Japan will require Covid-19 tests on arrival for travellers from mainland China from Friday, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said, after Beijing announced it will end inbound quarantine requirements.Tokyo has eased its restrictions on tourists in recent months and the move means travellers from China will be the only visitors required to take Covid-19 tests on arrival, other than those who are displaying symptoms.Kishida said on Tuesday the decision was taken because "there is information that infection is spreading rapidly" in China."It is difficult to ascertain the precise situation due to major discrepancies between central and local authorities and between the government and private sector," he told reporters."This is causing growing concern in Japan."The move comes after Beijing announced that inbound travellers will no longer be required to quarantine on arrival from January 8 after three years of strict pandemic control.China abruptly lifted many of its harsh Covid restrictions after nationwide protests and is seeing an unprecedented surge in infections.Travellers from mainland China, or who have been there within seven days, will be required to test on arrival in Japan from Friday, Kishida said.Those who test positive will be quarantined for seven days at designated facilities.Tokyo will also cap flights coming from mainland China, Kishida said.Japan only fully reopened to tourists in October after two-and-a-half years of Covid restrictions that kept out almost all foreign travellers.In November, 934,500 people visited Japan from overseas, around 40 percent of the figures in the same month in pre-pandemic 2019.In 2019, travellers from mainland China made up 30 percent of inbound tourists visiting Japan.
A Japanese startup's spacecraft was launched to the Moon on Sunday in the country's first-ever lunar mission and the first of its kind by a private company.The launch was carried out by Elon Musk's SpaceX in Cape Canaveral in the US State of Florida after two postponements for additional pre-flight checks.The spacecraft, produced by Tokyo-based startup ispace, blasted off aboard a Falcon 9 rocket at 2:38 am (0738 GMT), live footage of the launch showed."Our first mission will lay the groundwork for unleashing the moon's potential and transforming it into a robust and vibrant economic system," the startup's CEO, Takeshi Hakamada, said in a statement.So far only the United States, Russia and China have managed to put a robot on the lunar surface.The ispace mission is the first of a program called Hakuto-R, which means "white rabbit" in Japanese.The company said its lunar lander was expected to touch down on the visible side of the Moon in April 2023 -- the year of the rabbit in Japan.Measuring just over 2 by 2.5 meters, the spacecraft has a payload that includes a 10-kilogram rover built by the United Arab Emirates.The Gulf country is a newcomer to the space race but recently sent a probe into Mars' orbit last year. If the rover, named Rashid, successfully lands, it will be the Arab world's first Moon mission.Hakuto was one of five finalists in Google's Lunar XPrize competition to land a rover on the Moon before a 2018 deadline, which ended without a winner.The ispace lunar lander is also carrying two robots produced by Japan's space agency and a disc with the song "SORATO" by Japanese rock band Sakanaction, which was originally written in support of the Google competition.Israeli organization SpaceIL, another finalist in the contest, failed in April 2019 to become the first privately-funded mission to land on the Moon, after its lander crashed into the surface while attempting to land.ispace, which has just 200 employees, has said it "aims to extend the sphere of human life into space and create a sustainable world by providing high-frequency, low-cost transportation services to the Moon."
Japan's weather agency warned that a tsunami could arrive at the islands of Miyako and Yaeyama in the southern prefecture of Okinawa on Sunday following a large volcanic eruption in Indonesia.The eruption occurred at Mount Semeru on the main island of Java on Sunday, according to Japan's Meteorological Agency.On Nov 25, the Indonesian Center for Volcanology and Geological Hazard Mitigation (PVMBG) recorded volcanic activity on Mount Semeru, which is located on the border between Malang and Lumajang districts of East Java. The height of the ash column reached about 500 meters above the peak.An eruption of the 3,676-meter-high volcano, located about 850 kilometers southeast of capital Jakarta, exactly one year ago led to the deaths of many people.About 130 volcanoes are active in Indonesia, due to its location on the so-called 'ring of fire,' a belt of tectonic plate boundaries that revolves around the Pacific Ocean and causes frequent seismic activity.
