Asia Life

Restaurant Menu Scandal Continues in Japan

High-end eateries admit to using cheaper ingredients than those advertised.

After an October 22 admission by the luxury Hankyu Hanshin Hotel that it had misrepresented food menus, several other high-end Japanese eateries have come forward with similar revelations of food fraud.

The scandal erupted in June after a separate Tokyo hotel was caught serving Chilean roast beef as “domestically produced.” Hankyu Hanshin Holdings Inc. – which operates hotels in Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto and Hyogo Prefecture – conducted an internal investigation into its own menus. It revealed that, at eight different hotel restaurants, a total of 47 food items were being misrepresented on menus.

“Examples of false labeling include a case in which Shiba shrimp was written on menus, but Vannamei prawns were actually used. The former are priced at ¥2,500 per kilogram, while the latter costs far less, at ¥1,400 per kilogram,” reported The Yomiuri Shimbun. “Also, what was touted as Kujo-negi onions were found to be ordinary green and white leeks. The latter’s wholesale price is ¥800 per kilogram compared with ¥2,000 for leeks from Kujo, Kyoto Prefecture.”

It also came to light that fish labeled as “fresh” had actually arrived frozen.

According to reports, an estimated 80,000 customers were duped into paying inflated prices for their food. So far, about 3,500 of them have applied for refunds. If all 80,000 people come forward, the total reimbursements will cost Hankyu Hanshin more than $1 million.

Hankyu Hanshin Hotels’ president, Hiroshi Desaki, denied any malicious intent. He announced that he would step down last Thursday.

“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 to using false descriptions of food items in an onsite café. “Locally grown” vegetables, used in a curry dish, had actually come from Hokkaido. Additionally, the hotel store sold more than 2,000 pound cakes that were labeled “home-made,” when in fact, their production had been outsourced to a bakery. The hotel, Concorde Hamamatsu, will offer full refunds for the affected products.

Three additional luxury hotels, not affiliated with Hankyu Hanshin, revealed yesterday that they, too, were guilty of misrepresenting restaurant offerings.

“The Ritz-Carlton hotel in Osaka and the Renaissance Sapporo Hotel in Hokkaido … admitted using ingredients that are cheaper or more easily obtained than the premium items advertised on their menus,” reported The Japan Times. “On Thursday, even the prestigious Imperial Hotel Ltd. admitted that it once served frozen juice labeled as ‘fresh’ at restaurants in its Tokyo and Osaka hotels.”

Food authenticity is important to the Japanese, who are known to scrutinize labels to find out where a certain item was produced. Washoku – traditional Japanese cuisine and the way it is prepared and consumed – is expected to be given UNESCO certification as an “Intangible Cultural Heritage” next month.