US fighter jets darted over the Western Pacific on Saturday as the nuclear powered USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier joined Japanese destroyers and a Canadian warship for the biggest combat readiness war game ever staged in and around Japan. Japan and the United States have mobilized 57,000 sailors, marines and airmen for the biennial Keen Sword exercise, 11,000 more than in 2016, with simulated air combat, amphibious landings and ballistic missile defence drills. Japan's contingent of 47,000 personnel represents a fifth of the nation's armed forces. "We are here to stabilize, and preserve our capability should it be needed. Exercises like Keen Sword are exactly the kind of thing we need to do," Rear Admiral Karl Thomas, the commander of the carrier strike group, said during a press briefing in the Reagan's focsle as F-18 fighter jets catapulted off the flight deck above him. Eight other ships joined the carrier for anti-submarine warfare drills in a show of force in waters that Washington and Tokyo fear will increasingly come under Beijing's influence. "The US-Japan alliance is essential for stability in this region and the wider Indo Pacific," Rear Admiral Hiroshi Egawa, the commander of the Japanese ships said aboard the Reagan Based in Yokosuka near Tokyo, it is the biggest US warship in Asia, with a crew of 5,000 sailors and around 90 F-18 Super Hornets fighters. Canada joins A Canadian naval supply ship is also taking part in Keen Sword along with the frigate that sailed with the Reagan on Saturday. Canadian participation is taking a bilateral drill which began in 1986 "into the realm of multilateral exercises," Canada's defence attache in Japan, Captain Hugues Canuel said in Tokyo. Participation in Keen Sword, he added, reflects Canada's desire to have a military presence in Asia. Canada isn't the only western nation looking to take a bigger security role in the region. Britain and France are also sending more ships as China's military presence in the South China Sea grows and its influence over the Indo Pacific and its key trade routes expands. British, French, Australian and South Korean observers will also monitor Keen Sword, which began Monday and ends on Thursday. Bolder Japan Growing foreign interest in Asian security, including North Korea's development of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles, coincides with greater Japanese willingness to back up its regional diplomacy with a show of military muscle. Tokyo this year sent its biggest warship, the Kaga helicopter carrier, on a two-month tour of the Indo Pacific, including flag-waving stops in the Philippines, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India and Singapore. The 248 metre (813.65 ft) long Maritime Self Defence Force ship and its two destroyer escorts also conducted drills with a Japanese submarine in the contested South China Sea. At the same time, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has engaged China in dialogue to reduce tension between their militaries in the East China Sea and to increase economic cooperation between Asia's two leading economies. Amid a background of trade friction with Washington, Abe last month traveled to Beijing, the first such trip by a Japanese leader in seven years, for talks with President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang. Abe told them that China and Japan shared responsibility for regional security, including tackling North Korean. Japan, however, still views China as a potentially much larger and more challenging foe than Pyongyang as its expanding navy consolidates control of the South China Sea and ventures deeper into the Western Pacific and Indian Ocean. Beijing this year plans to spend 1.11 trillion yuan ($160 billion) on its armed forces, more than three times as much as Japan and about a third of what the US pays for a military that helps defend the Japanese islands. Keen Sword "remains an expression of the commitment of like minded allies and partners. To really see what we can do in terms of demonstrating advanced capabilities together to ensure peace and stability in the Indo Pacific," Chief of US Naval Operations Admiral John Richardson said on Thursday in Australia during a telephone press briefing.
A Japanese journalist held hostage in Syria for more than three years said the media must continue to take risks covering warzones to keep the world’s attention focused on those caught up in conflicts. Jumpei Yasuda, 44, was kidnapped in Syria the same day he entered the country in June 2015, sparking a lengthy ordeal that he described as “hell”. The freelance journalist has faced harsh criticism in some quarters of Japan for venturing into an active warzone. But he defended himself yesterday during his first press conference in Japan since his release last month. “When there are things like a violent conflict happening somewhere on earth, there is absolutely a need for journalists who will go there and see what is happening,” he said. “You need information from third parties, not just information from governments.” Syria’s grinding civil war has cost over 360,000 lives since it broke out in 2011 and quickly became hugely dangerous for reporters with dozens kidnapped, some of them murdered by their captors. Yasuda, who had previously reported from Syria’s frontlines, said he was not sure whether he would return to the country or cover future warzones. But he said he hoped his high-profile case would draw attention to Syria’s civil war. “I hope people will become interested in what’s happening there (in Syria) and what will happen in the future,” he said. Yasuda said he was kidnapped as he crossed into Syria from Turkey along a smuggling route by a group of men who pretended they were there to help him enter the country. “It was my basic mistake. An unimaginable mistake,” he said. He said he was transferred multiple times during his ordeal, adding his treatment ranged from tolerable to torturous. He described being beaten, prevented from moving or making any sound for days on end and being kept in complete isolation. He even converted to Islam so his captors would let him pray, giving him a rare chance to move around, he said. But at other stages of his captivity, conditions improved and he was allowed to watch television, keep a journal and was assured he would not be killed. When he was first kidnapped, there was speculation he was in the hands of the group formerly known as Al Nusra Front, a former Al Qaeda affiliate. But he said the interactions he observed between his captors and Al Nusra members suggested he was not in the hands of the group. Al Nusra’s current iteration, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, denied any involvement in his kidnapping in a statement after Yasuda’s release. Yasuda returned home on October 25 after the surprise announcement of his release. There were reports a ransom had been paid for his freedom, in keeping with other hostages freed from Syria. Japan’s government has denied that, though Yasuda said his captors told him Tokyo appeared willing to pay to free him. Other Japanese journalists have not been so fortunate. In 2015, militants from the Islamic State group beheaded war correspondent Kenji Goto and his friend Haruna Yukawa in Syria. The Japanese government was criticised for what detractors saw as its flat-footed response to the crisis at the time, including apparently missed opportunities to free both men. Yasuda also struck a contrite note, apologising both to Japan’s government and his family for the hardship his ordeal put them through.