Remembering names at a party is never easy, except at a gathering in Tokyo yesterday where all 178 guests were called Hirokazu Tanaka – breaking a record previously held by 164 Martha Stewarts. Hirokazu Tanakas from all walks of life came together for the record attempt, including a three-year-old toddler, an 80-year-old, and even one who flew in from Hanoi. Wearing identical T-shirts emblazoned with their name, they sat still in a packed theatre for five minutes, as per the Guinness rules, before an official from the organisation declared a new record. “Congratulations on your achievement!” the judge said, a declaration met by roaring cheers. It was a dream come true for 53-year-old Hirokazu Tanaka, the man who brought his namesakes together after years of strenuous efforts and two failed attempts. “I never expected we would achieve such a ridiculous record,” he said with a chuckle, adding that the Tanakas had “set an example of silliness”. The Guinness World Record for the “largest gathering of people with the same first and last name” previously belonged to 164 people called Martha Stewart who filled the set of a TV show in New York in 2005. Tanaka’s quest for the feat dates back to 1994, when he stumbled upon news about a baseball prodigy also called Hirokazu Tanaka – and felt “thunderous joy” at a name that he had previously considered mundane. He began tirelessly scouring the nation for his namesakes, founding the “Hirokazu Tanaka campaign”, a blossoming network that once even released a jokey song celebrating their strange friendship. To tell each other apart, every man in the group was assigned an alias inspired by their hobbies, occupation or favourite food, with the founding Tanaka known as “Semi-Leader”. As each Hirokazu Tanaka arrived yesterday, their nicknames were announced to the crowd, including “Sunglasses”, “Chewing Gum” and “Triathlon”. “It’s a strange feeling, being awarded a Guinness record just because of my name,” laughed “Hot Pot” Tanaka. “I would’ve thought the award was meant to recognise a particular effort,” the 21-year-old firefighter told AFP. “I’m just grateful to my parents.” The Tanakas had already failed twice to beat the Martha Stewarts, most recently in 2017 when only 87 showed up. However, a glimmer of hope emerged when Guinness clarified that as long as the name is “Hirokazu Tanaka”, it doesn’t matter if the Japanese characters used to write the name are slightly different in each case. “It’s not like I had a huge rivalry towards the Martha Stewarts,” said “Earring” Tanaka, a 46-year-old systems engineer. “Rather, Martha Stewarts pioneered this record ... so I’d consider them our kindred spirits, even though we’ve never met.” Sadly, not every Hirokazu Tanaka in the group was able to join the gathering. Suzuko Tanaka, 75, told AFP that his son Hirokazu had died of the coronavirus (Covid-19) last year. The son, nicknamed “Mini Van” due to his fondness for the vehicles, “was always very eager to join in with the events organised by this group”, Suzuko said. “He would have been happy today.”
The Japanese government decided on Tuesday to impose additional sanctions on North Korea by freezing the assets of five more organisations over their involvement in the country's nuclear and missile development programs. The new measures were approved at a Cabinet meeting following North Korea's repeated test-firings of ballistic missiles since late September including the Oct. 4 launch of a ballistic missile that flew over the Japanese archipelago for the first time in five years, Japan's (Kyodo) news agency reported. The five organizations include North Korea's Ministry of Rocket Industry and four trading firms, the Japanese Foreign Ministry said. Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno said that "Japan urges North Korea to take concrete actions toward resolving various issues" including its nuclear and missile development programs. The action by Japan's government came after South Korea imposed on Friday unilateral sanctions on the North for the first time in five years following its missile launch earlier in the day, blacklisting 15 North Korean individuals and 16 organizations involved in its nuclear and missile development programs.
As Japan throws open its doors to visitors this week after more than two years of pandemic isolation, hopes for a tourism boom face tough headwinds amid shuttered shops and a shortage of hospitality workers. From Tuesday, Japan will reinstate visa-free travel to dozens of countries, ending some of world's strictest border controls to slow the spread of Covid-19. Prime Minister Fumio Kishida is counting on tourism to help invigorate the economy and reap some benefits from the yen's slide to a 24-year low. Arata Sawa is among those eager for the return of foreign tourists, who previously comprised up to 90% of the guests at his traditional inn. "I'm hoping and anticipating that a lot of foreigners will come to Japan, just like before Covid," said Sawa, the third-generation owner of the Sawanoya ryokan in Tokyo. Just over half a million visitors have come to Japan so far in 2022, compared with a record 31.8 million in 2019. The government had a goal of 40 million in 2020 timed with the Summer Olympics until both were upended by the coronavirus. Kishida said last week the government is aiming to attract 5 trillion yen ($34.5 billion) in annual tourist spending. But that goal may be too ambitious for a sector that has atrophied during the pandemic. Hotel employment slumped 22% between 2019 and 2021, according to government data. Spending from overseas visitors will reach only 2.1 trillion yen by 2023 and won't exceed pre-Covid levels until 2025, wrote Nomura Research Institute economist Takahide Kiuchi in a report. Flag carrier Japan Airlines Co (9201.T) has seen inbound bookings triple since the border easing announcement, president Yuji Akasaka said last week, according to the Nikkei newspaper. Even so, international travel demand won't fully recover until around 2025, he added. GHOST TOWN Narita Airport, Japan's biggest international airport some 70 kilometres from Tokyo, remains eerily quiet, with about half of its 260 shops and restaurants shuttered. "It's like half a ghost town," said 70-year old Maria Satherley from New Zealand, gesturing at the Terminal 1 departure area. Satherley, whose son lives in the northern island of Hokkaido, said she would like to return with her granddaughter this winter but probably won't because the child is too young to be vaccinated, a prerequisite for tourists entering Japan. "We're just going to wait till next year," she said. Amina Collection Co has shut its three souvenir shops at Narita and is unlikely to reopen them until next spring, said president Sawato Shindo. The company reallocated staff and supplies from the airport to other locations in its 120-shop chain around Japan as it refocused on domestic tourism during the pandemic. "I don't think there's going