The number of centenarians in Japan grew 3 per cent from a year earlier, to a record 69,785, nearly 90 per cent of whom are women, the government said on Friday. The figure represented the 48th straight year of increase, the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare said in a report released three days before this year's Repect-for-the-Aged day public holiday. Japan had only 153 centenarians in 1963, when the ministry started a survey. The figure topped 1,000 in 1981, 10,000 in 1998 and 50,000 in 2012, the ministry said. Japan has the world's oldest living person, Kane Tanaka, a 115-year-old woman in the south-western city of Fukuoka, according to the US-based Gerontology Research Group. Tanaka was born on January 2, 1903, the year the Wright brothers made the world's first powered aircraft flights. In April, Guinness World Records recognized Masazo Nonaka, a 113-year-old resident on the northern island of Hokkaido, as the world's oldest living man. Japan is facing an increased demographic burden after decades of rapid ageing of the population and declining birth rates. People aged 65 or older are estimated to constitute 38.1 per cent of the total population in 2060, up from 26.6 per cent in 2015, according to the National Institute of Population and Security Research.
The death toll from a powerful earthquake that triggered massive landslides in northern Japan rose to 44 on Monday with tens of thousands of police and troops still on the ground to support survivors. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said no one was left on a missing list, which suggested the figure could be the final death toll. Around 40,000 police, fire fighters, troops and maritime safety officials were providing assistance, with more than 2,700 people still forced to stay in shelters after the killer quake struck the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido last week. The majority of the dead are from the small rural town of Atsuma, where a cluster of dwellings were wrecked when a hillside collapsed from the force of the 6.6-magnitude quake, causing deep brown scars in the landscape. "The government will strive to get hold of what is needed on the ground and take every possible measure so that people can return to a normal, safe life as soon as possible," Suga told a news conference. He also warned that islanders should remain on alert as rainfall was forecast in the region, which could trigger fresh landslides. The quake was the latest in a string of natural disasters to batter the island nation. Western parts of the country are still recovering from the most powerful typhoon to strike Japan in a quarter of a century, which claimed 11 lives and shut down the main regional airport. Launching a campaign for another term as head of his ruling party, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe reiterated his government will "do its best" to restore the disasters-hit regions.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited the quake-hit northern region of Hokkaido on Sunday as officials confirmed more deaths, bringing the toll to 42. Abe toured the city and commercial hub of Sapporo, where Thursday's 6.6-magnitude jolt has left houses tilted and roads cracked. He also visited hard-hit Atsuma, a small rural town which has seen most of the deaths caused by the quake. A cluster of dwellings in the town were wrecked when a hillside collapsed from the force of the quake, creating deep brown scars in the landscape. After visiting local political leaders and residents at shelters, Abe quickly returned to Tokyo to hold a cabinet meeting where he said the government will release 540mn yen ($4.9mn) from a reserve fund for the disaster. "We must create a framework in which the affected municipalities can... take emergency measures and rebuild themselves," Abe said during the cabinet meeting. Abe also reported that the death toll rose to 42, according to local media including national broadcaster NHK and Jiji Press. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga separately told local media that one person remained missing, Jiji Press said. The Hokkaido government however said the death toll stood at 39 as of Sunday evening, with one person unaccounted for. Abe visited the area as search-and-rescue operations continue around the clock to pull more bodies. "There is on-and-off rain at Atsuma. The work is continuing to look for the missing persons," a regional disaster management official told AFP. Abe said the central government has dispatched some 40,000 rescue workers, including Self-Defence Forces, to look for the missing with the aid of bulldozers, sniffer dogs and helicopters. All three million households in Hokkaido lost power when Thursday's quake damaged a thermal plant supplying electricity to the region. Power has been nearly restored but officials are asking local residents and businesses to save energy, particularly after the weekend, as electricity supplies remain unstable. The quake was the latest in a string of natural disasters to batter the island nation. Western parts of the country are still recovering from the most powerful typhoon to strike Japan in a quarter of a century, which claimed 11 lives and shut down the main regional airport. Japan sits on the Pacific "Ring of Fire" where many of the world's earthquakes and volcanic eruptions are recorded. On March 11, 2011, a devastating 9.0-magnitude quake struck under the Pacific Ocean, and the resulting tsunami caused widespread damage and claimed thousands of lives.
The death toll from a powerful quake that triggered landslides in northern Japan rose to 30 on Saturday, as tens of thousands of rescue workers raked through the mud for survivors. The majority of the dead are from the small rural town of Atsuma, where a cluster of dwellings were wrecked when a hillside collapsed from the force of the 6.6-magnitude quake, causing deep brown scars in the landscape. Around nine people are still unaccounted for in the town and around 400 sustained minor injuries, according to the local government of the northern Hokkaido island. "We never had landslides here," said Akira Matsushita who lost his brother in Atsuma. "I couldn't believe until I saw it with my own eyes," he told TV Asahi. "When I saw it, I knew no one could survive." Some 40,000 rescue workers, including Self-Defense Forces drafted in specially, were searching for survivors with the aid of bulldozers, sniffer dogs and 75 helicopters, according to the top government spokesman. "They're doing their best around the clock," Yoshihide Suga told reporters. All three million households on Hokkaido island lost power when Thursday's quake damaged a thermal plant supplying electricity to the region, but Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said power was mostly restored. "Thanks to hard work to boost power supply throughout the night, the number of households without power has declined to 20,000," Abe told a cabinet meeting to discuss the quake. Abe added the government would release emergency funds to deliver food, water and fuel needed for power generators at hospitals. A total of 31,000 households still have no water and around 16,000 people have evacuated to shelters. The earthquake also collapsed a handful of houses and walls in the main regional city of Sapporo but considering the strength of the quake, the death toll was relatively light, with the majority of victims coming from the landslide in Atsuma. International flights at the main airport in Sapporo resumed operations on Saturday, while bullet trains began service the day before. The quake was the latest in a string of natural disasters to batter the country. Western parts of the country are still recovering from the most powerful typhoon to strike Japan in a quarter of a century, which claimed 11 lives and shut down the main regional airport. Japan sits on the Pacific "Ring of Fire" where many of the world's earthquakes and volcanic eruptions are recorded. On March 11, 2011, a devastating 9.0-magnitude quake struck under the Pacific Ocean, and the resulting tsunami caused widespread damage and claimed thousands of lives.