A Japanese journalist freed from Syria this week arrived home to overjoyed relatives and supporters, but also to vitriol from some who accuse him and other hostages of reckless behaviour. Jumpei Yasuda was kidnapped in Syria in 2015, and spent more than three years in conditions he described as “hell.” He arrived back in Japan on Thursday night, greeted by his delighted wife and parents, who had brought him homemade Japanese food to celebrate. But even before Yasuda set foot on Japanese soil, he was the target of angry criticism — mostly online — ranging from accusations of recklessness to claims that he was not even Japanese. “He is disturbing society,” wrote one Twitter user. “He’s an anti-citizen,” charged another. Perhaps anticipating the criticism, Yasuda’s only statement upon arrival, read to reporters by his wife Myu, was dominated by an apology. “I apologise for causing such trouble and worry, but thanks to all of you, I was able to come home safely,” he said. The anger directed at Yasuda — author of books on the conflicts in Syria and Iraq, whose reporting has appeared on Japanese television — is a far cry from the reception that journalism held hostage have received in other countries upon their release. When four French journalists held by the Islamic State terror group in Syria were released, then-French president Francois Hollande met the men as they arrived home. But in Japan, freed hostages have often met a mixed reception, with critics suggesting victims were responsible for getting themselves kidnapped. “They are the victims, they haven’t broken the law, but they have to apologise. It’s strange, but it’s the mentality of a part of Japanese society,” said Toshiro Terada, a professor of philosophy at Sophia University in Tokyo. “The person is accused of having harmed society.” In one of the more shocking examples of the reaction, three Japanese men held hostage in Iraq and freed in 2004 arrived home to find people at the airport holding up banners reading “It’s your fault.” Their kidnappers had threatened to burn them alive if Tokyo failed to withdraw non-combat troops stationed in southern Iraq. But then-prime minister Junichiro Koizumi refused the demands, and even declined to meet with the families of the hostages, a hardline position that was applauded in some quarters of Japanese society. The government itself, supported by right-wing media, described the men as “irresponsible youths” for having ignored warnings to avoid travel to Iraq, then an active war zone. One of the men, Noriaki Imai, said recently he received letters saying “die” or calling him “stupid.” “Online, the bashing lasted 10 years,” he said. Yasuda has faced similar criticism for venturing to Syria, a country where several Japanese citizens were kidnapped and eventually executed. Compounding the antagonism is the fact that Yasuda was kidnapped once before, in Iraq in 2004, prompting some to describe him as a “professional hostage.” And detractors have claimed Yasuda is not even Japanese, partly as the result of a bizarre hostage video showing him and another captive in Syria that emerged in August. Despite speaking Japanese, he identified himself as a South Korean called “Omar”, apparently after his kidnappers banned him from revealing his identity or nationality. “This guy isn’t even Japanese,” wrote one Twitter user. “He should go back to his country, South Korea,” added another. A string of kidnappings of journalists in Syria at the height of the country’s war exposed differences in how governments and public responded. Some governments paid ransoms, while others refused, and while countries celebrated their journalists as heroes, others quietly criticised them for taking unnecessary risks. In Japan, mainstream media outlets and officials have largely avoided criticising Yasuda and other hostages, but the antipathy expressed online concerns journalists like Toru Tamakawa, a commentator for TV Asahi. “In the case of Yasuda particularly, the argument that ‘it’s his fault’ must be firmly rejected,” he said this week. “We need people who will risk their lives to go and get information on the ground.”
Japan’s Shinzo Abe and his Chinese counterpart Li Keqiang yesterday commemorated the 40th anniversary of a friendship treaty, at the start of a rare trip to Beijing by the Japanese prime minister, who is seeking to repair frayed relations. Abe’s visit is part of a painstaking courtship aimed at winning over the world’s second economy after a disastrous falling-out in 2012, when Tokyo “nationalised” disputed islands claimed by Beijing. Slowly defrosting relations have warmed rapidly in recent months as the two countries face down huge tariffs from US President Donald Trump, who is set on reducing American trade deficits with both countries. Looking to hedge against the US leader, Abe and Chinese President Xi Jinping are expected to discuss how to improve economic cooperation between the world’s second and third largest economies when they meet today. Japanese business is eager for increased access to China’s massive market, while Beijing is interested in Japanese technology and corporate know-how. During a reception to celebrate the signing of the treaty that put Japanese and Chinese relations back on track after World War II, Li called for the countries to “jointly promote regional peace” and “safeguard multilateralism and free trade,” according to state broadcaster CCTV. “Japan and China play an irreplaceable role in the economic development of Asia and even the world,” Abe said, according to CCTV, calling on both sides to work together to “promote world peace and prosperity.” Abe’s visit is the first by a Japanese prime minister since 2011. Since an awkward 2014 encounter between Abe and Xi on the sidelines of a summit, there have been ministerial visits by both sides and a softening of rhetoric. “Our two countries have been making continuous efforts to improve relations,” Abe said before flying to Beijing, expressing his hope that the visit would “lift bilateral relations to a new level.” Abe and Xi are likely to focus on a range of potential deals, including joint investments in infrastructure in regional nations including Indonesia and the Philippines. Abe said they also planned to discuss North Korea and territorial frictions — calling to make “the East China Sea a sea of peace, friendship and cooperation.” The Japanese leader, who leaves China tomorrow, will also hold additional talks with Li. Just days before Abe’s trip, Tokyo lodged an official complaint after Chinese ships cruised around the disputed islands that Tokyo calls the Senkaku and Beijing labels the Diaoyu islands. Abe’s three-day trip sets up the possibility that Xi will visit Japan next year. China has long denounced Japan for what it says is an insufficiently contrite attitude towards its role in World War II. But ahead of the trip, Beijing has taken a more cordial stance than it has in the past. Japanese media have reported Abe is hoping the visit will produce a soft power win in the form of some panda diplomacy, with zoos in Sendai and Kobe apparently angling for new additions.
