The prime ministers of Japan and Australia said yesterday they would push to seal a major security agreement “as early as feasible,” in the face of tensions over North Korea. The agreement on joint defence operations and exercises was at the centre of talks between Malcolm Turnbull and his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe during a one-day visit by the Australian leader. In a joint statement after talks and a tour of a military training base outside Tokyo, Turnbull and Abe “welcomed the recent progress in negotiations, and directed all relevant ministers to conclude the negotiations as early as feasible.” “Going forward, we agree to strive toward strengthening both quantitatively and qualitatively the joint exercises by Japan and Australia and aim at concluding an agreement at the earliest possible timing that would enable smooth mutual visits of the units,” Abe added at a joint press conference. The proposed pact would be the first of its kind for Japan and would make Australia Tokyo’s closest military partner after the United States. It would involve joint defence operations and exercises, with one eye also on China as it expands its naval ambitions. The pact would reportedly lay the ground for Japanese military exercises out of Darwin, the northern Australian city heavily bombed by Japan in World War II. “The (military) agreement, when concluded, will be a pillar of the Japan-Australia security cooperation,” said a Japanese diplomat ahead of the talks. Both sides say boosting military co-operation is vital given the tense situation in the region, with North Korea’s missile programme bringing the world closer to nuclear conflict than at any time since the Cold War. China’s steady expansion of its military and economic influence in Asia Pacific has also encouraged Japan and Australia to draw closer militarily. On the trip, Turnbull inspected Australian-made military equipment used by the Japanese Self-Defence Forces, and urged the international community to keep up the pressure on North Korea. “We discussed at considerable length the threats posed by the reckless rogue regime in North Korea,” the Australian leader said at the press conference with Abe. “We discussed the importance of ensuring the economic sanctions are enforced rigorously so that this regime is brought to its senses and stops threatening in the manner that it does the peace and stability of our region.” Turnbull’s one-day visit included a special session of Japan’s National Security Council and a visit by the reported train buff to Tokyo train station, one of the world’s busiest. He also met with Japanese business leaders, and Tokyo police officials to discuss general counter-terrorism efforts ahead of the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.
Japan sees little chance of the oil spill from a stricken Iranian tanker that sank on Sunday in the East China Sea reaching its shores, an official at the nation’s environment ministry said yesterday. The large tanker Sanchi sank in the worst oil ship disaster in decades and produced a large oil slick, Chinese media and Japanese authorities said on Monday, as worries grew over damage to the marine ecosystem. The vessel’s crew of 30 Iranians and two Bangladeshis are all believed to have perished in the incident. “Oil spills in general can have a big environmental impact if they reach the coast, but we think that there is little chance of that happening on Japanese seashores for now,” the official who helps oversee the marine environment for the ministry told Reuters by telephone. He declined to be named as he was not authorised to speak to media. The tanker had been adrift and ablaze after crashing into the freighter CF Crystal on January 6. Strong winds pushed it away from the Chinese coast, where the incident happened, and into Japan’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ). The ship, which was carrying 136,000 tonnes or almost a million barrels of condensate — an ultra-light, highly flammable crude oil — sank after several explosions weakened the hull. “From the area where the tanker sank, a sea current is heading to the north, limiting the chances of the oil slick reaching Japanese coasts,” the ministry official said. According to the Japan Coast Guard, the slick has narrowed and elongated. It is now meandering across an area about 27km long and 15km wide, with a width of between 300m and 800m, it said in a statement. On Monday, the Coast Guard had said the oil had spread over an area about 13km long and 11km wide. A Coast Guard spokesman said patrol boats were cruising through the area to help diffuse the slick, adding that the “spill area had shrunk from the previous day”, referring to the overall narrowing of the area covered by the slick. Another spokesman at the Coast Guard said that it was carefully monitoring the oil slick in case weather conditions changed the spill’s direction. Experts worry the sinking of the tanker Sanchi will likely expel the remaining condensate and the tanker’s bunker fuel, or the heavy fuel oil that powers a ship’s engines, contaminating the surrounding waters. Bunker fuel is the dirtiest kind of oil, extremely toxic when spilled, though less explosive than condensate. The Coast Guard has not identified the kind of oil in the slick, but it assumes the spill mostly contains condensate as some of the slick is diffusing and disappearing. South Korea is north of the site where the tanker sank, but a coast guard official from the country played down the chances of the slick reaching the peninsula, noting it was about 600km from Jeju Island, the nation’s southernmost island.