to be a sudden return to the pre-pandemic situation," Shindo said. "Restrictions are still pretty strict compared to other countries." Japan still strongly encourages that people wear masks indoors and refrain from loud talking. The Cabinet on Friday approved changing hotel regulations so that they can refuse guests who do not obey infection controls during an outbreak. Many service workers found better working conditions and wages in other fields over the past two years, so luring them back may be difficult, said a consultant for tourism companies who asked not to be identified. "The hospitality industry is very infamous for low wages, so if the government values tourism as a key industry, financial support or subsidies are probably needed," he added. The Japanese government is starting a domestic travel initiative this month that offers transportation and accommodation discounts, similar to its Go To Travel campaign in 2020 that was cut short following a surge in Covid infections. TIGHT LABOUR MARKET Almost 73% of hotels nationwide said they were short of regular workers in August, up from about 27% a year earlier, according to market research firm Teikoku Databank. In Kawaguchiko, a lake town at the foot of Mt. Fuji, inns had difficulty staffing before the pandemic amid Japan's tight labour market and they anticipate a similar bottleneck now, said a trade group staffer who asked not to be identified. That sentiment was echoed by Akihisa Inaba, general manager at the hot-spring resort Yokikan in Shizuoka, central Japan, who said short staffing during the summer meant workers had to forego time off. "Naturally, the labour shortage will become more pronounced when inbound travel returns," said Inaba. "So, I'm not so sure we can be overjoyed." Whether overseas visitors wear face masks and abide by other common infection controls in Japan is another concern. The strict border controls were broadly popular during most of the pandemic, and fears remain about the appearance of new viral variants. "From the start of the pandemic until now, we've had just a few foreign guests," said Tokyo innkeeper Sawa. "Pretty much all of them wore masks, but I'm really not sure whether the people who visit from here on will do the same." "My plan is to kindly ask them to wear a mask while inside the building," he added.
With flowers, prayers and a 19-gun salute, Japan honoured slain former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Tuesday at the first state funeral for a former premier in 55 years - a ceremony that has become as divisive as he was in life. The ceremony started at 2:00 p.m. (0500 GMT), with Abe's ashes carried into the Nippon Budokan Hall in central Tokyo by his widow, Akie, to music from a military band and the booms of the honour-guard salute, which echoed inside the hall. Japan's Crown Prince Akishino and Crown Princess Kiko lay flowers at the altar during the state funeral of Shinzo Abe, at Nippon Budokan in Tokyo. REUTERS Former Prime Ministers of Japan Yoshiro Mori, right, Junichiro Koizumi, Yasuo Fukuda and Taro Aso arrive at the state funeral of Shinzo Abe. REUTERS Abe's killing at a July 8 campaign rally set off a flood of revelations about ties between lawmakers in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) he once ran and the Unification Church, which critics call a cult, sparking a backlash against current premier Fumio Kishida. With his support ratings dragged to their lowest ever by the controversy, Kishida has apologised and vowed to cut party ties to the church. But opposition to honouring Abe with a state funeral, the first such event since 1967, has persisted, fed by an $11.5-million price tag to be borne by the state at a time of economic pain for ordinary citizens. In one part of downtown Tokyo, protesters waved signs and chanted "No state funeral" to the tune of a guitar. US Vice President Kamala Harris (C) arrives for the state funeral of Shinzo Abe. REUTERS But thousands of mourners flooded to the funeral venue from early morning, forcing organisers to open the hall half an hour early. Within hours, about 10,000 people had laid flowers and bowed in silent prayer before Abe's picture, television showed, with far more waiting in three-hour long queues. "I know it's divisive and there are a lot of people against this, but there were so many people lined up to offer flowers," said Yoshiko Kojima, a 63-year-old Tokyo housewife. "I felt that now the funeral is actually taking place, many people have come out to pray for him." Inside the Budokan, better known as a concert venue, a large portrait of Abe draped with black ribbon hung over a bank of green, white and yellow flowers. Nearby, a wall of photos showed him strolling with G7 leaders, holding hands with children and visiting disaster areas. Attendants arrive at the state funeral of Shinzo Abe. REUTERS A moment of silence was followed by a retrospective of Abe's political life and speeches by leading ruling party figures, including Kishida and Yoshihide Suga, Kishida's predecessor as prime minister. Japan's longest-serving prime minister was a divisive figure who was dogged by scandals. An unapologetic nationalist, Abe pushed the country toward a muscular defence posture that many now see as prescient amid growing concern about China, but others criticised as too hawkish. About 4,300 people were expected at the funeral ceremony itself along with at least 48 current or former government figures, including U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Some 20,000 police were deployed, nearby roads were closed and even some schools shut as Japan sought to avoid the security blunders that led to Abe's shooting with a homemade gun by a suspect who, police say, accused the Unification Church of impoverishing his family. The state funeral for Abe, who received a private funeral days after his assassination, was the first for an ex-premier since one in 1967 for former Prime Minister Shigeru Yoshida. Kishida has explained the decision as a way of honouring Abe's achievements, as well as standing up for democracy, but ordinary Japanese remain divided. Only 30% of respondents in a recent poll by TV Asahi agreed with hosting the funeral, against 54% opposed. Kishida also cited the chance to conduct diplomacy as a reason for the funeral, and spent Monday night and Tuesday morning in meetings with leaders. Even without the recent revelations about the Unification Church, it would be hard to imagine any circumstances where a majority of Japanese would favour honouring Abe with a state funeral, said Tobias Harris, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and the author of a biography of the former premier. "He was someone who almost welcomed and invited controversy and saw his mission as overturning a longstanding consensus or set of consensuses" about how Japan was run, Harris said. Many Japanese were "attached to the postwar regime that he wanted to overturn", Harris said.