The world’s longest sea bridge connecting Hong Kong, Macau and mainland China opened to traffic yesterday, with excited travellers making their first journeys along what has been described as a politically-driven and costly white elephant. Passengers and tour groups gathered at Hong Kong’s cross-border coach terminus and bus operators gave away Chinese pastries and roasted meat to passengers. “I wanted to try this and see if it’s convenient. I’ll be checking out the view too, after all this is a historic engineering project,” said Angie Cheng, 58, who was taking the second bus of the day out to Macau. The 55km (34-mile) crossing links Hong Kong with the southern mainland city of Zhuhai and the gambling enclave of Macau, across the waters of the Pearl River Estuary. Supporters have hailed it as an engineering triumph but detractors say it is a politically driven and costly white elephant that is part of an attempt by Beijing to integrate semi-autonomous Hong Kong into the mainland. It is the second major infrastructure project tying Hong Kong to mainland China to open within weeks – a high-speed rail link began operations last month sparking criticism Hong Kong was giving away territory with part of the terminus under mainland jurisdiction. With a sweeping view of the ocean, mountains and rocky islets, the bridge was partly shrouded in haze yesterday when AFP took an early bus to Macau, but passengers still recorded the whole trip on smartphones. Traffic was light after criticism from some legislators and residents that public access to the bridge is too limited. “Every big infrastructure has a relatively low volume of passenger and traffic flow in the initial period. It takes time to build up,” secretary for transport and housing Frank Chan told reporters. Only 10,000 licences have been granted to Hong Kong residents to drive private cars to Zhuhai if they meet highly selective criteria, including holding certain mainland government positions or making major contributions to charities in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong. Most people will need to go by bus. Travellers go through immigration and customs points at both ends of the bridge. Chan did not say how many Hong Kong residents were to travel the bridge yesterday but estimated 30,000 mainland Chinese visitors would make the crossing into Hong Kong on the inaugural day. The government had previously said the bridge would attract 29,000 vehicles daily by 2030.
The Japanese government yesterday confirmed that a journalist kidnapped in Syria more than three years ago has been freed and is in Turkey. “We have confirmed the safety of Jumpei Yasuda, who had been held captive in Syria since 2015,” Foreign Minister Taro Kono told reporters. “He appears to be in good health... We’re very glad he’s safe.” Japanese officials said late Tuesday they were trying to confirm reports that the 44-year-old freelancer, who was seized in June 2015, had been freed. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told reporters he had called Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Qatari Amir His Highness Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani to thank them for their support. Embassy officials visited Yasuda at an immigration centre in Antakya in Turkey, and he is expected to return to Japan soon, after health checks. “I’ve been held in Syria for 40 months, now in Turkey,” Yasuda said in English in a video filmed at the immigration centre, which was shown on public broadcaster NHK. Yasuda who wore a black T-shirt and had long beard spoke in a steady manner. Yasuda’s wife Myu was appearing live on private station TV Asahi when Kono announced the news. “Thank you... Thank you for praying for him and taking action,” she said in tears. “I want to see him in good shape. That’s all I want,” Yasuda’s father had told reporters earlier in the day. “I don’t know how he is now, but I want to tell him he kept his chin up,” he added. Yasuda was thought to have been seized by the group previously known as the Al-Nusra Front, a former Al Qaeda affiliate, in northern Syria. However, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, led by Al Qaeda’s former branch in Syria, denied any involvement in a statement Tuesday. Al Qaeda’s former Syria affiliate was known as Al-Nusra Front before it cut ties with the transnational jihadist network in 2016 and changed its name. In August, videos emerged showing Yasuda and an Italian national, Alessandro Sandrini, appealing for their release. Both men were wearing orange outfits with armed, masked men standing behind them. The videos did not identify which group was holding the men or include specific demands. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based war monitor, said on Tuesday that Yasuda was released under a Turkish-Qatari deal, with some sources saying a ransom had been paid. But Japan’s top government spokesman denied yesterday any payment was involved. “That kind of thing never happened,” Yoshihide Suga told reporters. In 2015, militants from the Islamic State group beheaded Japanese war correspondent Kenji Goto and his friend Haruna Yukawa in Syria. The Japanese government was criticised for what detractors saw as its flat-footed response to the crisis at the time, including apparently missed opportunities to free both men.
A crop once deemed so important it served as a form of currency, Japanese rice has fallen out of favour with younger, westernised consumers, in a shift that has left ageing farmers struggling for survival. Rice consumption has nearly halved over the past 50 years, and as the older generation of farmers and consumers dies out, some fear the industry will be unable to hold its own in a competitive global market. Kazuo Ogura, a 66-year-old farmer, is one of the lucky ones. His son Yuichi decided to follow him into the family business. Ogura senior looks on proudly as his 38-year-old son uses a specially designed machine to plant this year’s harvest, splashing through golden paddy fields that stretch as far as the eye can see. Surviving in this tough environment is all about “producing quality food at a reasonable price” and harnessing economies provided by large-scale production, Ogura said. The future of his establishment in Kazo, some 50km (30 miles) north of Tokyo, looks assured as Yuichi follows in his muddy footsteps but farms all over Japan are dying as farmers age – the average age of a rice farmer is now 67. “I was the only one out of 220 students at my local school who went into farming,” Yuichi said, adding, “There are not many people in their twenties who go into farming.” Even existing farms have been forced to close when their machinery breaks down because farmers cannot afford to replace the costly equipment. “Machines get more expensive every year. To replace them requires a certain level of profit but that’s difficult when you are farming a small plot,” Yuichi said. The Oguras have managed to stay competitive so far by joining forces with two other families to farm around 100 hectares of rice fields – nearly 100 times the size of the average plot. They sell their rice – which belongs to the leading Koshihikari variety – at 300 yen ($2.66) per kg. Although rice consumption in Japan has been falling for more than half a century, the crop’s exalted status in Japanese culture – where it even serves a religious purpose in Shinto rituals – has ensured its survival until now. Generous subsidies aimed at controlling supplies and prices have made rice farming one of Japan’s most protected industries, but Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government scrapped the policy this year, urging farmers to become more competitive. Japanese agriculture is “at a turning point”, Ken Saito, who was farm minister until a reshuffle this month, told reporters. “Farmers have to think about producing food that sells. More than ever, they have to be attuned to the market,” he added. And as Abe prepares for potential trade negotiations with US President Donald Trump, analysts say he may have to concede some ground on agriculture – which could include Japan’s customary high tariffs on imported rice – in order to avoid getting whacked with US duties on automobiles and other key exports. But even a surge in cheaper imported varieties of rice is unlikely to shift the palates of Japanese consumers, who generally prefer their home-grown, short-grain variety to foreign versions. Fewer Japanese people are eating rice in general, with annual per capita consumption dropping to 54.6kg (120 pounds) in 2015, less than half of its 1963 peak of 118.3kg, according to the farm ministry. Mitsuyoshi Ando, an agriculture expert at the University of Tokyo, said there was “no bright future” for the industry. “Rice farmers need to improve their competitiveness. Large-scale production is also necessary,” Ando told AFP. But it is difficult to achieve economies of scale in mountainous areas - where 40% of farming takes place – because of geographical limitations preventing farmers from expanding their plots, he added.