Japanese public broadcaster NHK issued a false alarm about a North Korean missile launch on Tuesday, just days after a similar gaffe caused panic in Hawaii, but it managed to correct the error within minutes. It was not immediately clear what triggered the mistake. "We are still checking," an NHK spokesman said. NHK's 6.55 p.m. alert said: "North Korea appears to have launched a missile ... The government urges people to take shelter inside buildings or underground." The same alert was sent to mobile phone users of NHK's online news distribution service. In five minutes, the broadcaster put out another message correcting itself. Regional tension soared after North Korea in September conducted its sixth and largest nuclear test and in November said it had successfully tested a new type of intercontinental ballistic missile that could reach entire US mainland. It regularly threatens to destroy Japan and the United States. There were no immediate reports of panic or other disruption following the Japanese report. Human error and a lack of fail-safe measures during a civil defence warning drill led to the false missile alert that stirred panic across Hawaii, a state emergency management agency spokesman said. Elaborating on the origins of Saturday's false alarm, which went uncorrected for nearly 40 minutes, spokesman Richard Rapoza said the employee who mistakenly sent the missile alert had been "temporarily reassigned" to other duties.
Japan said Monday that a Chinese naval submarine spotted in waters off flashpoint islands in the East China Sea was one of its new types of nuclear-powered attack vessels. Tokyo's statement comes on the same day that China announced three of its "Coast Guard vessels conducted a patrol in territorial waters off the Diaoyu Islands," Beijing's name for the contested isles called Senkaku in Japan. Japan launched an official protest last Thursday after their navy spotted the 4,000-tonne Jiangkai II class frigate and an unidentified submarine in waters surrounding the Tokyo-administered islands. Japanese Defence Minister Itsunori Onodera told reporters Monday the submarine has been determined to be "China's Shang-Class nuclear-powered attack submarine," which he said can be equipped with long-range cruise missiles. "Nuclear-powered submarines can also cruise for long hours and it is more difficult to detect them because they dive deep," Onodera said. "We have serious concerns as the submarine's underwater passing through our country's contiguous waters is an act that unilaterally increases tension," he added, noting that Japan would stay vigilant. Contiguous waters are a 12-nautical-mile band that extends beyond territorial waters. China has not confirmed that it had sent a submarine. In Beijing, foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang told a regular press briefing last week "the Chinese naval vessels conducted surveillance over the activities of the Japanese side" and repeated China's claim to the islands. "As for the submarine, I'm not aware of the relevant issue," he added. Relations between Japan and China deteriorated in 2012 when Tokyo "nationalised" some of the islets. Since then, the two top Asian economies have taken gradual steps to mend fences but relations remain tense. Chinese coastguard vessels routinely travel around the disputed islands. The incident came as Japan is pushing to host a trilateral summit with leaders from China and South Korea.
Japan on Thursday lodged an official protest with China, after it spotted a Chinese frigate in waters surrounding flashpoint islands in the East China Sea, the first such incursion in more than a year. Japan's vice minister for foreign affairs Shinsuke Sugiyama summoned Chinese ambassador Cheng Yonghua to voice Tokyo's concerns, as the two Asian giants explore ways to ease bilateral tensions, complicated by North Korea's nuclear and missile drive. Sugiyama "issued a protest by expressing serious concerns and strongly requested China not to interfere with the flow of improving Japan-China relations," the foreign ministry in Tokyo said in a statement. Japanese navy ships spotted the 4,000-tonne Jiangkai II class frigate around 11:00 am in waters surrounding the Tokyo-administered isles, called Senkaku in Japan and also claimed as the Diaoyu islands by China. In Beijing, foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang told a regular press briefing "the Chinese naval vessels conducted surveillance over the activities of the Japanese side" and repeated China's claim to the islands. Japanese defence ministry spokesman Go Yamaguchi told AFP that a submarine of unknown nationality had also been spotted entering the contiguous waters off the disputed islands. "We are monitoring the vessels and sending a message to them that they entered the contiguous waters near Japanese territory," said Yamaguchi. Contiguous waters are a 12-nautical-mile band that extends beyond territorial waters. Under international rules, they are not the preserve of any single country, although the resident power has certain limited rights. The official told AFP it was the first such incursion since June 2016. The warship and the submarine had left the waters by the afternoon, the defence ministry said in a statement. Japan was monitoring the submarine, but would refrain from releasing details, including its identity, Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a regular briefing. "We are dealing with this firmly and calmly," he said, stressing that Japanese and Chinese leaders have pledged to improve bilateral ties. Relations between Japan and China deteriorated in 2012 when Tokyo "nationalised" some of the islets. Since then, the two top Asian economies have taken gradual steps to mend fences but relations remain tense. Chinese coastguard vessels routinely travel around the disputed islands. The incident came as Japan is pushing to host a trilateral summit with leaders from China and South Korea. Japan has also urged China to play greater roles in easing tension related to North Korea's missile and nuclear programmes.