Typhoon Nanmadol, one of the biggest storms to hit Japan in years, killed at least two people and brought ferocious winds and record rainfall to the west of the country yesterday, causing transport disruptions and forcing manufacturers to suspend operations. Prime Minister Fumio Kishida delayed his departure to New York for the UN General Assembly this week to assess the damage from Japan’s 14th typhoon of the season. “I postponed my scheduled departure yesterday to take stock of the damage caused by the typhoon and to take all possible measures for recovery,” Kishida told reporters, adding that he would leave today if conditions permit. Nanmadol made landfall near Kagoshima city late on Sunday before battering the western island of Kyushu and roaring onto the main island of Honshu yesterday morning. A river in Kyushu’s Miyazaki prefecture overflowed, flooding fields and roads, footage from public broadcaster NHK showed. Another video showed a riverside house half hanging over a torrent, the tin roof ripped off a gas station, and a toppled billboard leaning over a street from the top of a building. “We need to remain highly vigilant for heavy rains, gales, high waves and storm surges,” a Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA) official told a news conference. Local media said one man was found dead inside his car, which was submerged up to its roof in the middle of a field, while another man died after being caught in a landslide. One other person remains missing, and at least 115 people have been injured, NHK said. About 286,000 households were without electricity yesterday afternoon, down from some 340,000 households earlier on the day, the trade ministry said. Kyushu Railway said it had halted operations of both high-speed and regular trains, while Japan Airline Co and ANA Holdings cancelled about 800 flights, NHK reported. The storm made landfall again in Shimane prefecture in western Honshu after tracking the coastline earlier yesterday, and was heading east at about 35km per hour, the JMA said. Up to 300mm of rain was expected in central Japan’s Tokai region, the nation’s industrial heartland, over the 24-hour-period to today evening, it said. Toyota Motor Corporation suspended night shifts on 24 lines at 12 of its domestic plants yesterday, a company spokesperson said, adding that the company planned to make up for the lost production with overtime and operations on holidays.
A 7.2-magnitude earthquake struck Taiwan's southeastern coast on Sunday, the US Geological Survey said, prompting Japan to issue a tsunami warning. The quake hit at 2:44 pm (0644 GMT) about 50 kilometres (30 miles) north of the city of Taitung at a depth of 10 kilometres, the USGS said. A 6.6 magnitude quake hit the same region on Saturday and there have been multiple tremors since with Sunday's the strongest by far. Japan's Meteorological Agency issued a tsunami advisory to remote islands near Taiwan. Waves as high as one metre were expected to arrive around 4 pm (0700 GMT), it added. Taiwan is regularly hit by earthquakes as the island lies near the junction of two tectonic plates.
Japan’s weather agency warned yesterday of “unprecedented” risks from a “very dangerous” typhoon heading towards the southern Kyushu island, urging residents to take shelter ahead of the storm. Typhoon Nanmadol was producing gusts of up to 270km an hour and classed as a “violent” storm, the agency’s top level, on Saturday. By late afternoon it was approaching the remote Minami Daito island, 400km east of Okinawa island. The storm is expected to approach or make landfall today in Kyushu’s southern Kagoshima prefecture, then move north the following day before heading towards Japan’s main island. “There are risks of unprecedented storms, high waves, storm surges, and record rainfall,” Ryuta Kurora, the head of the Japan Meteorological Agency’s forecast unit, told reporters. “Maximum caution is required,” he said, urging residents to evacuate early. “It’s a very dangerous typhoon.” Kurora said the weather agency was likely to issue its highest alert later yesterday for the Kagoshima region. Called “special warnings”, these are issued only when the JMA forecasts conditions seen once in a few decades. It would be the first typhoon-linked special warning issued outside of the Okinawa region since the current system began in 2013. “The wind will be so fierce that some houses might collapse,” Kurora told reporters, also warning of flooding and landslides. An evacuation “instruction” – level four on a five-level scale – is already in place for 330,000 people in Kagoshima, and authorities urged people to move to shelters or alternative accommodation before a top-level call was issued. Evacuation warnings in Japan are not mandatory, and during past extreme weather events authorities have struggled to convince residents to take shelter quickly enough. Japan is currently in typhoon season and faces around 20 such storms a year, routinely seeing heavy rains that cause landslides or flash floods. In 2019, Typhoon Hagibis smashed into Japan as it hosted the Rugby World Cup, claiming the lives of more than 100 people. A year earlier, Typhoon Jebi shut down Kansai Airport in Osaka, killing 14 people. And in 2018, floods and landslides killed more than 200 people in western Japan during the country’s annual rainy season. Ahead of Typhoon Nanmadol’s arrival, flight cancellations began to affect regional airports including those in Kagoshima, Miyazaki and Kumamoto, according to the websites of Japan Airlines and All Nippon Airways. Scientists say climate change is increasing the severity of storms and causing extreme weather such as heat waves, droughts and flash floods to become more frequent and intense.