Japanese rescue workers with bulldozers and sniffer dogs scrabbled through the mud Friday to find survivors from a landslide that buried houses after a powerful quake, as the death toll rose to 18. Around 22 people are still unaccounted for in the small northern countryside town of Atsuma, where a cluster of dwellings were wrecked when a hillside collapsed with the force of the 6.6-magnitude quake, causing deep brown scars in the landscape. "We've heard there are people still stuck under the mud, so we've been working around the clock but it's been difficult to rescue them," a Self-Defense Forces serviceman in Atsuma told public broadcaster NHK. "We will take measures to find them quickly." An elderly woman in Atsuma told NHK: "My relative is still buried under the mud and has not been found yet, so I couldn't sleep at all last night. There were also several aftershocks so it was a restless night." Around 1.6 million households in the sparsely populated northern island of Hokkaido were still without power after the quake damaged a thermal plant supplying electricity to the region. Industry minister Hiroshige Seko said that number should be reduced to 550,000 households on Friday. "It will take about a week" before the largest thermal power plant recovers, "so during that period, we are sending power-generating vehicles to hospitals," Seko told reporters. He urged citizens to conserve energy by having fewer lights on in shops and restaurants and "for example family members staying together in one room". Some 22,000 rescue workers including troops called up from the Self-Defense Forces handed out emergency water supplies and long lines formed at petrol stations and supermarkets, as people stocked up fearing further quakes. "Please give your sympathy to people who spent a dark night in fear, and do everything you can to restore electricity as soon as possible," Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told a cabinet meeting to discuss the quake. The earthquake, which scored the maximum on a Japanese scale measuring the power of a quake's shaking, also collapsed a handful of houses and walls in the main city of Sapporo. However, considering the strength of the quake, the death toll was relatively light, with the majority of victims coming from the landslide in Atsuma. 'Pay attention' Transport services were gradually coming back on line with bullet trains resuming operations late Friday morning and the main airport in Sapporo operating a partial service after cancelling all flights the day before. But a football friendly between Japan and Chile in Sapporo planned on Friday was scrapped due to the transport and power chaos in Hokkaido. The quake was the latest in a string of natural disasters to batter the country. Western parts of the country are still recovering from the most powerful typhoon to strike Japan in a quarter of a century, which claimed 11 lives and shut down the main regional airport. And officials warned of the danger of fresh quakes. "Large quakes often occur, especially within two to three days (of a big one)," said Toshiyuki Matsumori, in charge of monitoring earthquakes and tsunamis at the meteorological agency. The risk of housing collapses and landslides had increased, he said, urging residents "to pay full attention to seismic activity and rainfall and not to go into dangerous areas". Japan sits on the Pacific "Ring of Fire" where many of the world's earthquakes and volcanic eruptions are recorded. In June, a deadly tremor rocked the Osaka region, killing five people and injuring over 350. On March 11, 2011, a devastating 9.0-magnitude quake struck under the Pacific Ocean, and the resulting tsunami caused widespread damage and claimed thousands of lives.