Japanese astronaut Norishige Kanai, on a mission to the International Space Station, apologised on Wednesday for saying he had grown 9 cm (3.5 inches) while in space and expressing concern about whether he'd be safe on his return to Earth. Most astronauts "grow" during protracted space missions because their spines extend in the absence of gravity, but the gains are usually limited to a couple of centimetres maximum and disappear once they are back on the ground. The 41-year-old Kanai, who went to space last month for a nearly six-month mission, posted on Twitter on Monday that he had "a big announcement." "My height's been measured here in space and somehow, somehow, I've grown 9 cm! In only three weeks I've really shot up, something I haven't seen since high school," he tweeted. "This makes me a little worried that I might not be able to fit in the Soyuz seats for our return." But a bit over a day later - and in the wake of a flurry of news stories - he apologised, saying that he'd measured himself after his captain raised questions about the apparent growth and he had stretched only 2 cm from his Earth-bound height. "This mis-measurement appears to have become a big deal, so I must apologise for this terrible fake news," he tweeted, without explaining how the original miscalculation had occurred. "It appears I can fit on the Soyuz, so I'm relieved."
The United States and South Korea agreed yesterday to delay their joint military exercises until after the Winter Olympics next month in an apparent move to de-escalate tensions with Pyongyang. The announcement came just hours after US President Donald Trump said that high-level talks set for next week between North and South Korea were “a good thing”. Tensions have spiralled in recent months after North Korea held multiple missile launches and its sixth and most powerful nuclear test – purportedly of a hydrogen bomb. Trump has also traded personal insults with his North Korean counterpart Kim Jong-un, rattling regional allies. But the last few days has witnessed a rare softening of tone on both sides of the demilitarised zone after Kim offered an olive branch to Seoul during a New Year’s speech, saying he was willing to send a team to next month’s Winter Olympics in the South. The tentative rapprochement took a further step on Thursday after South Korean president Moon Jae-in spoke to Trump by telephone with both agreeing to suspend joint military drills, a regular source of Pyongyang’s ire. “The two leaders agreed to de-conflict the Olympics and our military exercises so that United States and Republic of Korea forces can focus on ensuring the security of the Games,” the White House said in a statement. Moon’s office said the South Korean president told Trump that delaying the exercises would help ensure the success of the Winter Olympics — being hosted by the South next month in Pyeongchang — “in case the North does not make any more provocations”. After a year that saw tensions on the Korean peninsula spike to their worst levels in years, 2018 has begun on a tentatively warmer note with Seoul responding positively to Kim’s New Year speech. On Wednesday the two Koreas restored a cross-border hotline that had been shut down since 2016. They also agreed to hold high-level talks next week — the first since 2015 — which will focus on “matters of mutual interest”, including the North’s participation in the Winter Olympics. North Korea’s young leader has shrugged off a raft of new sanctions and heightened rhetoric from Washington as his regime drives forward with its weapons programmes, which it says are meant to defend against US aggression. While Trump called the talks a “good thing” in a tweet on Thursday, his ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, struck a much more cautious tone earlier in the week. “We won’t take any of the talks seriously if they don’t do something to ban all nuclear weapons in North Korea,” she said on Tuesday. A State Department spokeswoman also warned that Pyongyang’s olive branch may be an attempt to “drive a wedge of some sort” between Washington and Seoul. The White House statement announcing the suspension of drills said both Trump and Moon “agreed to continue the campaign of maximum pressure against North Korea and to not repeat mistakes of the past”. Pyongyang’s missile and nuclear tests has seen the isolated state slapped with painful new sanctions that even its key ally China have backed. But South Korea and Washington’s regular joint military drills have also been criticised by some as adding to regional tensions, particularly by Beijing and Moscow who have both called for them to be suspended. Russia’s deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov on Thursday said he “welcomed” the halting of drills during the Olympics. News agency RIA Novosti quoted him as saying that Moscow “observes with satisfaction” that their calls to halt the manouevres have been “taken into account”. Kim’s New Year address also included a warning to the US that he has a “nuclear button” on his table, prompting a furious response from Trump via Twitter that Washington’s nuclear button was “much bigger and more powerful”. The tweet generated responses both on Twitter and from analysts largely of scorn and alarm.