* Japan hopes to rally G20 members to counter Trump * Tokyo feels focusing too much on trade balances won't work * G20 must debate global imbalances next year: finmin Aso * US wants provision on FX manipulation in deal with Japan Japan wants to highlight global imbalances as key topics of debate, and take steps to fix them, when it chairs next year's gatherings of the Group of 20 major economies, government officials said this week. Tokyo hopes other countries would join Japan to counter US President Donald Trump's focus on narrowing US trade deficits through purely bilateral trade deals, the officials say, rather than the big international agreements now in place. The annual International Monetary Fund and World Bank meetings have been held on the Indonesian resort island of Bali this week. Japan's agenda-setting plan also underscores Tokyo's view that instead of focusing too much on bilateral trade imbalances, there should be more emphasis on overall capital flows and structural factors behind the US current account deficit - such as a lack of domestic savings. Japanese Finance Minister Taro Aso said he made the case to his G20 colleagues at a dinner meeting on Thursday. ‘I've told my counterparts that excessive global imbalances are risks to the global economy ... and that it's important to discuss this at next year's G20 meetings,’ Aso told reporters. Trump's ‘America First’ policies and escalating Sino-Chinese trade frictions have overshadowed the weekend gathering of G20 finance leaders, many of whom expressed concerns over the harm to global growth from trade conflicts. The G20 finance leaders failed to bridge differences on trade with this year's chair, Argentine Treasury Minister Nicolas Dujovne, conceding that the G20 can only provide a platform for countries to solve disputes among themselves. Japan, which takes over from Argentina as G20 chair next year, sees brighter prospects for the forum. ‘The G20 isn't a forum to solve bilateral trade disputes...but it's the best forum for debate if you see trade frictions as part of a bigger problem of global imbalances,’ said a senior Japanese government official directly involved in G20 negotiations. Global imbalances had once been a key topic of debate at G20 gatherings with a focus on each country's current account balance, or the overall flow of money that included, but was not confined, to trade. This approach runs counter to Trump's focus on narrowing the US trade deficit via import tariffs and bilateral deals. Japan has long favoured a mulilateral approach on trade over bilateral deals, which would put it under direct US pressure to open up sensitive markets like agriculture. Tokyo is also wary of having its hands tied on keeping sharp yen rises in check. A strong yen is seen as hurting Japan's economy by making its exports less competitive overseas. US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said on Saturday Washington would like to include a provision to deter currency manipulation in future trade deals, including with Japan. Japanese policymakers concede that convincing the Trump administration to shift its emphasis away from bilateral US trade deficits and to focus on structural policies could be difficult. ‘It may be a hard sell,’ the official said. ‘But we can't give up.’
A white tiger attacked and killed a zookeeper in its enclosure in southern Japan but the animal will be kept alive at the request of the victim's family, officials said Tuesday. "A zookeeper was found collapsed in a cage, bleeding," a local police official told AFP, adding the man was taken to hospital where he was pronounced dead. The attack happened late Monday at the Hirakawa Zoological Park in the southern city of Kagoshima. Akira Furusho, 40, was discovered bleeding from the neck and officials believe he was mauled by one of the zoo's four rare white tigers, zoo officials said. The zoo said the five-year-old male tiger, named Riku, was sedated with a tranquiliser gun after the attack, as rescue workers and police rushed to the scene. "We plan not to kill Riku and continue to keep it because the bereaved family asked us to do so," said Takuro Nagasako, a zoo official. While the zoo was open as normal on Tuesday, the white tiger observation zone was restricted "as police continued to investigate the case," Nagasako told AFP. Riku - about 1.8 metres in length and weighing some 170 kilogrammes - was born at the zoo with two other white tigers. Tiger attacks are extremely rare in Japan, with the last one dating back to 2008, when a Siberian tiger mauled to death a zookeeper who had been trying to encourage the animal to mate. In 1997, a Japanese couple were killed when they were attacked by tigers at a safari park in central Japan.
Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen has taken a defiant stance following a European Union announcement last week that it would ramp up trade pressure on Cambodia over human rights concerns. The European Union (EU) told Cambodia on Friday it will lose its special access to the world’s largest trading bloc, and said it was considering similar trade sanctions for Myanmar, adding that it was ready to punish human rights abuses in both countries. The EU warned that it had launched a six-month review of Cambodia’s duty-free access to the EU, meaning garments, sugar and other exports could face tariffs within 12 months. Speaking to Cambodian students on Sunday as part of a trip to Japan to attend a regional meeting, Hun Sen said Cambodia must defend its sovereignty. Hun Sen has held power for three decades. “No matter what measures they want to take against Cambodia, in whatever way, Cambodia must be strong in its defence of its sovereignty,” Hun Sen said during a speech to students in Tokyo shared on his Facebook page on Sunday. “I say it again and again: don’t exchange national sovereignty with aid, don’t exchange the peace of the country with aid,” he said. He did not specifically comment on how the removal of trade priviledges could impact exports. The EU warned Cambodia in July that it could lose its special trade status after a general election that month returned Prime Minister Hun Sen to power. Rights groups said the election was not fair because of the lack of a credible opposition, among other reasons. The main opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) was dissolved by the country’s Supreme Court at the government’s request last year and did not take part in the election. Many CNRP leaders have fled abroad and are in living in self-imposed exile. Cambodia’s exports to the European Union were worth 5bin euros ($5.8bn) last year, according to EU data, up from negligible levels less than a decade ago. Cambodia’s textile, garments and footwear industry are vital to its economy. Around 40% of its GDP comes from garment exports. The garments sector employs more than 800,000 workers. The EU and US are the country’s primary markets for exports, according to the International Labour Organisation (ILO). Reuters was unable to reach three workers’ unions for reaction yesterday. A government spokesman, Phay Siphan, was also unavailable to comment. Cambodia is marking a national holiday for three days which started yesterday with many offices closed.
