Simultaneous Request for Two Tickets as Scandal Involving Seiko Noda, Former Minister, Allegedly Misusing JR Free Pass | FRIDAY DIGITAL

Simultaneous Request for Two Tickets as Scandal Involving Seiko Noda, Former Minister, Allegedly Misusing JR Free Pass

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For a long time operating without belonging to any faction and not hiding her ambition for the party leadership election, Ms. Noda.

Last year-end, the hidden funds scandal surrounding the political funds party of the LDP faction came to light. Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office’s Special Investigation Department’s investigation, the political ethics committee in the National Diet, sanctions on those involved, amendments to the Political Funds Control Law, and the political situation after the New Year also turned the scene into one dominated by hidden funds. In this context, the focus of attention among the Nagatacho insiders, including Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, is on the upcoming LDP presidential election in September.

“Even on television, names like Mr. Takaichi and Mr. Kamikawa come up, but they never mention my name at all.”

Recently, it was revealed to close associates that Ms. Seiko Noda, a member of the House of Representatives and former Minister of Internal Affairs and Communications, made such remarks.
Regarding Ms. Noda and the party leadership election, it has been reported as follows in January.

“At a New Year’s gathering held in Gifu City, she stated, ‘This year will be the first and final year for a major challenge,’ expressing eagerness to run in the party’s leadership election in September.” (From the Gifu Shimbun dated January 29th)

However, even after her declaration of candidacy, Ms. Noda’s media exposure has not increased. Compared to Minister of Economic and National Security Sanae Takaichi, who enjoys strong support from conservative factions, and Foreign Minister Yoko Kamikawa, whose approval ratings surged in public opinion polls asking about suitable candidates for the next prime minister, Ms. Noda appears to be feeling a sense of urgency.

On the other hand, aiming to prevent a recurrence of the hidden funds scandal, Prime Minister Kishida announced the dissolution of his own faction, the Koikekai, prompting all factions except the Aso faction to follow suit. This shift means that the once faction-dominated Liberal Democratic Party is now largely composed of non-aligned members, potentially altering the dynamics of the leadership election traditionally dominated by factional logic.

Under normal circumstances, such a situation should be a tailwind for Ms. Noda, who has long operated as a non-aligned member. Despite her ambition to become party leader, she has repeatedly faced barriers from factions in the past and struggled to gather the required endorsements to officially declare her candidacy.

However, the anticipated fervor for the emergence of “Noda as party leader” is not as strong within and outside the LDP, mirroring the lack of media attention. It seems Ms. Noda is already feeling discouraged by the current situation, which she finds less encouraging than hoped.

“I’m thinking of not saying too much about running in the party leadership election anymore. I don’t want to end up being disliked like Mr. Shigeru Ishiba,” said Ms. Noda, expressing her concerns.

For Ms. Noda, there exists an internal document that could further complicate her situation. This document is believed to have been created by Ms. Noda’s camp and is known as the “Parliamentary Reserved Seats and Sleeping Accommodations Request Form” (hereafter referred to as the “Request Form”). This form is used when parliamentarians utilize the “JR Free Pass,” a privilege allowing them to travel on JR railway lines nationwide without personal expense. It is submitted at JR station counters to verify their identity when passing through station gates.

“Parliamentarians can travel nationwide on JR lines at no personal cost, using the JR Free Pass to prove their identity at station gates. This pass entitles them to free express tickets and access to Shinkansen Green Cars. However, the Request Form is necessary when reserving seats. Details such as the travel route, date, and train name are filled out on this form and submitted at the Midori no Madoguchi (Green Window) to obtain a reserved seat ticket.” (Parliamentary Secretary)

The budget for the JR Free Pass is allocated under the annual budget law, totaling approximately 500 million yen for both the House of Representatives and the House of Councillors combined in the fiscal year 2023. However, despite being funded by taxpayers, allegations of misuse have surfaced, such as former LDP member Senator Yasumasa Ohno (who left the party in January) reportedly providing express tickets to a third party, as reported by the magazine “FRIDAY.”

Moreover, from the two obtained Request Forms this time, suspicions arise that Ms. Noda may have improperly utilized the JR Free Pass.


Application form” obtained by this magazine
The other “Request Form” obtained by this magazine bears the notation ’21, indicating the year 2021.

As seen in the photos from points two and three, the entries on both application forms are identical. Each requests a reserved seat on the “Nozomi 62” departing Nagoya at 21:56 on October 31st, with arrival at Shinagawa. The stamped seals indicate they were both from the year ’21.

Furthermore, these two forms are identified by consecutive numbers: “10645-01” and “10645-02,” suggesting there is no likelihood of duplication or mistaken application for the same seat. The entry of “0” in the “Amount Collected” column indicates that the reserved seat tickets were issued free of charge.

In essence, these two forms demonstrate that Ms. Noda secured two seats on the same train at the same time. However, such forms should not exist in the first place.

“The JR Free Pass is strictly issued to parliamentarians themselves. Therefore, it cannot be used by secretaries, office staff, or relatives of the parliamentarians, even if it is intended to support the parliamentarians’ work. Moreover, since it is intended solely for the use of the parliamentarian, it is not anticipated that multiple seats on the same train would be requested. However, the Parliamentary Allowances Act does not specify penalties for misuse.” (House of Representatives Secretariat, Members’ Division)

So why did Ms. Noda create such request forms?

One thing to note is that October 31st, ’21, the application date, coincided with the day of the general election voting shortly after the start of the Kishida administration. Indeed, on the same day, Ms. Noda’s Facebook page shows photos of her celebrating her victory with supporters at her election campaign office in Gifu City. Officials from the Gifu Prefectural Association of the Liberal Democratic Party who celebrated her victory together with her speak about this event.