Rescuers scrabbled through mud for survivors yesterday after a powerful earthquake sent hillsides crashing down onto homes in Japan, killing at least nine people and leaving dozens of people missing. As many as 30 are feared buried beneath the earth and rubble of multiple, large-scale landslides that struck sparsely populated countryside on the northern island of Hokkaido after a 6.6-magnitude earthquake. Aerial footage showed wrecked farm buildings at the bottom of a hill as rescue helicopters whirred overhead in a region already affected by the edge of a strong typhoon that ravaged parts of Japan earlier in the week. The quake left almost 3mn people without power after damage to a major thermal plant supplying the region, with Industry Minister Hiroshige Seko saying it could take “at least a week” for supply to be restored. Long lines formed outside petrol stations and supermarkets as residents dug in and authorities warned that further quakes could be on the way. Kazuo Kibayashi, an official in hard-hit Abira town, told AFP: “There was a sudden, extreme jolt. I felt it went sideways, not up-and-down, for about two to three minutes.” “It stopped before shaking started again. I felt it come in two waves. I am 51, and I have never experienced anything like this. I thought my house was going to collapse. Everything inside my house was all jumbled up. I didn’t have time to even start cleaning,” he added. Public broadcaster NHK reported that nine people had lost their lives, many of them in the village of Atsuma, where the landslide engulfed their homes. Thirty-one people were still missing, according to the broadcaster, with around 300 sustaining minor injuries. Moments after the initial quake, which struck 62km southeast of the regional capital Sapporo, an aftershock measuring 5.3 rocked the area, with dozens more tremors felt throughout the day. “We will do our best to save lives,” Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said after an emergency cabinet meeting. Government spokesman Yoshihide Suga added: “I urge people in areas shaken by strong quakes to stay calm, pay attention to evacuation information ... and help each other.” “It’s going to rain (in Hokkaido). Please be very careful of further landslides,” the spokesman warned. Around 20,000 rescue workers, including police and members of the Self-Defence Forces were responding to the disaster, Suga said. Another 20,000 troops are expected to join the effort. Japan is still recovering from its worst typhoon in 25 years, which struck the western part of the country on Tuesday, claiming at least 11 lives and causing major damage to an important airport. The quake also caused major transport disruption with all flights cancelled from Sapporo’s main Chitose airport, where the shaking brought down part of a ceiling and burst a water pipe. Local buses and trains, as well as bullet train services were halted. The Tomari nuclear power plant in Hokkaido, which was not operational before the quake, was forced to turn to emergency back-up power to keep its cooling system working, NHK said. A friendly football match between Japan and Chile planned for Sapporo was cancelled, with the Japanese FA citing the quake’s severe impact on power and transport. Officials warned of the danger of fresh quakes. “Large quakes often occur, especially within two to three days (of a big one),” said Toshiyuki Matsumori, in charge of monitoring earthquakes and tsunamis at the meteorological agency. The risk of housing collapses and landslides had increased, he said, urging residents “to pay full attention to seismic activity and rainfall and not to go into dangerous areas.” And the national meteorological agency warned that more bad weather could be on the way for Hokkaido, urging people to be vigilant for landslides, high tides and heavy rain. Japan sits on the Pacific “Ring of Fire” where many of the world’s earthquakes and volcanic eruptions are recorded. In June, a deadly tremor rocked the Osaka region, killing five people and injuring over 350.
A powerful 6.6-magnitude quake rocked the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido Thursday, killing at least eight people, collapsing homes, and triggering landslides that left dozens missing. Multiple, large-scale landslides struck the sparsely populated countryside, which was also hit by the edge of a powerful typhoon that surged through Japan earlier this week. Aerial views showed dozens of houses destroyed at the bottom of a hill that was engulfed by a landslide, with a rescue helicopter winching a resident to safety. Around three million homes lost power after the quake damaged a major thermal plant supplying the region. The Tomari nuclear power plant in Hokkaido, which was not operational before the quake, was forced to turn to emergency back-up power to keep its cooling system working, NHK said. Kazuo Kibayashi, 51, a town official at hard-hit Abira town, told AFP: "There was a sudden, extreme jolt. I felt it went sideways, not up-and-down, for about two to three minutes." "It stopped before shaking started again. I felt it come in two waves. I am 51, and I have never experienced anything like this. I thought my house was going to collapse. Everything inside my house was all jumbled up. I didn't have time to even start cleaning," he added. Moments after the initial quake, an aftershock measuring 5.3 rocked the area and dozens more aftershocks followed throughout the night and into the morning. Akira Fukui, from the main city of Sapporo, told AFP: "I woke up around 3am with a vertical jolt. I put the light on but it went out shortly afterwards. All the traffic lights are out and there's no power at work." No tsunami warning was issued after the relatively shallow quake, which struck 62 kilometres (39 miles) southeast of the regional capital Sapporo. Around 20,000 rescue workers, including police and members of the Self-Defence Forces were responding to the disaster, government spokesman Yoshihide Suga said. Another 20,000 SDF troops are expected to join the effort. "We will do our best to save lives," Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said after an emergency cabinet meeting. NHK reported that eight people had lost their lives, six of them in the village of Atsuma, where the landslide engulfed the homes. Nearly 40 people were still missing, the broadcaster added. Local media said the dead also included an 82-year-old man who fell down the stairs at his home during the quake and that around 130 people had sustained minor injuries. "I urge people in areas shaken by strong quakes to stay calm, pay attention to evacuation information... and help each other," Suga added. Japan is still recovering from the worst typhoon to hit the country in 25 years, which struck the western part of the country on Tuesday, claiming at least 11 lives and causing major damage to the region's main airport. 'Ring of fire' Officials warned of the danger of fresh quakes. "Large quakes often occur, especially within two to three days (of a big one)," said Toshiyuki Matsumori, in charge of monitoring earthquakes and tsunamis at the meteorological agency. The risk of housing collapses and landslides had increased, he said, urging residents "to pay full attention to seismic activity and rainfall and not to go into dangerous areas." The earthquake also caused travel disruption, with all flights cancelled from Sapporo's main Chitose airport, where the quake brought down part of a ceiling and burst a water pipe. Local buses and trains and bullet train services were halted. Industry Minister Hiroshige Seko said it would take "at least a week" for power to be restored to nearly three million homes after a fire in the area's largest thermal plant was discovered. And the national meteorological agency warned that more bad weather could be on the way for Hokkaido, urging people to be vigilant for landslides, high tides and heavy rain. Japan sits on the Pacific "Ring of Fire" where many of the world's earthquakes and volcanic eruptions are recorded. In June, a deadly tremor rocked the Osaka region, killing five people and injuring over 350. On March 11, 2011, a devastating 9.0-magnitude quake struck under the Pacific Ocean, and the resulting tsunami caused widespread damage and claimed thousands of lives.