Shoji Morimoto has what some would see as a dream job: he gets paid to do pretty much nothing. The 38-year-old Tokyo resident charges 10,000 yen ($71) per booking to accompany clients and simply exist as a companion. "Basically, I rent myself out. My job is to be wherever my clients want me to be and to do nothing in particular," Morimoto told Reuters, adding that he had handled some 4,000 sessions in the past four years. With a lanky build and average looks, Morimoto now boasts nearly a quarter of a million followers on Twitter, where he finds most of his clients. Roughly a quarter of them are repeat customers, including one who has hired him 270 times. His job has taken him to a park with a person who wanted to play on a see-saw. He has also beamed and waved through a train window at a complete stranger who wanted a send-off. Doing nothing doesn't mean Morimoto will do anything. He has turned down offers to move a fridge and go to Cambodia. Last week, Morimoto sat opposite Aruna Chida, a 27-year-old data analyst clad in a sari, having a sparse conversation over tea and cakes. Chida wanted to wear the Indian garment out in public but was worried it might embarrass her friends. So she turned to Morimoto for companionship. "With my friends I feel I have to entertain them, but with the rental-guy (Morimoto) I don't feel the need to be chatty," she said. Before Morimoto found his true calling, he worked at a publishing company and was often chided for "doing nothing". "I started wondering what would happen if I provided my ability to 'do nothing' as a service to clients," he said. The companionship business is now Morimoto's sole source of income, with which he supports his wife and child. Although he declined to disclose how much he makes, he said he sees about one or two clients a day. Before the pandemic, it was three or four a day. As he spent a Wednesday doing nothing of note in Tokyo, Morimoto reflected on the bizarre nature of his job and appeared to question a society that values productivity and derides uselessness. "People tend to think that my 'doing nothing' is valuable because it is useful (for others) ... But it's fine to really not do anything. People do not have to be useful in any specific way," he said.
Water may have been brought to Earth by asteroids from the outer edges of the solar system, scientists said after analysing rare samples collected on a six-year Japanese space mission. In a quest to shed light on the origins of life and the formation of the universe, researchers are scrutinising material brought back to earth in 2020 from the asteroid Ryugu. The 5.4 grams of rocks and dust were gathered by a Japanese space probe, called Hayabusa-2, that landed on the celestial body and fired an "impactor" into its surface. Studies on the material are beginning to be published, and in June, one group of researchers said they had found organic material which showed that some of the building blocks of life on Earth, amino acids, may have been formed in space. In a new paper published in the journal Nature Astronomy, scientists said the Ryugu samples could give clues to the mystery of how oceans appeared on Earth billions of years ago. "Volatile and organic-rich C-type asteroids may have been one of the main sources of Earth's water," said the study by scientists from Japan and other countries, published Monday. "The delivery of volatiles (that is, organics and water) to the Earth is still a subject of notable debate," it said. But the organic materials found "in Ryugu particles, identified in this study, probably represent one important source of volatiles". The scientists hypothesised that such material probably has an "outer Solar System origin", but said it was "unlikely to be the only source of volatiles delivered to the early Earth". Hayabusa-2 was launched in 2014 on its mission to Ryugu, around 300 million kilometres away, and returned to Earth's orbit two years ago to drop off a capsule containing the sample. In the Nature Astronomy study, the researchers again hailed the findings made possible by the mission. "Ryugu particles are undoubtedly among the most uncontaminated Solar System materials available for laboratory study and ongoing investigations of these precious samples will certainly expand our understanding of early Solar System processes," the study said.