For decades, Tokyo’s Tsukiji market has been the beating heart of a world-class culinary capital, supplying Michelin-starred chefs and drawing tourists who queue for hours to glimpse pre-dawn tuna auctions. But this week it will finally shut its doors and relocate from its dilapidated but central location to a new site in eastern Tokyo, after a lengthy and controversial process, hindered by pollution rows and construction delays. Traders will sell their last wares at Tsukiji’s inner market tomorrow, shutting up shop after one final tuna auction. The mammoth move will begin the following day, with vendors expected to file out of the market in a mass exodus to the new site, where operations start on October 11. The relocation has been in the works for decades, driven in part by the rundown quarters where vendors sell 480 different types of seafood worth $14mn each day. This summer, a heatwave virtually overwhelmed the market’s outdated air conditioning, forcing wholesalers to keep pricey produce in cool trucks until moments before auction. The market’s new location in Toyosu promises state-of-the-art facilities. Special doors will help keep halls cool and sterile, while gawping tourists will be confined to a viewing gallery behind glass. For some vendors, the changes will be a welcome improvement from conditions at Tsukiji, where throngs of visitors interfering with the actual business of the market have irked wholesalers. But the move also has its detractors, with concerns about everything from Toyosu’s location, far from clients, to pollution at the new site. Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike, who has championed the move, has been forced to repeatedly defend Toyosu after the discovery of soil contamination on the site, formerly home to a gas plant. Officials say the pollution has been remedied but not everyone is convinced. In the weeks before the move, hundreds of protestors demonstrated against the relocation, and legal challenges have been filed. “The new site at Toyosu is not suitable for wholesalers. There are going to be a lot of problems,” said lawyer Kenji Utsunomiya. Asunaro Suetake, another protestor, said it was “strange to move the world’s biggest fish market to a polluted site, especially when the majority of fishmongers are opposed”. Opened in 1935, Tsukiji is walking distance from the swanky Ginza district where some of Tokyo’s most famed restaurants are located. The proximity has created a close relationship between vendors and fiercely exacting chefs seeking top quality products for restaurants sometimes boasting multiple Michelin stars. Fishmongers fear they may lose clients with the move to the less accessible new site. The relocation will also be something of a blow to tourists, who often lined up for hours to secure one of just 120 spots to view Tsukiji’s pre-dawn tuna auction. Each New Year’s Day, high-profile buyers vied to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for the top tuna at the first auction of the year. At Tsukiji’s last New Year’s sale, one buyer put down $320,000, still far short of the record $1.8mn paid for a bluefin in 2013. The so-called outer market at Tsukiji — brick-and-mortar shops selling everything from seaweed to coffee — will remain after the move. But the warehouses that housed vendors and additional shops and restaurants are expected to be levelled to make way, initially, for a transport depot for the 2020 Olympic Games. Beyond that, the site’s future is more uncertain, though Koike has suggested it could be transformed into a kind of culinary theme park, commemorating the market’s colourful history. Yukari Sakamoto, author of Food Sake Tokyo, who has run tours of Tsukiji for over 10 years, said problems with the new site had left vendors frustrated. “They all agree that the current site needs to be upgraded. But...they should have rebuilt on the current location,” she told AFP. With the move just days away, “you do feel that sadness” in the market, she said. “You’re thinking ‘oh wow, this is the end of an era’. It’s just so disappointing that it’s not ending on a positive note.”
* PM Abe retains close allies in key posts * Former economy minister Amari gets party post * Abe expected to push for constitution reform * Abe appoints one minister from rival's faction Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe kept key ministers in their posts in a cabinet reshuffle on Tuesday, including finance, trade and foreign affairs, while appointing just one woman to the new lineup. Abe, who has made female empowerment a high-profile policy, tapped Satsuki Katayama, a conservative lawmaker and former finance official, as minister of regional revitalisation and gender equality, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said in announcing the cabinet. Abe, who returned to office in December 2012 after a troubled 2006-2007 term as premier, was re-elected leader of his Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) last month, putting him on track to become Japan's longest-serving prime minister. The reshuffle focused on stability as Abe prepares to push ahead with his controversial attempt to revise the post-war pacifist constitution, political experts said. His allies Suga and Finance Minister Taro Aso were reappointed, as were Trade and Industry Minister Hiroshige Seko, Foreign Minister Taro Kono, and Economy Minister Toshimitsu Motegi, who handled tough trade talks with Washington. ‘He's appointed old friends and reliable allies and kept people in key portfolios to buy stability,’ said Jeffrey Kingston, director of Asian studies at Temple University's Japan campus. Kingston said the appointment of just one female minister in a 19-member cabinet ‘exposes the empty grandstanding on 'Womenomics'‘. The previous cabinet had two female members. Abe acknowledged that Japan lagged other nations in the number of women in its cabinet posts. ‘We must recognise that the ratio of women cabinet ministers is low compared to other countries, but Japan has just begun to create a society where women can be more active,’ he told a news conference. ‘I think we will steadily nurture people who can become cabinet ministers.’ Abe appointed one lawmaker - Justice Minister Takashi Yamashita - from the LDP faction led by former defence minister Shigeru Ishiba, whom he defeated in the LDP leadership race. Abe chose Takeshi Iwaya, a former parliamentary vice defence minister, to replace Itsunori Onodera as defence minister. Iwaya was known recently for backing Japan's legalisation of casinos. Close ally Akira Amari, a former economics minister who resigned to take responsibility for a funding scandal in 2016, was appointed LDP executive for election strategy ahead of critical upper house elections next year, party officials said. But his immediate challenges are to manage fractious trade ties with Washington and keep an economic recovery on track. Abe will order his new ministers to compile an extra budget, he told the news conference, adding that he wanted Aso to do his best for Japan to make a full exit from deflation. Last week, Abe and US President Donald Trump agreed to open new talks on a two-way trade pact to keep Washington from raising tariffs on Japanese car exports for now, though Trump could revive the threat if progress is slow.
