Lawmakers’ Overseas Study Tours Criticized as ‘Vacations’; Photo with Eiffel Tower Leads to Loss of Directorship

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Members of the House of Representatives Commission on the Constitution are seen in March. The members have visited France and other countries for study purposes.

Overseas study tours by ruling and opposition lawmakers are coming under fire. While these tours were cancelled during the COVID-19 pandemic, they resumed this summer. Recently, House of Councillors members from the ruling Liberal Democratic Party have posted to social media vacation-like photos of themselves on overseas study programs, and have been met with backlash. One expert argues that lawmakers should put more effort into communicating the outcomes of their overseas visits.

Knowledge from abroad

Study tours generally involve either house of the Diet sending lawmakers to a foreign country to learn about policies in the country and thereby improve the quality of Diet debates. In July and August, when the Diet is closed, members from the House of Representatives Commission on the Constitution, as well as from the upper house Committee on Rules and Administration, visit other countries for research and study.

Members of the lower house’s Committee on Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism visited Egypt and India in July. Minoru Kihara, LDP member and the committee chair, said they visited sites related to tourism and infrastructure development. “There is great significance in visiting foreign countries, learning about past issues and cases there, and making use of knowledge gained in our country’s policies.”

This fiscal year, the lower house earmarked about ¥370 million and the upper house about ¥160 million in their budgets for sending lawmakers abroad.

A waste of money?

Overseas study tours by lawmakers were criticized before the pandemic began, with comments such as: “Isn’t this a waste of taxpayers’ money?” and “Are the outcomes really worth the costs?” With digital resources now readily available, it has also been argued that they can obtain much information without actually going abroad.

Rui Matsukawa, an LDP upper house member, posted on social media a photo of herself and others taken in front of the Eiffel Tower in a pose mimicking the tower while on their study program in France in July. The photo triggered criticism that they looked like they were on vacation, and Matsukawa was effectively forced to resign from her post as director of the party’s Women’s Affairs Division. She claims that she and others exchanged views with their French counterparts during the tour and that the tour was paid for by the party and participants.

Demand for transparency

“It is difficult to tell whether overseas study tours by lawmakers are really necessary or not, and what they actually do, what their schedule is during such tours. They must be more transparent,” Hirofumi Yoshimura, governor of Osaka Prefecture and co-leader of Nippon Ishin (Japan Innovation Party), told reporters in Tokyo on Thursday. He also insisted that tour itineraries, expense receipts and tour reports be disclosed to the public.

Executives of ruling and opposition parties also travel abroad to meet with important persons, and individual lawmakers make such trips to research areas of personal interest. “I try to meet with important persons and hold talks with them as much as possible so as to compliment intergovernmental diplomacy,” said Keiichi Ishii, secretary general of Komeito.

“Overseas study tours are not in themselves bad, as there are things that are difficult to understand until you actually go there,” said Hiroshi Shiratori, professor of contemporary politics analysis at Hosei University. “To fulfill their obligation for accountability, lawmakers should actively provide information and seek the understanding of the public.”