Opposition lawmakers test the speed of a large shredder at the Cabinet Office in Tokyo on Nov. 26. (Provided by an opposition bloc task force)

Opposition lawmakers raised further doubts about the government’s explanation for shredding a guest list for a tax-financed cherry blossom viewing event on the same day a request for the document was made.

Government officials have said the timing of the destruction of the guest list was purely coincidental and had more to do with heavy demand for the large shredder and the difficulty in booking a date to use the machine.

Seven lawmakers of a joint task force formed by more than 70 members of the opposition parties this month inspected the shredder on the first basement floor of the Cabinet Office on Nov. 26.

They confirmed the machine took only around half a minute to shred about 800 A-4 size papers, a volume that could easily cover the list of 15,000 invitees to the cherry blossom viewing party held at the Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden in Tokyo on April 13.

“It took only 34 seconds,” Kazunori Yamanoi, a member of the task force, said at a hearing of Cabinet Office officials held after the inspection. “The explanation that you could not book the machine must be different from what had actually happened.”

In response, a Cabinet Office official said, “There were many things to do, such as removing staples and pulling out files.”

The cherry blossom viewing event is supposed to honor individuals who have accomplished remarkable achievements in their fields.

But opposition parties say Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has been using the public function to reward supporters of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and bolster the campaigns of LDP lawmakers seeking re-election.

The Cabinet Office is involved in compiling the list of invitees to the annual event.

Toru Miyamoto, a Lower House member from the Japanese Communist Party, on May 9 submitted a request for the roster of invitees to the sakura party. He also sought information about the number of participants attending the event between 2008 and 2019, the budgets for the parties, as well as the reason for the increase in guests over that period.

His request was conveyed to the Cabinet Office’s General Affairs Division.

Cabinet Office officials told the Nov. 26 hearing that they made a reservation for the large shredder on April 22 and that the list was destroyed on the afternoon of May 9.

They emphasized that they had no prior knowledge that the list was being sought by a Diet member.

“Officials with the Personnel Division shredded the list,” one of the officials said. “At the time they disposed of the documents, they did not know about the request for the files.”

Pressed in the Diet earlier this month, a senior official at the Cabinet Office denied allegations that the government had covered up the names of those who attended the event.

The Cabinet Office has a normal sized shredder, but the senior official said they wanted to use the larger one in the basement to dispose of the guest list.

The Cabinet Office had planned to dispose of the files earlier, but officials had to wait until May 9 because they had to first coordinate a date for the use of the machine with other departments that also wanted to shred documents, the official said.

He said their turn came after the end of the Golden Week of national holidays that ran from April 29 to May 6.

According to the Cabinet Office, the shredder is question is 3.2 meters by 1.7 meters and 1.5 meters tall. It is located in a locked room.

Officials can use the machine between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. on weekdays upon reservation.

The Cabinet Office said documents related to the cherry blossom viewing parties can be disposed of within a year after the event.

(This article was written by Sachiko Miwa and Daizo Teramoto.)