Scandal Claims More Lives: This Week in Osaka March 29th to April 5th 2024

Each week, here at, we bring you a selection of some of the top stories about Osaka making the local and national news here in Japan. Sometimes it’s serious, sometimes it’s funny, but it’s always direct to you, from Osaka.

Here’s a look at some of the stories hitting the headlines in Osaka this week.

Supplement Scandal Escalates, Death Toll Now at Least Five

Kobayashi Pharmaceutical Senior Executives face the media this week, with predicable, performative bowing.

Last week we reported on the scandal engulfing Osaka-based drug maker Kobayashi Pharmaceutical. At the time of writing last week, the firm confirmed that 2 deaths had “causal links” to their Ben Kouji cholesterol reduction supplement. The scandal made international news, and shows no signs of abating.

A further update from Kobayashi over the weekend confirmed that at least five people have now died after taking the supplement. The number of confirmed hospitalizations attributed to the Ben Kouji supplement now sits at 157. However, investigations continue this week, and the true number may be far higher.  

Scandal Centers Around Kidney Failure

Ben Kouji, the red yeast rice at the center of the scandal.

The cause of the scandal now appears somewhat clearer than last week. Investigators confirmed the discovery of a “potentially toxic acid” produced during the manufacturing process for Ben Kouji products at one of Kobayashi Pharmaceuticals plants. However, most of the cases of severe illness and death linked to the scandal involve patients who took the supplements over several months or years. So, whatever caused this clearly isn’t a recent addition to the manufacturing process.

Investigators further broadened the scope of their investigations this week. Beyond medical supplement applications, Ben Kouji is also found in certain alcoholic drinks and sauces. Its primary use in these fields is as a food coloring agent. So far, there are no proven cases of a link between these food products and severe medical issues. However, a number of companies have recalled products containing Ben Kouji as a preventative measure.

New Law Offers Disabled Customers Better Deal

Wheelchair access is a growing concern as Japan’s population continues to age.

With the beginning of the new fiscal year on April 1st comes new laws as well. The biggest beneficiaries this year will be Osaka’s disabled citizens. A new law, coming into force this week, mandates that all private companies operating in Japan must take “all reasonable measures” to accommodate disabled customers. For some this may be as simple as providing an access ramp to their premises for wheelchairs. Others may require a far more thorough overhaul of their operations.

Thankfully in Osaka, much of the private sector has already taken steps to address these issues. The new law has been on the cards for several years. Legal analysts described it as a “beefed-up” version of a 2021 ordinance mandating that companies provide a minimum level of assistance to disabled customers. Although direct discrimination against disabled people was illegal in Japan for several years previously, it wasn’t until 2021 that companies could actually face penalties for not meeting minimum expectations.

Some have expressed concern however about couple of potential loopholes in the new law. Firstly, companies will only be required to make accommodations that fall within the “scope of their normal business operations”. This clearly leaves a fair bit of leeway for individual interpretation.

Secondly, companies are legally prohibited from refusing special accommodation to disabled customers. Instead they are asked to enter into “constructive dialogue” to resolve such issues. Again, the exact structure of this dialogue and specific requirements therein are not clearly stated.

Nonetheless, disability advocacy groups in Osaka welcomed the law as a positive step in making life that little bit easier for the city’s disabled citizens. As Japan’s demographics continue to lean towards older people, these laws will take on even more importance.

And Finally…

A shinkansen train prepares to leave Hiroshima Station.

Commuters heading from Osaka this past Tuesday face an unexpected delay for a most bizarre reason. A shinkansen train travelling from Shin Osaka to Kagoshima was delayed for more than 40 minutes after someone threw noodles at it.

The incident occurred as the Sakura 565 train was leaving JR Hiroshima Station at around 6.55pm on Tuesday evening. Reports suggest that at least one, possibly several cups of instant noodles were thrown onto the train’s roof. The next shinkansen due to depart from the same platform was also cancelled amidst the confusion.

Police detained a suspect at the scene. Thus far they have given no indication of any motive for this rather strange offence. Whilst comical in its execution, rail authorities emphasized the danger of interfering with a train’s operations, particularly with regards to the vehicle’s overhead power lines. Paper receptacles such as noodle cups are a potential fire hazard. Foodstuffs may also attract birds to the area, putting them at risk of electrocution. And, of course, it’s a needless waste of good noodles!

That’s all for now but be sure to check back again same time next week for another round of this week in Osaka!


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