NAGOYA--The arrested former Diet member who is suspected of fraudulently obtaining Shinkansen tickets by pretending he was still a Diet member flashed a Japan Railway Pass that expired more than 13 years ago, according to investigative sources.

Yasuo Yamashita, 79, had repeatedly used the pass, which expired at the end of March 2009.

Yamashita has told investigators that he used the pass more than 10 times “because I wanted to sit in a comfortable Green car seat for free,” sources said.

Police suspect that Yamashita had abused his former privilege for more than 10 years.

The pass is provided to Diet members, allowing them to ride any JR trains for free, including the first-class Green cars on bullet trains.

But the pass has to be returned to the offices of the Lower and Upper houses upon expiration or when the holder is no longer a Diet member.

Yamashita was arrested on May 8 on suspicion of using the name of a sitting Diet member, showing an expired pass and obtaining a Green car ticket at Tokyo Station on April 27.

Yamashita served four terms in the Lower House before losing his seat in the 1996 election. He was an Upper House member of the now-defunct Democratic Party of Japan between 1998 and 2010.


The arrest has fueled criticism on social media.

“A Green car ticket seems a privilege for lawmakers,” one wrote. “It should be abolished,” another commented.

But a Lower House member of the opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan in Aichi Prefecture said the perk is necessary as part of the job.

The lawmaker makes several runs between Tokyo and Aichi each week.

“Connecting my hometown and the Diet is the role of a lawmaker. The means of transportation should be ensured,” the lawmaker said.

A Lower House member of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party said, “What Yamashita did is pathetic.”

The lawmaker showed some understanding of changing the pass to an IC card but opposed limiting its use because it would make it difficult to make a trip “for an emergency meeting or a funeral wake.”

Some said the loose management of the pass should be blamed. According to the secretariats for both chambers of the Diet, the pass has the name of a lawmaker and the expiration date printed on it.

It is issued to sitting Diet members in April every year and is valid for one year. However, there is no penalty stipulated for not returning the pass.

The Upper House’s budget for issuing the JR Pass is about 180 million yen ($1.4 million), while the Lower House has a budget of about 339 million yen.

A person related to Central Japan Railway Co. (JR Tokai) said the system “is operated based on the belief that human nature is fundamentally good and does not expect fraudulence. Train station staff barely check it.”

A person related to the investigation said, “Lawmakers are elites who are elected by the people. It is difficult for station staff to tell them, ‘This pass is expired.’”

(This article was compiled from reports by Kohei Higashitani and Yusuke Saito.)