Japan's premier Fumio Kishida vowed to never again wage war on the anniversary of Japan's World War Two surrender while members of his cabinet visited a controversial shrine to mark the date, annoying South Korea and likely also irking China. With the Yasukuni Shrine seen as a symbol of Japan's past militarism, Tokyo's ties with China are already particularly strained this year after Beijing conducted unprecedented military exercises around Taiwan following the visit there by US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi earlier this month. During the drills, several missiles fell in waters inside Japan's Exclusive Economic Zone. The anniversary commemoration's links to Yasukuni, a site that honours 14 Japanese wartime leaders convicted as war criminals by an Allied tribunal, as well as war dead, saw Kishida face a tricky balancing act on Monday. On the dovish side of the conservative Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), his task was to avoid irking international neighbours and partners while still keeping the more right-wing members of the party happy - particularly after the killing of former premier Shinzo Abe last month. Kishida sent an offering to the central Tokyo shrine without visiting, Kyodo news agency reported. He also sent offerings to Yasukuni during festivals last year and this spring. "We will never again repeat the horrors of war. I will continue to live up to this determined oath," Kishida told a secular gathering elsewhere in Tokyo, also attended by Emperor Naruhito. "In a world where conflicts are still unabated, Japan is a proactive leader in peace," he said. In South Korea, official reaction was swift, with officials expressed "deep disappointment" and regret. "The Korean government is urging Japan's responsible people to face history and show humble reflection and genuine reflection on the past through action," a spokesperson for South Korea's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement. Beijing made no official comment pending a routine briefing at the country's foreign affairs ministry later on Monday. In downtown Tokyo, people of all ages packed the shrine to pay respects despite the sultry heat. At noon, they bowed their heads for a moment of silence as cicadas buzzed. "People from various countries may say things, but this is an issue of the Japanese people, so Japanese people need to decide themselves," said Yukie Takahashi, a 60-year-old office worker. "It's a day to worship, to look back on the past, reflect on it, and pray." Among those visiting the shrine were, as usual, a small but vocal group of right-wing activists, some dressed in military uniforms and bearing flags. In a separate gesture, doves were released at the shrine as a symbol of peace. Footage on broadcaster NHK showed the shrine being visited early on Monday by several cabinet ministers, including Economic Security Minister Sanae Takaichi, along with Koichi Hagiuda, the head of the LDP's policy research council and a key Abe ally. "It is natural for any country to pay respect to those who gave their lives for their country," chief cabinet secretary Hirokazu Matsuno said earlier on Monday. "Japan will continue to strengthen its relations with its neighbours, including China and South Korea." A group of lawmakers that normally visit en masse on Aug 15 said last week they would not do so due to a recent surge in coronavirus cases. Abe was the last prime minister in recent memory to visit Yasukuni while in office, in 2013 - a visit that outraged both China and South Korea and even drew a rebuke from its close ally the United States. The United States and Japan have become staunch security allies in the decades since the war's end, but its legacy still haunts East Asia. Koreans, who mark the date as National Liberation Day, resent Japan's 1910-1945 colonisation of the peninsula, while China has bitter memories of imperial troops' invasion and occupation of parts of the country from 1931-1945. Kishida has pledged to substantially increase Japan's defence budget, citing the increasingly tense regional security environment, but made no mention in a recent speech of one of Abe's dreams - revising the country's pacifist constitution - although he has spoken of it before.
Bells tolled in Hiroshima yesterday as the city marked the 77th anniversary of the world’s first atomic bombing, with officials including the United Nations secretary-general warning of a new arms race following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb 24, and, shortly after, Russian President Vladimir Putin had obliquely raised the possibility of a nuclear strike. The conflict has also heightened concerns about the safety of Ukraine’s nuclear plants. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres joined the thousands packed into the Peace Park in the centre of the city to mark the anniversary of the bombing that killed 140,000 before the end of 1945, only the second time a UN secretary general has taken part in the annual ceremony. “Nuclear weapons are nonsense. They guarantee no safety -- only death and destruction,” Guterres said. “Three quarters of a century later, we must ask what we’ve learned from the mushroom cloud that swelled above this city in 1945.” Guterres sidestepped a direct mention of Russia, which calls its invasion of Ukraine a “special military operation.” Hiroshima mayor Kazumi Matsui, whose city this year did not invite the Russian ambassador to the ceremony, was more pointed and critical of Moscow’s military actions in Ukraine. “In invading Ukraine, the Russian leader, elected to protect the lives and property of his people, is using them as instruments of war, stealing the lives and livelihoods of civilians in a different country,” Matsui said. “Around the world, the notion that peace depends on nuclear deterrence gains momentum,” Matsui added. “These errors betray humanity’s determination, born of our experiences of war, to achieve a peaceful world free from nuclear weapons. To accept the status quo and abandon the ideal of peace maintained without military force is to threaten the very survival of the human race.” At 8:15am on Aug 6, 1945, the US B-29 warplane Enola Gay dropped a bomb nicknamed “Little Boy” and obliterated the city with an estimated population of 350,000. Thousands more died later from injuries and radiation-related illnesses. On Saturday, as cicadas shrilled in the heavy summer air, the Peace Bell sounded and the crowd, including Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, who is from Hiroshima, observed a moment of silence at the exact time the bomb exploded. “At the start of this year, the five nuclear-weapon states issued a joint statement: ‘Nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought,’” Matsui added. “Why do they not attempt to fulfil their promises? Why do some even hint at using nuclear weapons?” On Thursday, Russian ambassador to Japan Mikhail Galuzin offered flowers at a memorial stone in the park and told reporters his nation would never use nuclear weapons. Kishida, who has chosen Hiroshima as the site of next year’s Group of Seven summit, called on the world to abandon nuclear weapons.