Tokyo’s world-famous Tsukiji fish market held its last pre-dawn New Year’s auction yesterday before closing down for relocation, with the highest bidder paying more than $320,000 for a giant tuna. After more than 80 years in operation, the world’s biggest fish market, a popular tourist attraction in an area packed with restaurants and shops, will move to Toyosu, a former gas plant a bit further east, on October 11. The market, which opened in 1935, is best known for its pre-dawn daily auctions of tuna, caught from all corners of the ocean, for use by everyone from top Michelin-star sushi chefs to ordinary grocery stores. Before dawn, buyers in rubber boots inspected the quality of the giant fresh and frozen tunas by examining the neatly cut tail end with flashlights and rubbing slices between their fingers. At 5:30am, auctioneers rang handbells to signal the start of the auction and buyers began a flurry of bidding with hand signals for their preferred tunas. “We have to continue the Tsukiji brand and establish a new brand” at the new site, Shigeo Yokota, the representative of buyers at Tsukiji, said in his New Year speech. “I’m proud to be standing here at this historic moment,” he added. The highest bidder paid 36.5 million yen for a bluefin tuna — a threatened species — weighing more than 400 kilogrammes (880 pounds) caught off northern Aomori prefecture, according to the market. “It’s the best feeling,” Akifumi Sakagami, head chef at a sushi restaurant in the Ginza shopping district which paid for the tuna, told AFP after the giant fish was sliced into several pieces for delivery. “We wanted to get the number-one tuna at the first auction of the year at Tsukiji... because this is the last New Year auction,” he said, adding that the restaurant owner had a budget of 100 million yen ($886,000). “Tsukiji is the world’s number-one fish market. It’s in a very convenient location. It’s sad that it will be closed down,” Sakagami said. Kiyoshi Kimura, known as Japan’s self-styled “Tuna King” who in 2013 paid a record $1.8 million for a bluefin, snapped up a 190-kilogramme fish at Friday’s auction for around 30 million yen, the highest price per kilogramme. Kimura has built his successful Sushizanmai chain into a national brand by paying big money at Tsukiji’s first auction every year. At the first auction of 2017, he paid more than $600,000 for a 212-kilo bluefin tuna. The Tsukiji market handles 480 kinds of seafood worth $14mn daily – as well as 270 types of fruits and vegetables – and has fed Japan’s hunger for fresh seafood since its opening. But in recent years the antiquated facility has prompted its users, such as seafood wholesalers, to voice concerns about its earthquake resistance, sanitation and fire safety, as well as the structure’s use of asbestos and its crumbling walls. They have also called for upgraded technology, such as better refrigeration systems. However, the move, originally slated for late 2016, also faced loud opposition from various businesses that operate at or around the market, an extremely popular attraction located conveniently within walking distance from the Ginza district. Many businesses were emotionally attached to the Tsukiji brand as well as the location, which had problems with soil contamination as it used to house a dry cleaning plant before the market was built. Governor Yuriko Koike, a former TV anchorwoman, put the relocation plan on hold shortly after being elected Tokyo’s first female governor in 2016. She then found a series of problems with the new site in Toyosu, including soil and groundwater contamination as well as the discovery that contractors had inexplicably failed to fill in a basement at the new site with clean soil as a buffer against underground pollution. The local government paid hundreds of millions of dollars to clean up the new facility and Koike took the final decision to move the market last month, ending years of delays. Tsukiji’s wholesalers had voiced frustration over the delay, arguing that postponing the move was costing them millions of dollars a month.