Japan scrambled Wednesday to evacuate passengers trapped at a major airport when a tanker slammed into its only access bridge during the most powerful typhoon to hit the country for 25 years. Typhoon Jebi left a trail of destruction across the country, killing 11 people and injuring hundreds more as it battered western Japan with ferocious winds and lashing rain. Winds up to 216 kilometres (135 miles) per hour ripped off roofs, overturned trucks and swept a 2,500-ton tanker into a bridge leading to Kansai International Airport, the region's main international gateway and a national transport hub. The damage to the bridge left the artificial island housing the airport temporarily cut off, stranding 3,000 travellers and staff overnight as high waves flooded the runways and some buildings, knocking out the power. On Wednesday boats began ferrying people out of the airport, and buses began to run on one side of the damaged bridge after safety inspections. "There were about 3,000 people stranded at the airport, but we think about 2,000 to 2,500 of them already got out. We think there are not many people left," a transport ministry official told AFP. Airport spokeswoman Yurino Sanada told AFP: "We don't know how many hours we need to bring everyone out but we're doing our best to finish it by the end of today." There was no indication when the airport, which operates over 400 flights a day, might reopen but local agency Kyodo News said it could take up to a week. Rescued passengers spoke of their discomfort in sweltering post-typhoon temperatures of around 30 degrees Celsius (86 Fahrenheit) on Wednesday. "We had a blackout so there was no air conditioning. It was hot," a woman told public broadcaster NHK after being ferried to Kobe. "I'd never expected this amount of damage from a typhoon." "I couldn't sleep, but I'm relieved because I thought I might not be able to get out," another woman told the station. 'Industrial heartland' Typhoon Jebi made landfall at midday on Tuesday and moved quickly over the mainland, smashing through the major manufacturing area around Osaka -- Japan's second city -- wrecking infrastructure and destroying homes. Government spokesman Yoshihide Suga said 11 people had been killed and 470 injured. According to Kansai Electric, more than 400,000 households were still without power. In the tourist magnet of Kyoto -- home to ancient temples and shrines -- it brought down part of the ceiling of the main railway station. In nearby Osaka, the high winds peeled scaffolding from a multi-storey building. Businesses, factories and schools in the affected area shut down while the storm barrelled across the country, forcing the cancellation of hundreds of flights, ferry services and some bullet trains. Pictures showed containers piled up like dominos and vehicles thrown together by the wind, with others overturned. More than 1.2 million people had been advised to leave their homes as Jebi approached the Kansai area -- Japan's industrial heartland -- although it was unclear how many had heeded the warning. Around 16,000 people spent the night in shelters, local media said. Economists said it was too early to gauge the storm's impact on local industry, with much depending on how long the airport remained closed. Around 10 percent of Japan's exports leave from Kansai airport, said Yusuke Ichikawa, senior economist at Mizuho Research Institute. "Logistics could be affected as it may take time for Kansai airport to restart operations," he told AFP. But with other airports and ports nearby, companies might be able to reroute shipments to minimise disruption, he added. 'Utmost efforts' Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, tweeting on his official account, said the government was battling to get the airport back online. "We continue to make utmost efforts to respond to disaster damage and restore infrastructure," he said. Japan is regularly hit by powerful typhoons in the summer and autumn, many of which cause flooding and landslides in rural areas. And Jebi was far from the deadliest Japan has seen in recent years. In 2011 Typhoon Talas killed 82 people in the area, while in 2013 a storm that struck south of Tokyo left 40 people dead. Earlier this year, torrential rains lashed the west of the country, sparking flooding that killed more than 200 people as it laid waste to villages and caused hillsides to collapse.
* Airport near Osaka flooded, tanker crashes into bridge * Evacuation advisories issued for more than 1 million people * Tides in some areas highest since 1961 typhoon * Toyota cancels night shift at 14 plants Japan issued evacuation advisories for more than a million people and cancelled hundreds of flights as Typhoon Jebi sliced across the west on Tuesday, killing at least six people. Jebi - whose name means "swallow" in Korean - was briefly a super typhoon and is the latest storm to hit Japan this summer following rains, landslides, floods and record-breaking heat that killed hundreds of people. Television footage showed waves pounding the coastline, sheet metal tumbling across a parking lot, cars turned on their sides, dozens of used cars on fire at an exhibition area, and a big Ferris wheel spinning around in the strong wind. As the typhoon made landfall, a 71-year-old man was found dead under a collapsed warehouse, likely due to a strong wind, and a man in his 70s fell from the roof of a house and died, NHK public television reported, adding more than 90 were injured. Broadcaster TBS put the number of deaths at six. Tides in some areas were the highest since a typhoon in 1961, NHK said, with flooding covering one runway at Kansai airport in Osaka, forcing closure of the airport and leaving tourists stranded. "This storm is super (strong). I hope I can get home," a woman from Hong Kong told NHK at the airport. The strong winds and high tides sent a 2,591-tonne tanker crashing into a bridge connecting Kansai airport, which is built on a man-made island in a bay, to the mainland. The bridge was damaged but the tanker was empty and none of its crew was injured, the coast guard said. The storm made landfall on Shikoku, the smallest main island, around noon. It raked across the western part of the largest main island, Honshu, near the city of Kobe, several hours later, before heading out to the Sea of Japan in the evening. The centre of Jebi was at sea north of Wajima in Ishikawa Prefecture, central Japan, at 7pm (1000 GMT) and heading north-northeast, NHK reported. Evacuation advisories were issued for more than a million people at one point, the Fire and Disaster Management Agency said. Wind gusts of up to 208 km/h (129 mph) were recorded in one part of Shikoku. Around 100 mm of rain drenched one part of the tourist city of Kyoto in an hour, with as much as 500 mm set to fall in some areas in the 24 hours to noon on Wednesday. Video posted on Twitter showed a small part of the roof of Kyoto train station falling to the ground. Other video showed roofs being torn off houses, transformers on electric poles exploding and a car scudding on its side across a parking lot. More than 700 flights were cancelled, along with scores of ferries and trains, NHK said. Shinkansen bullet train services between Tokyo and Hiroshima were suspended and Universal Studios Japan, a popular amusement park near Osaka, was closed. Some 1.45 million households were without power in Osaka and its surrounding areas at 3pm (0600 GMT). Toyota Motor Corp said it was cancelling the night shift at 14 plants. The capital, Tokyo, escaped the centre of the storm but was set for heavy rains and high winds. Jebi's course brought it close to parts of western Japan hit by rains and flooding that killed more than 200 people in July but most of the damage appeared to be from the high winds.
