West Japan household leisure facility used guests’ misplaced money to purchase sundries

Akira Tanaka, left, head of the Maizuru Municipal Government’s health and child department, and others announce issues that arose at a family leisure facility run by the city in Kyoto Prefecture on Dec. 19, 2022. (Mainichi/Toshio Shioda)

MAIZURU, Kyoto — The government of this west Japan city announced Dec. 19 that a family leisure facility it manages had been using cash left behind by visitors to purchase paper cups and other items for years.

Staff at the Asobium interactive facility for children and parents, run by the Maizuru Municipal Government in Kyoto Prefecture, used lost cash totaling about 5,100 yen, or roughly $40, instead of handing it in to police. The total amount of inappropriately spent money remains unknown. A similar case of employees misappropriating money left behind by users at a city gymnasium was reported in 2021, but the city did not conduct an extensive probe afterwards.

The issue at Asobium arose in April this year, but it was only after a news organization approached the facility in December that its head and other city officials notified the mayor and supervisors of the issue.

The leisure facility Asobium is seen in Maizuru, Kyoto Prefecture. (Mainichi/Toshio Shioda)

After the facility opened in April 2015, staff members of Asobium had stored lost cash and other items in a paper box kept near the reception area, according to the municipal government. In April 2022, a worker appointed to join the facility learned from another employee about money that had been “left lying around.” The worker filed a report with Maizuru Police Station on June 20, but the police station did not accept the cash, which totaled 3,900 yen (about $30), as there was no report on the date and time it was lost. The worker then emailed the facility’s director and the head of the city child support section in charge of the facility to explain the situation. The facility director and others then filed another report with the police station on June 27, including the date and time the cash was left behind, and it was accepted.

Afterwards, an investigation was conducted and employees were asked about how they had handled lost items. As a result, it emerged that a total of around 5,100 yen was misappropriated between fiscal 2016 and fiscal 2021. The cash was apparently used to buy woolen yarn, rice scoops, pens and other items. Employees reportedly stated, “We used it thinking it would be OK if it was a small amount,” and, “We used it because we suddenly needed money.”

The facility director and municipal child support section head claimed they would “investigate the full details,” but did not report the case to Akira Tanaka, the head of the city’s health and child department, until they were approached by a news organization on Dec. 8. The case was finally reported to representative administrators and Maizuru Mayor Ryozo Tatami on Dec. 12. In response to this, on Dec. 16 and 17, the municipal government carried out a sample covering around 130 facilities in the city, including those directly run by the city, for the first time. It found that lost cash totaling 59,573 yen (roughly $450) was being kept at 13 facilities, but it apparently confirmed that the money had “not been used for other purposes such as purchasing equipment.”

In a similar case in 2021, an employee of the Maizuru City Sports Association, which manages a gymnasium in the city, reported that employees were misappropriating money left behind by users. However, the municipal government did not conduct an extensive probe or create rules to deal with the issue. The municipal government is currently discussing punishments for Asobium’s employees and says it will create a manual by as early as the end of this year and use it to educate all workers.

Health and child department head Tanaka said, “This is something that should never happen, and I’d like to apologize for losing the trust of citizens. This is a result of lack of awareness and discipline among employees, and we’d like to strive to prevent a recurrence.”

(Japanese original by Toshio Shioda, Maizuru Local Bureau)

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