Japanese defence forces will participate for the first time in military exercises in Indonesia next month alongside the United States and Australia, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said yesterday after talks with Indonesian President Joko Widodo. Japan’s involvement comes as Washington and its regional allies step up efforts to counter China’s growing assertiveness in the Indo-Pacific region. Japan has recently been putting heavy diplomatic emphasis on maintaining a “free and open Indo-Pacific,” and Kishida visited the region, including Indonesia, earlier this year. The meeting between Kishida and Jokowi, as he is popularly known, came a day after the Indonesian president made a rare visit to China for a summit with President Xi Jinping in which the two pledged to scale up trade and expand cooperation in areas such as agriculture and food security. “Indonesia shares fundamental values with us as well as strategic goals, it is a strategic partner,” Kishida told a news conference after the two met. He said Japan’s Self-Defence Forces will take part in the Garuda Shield joint military exercises to be held in Indonesia from Aug 1 with the United States, Australia and others. It will be the first time that Japan has participated. The annual exercises, typically between Indonesia and the United States, will be “significantly larger in scope and scale” than in previous years, the United States has said. Japan also would loan the Indonesian government 43.6bn yen ($318mn) for infrastructure projects and disaster prevention, Kishida said, along with co-operating in areas including energy. In his remarks, Jokowi emphasised practical aspects of bilateral ties and mentioned that the two nations had agreed to changes in an Indonesia-Japan economic partnership agreement to be signed later this year, although he did not specify details. Renegotiations on the agreement, concluded in 2007, are aimed at expanding access to Japanese markets and reducing tariffs. “I ask for Japan to support the reduction of tariffs on some products such as tuna, bananas, pineapple, and market access to mango products,” Jokowi said. Indonesia’s imports from Japan totalled $9.2bn in 2020, while its exports to Japan stood at $14.5bn, according to IMF data compiled by Refinitiv. Indonesia’s economics ministry said yesterday that Japanese automaker Toyota Motor Corp plans to invest 27.1tn rupiah ($1.8bn) in Indonesia in the next five years to produce electric vehicles. On Tuesday, Indonesia’s chief economics minister said Mitsubishi Motors Corp plans to invest about 10tn rupiah in Indonesia between 2022 and 2025. Jokowi met Emperor Naruhito later.
Japan on Tuesday executed a man convicted of killing seven people in a truck ramming and stabbing rampage in Tokyo's popular Akihabara electronics district in 2008, the justice ministry said. Justice Minister Yoshihisa Furukawa said Tomohiro Kato had undertaken "meticulous preparation" for the attack and displayed a "strong intent to kill". Furukawa said he "approved the execution after extremely thorough scrutiny," noting that Kato's death sentence had been upheld by the court system. Kato went on the rampage on June 8, 2008, telling police: "I came to Akihabara to kill people. It didn't matter who I'd kill." He was arrested on the spot shortly after the attacks, in which he rammed a rented two-tonne truck into a crowd of pedestrians before getting out and randomly stabbing people. "This is a very painful case that led to extremely grave consequences and shocked society," Furukawa said Tuesday. Police said Kato documented his deadly journey to Akihabara on Internet bulletin boards, typing messages on a mobile phone from behind the wheel of the truck and complaining of his unstable job and his loneliness. Prosecutors said his self-confidence plummeted after a woman he chatted with online abruptly stopped emailing him when he sent her a photograph of himself. His anger against the general public grew when his comments on an Internet bulletin board, including his plans to go on a killing spree, were met with no reaction at all, prosecutors said. While awaiting trial, Kato wrote to a 56-year-old taxi driver whom he injured in the stabbing spree, expressing his remorse. The victims "were enjoying their lives, and they had dreams, bright futures, warm families, lovers, friends and colleagues," Kato wrote according to a copy published in the Shukan Asahi weekly. And in court, he offered remorse for the attack. "Please let me use this occasion to apologise," he said about the bloody rampage that also left 10 people injured. - Support for death penalty - After the 2008 rampage, Japan banned possession of double-edged knives with blades longer than 5.5 centimetres (about two inches), punishable by up to three years in prison or a 500,000 yen fine. The attack was Japan's worst mass killing in seven years and Kato was sentenced to death in 2011, a decision that was upheld by Japan's top court in 2015. Kato's execution is the first in Japan this year and comes after three prisoners were hanged in December 2021. Those executions ended a two-year hiatus and were the first under Prime Minister Fumio Kishida's administration. Japan is one of the few developed countries to retain the death penalty, and public support for capital punishment remains high despite international criticism. Executions are carried out by hanging, generally long after sentencing. More than 100 people are currently on death row in Japan. International advocacy groups have denounced the Japanese system, under which death row inmates can wait for their executions for many years in solitary confinement and are only told of their impending death a few hours ahead of time. But Furukawa defended the death penalty on Tuesday. The government believes it is "not appropriate" to abolish capital punishment, given "heinous crimes such as mass killings and robbery-murders still repeatedly occur", he told reporters. Junichi Kuwabara, a 54-year-old Tokyo resident, told AFP he was thinking of "how the families of the victims must be feeling." "I think it would have been better if it had been done earlier," he said. And while he expressed discomfort with the idea of the death penalty, he said "if it can bring justice to relatives of the victims, I think it's good." Tuesday's execution comes on the anniversary of another major stabbing attack -- the 2016 Sagamihara rampage at a disabled care facility, in which 19 people were killed. Japan also carried out the executions of six members of the Aum Shinrikyo cult responsible for the 1995 sarin attack and other crimes on July 26, 2018.