Japan's major oil wholesalers are preparing to suspend crude oil imports from Iran in October, amid fears Washington will sanction countries importing Iranian crude, local media reported. US President Donald Trump in May pulled out of a 2015 nuclear deal with Iran and last month began reimposing sanctions that block other countries from trading with Iran. A second phase of sanctions targeting Iran's crucial oil industry and banking sector will be reinstated on November 5. Japan has been seeking a waiver that would allow it to continue importing Iranian oil, but it appears unlikely to win one, Jiji Press agency and other local media reported in recent days. As a result, Japanese oil companies are preparing to halt imports of Iranian crude and researching ways to increase imports from elsewhere to make up the shortfall, the reports said. A trade ministry official on Monday confirmed Japan had raised the issue of a waiver in talks with the US but declined to comment further. Oil importers declined to confirm they were contingency planning for a halt in Iranian imports. "We've been saying we will observe a government decision (on Iranian oil imports), but we can't comment further as we don't disclose information on individual trades," a spokeswoman for wholesaler Showa Shell Sekiyu told AFP on Monday. Wholesaler JXTG also declined to confirm the report. Resource-poor Japan relies heavily on imports of oil from the Middle East, though crude from Iran accounted for just 5.3 percent of the country's total imports last year.
A Japanese rail company has defended a safety exercise that requires employees to sit beside tracks in tunnels as bullet trains speed by at 300 kilometres an hour. JR West told AFP it has no plans to alter the exercise despite complaints from some employees. About 190 staff working on safety maintenance for Japan's famed shinkansen bullet train have undergone the training, a company spokesman said. "The training aims to teach our maintenance staff the importance of every part of their jobs," he told AFP. "We pay close attention to safety while doing the training," he added, while acknowledging complaints from some staff members. "We will continue this training while ensuring it serves a purpose and is done safely." JR West introduced the training in 2016 after an accident in August 2015 in which part of the bullet train's exterior fell off, the spokesman said. The purpose of the drill was reportedly to impress on the staff how fast the train moved and therefore how seriously they needed to take their jobs. But it has proved unpopular with some employees, local media reported. "It was a horrible experience," the Tokyo Shimbun newspaper quoted one employee as saying. Another described the experience as "just like a public flogging," the Mainichi daily reported. Japan's ultra-efficient shinkansen train network connects cities along the length and breadth of the country. Despite the huge volume of passengers it serves, the network operates with an enviable punctuality rate. It also has an unparalleled safety record, with no one ever having been killed in a crash in its half-century of service.
Shinzo Abe confirmed on Sunday he would run in his ruling party's leadership election, putting him on track to become Japan's longest-serving premier and bolstering his dream of reforming the constitution. Abe is expected to be re-elected head of the conservative Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) easily, with the vast majority of lawmakers behind him and only one challenger, former defence minister Shigeru Ishiba. "I have decided to lead Japan as the LDP leader and the prime minister for three more years, and with this determination I will run for the leadership election next month," Abe said in a press conference broadcast live from western Kagoshima prefecture. Winning the September 20 run-off would effectively keep the hawkish Abe in power for another three-year term at the helm of the world's third-largest economy, with no real political party opposition to speak of. Lawmakers make up 50% of the deciding votes, with the LDP's rank-and-file members accounting for the other half. Abe said on Sunday that he would focus on the demographic issues raised by Japan's rapidly ageing society as well as pay attention to "the tumultuous changing international situation". His rival Ishiba has similarly said that demographic concerns and the regional security threat from nuclear-armed North Korea are the two biggest challenges facing Japan. Abe took power in December 2012 after a landslide general election victory for the LDP, making a dramatic comeback after a bowel ailment forced him to resign the premiership in 2007 following a year in the role. Currently the longest serving Japanese prime minister is Taro Katsura, who served as premier thrice in the period between June 1901 to August 1913. If Abe wins the leadership election and serves beyond November next year, completing more than 2,886 days as premier including his 2006-2007 term, he will be the longest serving prime minister in the country's history.
