The Japanese sure don’t shy away from a shandy – yet when the Japanese Foreign Ministry recently conducted an audit of its embassies, consulates and government offices abroad, even they found the stocks sobering.
Wine, lots and lots of wine. At merely 51 of Japan’s 211 missions overseas, government auditors counted 35,000 bottles, rather glibly calling the hoarding “excessive”.
The biggest stash: Japan’s office at Paris’s Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development had a stash of 7,896 bottles. That was nearly 30 times the 268 bottles that Japanese officials at the OECD consumed last year. In Geneva, Japanese diplomats working at the Conference on Disarmament were in possession of 1,436 bottles, equivalent to nearly 12 years of wine consumption.
The discovery prompted Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara to impose spending restrictions on wine for the next three years, with some missions being asked to divvy out their share to other Japanese governmental offices in the same country. The ruling centre-left Democratic Party has jumped at every chance to show that it is cutting wasteful spending amid calls to rein in the country’s massive national debt.
A third of the wines were more than five years old. Some of the priciest pickings are likely to date back to the 1980s or the early 1990s, when the Japanese were making all kinds of ill-advised acquisitions during its bubble economy. “All [countries] run into officials who go crazy with the wine-buying,” said one western diplomat. Often what happens is that all overseas offices are given an allotment, but while the embassy in France might require lots of wine, other offices that do technical work won’t need much, the diplomat said.
Only four of Japan’s overseas missions that were surveyed kept their wine in a cellar or humidity-controlled refrigerator, and plenty of bottles have had to be tossed out. Last year, Japan’s embassies in Australia, Austria and Germany, and its Consulate-General in New York dumped a total of 909 bottles that weren’t deemed serveable.
So which wines do Japan’s diplomats prefer? It’s hard to say. Tsuyoshi Terazawa, director of the Audit Board’s foreign affairs audit division, said his team drew up a list of the best wines. More than 4,000 bottles were worth at least €250, with many of the older vintages obviously thought to be worth a lot more. But details about vineyards and vintages were left out of the report – at the Foreign Ministry’s request, he said. A ministry spokeswoman, who asked not to be identified, refused to talk about specifics. “If we mentioned which wines we had, people would know how much they cost,” she said.