TOKYO, Nov. 6 (Xinhua) -- Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga admonished a string of hotels, department stores and restaurants Wednesday for intentionally mislabeling food products and knowingly misleading tens of thousands of consumers.
Japan, long-known for its high-quality, reputable and safe food produce, has been hit by a nation-wide scandal that has severely dented consumer confidence in the food industry and dashed the global perception of Japan being a connoisseur's paradise.
Japan's top government spokesperson described the latest incidents as unlawful, damaging to the industry and extremely worrying.
"It's an extremely worrying situation as such actions have seriously undermined consumer confidence," Suga told a press briefing Wednesday, adding that those who had violated the law would be severely dealt with by the Consumer Affairs Agency (CAA).
The scandal hit a peak following the revelation that the high- class, internationally renown department store chain Takashimaya had knowingly mislabeled the quality of produce such as prawns and freshly-squeezed orange juice in as many as 62 items at branches in at least four of its flagship stores in Japan, including in Tokyo's popular Shinjuku shopping district.
Regarding the 62 items, it was found that inferior, rather than the premium ingredients as advertised, were been used and that the practice of mislabeling produce at its stores had been going on for years.
Takashimaya had claimed that the mislabeling incidents were " honest" mistakes, but in one highly-reported case the department store claimed that Japanese Tiger Prawns -- among some of the most expensive shrimp available -- were being used in luxury French brand Fauchon's terrine, when in actuality inferior, cheaper giant tiger prawns were being used instead.
The department store Daimaru Matsuzakaya has also come under fire for advertising the premium Kuruma shrimp in some of its New Year food products, when in actuality the shrimp were the lower- priced and more readily-available black tiger shrimp.
The scandal first came to light following the Hankyu Hanshin Hotels conglomerate confessing to mislabeling ingredients used in 47 menus at its restaurants and hotels.
The hotels and restaurants, mainly located in Osaka and Kyoto served mislabeled food to around 80,000 customers, a representative for the group said, adding that of the 80,000 customers duped, 10,000 patrons had been refunded.
Specifically, The Ritz-Carlton in Osaka Prefecture, run by Hankyu Hanshin Hotels, as well as the Hotel New Otani in Kumamoto Prefecture, also confessed to using inferior shrimp when probed, and admitted that false advertising on menus was not a new strategy to try and dupe consumers into believing their produce was superior.
Isetan Mitsukoshi Holdings Ltd., operator of the high-class Isetan chain of department stores, on Wednesday said it had also mislabeled food products, spanning 52 menu items, in 14 of its restaurants across the nation.
Isetan's false labeling involved claiming premium pork items from Miyazaki Prefecture that were in fact from Iwate Prefecture and confectionary items containing Chinese chestnuts were passed off as being European, the store said.
Also embroiled in the scandal is the popular Tokyu Hotels chain, whose representatives admitted Tuesday that 22 of its restaurants in 44 of its hotels had used misleading labels on food.
As the CAA continues to investigate the escalating scandal in Japan, senior executives like the president of Hankyu Hanshin Hotels have stepped down to take responsibility for the fraudulent activities of their companies.