Japan will shortly have its first female fighter pilot, the military said yesterday, with the Top Gun inspired officer vowing to blaze a trail in the sky for other women. First Lieutenant Misa Matsushima, 26, of Japan Air Self Defence Force, finished her training Wednesday to fly F-15s and will officially be named a fighter pilot today, the ministry said in a brief statement. “Ever since I saw the movie Top Gun when I was in primary school, I have always admired fighter jet pilots,” she told local media. “I wish to continue to work hard to fulfil my duty (not just for myself but) also for women who will follow this path in the future,” she said. The air force decided in 1993 to open all positions to women, except for pilots of fighter jets and reconnaissance aircraft. But the limit was lifted in 2015, opening the way for Matsushima to join the elite group of fighter pilots
Japan has pledged to help strengthen Sri Lanka’s maritime security, authorities said yesterday, in a new sign of efforts to counter China’s strategic grip on the Indian Ocean island. President Maithripala Sirisena thanked Japan’s Defence Minister Itsunori Onodera for donating two coast guard patrol craft costing over $11mn in total, his office said in a statement after talks in Colombo. “Attention has been drawn to further strengthening maritime security co-operation between Japan and Sri Lanka,” the statement said. The visit came a week after the US State Department gave $39mn to strengthen the island’s naval capabilities. Sirisena said he was happy that Onodera, the first Japanese defence minister to visit, was travelling to two strategic ports on the island. Onodera will visit Hambantota, which Colombo in December 2017 leased to a Chinese state-owned company for 99 years. The government said it was forced to lease the port for $1.1bn because it could not service loans from Beijing to build the white-elephant facility agreed by former president Mahinda Rajapakse. Hambantota, 230km from Colombo, straddles the world’s busiest east-west shipping route and gives China a foothold in a region long dominated by India. The Japanese minister will also visit Trincomalee, a natural harbour that was the target of Japanese bombing during World War II. China has edged out Japan as a key funder of ports and other projects in the island in recent years. Sri Lanka has become a key link in its ambitious “Belt and Road” international infrastructure initiative. China has also vowed to keep providing financial help to Sri Lanka. The International Monetary Fund, which bailed out Sri Lanka in 2016 with a $1.5bn loan, has warned Colombo over its debt.
Emperor Akihito, in his last appearance as reigning monarch at an annual ceremony marking Japan’s World War II surrender, expressed “deep remorse” yesterday over the conflict, while Prime Minister Shinzo Abe vowed no repeat of the horror of war. Early in the day, Abe sent a ritual offering to Tokyo’s controversial Yasukuni Shrine for war dead but did not visit out of apparent consideration for ties with South Korea and China. Past visits by Japanese leaders to the shrine have outraged China and South Korea because it honours 14 Japanese wartime leaders convicted as war criminals by an Allied tribunal, along with war dead. China’s relations with Japan have long been haunted by what Beijing sees as Tokyo’s failure to atone for its occupation of parts of China before and during World War II, although ties have thawed recently. Japan occupied Korea from 1910-1945 and bitter memories rankle. A silver-haired Akihito, 84, who will abdicate next year, spoke at the memorial for war dead after a moment of silence. “Thinking of the peaceful times that have extended for many years after the war, reflecting on our past and with a feeling of deep remorse, I earnestly hope that the ravages of war will never be repeated,” said Akihito, who was accompanied by a kimono-clad Empress Michiko. Akihito has carved out a role as a symbol of peace, democracy and reconciliation during his three decades on the throne, visiting wartime battlefields to pray for the dead of all nationalities. His remarks echoed those he first spoke on the 70th anniversary of the end of the war, which were seen by many liberals and moderate conservatives as a subtle rebuke to Abe, who has said future generations should not have to keep apologising for the conflict. “I will humbly face the past and resolutely uphold this promise,” the prime minister said. In Beijing, the foreign ministry said, “The Yasukuni Shrine enshrines Class A war criminals who were directly responsible for the war of aggression. “We firmly oppose the wrong practices of the Japanese side,” the ministry said in a statement. South Korea’s foreign ministry expressed “deep regret” over Abe’s sending of an offering to the shrine. “Our government urges Japan’s political leaders to show a serious introspection and sincere attitude of self-reflection towards past history,” the ministry said in a statement. Separately, a group of about 50 conservative Japanese lawmakers including Shinjiro Koizumi, the popular son of former prime minister Junichiro Koizumi, who is often spoken of as a future premier, paid their respects at the Yasukuni Shrine. Ruling Liberal Democratic Party lawmaker Masahiko Shibayama, who made the offering on Abe’s behalf, said the prime minister asked him to pray for the souls of the departed and that Abe regretted being unable to pay his respects in person. Abe has only visited the shrine in person once since taking office in 2012. That December 2013 visit angered China and South Korea and prompted an expression of disappointment from ally the United States. Since then, he has sent offerings on Aug. 15 and Yasukuni’s twice-yearly festivals. Akihito’s father, Emperor Hirohito, in whose name Japanese fought World War II, stopped visiting Yasukuni after the wartime leaders were first honoured by the shrine in 1978, and Akihito does not pay his respects there.
