JIN-354 -- Norimasa Nishida for the 2006 Chutzpah Award

T H E J @ P A N I N C N E W S L E T T E R
Commentary on the Week's Business, Technology and Cultural News

Issue No. 354
Tuesday January 31, 2006 TOKYO

+++ VIEWPOINT: Norimasa Nishida for the 2006 Chutzpah Award
1. Removing the 'Barrier-Free' Sign
2. 67 kph in a 60-kph zone

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+++ VIEWPOINT: Norimasa Nishida for the 2006 Chutzpah Award
1. Removing the 'Barrier-Free' Sign

Although the year is still young, I would like to nominate
Norimasa Nishida for the 2006 Chutzpah Award.

Norimasa Nishida? He's the president of Toyoko Inn Co.,
a major busines hotel chain. Here's how he earned the

The Asahi Shimbun, a major daily, ran on January 27 a
front-page story exposing Toyoko Inn's illegal renovation of
its hotel near Nihon Odori Station in downtown Yokohama.
Three photographs accompanied the article. The first showed
the front of the hotel with mandatory parking space for disabled
people; the second, workers expanding the lobby into the
parking space; and the third, the renovated hotel sans parking
space. As well, a room for disabled guests was converted into a
regular guest room and a linen room.

A Land Ministry law requires parking spaces specifically for
disabled people at large buildings for public use, while a
Yokohama city ordinance calls for a room for disabled
guests. So how did Toyoko Inn receive a building permit?

The company made two blueprints for the hotel. It was built
according to the blueprint including mandatory facilities for
the disabled. After it was completed and approved by
an inspection firm, the building was renovated according
to the other blueprint.

The Asahi expose came at a particularly inauspicious time,
with the nation still coming to grips with disclosure that
scores of condominiums were not built according to
mandatory anti-seismic standards, owing to falsification
of data, with the result that of dozens of families have been
evicted. Now all Toyoko Inn hotels have come under scrutiny,
with several others across the nation being found in violation
of ordinances.

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2. 67 kph in a 60-kph zone

So what should Nishida have done in light of the scandal?

He should have fallen on his sword--that is, resign, as is
the way of the Japanese executive emeshed in scandal.
Failing that, he should have called a press conference
at which he expressed his sincere remorse, bowed deeply,
and promised to rectify hotels in violation of ordinances
and to institute measures to ensure violations never
occur again.

Nishida held two hastily arranged press conferences,
on January 27, but he followed a different script.

He began with an off-the-cuff confesion that Toyoko Inn
had "renovated two or three hotels [without permits]...We
committed building-code violations. I apologize."

-- Why did you remove the parking lot and the room
for the disabled?

"The hotel looks bad with a parking lot in front. When
I received the report, I, too, thought it would be all right
to remove the parking lot and room and gave approval.
What's done is done....Even if you create a room for the
disabled, only one or two of them come a year. For
average people such a room is inconvenient. At some
other hotels we've converted rooms for the disabled into
locker rooms and linen rooms. We have disabled
guests stay in regular rooms."

-- When did you begin to renovate without permission?

"From the time of our establishment I always discussed
renovations with the government. But I got busy as we
put up hotel after hotel. Talks with the government take
time. In this respect I was loose."

-- As for your personal accountability...

"I don't intend to resign. I would like to make a decision
after everything's been investigated and fixed and we've
restored our reputation with the public....A violation is a
violation. None should be treated lightly. But it's true
that I think it's all right to do 67 or 68 kph on a road with
a 60 kph speed limit. Now I realize the importance of
doing 60 kph in a 60-kph zone."

During the press conferences, Nishida, far from showing
penitence, seemed relaxed, occasionally even breaking
into a grin.

"They put up a 'barrier-free sign' and then took it down
directly before opening," commented Deputy Director
Nakamura of the Japan Conference of the Disabled.
"What's going on? Against the background of the
falsification of building strength data for condominiums,
it is a great disappointment that this sort of thing should
occur. What has become of conscience?"

What indeed!

--Burritt Sabin

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Written and edited by Burritt Sabin (editors2@japaninc.com)

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