Life's a drag for pleasure-loving Japanese PM

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The Independent Online
Japan's Prime Minister, Ryutaro Hashimoto, is a man renowned for his love of physical pleasure. As a mountaineer, he has scaled Japan's highest and most challenging peaks. He is a black belt in kendo, the vigorous martial art of fencing with wooden staves. A few years ago, a tabloid magazine ran an interview with one of his former mistresses, who praised him for his skill and sensitivity as a lover.

But now, Mr. Hashimoto has got into trouble. Yesterday five plaintiffs from the city of Nagoya filed a legal suit claiming that the Prime Minister is in daily violation of Japan's constitution for his enthusiastic cigarette habit.

Compared to other industrialised countries, Japan is a smoker's Eden. On every street corner there is a vending machine dispensing multiple cigarette brands for 220 yen (pounds 1.10) a packet. Television advertisements routinely show sports people finishing off their swimming or skiing routines with a hearty fag. Like millions of his countrymen Mr Hashimoto sees no shame in his addiction. In remarks cited by the plaintiffs he vows: "I will smoke as much as possible." To the Nagoya Five, however, these words are incendiary. They cite Article 25 of the constitution, which states: "All people shall have the right to minimum standards of wholesome and cultured living."

This, they believe, obliges prime ministers to abstain from smoking. As well as 110,000 yen in damages, they are demanding that Mr Hashimoto give up for the duration of his premiership.

Richard Lloyd Parry, Tokyo