Japan's Emperor Akihito on Wednesday expressed "deep remorse" about his nation's wartime acts, as Tokyo marked the 73rd anniversary of the end of World War II. The carefully choreographed annual ceremony is the last Akihito and his wife Empress Michiko will attend before the emperor abdicates in April. "Reflecting on our past and bearing in mind the feelings of deep remorse, I earnestly hope that the ravages of war will never be repeated," the 84-year-old monarch said in a televised address. "Together with all of our people, I now pay my heartfelt tribute to all those who lost their lives in the war, both on the battlefields and elsewhere, and pray for world peace and for the continuing development of our country." It was Akihito's father, war-time emperor Hirohito, who announced his decision to surrender in a radio address on August 15, 1945. Japan signed documents officially formalising the surrender on September 2, 1945. Though he has no political power, Emperor Akihito has hinted throughout his reign at pacifist views, sharply at odds with the aggressive expansionism Japan pursued under his father's rule. He has annoyed Japanese right-wingers by acknowledging that his country inflicted "great suffering" in China, and expressing regret over Japan's brutal rule of the Korean peninsula. Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe also spoke at the ceremony, pledging to remember war dead while building a peaceful future. "Never again will we repeat the devastation of war. Humbly facing history, we shall stand firm on this pledge," he said, avoiding any specific expression of regret. Abe has been criticised for what some see as a revisionist attitude to Japan's wartime record, though he has softened his rhetoric as he works to improve ties with Beijing. In recent years, he has avoided visiting the controversial Yasukuni shrine that honours Japan's war dead, including convicted war criminals, offering a ritual cash donation instead. Previous visits by Abe and other senior Japanese politicians have angered China and other Asian neighbours. Yasukuni honours some 2.5 million people, mostly Japanese, who perished in the country's wars since the late 19th century. It also enshrines senior military and political figures convicted of war crimes by an international tribunal after World War II. Abe last visited in December 2013 to mark his first year in power, sparking fury in Beijing and Seoul and earning a diplomatic rebuke from close ally the United States. Groups of Japanese lawmakers visited the shrine on Wednesday, but Abe's key cabinet members were not expected to be among them.
A giant statue of a child wearing a radiation suit in the Japanese city of Fukushima has touched off a storm of criticism online as the nuclear-hit area seeks to rebuild its reputation. "Sun Child", a 6.2-metre figure sporting a yellow protective suit with a digital display on its chest showing "000" -- symbolising no nuclear contamination -- was installed this month near the city's train station. The figure holds a helmet in one hand, showing the air is safe to breathe, and a symbol of the sun in the other, representing hope and new energy. Its creator, Japanese artist Kenji Yanobe, intended the statue to be a symbol of hope but critics said it was insensitive to the plight of Fukushima as it continues to struggle with radioactive contamination from the 2011 meltdown. "I saw Kenji Yanobe's 'Sun Child'. It was truly creepy. I think it derides us and all the work Fukushima has done to erase reputational harm," said one Twitter user. Another online critic wrote: "I understand it was intended to express hope as the helmet is removed but considering that Fukushima's awful reputation continues, I believe the installation should have been cancelled." Others pointed out the work may lead viewers to believe that residents had to protect themselves until such point as the radiation level becomes zero -- which cannot actually happen as radiation occurs naturally on Earth. Radiation levels Radiation levels are back to normal in most parts of the region but people are still forbidden to live in certain areas, especially within a few kilometres of the affected plant. Yanobe published a three-page dossier to apologise for triggering the uproar but stressed his work was meant to show hope, not ridicule Fukushima. "It was my intention to show bright hopes for the future" by depicting the child as looking to the skies, he wrote. City mayor Hiroshi Kohata said in a separate statement that he accepted the criticism and would consider what action to take but stood by the work's value. "I sense the strength to face adversity and the hope in the statue, which is looking to the skies," the mayor wrote. Despite the online uproar, city officials said they had received only a handful of phone calls and emails about the statue. And the mayor noted the statue has been well received by art patrons in Fukushima, where it has previously been shown at a local airport while also travelling in Japan and abroad. Some online commentators backed the work, saying it was unreasonable to demand scientific accuracy in art. The city is the local capital of Fukushima prefecture, whose Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant melted down in the 2011 tsunami, becoming the world's worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl. The meltdown affected a vast agricultural region, forcing many local residents to give up their ancestral properties -- possibly never to return due to severe radioactive contamination. The area is battling to restore its reputation and local farm produce undergoes radiation checks to ensure safety before being shipped to stores. Nevertheless, many consumers shy away from buying for fear of contamination.
