It’s not about the principle. It’s the money.

Ikeda is a pleasant city on the outskirts of Osaka prefecture and home to one of Japan’s two Cup Noodles Museums, honoring its inventor Momofuku Ando. But for the past few months a scandal has put its mayor, Hiroki Tomita, in hot water like so many dried noodles in a Styrofoam cup.

It all started in September of this year, when Mayor Hiroki Tomita brought a home sauna to his office and installed it in a small room next to the waiting room. During his lunch break, Tomita would slip into something more comfortable and take a steam for about 20 minutes.

▼ It’s a guilty pleasure we know all too well

However, around mid-October, Tomita’s wife advised him to rethink the practice, because a mayor having a sauna, that he installed, in his office probably wouldn’t go over to well with the general population. He agreed and pulled it back out.

Only he was not fast enough, it would seem. On 22 October, a news website broke the story of Tomita’s workplace schvitzing and the people were steaming mad. The following day, Mayor Tomita held a press conference to apologize for his sauna and “mixing public and private matters.” He also promised to reflect on what he did and reimburse the electric costs.

▼ News report showing Tomita’s apology bow and sauna set-up

Normally, that would be the end of it, but suddenly on 17 November, Mayor Tomita once again called the press to declare that he had successfully worked out the electric costs of his sauna. He claimed to have used the sauna 30 times in the office for periods of 50 minutes, including the time it took to heat up. Rounding up at a rate of 23 yen (US$0.22) per kilowatt hour, that worked out to 690 yen ($6.65), all of which he dutifully returned to the city’s coffers.

Online readers of the news, most of whom lived outside of Ikeda, were confused, both by the tiny refund and over what the big deal was in the first place.

“That’s kind of funny. Were they really angry about this?”
“The labor costs of calculating the bill was probably higher.”
“It’s not a matter of money, it’s about morals.”
“He’s a little ‘different’ from normal mayors, isn’t he?”
“What about the cost of installing the sauna?”
“It’s fine, I bring stuff from home to work to make myself more comfortable too.”

Added to these sentiments is one overlooked but important factor that Tomita brought up in his initial apology. You might have noticed that he’s a rather big guy, that’s because he was a high school and college football player.

▼ The slamming-into-other-people kind of football, not the other one

As a result of his student athletics, he developed a herniated lumbar disc among other injuries, and used the sauna alleviate the pain. I’m inclined to believe that too, because who needs a sauna in Osaka for pleasure? It’s the middle of November and I’m still sweating my butt off.

Regardless, the old politician-installs-sauna-in-office story was sure to create an image of entitled opulence and put Tomita unfairly in the spotlight. That’s why I’m almost certain this 690-yen press conference was his own way of sticking it back to the media and saying, “There! Are you happy now?”

If that is the case, then I can’t help but really like the guy. Passive-aggressive contempt is a quality I can relate to and appreciate in politicians. I guess you could say he’s the kind of guy I’d like to have a beer with, and then pop the bottlecap off on the edge of his expensive table because he had the gall not to offer me an opener right away.

Source: Mainichi Shimbun, Asahi Shimbun, My Game News Flash
Images: Photos ©SoraNews24
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