Japan’s largest warship, the Kaga helicopter carrier, sailed into Sri Lanka’s Colombo harbour this weekend, marking Tokyo’s highest profile salvo in a diplomatic battle with China for influence along the region’s vital commercial sea lanes. Japan has long provided low-interest loans and aid to Sri Lanka, helping it transform Colombo into a major trans-shipment port tapping the artery of global trade just south of the island that links Europe and the Middle East with Asia. Japan’s military diplomacy is flourishing under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. “Japan’s government is promoting a free and open Indo-Pacific and this deployment in the Asia Pacific is a component of that strategy,” Rear Admiral Tatsuya Fukuda, the commander of the Kaga and its destroyer escort, said in his cabin as the carrier steamed for Colombo through the Indian Ocean. “Maritime security and stability is of critical importance” to an island nation like Japan, he added. On its way to Sri Lanka, the 248m (814ft) ship carried out naval drills in the Philippines and Indonesia. It also drilled with a British Navy frigate before docking in Colombo on Sunday with 500 sailors and four submarine hunting helicopters aboard. As part of the goodwill visit, the Kaga’s crew also brought packets of colourful origami paper, crafting flowers for local children who came to tour the ship soon after it docked. The visit was intended to reassure Sri Lanka of Japan’s willingness and capability to dispatch its most powerful military assets to a region. “Sri Lanka, as a hub in the Indian Ocean, and upholding its commitment to a free and open Indian Ocean, welcomes naval vessels from all our partner nations, to interact with Sri Lanka’s Navy,” said Sri Lankan foreign ministry spokeswoman Mahishini Colonne. “Several navy vessels from our partner countries have visited Sri Lanka this year already and the ship from Japan, a close bilateral partner, is welcomed in the same spirit.” “Sri Lanka is a key country within the region and a core part of Japan’s open and free Indo-Pacific strategy. A monopoly by any country at a Sri Lankan port would run counter to that,” a foreign ministry official told Reuters, asking not to be identified because he is not authorised to talk to the media. In March, Sri Lanka’s President Maithripala Sirisena visited Tokyo for talks with Abe, who despite being constrained by a constitution that forbids the use of force overseas, has sought a greater role for his military in the region. Such naval forays are a recent change that for some veteran sailors on the Kaga was unexpected. “When I joined, we would sail out for the day and train from morning till night. I never imagined that we would be deployed on actual missions like this,” said Command Master Chief, Yasuhara Tohno, a 35 year navy veteran. The Kaga is half-way through a two-month deployment that will see it visit India next. In the last five years, Japanese naval vessels have stopped in Sri Lanka 50 times. But the Kaga’s new role as a big stick of Japanese diplomacy is for some influential military experts in Japan foolhardy because it means deploying ships away from where they are needed more. “I am strongly against it,” said Yoji Koda, a retired admiral who is now a fellow at the Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies at Harvard. “Our navy was tasked to kill submarines in the Western Pacific and guarantee the safety of US naval forces. That is enough, we can’t do anymore things.” Japan has one of the biggest and most advanced navies in the world with more than 40 destroyers, four helicopter carriers and around 20 submarines. “We undertake far more missions than we did in the past. That means we are stretched in some areas but it is our job to complete the job with the equipment we have,” said Fukuda, Kaga’s commander.
A powerful typhoon sliced through Japan yesterday, injuring dozens, halting transport, and bringing fierce winds and torrential rain to areas already battered by a string of recent extreme weather episodes. Typhoon Trami sparked travel disruption in the world’s third-biggest economy, with bullet train services suspended, more than 1,000 flights cancelled and Tokyo’s evening train services scrapped. At least 84 people suffered minor injuries, many hurt by windows shattered in the driving wind, and one woman in her 60s was reported missing amid fears she was swept into a gutter. After pummelling Japan’s outlying islands including Okinawa, the storm made landfall south of the city of Osaka in the western part of the country around 8pm local time. Yuji Ueno, an official in the town of Shirahama near where Trami made landfall, told AFP the winds were “enormous” and made it impossible to venture outside. “We saw incredible winds and rain. I stepped outside the city hall in the afternoon, and the rain was swirling in very strong wind. Enormous wind.” “It was difficult to stay standing. It was very scary,” said Ueno. Trami, which at its height packed maximum gusts of 216km per hour, was expected to churn over most of the archipelago, weakening slightly but causing extreme weather into Monday, forecasters said. Weather officials have warned of potential flooding and landslides and non-compulsory evacuation advisories have been issued to around 4mn residents, according to public broadcaster NHK. More than 750,000 households, mainly in western Japan have lost power, according to local utilities and mobile phone services suffered disruption. As the typhoon barrelled east, rail authorities took the highly unusual step of cancelling evening train services in Tokyo, one of the world’s busiest networks, urging passengers to shelter indoors when the storm hits. The typhoon did not hit the capital head-on but Tokyo still saw fearsome winds and lashing rain later Sunday and the streets of one of the world’s biggest cities were deserted. At the world-famous crossing in Shibuya, where thousands normally jostle every few minutes as the lights change, just a few hardy souls braved the horizontal rain and powerful gusts. Shops and business closed early as the capital hunkered down for the storm. Trami is the latest in a string of extreme natural events in Japan, which has suffered typhoons, flooding, earthquakes and heatwaves in recent months, claiming scores of lives and causing extensive damage. Osaka lay close to the path of the storm and its Kansai Airport, which is situated on reclaimed land offshore and suffered extensive damage in a storm earlier in September, closed early as a precaution. Officials piled up sandbags to avoid a repeat of flooding seen during the previous storm. Speaking to AFP from a hotel near the airport, British businessman Richard Swart said: “It’s actually quite warm outside, very windy and with very heavy rain.” “The airport is closed. There are very few people around and all the shops are shut. It’s really deserted,” added Swart, 56, from Durham in northern England. Even from the safety of the hotel, he said he could hear the wind “howling” outside.