A volcano on Japan’s major western island of Kyushu erupted yesterday evening, sending black smoke billowing high into the air, but there were no immediate reports of any damage or injuries, and authorities said they did not expect a major eruption. The volcano, which is called Sakurajima and is located on the southern tip of Kyushu near the city of Kagoshima, erupted about 8.05pm (1105 GMT), the Japanese Meteorological Agency (JMA) said. Volcanic stones rained down at a distance of 2.5km (1.5 miles) from the volcano, a JMA official said. Television footage showed red-hot rocks and dark plumes exploding from Sakurajima volcano. The eruption alert level has been raised to five, the highest, with some areas advised to evacuate, he added, but no large eruption was expected. Previously it was at level three, which bans entry to the mountain. Sakurajima is one of Japan’s most active volcanoes and eruptions of varying levels take place on a regular basis. In 2019 it spewed ash 5.5km (3.4 miles) high. There were no immediate reports of damage from yesterday’s eruption, deputy chief cabinet secretary Yoshihiko Isozaki told a news conference, as government officials sought more information on the situation. Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has instructed the government “to work closely with the local municipality to ensure damage prevention, such as through evacuations”, Isozaki said. Nuclear regulators said there were no irregularities detected at the Sendai atomic plant, which lies about 50km (31 miles) from the volcano. The JMA said rain is expected in some areas near the volcano today but not the kind of heavy rain that could cause mudslides following the eruption. Most of the city of Kagoshima is across the bay from the volcano but several residential areas within about 3km (1.9 miles) of the crater may be ordered to evacuate depending on the situation, NHK said. It later reported that 51 people in the vicinity were being evacuated. “Residential areas of Arimura town and Furusato town within 3km of the summit crater ... of Sakurajima should be on high alert,” Tsuyoshi Nakatsuji of the JMA’s Volcanic Observation Division told reporters. According to Kagoshima City, there are 77 residents in the two towns. Nakatsuji said the JMA last week had observed the swelling of the volcano, which signals the accumulation of magma. “But the swelling hasn’t been resolved after the latest eruption,” he said. “We’ll carefully monitor this.” Japan has scores of active volcanoes and sits on the so-called Pacific “Ring of Fire” where a large proportion of the world’s earthquakes and volcanic eruptions are recorded. Sakurajima was formerly an island, but due to previous eruptions is now attached to a peninsula. Japan last issued the top evacuation alert for a volcano when Kuchinoerabu island, also in Kagoshima, erupted in 2015.
A volcano on Japan's major western island of Kyushu erupted on Sunday evening, sending black smoke billowing high into the air, but there were no immediate reports of any damage or injuries, and authorities said they did not expect a major eruption. The volcano, which is called Sakurajima and is located on the southern tip of Kyushu near the city of Kagoshima, erupted at about 8:05 p.m. (1105 GMT), the Japanese Meteorological Agency (JMA) said. Volcanic stones rained down at a distance of 2.5 km from the volcano, a JMA official said. The eruption alert level has been raised to 5, the highest, with some areas advised to evacuate, he added, but no large eruption was expected. Sakurajima is one of Japan's most active volcanoes and eruptions of varying levels take place on a regular basis. In 2019 it spewed ash 5.5 km high. There were no immediate reports of damage from Sunday's eruption, deputy chief cabinet secretary Yoshihiko Isozaki told a news conference, as government officials sought more information on the situation. Nuclear regulators said there were no irregularities detected at the Sendai atomic plant, which lies about 50 km from the volcano. Video footage showed what appeared to be a red mass flowing down one side of the volcano, with red projectiles shooting upwards. The JMA said rain was expected in some areas near the volcano on Monday but not the kind of heavy rain that could cause mudslides following the eruption. Most of the city of Kagoshima is across the bay from the volcano but several residential areas within about 3 km of the crater may be ordered to evacuate depending on the situation, NHK said. It later reported that 51 people in the vicinity were being evacuated.
The man accused of assassinating Japan's former prime minister Shinzo Abe is set to undergo an examination of his mental condition around the time of the incident, local media reported Saturday. Abe was gunned down on the campaign trail on July 8 in the western city of Nara, two days before the country's upper house elections. His accused killer Tetsuya Yamagami is in custody and reportedly targeted Abe because he believed the former leader was linked to the Unification Church. On Friday, the Nara District Court approved a request by the local public prosecutors office for a psychiatric examination of 41-year-old Yamagami, the Asahi Shimbun and other local media reported, citing unnamed investigative sources. The examination is expected to wrap up in late November, the reports said. Investigative questioning of the suspect will be halted during the mental examination. Prosecutors will determine whether Yamagami can bear criminal liability based on the examination before making a decision on whether to indict him, the reports said. Abe was Japan's best-known politician, maintaining a prominent place in public life even after resigning in 2020 for health reasons. He was also a divisive figure who faced cronyism allegations and was criticised for his staunch nationalist views. Prosecution and court officials could not immediately be reached to confirm the local media reports.