Food fraud scandals hit Japanese hotel firms

Food & Drink News & Views - November 6th, 2013

Misunderstanding menus can sometimes be just be a case of food names getting lost in translation.

But recent revelations of fraudulent food descriptions have caused a stir in Japan, a country whose cuisine is considered a culture of its own and where dishes are prepared with scrupulous care, from the origin of ingredients down to their presentation.

The controversy, instigated by a revelation that a Tokyo hotel wrongly described its Chilean roast beef as “domestically produced,” focused not so much on taste but on erroneous labels describing where certain ingredients came from.

Following the scandal, Hankyu Hanshin Holdings Inc revealed that it had misrepresented food menus at eight different restaurants in its hotels across Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto and Hyogo Prefecture.

A total of 47 food items on the menus were incorrectly described, according to The Yomiuri Shimbun.

“Examples of false labeling include a case in which a Shiba shrimp was written on menus, but Vannamei prawns were actually used. The former are priced at 2,500 yen per kilogram, while the latter costs far less, at 1,400 per kilogram,” the report said.

Menus were also found to have falsely labeled “ordinary green and white leeks” as Kujo-negi onions, which fetch a price of 2,000 yen and are grown in Kujo, Kyoto Prefecture. Fish described as “fresh” was often frozen.

The fraudulent menus reportedly duped thousands of customers into paying inflated prices for their food. Around 3,500 have sought refunds.

Hiroshi Desaki, president of Hankyu Hanshin Hotels, denied any malicious intent and announced he would step down because of the scandal.

“It is nothing but an act of betrayal to our valued customers, though we never had the intention to deceive them,” Desaki said at a news conference, according to The Asahi Shimbun.

“We still believe that we did not disguise the content of our menus, but customers have every right to think otherwise.”

Another Hankyu Hanshin–affiliated hotel in Shizuoka Prefecture admitted its cafe menus contained false descriptions. “Locally grown” vegetables used in a curry dish had actually come from Hokkaido.

The Ritz-Carlton hotel in Osaka, the Renaissance Sapporo Hotel in Hokkaido, and the Imperial Hotel Ltd, have also come forward with mislabeled menus, according to The Japan Times.

And on Tuesday, heads of the Takashimaya department store chains apologized for similar cases of misrepresenting food items.

By Maesie Bertumen

Image: brianazimmers/Flickr