“On that day, Ms. Noda was saying she’s busy and after the victory cheers, she had to return to Tokyo within the same day. At the time, Ms. Noda was the Minister for Measures to Cope with Declining Birthrate and needed to prepare for official duties starting the next day. It seems the Shinkansen schedule was already set, and she promptly finished interviews with various media outlets after her election victory, then left the campaign office.”

The morning after her election victory is typically when candidates stand in public places to greet voters, but in Ms. Noda’s case, she returned to Tokyo on the night of October 31st due to official duties. This testimony aligns with the details on the request forms as well.

Furthermore, from Gifu City’s Kandamachi, where her campaign office was located, to Nagoya Station is approximately a 40-50 minute drive by car. While Gifu has Shinkansen stops, considering the transfer time to the Nozomi train, it is not contradictory to the details on the request forms.

Regarding Ms. Noda securing two seats on the return Shinkansen, who exactly was she with? M, who was the chief secretary at her local office in Gifu City at the time, speaks as follows:

“I am strictly the secretary in charge of Gifu, so on that day, I did not travel to Tokyo with the representative. It’s been three years, so my memory is vague, but I believe the representative returned to Tokyo alone.

During elections, secretaries who usually work at the Tokyo office come to the local area to assist. However, after the election is decided, there are still tasks to handle, so it might not have been possible for the representative and I to return to Tokyo together on the day of the election.”

Regarding Ms. Noda traveling alone on the Shinkansen, the testimony from H, who supports Ms. Noda as a policy secretary at the Tokyo office, aligns with this. Additionally, H has no recollection of traveling on the Shinkansen with her.

“I can’t say for certain since it was three years ago, but Ms. Noda was probably alone. On election day, I believe I was likely in Tokyo myself.”

If a secretary did not accompany her, could Ms. Noda have been accompanied by her family? This is something that office personnel are considering.

“Regarding the ’21 general election, I don’t think the representative’s family came to Gifu. However, during the ’14 and ’17 general elections, I remember that her husband and eldest son stayed in Gifu. During those times, the representative could spend 3-4 days locally out of the 12-day election period, and I think they were called from Tokyo to spend evenings with the family.

However, in ’21, the representative was in the local area only on the day of the official announcement. For the rest of the time, she was traveling nationwide to support colleagues and was not active locally. Also, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, I don’t think we allowed the family to travel from Tokyo, exposing them to the risk of infection.”


Noda’s Facebook post on October 31, ’21

Due to the three-year time gap, few individuals vividly recall the events of that period. Therefore, attempts were made to reach out to Ms. Noda, who should know the truth, by calling her mobile phone, but there was no response. When a questionnaire was sent to Noda’s office, the response generally stated the following:

“On the Shinkansen, the passengers were Seiko Noda herself and one police officer providing security. Noda used the JR Free Pass for her ride, while the police officer purchased a regular ticket.”

It was reported that accompanying Noda, who was then a minister, on the return Shinkansen on the night of the election was a Tokyo Metropolitan Police officer serving as her bodyguard.

However, from this response, it remains unclear who covered the costs of the police officer’s seat reservation and ticket (including the express ticket). Based on the application forms obtained by this magazine, there are suspicions that Noda obtained two reserved seat tickets from JR. Consequently, when further inquiries were sent, the response generally stated the following: 

“Both the police officer’s train ticket and reserved seat were covered by the Tokyo Metropolitan Police. Additionally, there was no provision of a reserved seat ticket to the police officer from Ms. Noda’s side.”

At this point, discrepancies were found between the contents of the request forms obtained by this magazine and the response from Ms. Noda’s side. If both the request forms and Ms. Noda’s response are indeed factual, it would mean that three individuals were on the Shinkansen on the election night: Ms. Noda using the JR Free Pass, the police officer who purchased a ticket and a reserved seat using Tokyo Metropolitan Police funds, and a third person who utilized the second reserved seat ticket issued by Ms. Noda’s side using the application form.

The occurrence of such discrepancies raises the question of whether there are falsehoods in Ms. Noda’s responses.

On the other hand, from Ms. Noda’s use of the JR Free Pass, glimpses of the system’s “flaws” can be seen, including JR’s response.

Take another look at the photos of the application forms. The seals stamped on both forms appear identical, and besides the dates, you can confirm the numbers and characters “138” and “Nagoya” on both. Moreover, the photos show parts where it seems information was redacted, with what appears to be the seal of the person who issued the reserved seat ticket stamped on both forms, and both bear the same surname.

In other words, these two request forms were likely submitted simultaneously by Ms. Noda’s side at the same Midori no Madoguchi window inside Nagoya Station. On the other hand, since the requested reserved seat tickets were for the same train at the same time, the window attendant should have been able to detect that the contents of Ms. Noda’s request forms were irregular.

Despite this, JR issued two reserved seat tickets to Ms. Noda’s side. Regarding this matter, when asked JR East (responsible for media responses regarding the JR Free Pass operation), they responded as follows:

“If there were multiple requests for reserved seat tickets for the same train at the same time, we confirm which reserved seat the member of parliament will actually use and issue that specific reserved seat ticket.”

Therefore, regarding the issuance of two reserved seat tickets to Ms. Noda’s side at Nagoya Station on October 31, 2021, it appears to be a case of mere oversight on the part of the responsible JR staff. This incident highlights not just the issues related to the LDP’s secret funds but also reveals a “black box” that should be deliberated upon in the parliament.

Interview and text by Naoyuki Miyashita (nonfiction writer)

  • Interview and text by Naoyuki Miyashita (Nonfiction writer) PHOTO Kyodo News (1st point)

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