A powerful typhoon hurtled toward Japan's mainland Sunday after injuring dozens on southern islands, as weather officials warned that fierce winds and torrential rain could trigger landslides and floods. Typhoon Trami has already disrupted travel in the world's third-biggest economy, with bullet train services in the west of Japan suspended, more than 1,000 flights cancelled due to the closure of a key airport and Tokyo's evening train services scrapped. The storm is forecast to smash into the mainland near the city of Osaka shortly after 6pm (0900 GMT) and churn across the Japanese archipelago, likely hitting areas still recovering from extreme weather that has battered Japan in recent months. Trami tore through the southern island of Okinawa on Saturday, bringing winds strong enough to flip over cars. Several houses were flooded or damaged and 46 people on the island sustained minor injuries but no one was feared dead, local officials said. Nationwide, authorities have issued non-compulsory evacuation advisories to 1.5 million residents, according to public broadcaster NHK. Nearly 500,000 households in Kyushu and Okinawa have lost power, local utilities said. As the typhoon barrelled east, rail authorities took the highly unusual step of cancelling evening train services in Tokyo, one of the world's busiest networks, urging passengers to shelter indoors when the storm hits. The typhoon is not expected to hit the capital head-on but strong winds and heavy rain are still feared from later Sunday. Some businesses were already putting up shutters and hunkering down. Trami is the latest in a string of extreme natural events in Japan, which has suffered typhoons, flooding, earthquakes and heatwaves in recent months, claiming scores of lives and causing extensive damage. Packing maximum gusts of 216 kilometres (134 miles) per hour, Trami was expected to travel over most of the archipelago, weakening slightly but causing extreme weather into Monday, forecasters said. Still classed as a ‘very strong’ typhoon, Trami pounded Kagoshima on the western tip of Japan early Sunday, causing 10 minor injuries -- such as cuts from broken windows and people knocked over by gusts. ‘We are strongly urging our residents to stay indoors because it is extremely dangerous to be outside now,’ Masaaki Tamaki, an official of Kagoshima's disaster management section, told AFP. - 'Bang, bang' - The Japanese meteorological agency warned the typhoon would bring strong winds and downpours, which could trigger landslides and floods as well as lightning strikes and tornados across the nation. Violent gusts swept away roof tiles on some houses in the western city of Kochi. ‘There was a big 'bang, bang'. That woke me up,’ an elderly man in Kochi told national broadcaster NHK. Cities in the expected path of the typhoon were already taking precautions. East Japan Railway announced that it would gradually suspend train services in and around Tokyo and end all trains around 8pm, shortly before the typhoon was to draw near the Japanese capital. ‘Shinkansen’ bullet train services, particularly those in western areas, also reduced or cancelled their services. Osaka's Kansai Airport, which is situated on reclaimed land offshore and suffered extensive damage in a storm earlier in September, closed two runways. Officials piled up sandbags to avoid a repeat of flooding seen during the previous storm. Some western regions are still recovering from the most powerful typhoon to strike the country in a quarter of a century in early September. Typhoon Jebi claimed 11 lives and shut down Kansai, the main regional airport. Deadly record rainfall hit western Japan earlier this year and the country sweltered through one of the hottest summers on record. Also in September a magnitude-6.6 earthquake rocked the northern island of Hokkaido, sparking landslides and leaving more than 40 people dead.
A powerful typhoon pummelled Japan's southern island of Okinawa Saturday, injuring at least nine, as weather officials warned the storm would rip through the Japanese archipelago over the weekend. Typhoon Trami, packing maximum gusts of 216 kilometres (134 miles) per hour near its centre, was forecast to hit the mainland early Sunday and cause extreme weather across the country into Monday. Television footage showed branches ripped from trees by strong winds blocking a main street in Naha, with massive waves splashing on breakwaters on a remote island in the region and torrential horizontal rain. Local policemen in rain jackets armed with chainsaws were battling the furious wind to remove fallen trees. Some 600 people evacuated to shelters in Okinawa and electricity was cut to nearly 200,000 homes, public broadcaster NHK said. At least 386 flights were cancelled mainly in western Japan, according to public broadcaster NHK. Nine people suffered minor injuries in storm-related accidents in Okinawa, but no one was feared dead, local officials said. ‘The number may rise further as we are in the middle of sorting out figures,’ said Masatsune Miyazato, an official at the island's disaster-management office. ‘People in Okinawa are used to typhoons but we are strongly urging them to stay vigilant,’ he told AFP. The weather agency warned people across Japan to be on alert for strong winds, high waves, heavy rain. ‘The typhoon is feared to bring record rainfalls and violent winds over large areas,’ agency official Yasushi Kajiwara told reporters. ‘Please stay on alert, evacuate early and ensure your safety,’ the official said. After raking the outlying islands, the typhoon is forecast to pick up speed and approach western Japan on Sunday, ‘with a very strong force,’ as it barrels over the mainland, he added. There have already been heavy downpours in large areas of western and eastern Japan, including the capital, as the storm spurred a seasonal rain front. Fishermen in Kagoshima bay, where the typhoon is expected to make landfall, were already making preparations, tying down their boats as Trami approached -- even as forecasters warned that another typhoon was following in Trami's course. Angler Masakazu Hirase told AFP: ‘It's dreadful because we already know there's another typhoon after this one but you cannot compete with nature. We do what we can to limit the damage.’ If the forecast holds, it will be the latest in a series of extreme natural events to strike Japan. Western parts of Japan are still recovering from the most powerful typhoon to strike the country in a quarter of a century in early September. Typhoon Jebi claimed 11 lives and shut down Kansai Airport, the main regional airport. Officials at Kansai were already making preparations, placing sandbags and warning that they may be forced to close the airport. Deadly record rains also hit western Japan earlier this year and the country sweltered through one of the hottest summers on record. Also in September, a magnitude 6.6 earthquake rocked the northern island of Hokkaido, sparking landslides and leaving more than 40 people dead.
A pair of robot rovers have landed on an asteroid and begun a survey, Japan's space agency said Saturday, as it conducts a mission aiming to shed light on the origins of the solar system. The rover mission marks the world's first moving, robotic observation of an asteroid surface, according to the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). The round, cookie tin-shaped robots successfully reached the Ryugu asteroid a day after they were released from the Hayabusa2 probe, the agency said. ‘Each of the rovers is operating normally and has started surveying Ryugu's surface,’ JAXA said in a statement. Taking advantage of the asteroid's low gravity, the rovers will jump around on the surface -- soaring as high as 15 metres (49 feet) and staying in the air for as long as 15 minutes -- to survey the asteroid's physical features. ‘I am so proud that we have established a new method of space exploration for small celestial bodies,’ said JAXA project manager Yuichi Tsuda. The agency tried but failed in 2005 to land a rover on another asteroid in a similar mission. Hayabusa2 will next month deploy an ‘impactor’ that will explode above the asteroid, shooting a two-kilo (four-pound) copper object to blast a small crater into the surface. From this crater, the probe will collect ‘fresh’ materials unexposed to millennia of wind and radiation, hoping for answers to some fundamental questions about life and the universe, including whether elements from space helped give rise to life on Earth. The probe will also release a French-German landing vehicle named the Mobile Asteroid Surface Scout (MASCOT) for surface observation. Hayabusa2, about the size of a large fridge and equipped with solar panels, is the successor to JAXA's first asteroid explorer, Hayabusa -- Japanese for falcon. That probe returned from a smaller, potato-shaped, asteroid in 2010 with dust samples despite various setbacks during its epic seven-year odyssey and was hailed as a scientific triumph. The Hayabusa2 mission was launched in December 2014 and will return to Earth with its samples in 2020.