Two people were killed yesterday in a helicopter crash in a mountainous region of central Japan, with the fate of seven others on board still unclear, officials said. Aerial footage broadcast on Japanese TV showed the wreckage of the crashed rescue helicopter surrounded by trees in Gunma prefecture, northwest of Tokyo, and officers in navy uniforms examining the site. Hours after the helicopter lost contact with authorities, a Gunma prefectural official told AFP two people had been found dead, with no details yet on the fate of the seven others on board. Earlier, a defence ministry official said “eight people were found near the site, but we don’t know their condition”. The Bell 412 helicopter left its base earlier yesterday on a two-hour flight to observe climbing routes between Gunma and Nagano prefectures from the air, according to public broadcaster NHK. But the helicopter did not return by its scheduled arrival time and lost contact with air traffic control, said Hiroshi Yoshida, a local official. Passengers included disaster management officials and firefighters, he added. The defence ministry official confirmed that the crashed helicopter in Gunma was the one that went missing. Helicopter accidents are not rare in Japan. In February, two pilots were killed in a military helicopter crash in southern Japan. It went down seven minutes after takeoff, slamming into and setting on fire a house that was completely destroyed in the accident. And last year, nine people aboard a helicopter were killed after it crashed during a mountain rescue drill.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe looks well placed to win a September ruling party leadership race, putting the conservative leader on track to become the longest-serving premier despite a challenge by a former defence minister for the party post. Shigeru Ishiba, 61, promising to restore trust in politics, announced his candidacy on Friday for a Liberal Democratic Party presidential election expected on September 20. But media surveys suggest Abe, who took office for a second time in December 2012 promising to revive the economy and bolster defence, has already locked in 70% of the 405 votes from LDP members of parliament. Another 405 votes will be apportioned based on votes by rank-and-file party members. If no candidate wins a majority, a second round would be held with 405 votes from MPs and 47 from local party chapters. Former foreign minister Fumio Kishida bowed out before the race began and Internal Affairs Minister Seiko Noda is struggling to find the 20 backers needed to get on the ballot for a shot at becoming the country's first female premier. The winner of the LDP election gets a three-year term and is all but assured of the premiership because of the ruling bloc's majority in parliament. Ishiba is counting on his grass-roots popularity, but analysts say that's unlikely to offset weak support among MPs. Abe's ratings have recovered after falling to around 30% earlier this year amid scandals over suspected cronyism. He has denied wrongdoing. Still, a weekend survey by NHK public TV put voter support for Abe's cabinet at 41%, tied with the percentage expressing disapproval. "If there is no jump in his support levels after re-election, it will expose the difference in temperature between the LDP and the rest of the country," said Sophia University professor Koichi Nakano. Support for the LDP at 35.6% swamped the 5.6% for the opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, but even more - 43.2% - had no party preference, the NHK poll showed. Local elections will be held nationwide next April and an upper house poll in July 2019. What Abe can accomplish in another term is unclear, including whether he can achieve his long-held but controversial goal of revising the pacifist post-war constitution. "I have a hard time seeing it happen," said Tobias Harris, vice president of consultancy Teneo Intelligence. Amendments must be approved by two-thirds of each house of parliament and a majority in a public referendum.
Foie gras paired with wasabi, Japanese-style open kitchens and a fierce work ethic: Joel Robuchon, hailed as “chef of the century” on his death this week, drew great inspiration from Japan, where 10 establishments now bear his name. The world’s most-starred Michelin chef developed an immediate love for sushi, sake and Japan itself after arriving for the first time in 1976, his luggage bulging with “forbidden or unknown produce like shallots, tarragon and chives,” he once recalled. Yosuke Suga, who worked with the famously perfectionist Robuchon for 17 years, told AFP that he would often talk fondly of his first impressions of Japan. “He arrived at Narita airport and saw how (the handrails) of the escalator were cleaned meticulously. And he said to himself, ‘Japan is somewhere I can work’,” said Suga, now 41 and running his own restaurant. Kenichiro Sekiya, head chef at Robuchon’s “L’Atelier” restaurant in Tokyo, says the French master quickly became inspired by Japanese ingredients and surprised his hosts with the way he used them. “He used wasabi, soy sauce, yuzu citrus and shichimi (a blend of seven spices with chilli) to give accents to various food,” said Sekiya, 38, recalling his amazement when Robuchon added wasabi cream to foie gras terrine. “Japanese have fixed ideas for the spices so it’s hard to break them. But Robuchon did his own interpretation and used them in his own way, which Japanese wouldn’t normally do,” he said. And one of Robuchon’s most famous innovations — the concept of the “Atelier” (or “workshop”), where customers dine in close proximity to the chefs, perched on high stools at a bar counter — was also inspired by Japan. “He really wanted a connection with customers over a counter. Sushi chefs in Japan make sushi in front of customers and communicate with them,” said Kazutoshi Narita, a pastry chef who worked for 10 years at Robuchon restaurants in Tokyo, New York and Taipei. In 2003, Robuchon opened his first Atelier restaurant in the central Tokyo district of Roppongi and his photo still overlooks the chefs there, dressed all in black as they prepare meals in full sight of the diners. He would fly to Tokyo at least three times a year to oversee his restaurant empire and would rarely miss the opportunity to enjoy his beloved sushi at Sukiyabashi Jiro, where US president Barack Obama dined with Japanese PM Shinzo Abe. Sekiya said Robuchon, who at one time held 32 Michelin stars, at first underestimated how hard it was to make sushi. “Apparently sushi was just sliced fish placed on rice to him at first,” he said. “I heard he became fascinated by sushi after learning that it was actually something more delicate.” Like most chefs, Robuchon was known to drive his staff hard and the famous Japanese work ethic appealed to him. “He was very demanding in terms of quality but we liked that a lot. We respected that and were happy to work with him. We’re maybe a bit masochistic,” joked Suga. After his death from pancreatic cancer in Geneva on Monday, Narita went to Robuchon’s three-starred chateau restaurant in the trendy Ebisu district to honour his memory in his own way — with champagne and cheese. “Chefs at Robuchon restaurants used to get together at the kitchen counter for champagne and camembert after work,” said Narita. “That was my most peaceful moment with him. It was a moment in which I felt a sense of achievement.” And Robuchon leaves more than just recipes and inspiration in Japan — his 30-year-old half-Japanese son now runs a wine business in the southern city of Fukuoka.