fish things as they are not a part of my diet..

Sadly, you still seem to not understand that this is not only about what you personally buy or like. This is about misrepresentation. You say you don't think it is a big deal. Fine. But, as you can see, there are many others for whom it is important to what they are being given and to be told the truth. Is this so hard to understand?

Actually, cleo did a pretty good job of explaining it above. Look back up there again, please.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Mark my word, this is just the tip of the iceberg. Japan is a third world country now. You can bet your Yen that mislabeling seafood will be next. I wonder if that was real big eye tuna or was it a sailfish I ate last night?

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

please please, japanese people, do not start to behave like your chinese counterparts, do not make me distrust japanese food like i distrust any foodstuff from china (e.g. cows given poisonous chemicals to produce more milk that later kills babies, but sold as good ol' healthy milk, and much much more...)

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I notice that, despite all the apologies for these "regrettable" incidents, none of the companies that defrauded their customers are offering refunds.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I notice that, despite all the apologies for these "regrettable" incidents, none of the companies that defrauded their customers are offering refunds.

Did you mean to say you haven't noticed? Or were you trying to imply something incorrect, mislabeling perhaps?

To give one example and where this scandal started back last month, Hankyu Hanshin Hotels are looking at 110 million yen in refunds.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

The PR plan: Let a few weeks slide, then come out with an all new Michelin guide for Tokyo hotels and department stores, or something of that sort. HUGE rollout on every TV station, saturate the media space. Shout down any reporters who keep the story alive, honeypot them an discredit with love hotel pics if necessary.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

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