Shinzo Abe vowed yesterday to press on with revising Japan’s pacifist constitution after winning a historic third term as party head that set him on course to become the country’s longest-serving premier. The 63-year-old conservative secured 553 votes against 254 won by former defence minister Shigeru Ishiba, a hawkish self-confessed “military geek”, in a two-horse race for leader of the Liberal Democratic Party. “I will finally embark on constitutional revision, which has never been achieved in the 70 years since the end of the war, and start building a new nation as we look to the future,” Abe told reporters after his victory. He said his election had given him “strong support” to suggest changes to the text, which he would submit to parliament at the next session, expected to take place in the next few weeks. The election win hands Abe three more years as party leader, giving him the chance of breaking the record for the nation’s longest serving premiership held by Taro Katsura, a revered politician who served three times between 1901 and 1913. To loud cheers of “banzai” – the Japanese equivalent of “three cheers” – from party members, a grinning Abe said: “The battle is over. Let’s build a new Japan by joining hands and uniting.” Shinichi Nishikawa, professor of politics at Meiji University in Tokyo, told AFP that the vote was effectively a referendum on Abe’s record that he successfully negotiated. “But he can’t wholeheartedly welcome the result as he couldn’t win overwhelmingly.” Public support for Abe – a political thoroughbred whose grandfather and father both held power – has recovered after he managed to survive a series of cronyism and cover-up scandals. Reconfirmed in power, Abe will head to New York this weekend to attend the UN General Assembly and hold a summit with US President Donald Trump. Abe and Trump, who enjoy each other’s company on the golf course and are close diplomatic allies, are expected to analyse the latest inter-Korean summit as well as trade disputes between them. The premier said he would seek a face-to-face meeting with North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un to solve the sensitive issue of Japanese citizens kidnapped by Pyongyang in the 1970s. Nationalist Abe has frequently voiced his wish to rewrite the charter, imposed by the victorious US occupiers, which forces the country to “forever renounce war” and dictates that armed forces will “never be maintained”. Abe insists any changes would merely remove the country’s well-equipped Self-Defense Forces from the constitutional paradox whereby they should not technically exist. But any changes to the text would be hugely sensitive in pacifist Japan and almost certainly greeted with fury in China and the Koreas, 20th-century victims of Japanese military aggression. Even if Abe manages to force a revision through parliament, he would face a referendum, raising the prospect of a Brexit-style political meltdown if the people vote against him, said Yu Uchiyama, political scientist from the University of Tokyo. In addition, surveys show that tinkering with the legal text is far from top of most Japanese voters’ to-do list, as the country faces an ageing and declining population and a still-sluggish economy. Acknowledging concerns over the economic outlook, Abe said he plans to introduce “bold” stimulus measures to ease the expected impact of a tax hike scheduled for October next year. Japan’s economy has been expanding for the past few years at a slow pace thanks to the Bank of Japan’s ultra-loose monetary policy and huge government spending, which have led to a weak yen – a key positive element for Japanese exporters. But analysts warned US-led trade wars could be a major risk factor for an economy still struggling to win a long battle against deflation. Abe confirmed he plans to reshuffle his cabinet, reportedly on October 1. However, he is expected to retain Vice Prime Minister and Finance Minister Taro Aso, a political ally who has backed his “Abenomics” strategy to stimulate the world’s third-largest economy.
Bitcoin and other digital currency worth around 6.7bn yen ($60mn) has been stolen in Japan following a hacking attack, a virtual exchange operator said on Thursday. Osaka-based Tech Bureau, which operates virtual currency exchange Zaif, said its server had been illegally accessed and money transfered. "We decline to comment on the details of how this illegal access occurred, as it is a crime and we've already asked the authorities to investigate," Tech Bureau said in a statement. It added that the virtual currencies stolen were bitcoin, bitcoin cash and monacoin. "We will prepare measures so that customers' assets will not be affected" by the hack, it said, adding it would receive financial support from major shareholder Fisco Group. The current management team will step down after returning the lost assets to customers, Tech Bureau said. Japan's financial services agency on Thursday began on-site inspections into the company, Jiji Press reported. Japan is a major centre for virtual currencies and as many as 50,000 shops in the country are thought to accept bitcoin. Earlier this year, Japan-based exchange Coincheck suspended deposits and withdrawal for virtual currencies after it had been hacked, resulting in a loss worth half a billion US dollars of NEM, the 10th biggest cryptocurrency by market capitalisation. Japanese authorities later ordered two cryptocurrency exchanges to suspend operations as part of a clampdown following the hack.
Japan is racing to secure power supplies ahead of winter after a devastating quake left 41 people dead and damaged generating stations on the northern island of Hokkaido, where temperatures regularly drop well below zero in colder months. Although the government has eased an initial 20% power-savings target for residential and business customers on the island of 5.3mn, Japan’s trade and industry minister Hiroshige Seko has said power supplies on Hokkaido will remain tight and unspecified savings are still needed. Regional utility Hokkaido Electric Power is rushing to repair broken generators and bring on idle power plants, but those efforts will come up against the brutal reality of winter in Hokkaido, where temperatures can reach as low as -41C. Power demand on Hokkaido in winter is typically more than a third higher than in the warmer months before the quake. “The harsh reality is that we have to ask for power savings every winter in Hokkaido,” trade and industry minister Seko told reporters yesterday. Asked if he was confident there would be enough supply to cope with the rise in demand, Seko said it was too early to say. Temperatures in urban areas on the island are already dropping below 10C in early morning hours, while snow was recorded in the mountains of northern Hokkaido on August 17, the earliest snowfall since 1974, local press have reported. Sufficient power supplies for winter heating may depend on whether Hokkaido Electric can get its biggest coal-fired plant —Tomato-Atsuma — fully operational after the quake damaged all three generators at the station, Seko said. On Tuesday, Seko said his ministry will investigate Hokkaido Electric’s response to the quake, which left an island the size of Austria without power after Tomato-Atsuma was shut down. It was the nation’s worst outage since the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami that devastated northeastern Japan. Fully restarting the Tomato-Atsuma power station, will take more than a month, Seko said earlier this week. Hokkaido Electric engineers cannot inspect its No. 4 unit, the biggest, because it is still too hot after a fire broke out in its turbine, a company spokesman told Reuters by phone. Depending on the damage, repairing or replacing turbines can take weeks or months. To cover the shortage, the utility brought online by yesterday afternoon two hydro-electric units at its Kyogoku plant. By November, Hokkaido Electric says it also plans to restart three oil-fired units undergoing maintenance.