Japan cancels cherry blossom party amid cronyism accusations

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Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (centre left) posing with entertainers and athletes during the cherry blossom viewing party hosted by the prime minister in 2017Image source, AFP
Image caption,
The publicly funded event in a Tokyo park has been running since 1952

The Japanese government has cancelled an annual party held to admire the blossom on cherry trees, following allegations of cronyism.

The publicly funded event, honouring the great and the good for their achievements, has taken place every April since 1952.

But opposition politicians said Prime Minister Shinzo Abe invited too many of his own supporters to the last event.

They say he brought 850 people from his constituency, 1,000km (620 miles) away.

Total spending on the event came to 55 million yen (£390,000; $504,000) in 2019, up from 30 million yen five years ago.

What is the cherry blossom party?

Cherry blossom, or sakura as it is known in Japan, is a big part of Japanese culture.

The famous pink and white flowers are typically visible for about two weeks in the spring.

Media caption,
How the cherry blossom season boosts Japan's economy

People from all over the country celebrate the blooming of the flowers, by visiting parks and eating special blossom-themed food.

Held at a park famous for its cherry blossoms, the government-funded party is intended to honour members of the public for their achievements.

Why has it been cancelled?

The prime minister has come under fire from opposition politicians who accused him of bringing in supporters from his constituency in Yamaguchi.

The amount of money spent on the event has almost doubled under Mr Abe's administration, as has the number of guests. Japanese news agency Kyodo said about 18,000 people took part last year, up from 7,000 to 10,000 a year before Mr Abe took office in 2012.

In a surprise announcement, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said that the government had "listened to various opinions" and decided to cancel next year's party.

The government would "clarify the criteria for inviting guests and make the invitation process transparent", he added.