Japanese social media reacted with a storm of outrage to a video by YouTube star Logan Paul showing a suicide victim in a forest near Mount Fuji, as anger spread over the now-deleted video on Wednesday. Angry comments flooded Twitter after Paul, who gained notoriety on social media and has a popular video blog or ‘vlog’, apologised for the footage, which was reportedly viewed six million times. The video shows Paul discovering a body in Aokigahara, a dense woodland at the foot of Mount Fuji known as ‘the Japanese Suicide Forest’, in a country that has long struggled with some of the highest suicide rates in the developed world. As news of the video and apology was reported in Japan Wednesday, social media erupted with indignation over the film, which showed a man who had hanged himself. ‘It is insane to show to the world the body of someone who died after being depressed. Shame on you,’ said one Twitter user @j_rivoluzione. Others objected to Paul's appearance in a novelty hat, while outtakes showing the US internet celebrity laughing and joking about the incident also stirred anger. ‘It's good to raise awareness but you can do it without filming a person who committed suicide,’ @spiffymiffy1 said. ‘It looks like he did it for self-satisfaction. Suicide and depression are serious issues. There's nothing funny about them.’ In his apology, Paul said he had posted the video in a mistaken effort to draw attention to the problem of depression and suicide. ‘It's easy to get caught up in the moment without fully weighing the possible ramifications,’ he said in his statement. Actress Anna Akana was among many in the US and elsewhere to hit out at Paul. ‘When my brother found my sister's body, he screamed with horror & confusion & grief & tried to save her,’ she tweeted. ‘You do not walk into a suicide forest with a camera and claim mental health awareness.’ Japan has the highest suicide rate of any Group of Seven industrialised nation, with more than 20,000 people taking their own lives each year. Aokigahara, located 100 kilometers (63 miles) west of Tokyo, has become such a well-known place for desperate people to kill themselves that authorities have put up signs among the trees urging people with self destructive thoughts to contact a suicide prevention group. ‘Life is a precious thing... Think again about your parents, siblings and children,’ the signs say. Suicides in Japan have fallen since their peak of 34,427 in 2003, with 21,897 taking their own lives in 2016. Google-owned YouTube indicated the video was removed because it violated the video-sharing platform's terms of service. ‘Our hearts go out to the family of the person featured in the video,’ a Google statement said. The statement added that YouTube prohibits ‘violent or gory content posted in a shocking, sensational or disrespectful manner’ and that such content is allowed only ‘when supported by appropriate educational or documentary information.’
Japan’s Emperor Akihito yesterday delivered his traditional New Year address with tens of thousands of well-wishers flocking to the Imperial Palace for one of the last such occasions before he abdicates next year. It was the final New Year appearance alongside Akihito for Princess Mako, his eldest granddaughter, who is scheduled to wed her college sweetheart in November and leave the royal family. The Imperial Palace said more than 73,000 people attended his address, many waving small Japanese flags and shouting “Banzai” or “Long live”. “Happy New Year. I’m sincerely glad to celebrate the new year together with you,” the emperor said in a televised address from a glass-covered balcony at the palace, where he was flanked by Mako and other family members. They will make two further appearances before the crowd in the afternoon. The emperor shocked the country in 2016 when he signalled his desire to take a back seat after nearly three decades in the job, citing his age and health problems. He will be the first emperor to retire — on April 30, 2019 — in more than two centuries in the world’s oldest imperial family. Akihito’s eldest son, 57-year-old Crown Prince Naruhito, is set to ascend the Chrysanthemum Throne a day later. The status of the emperor is sensitive in Japan given its 20th century history of war waged in the name of Akihito’s father Hirohito, who died in 1989. Akihito has keenly embraced the more modern role as a symbol of the state— imposed after World War II ended. Previous emperors including his father, Hirohito, had been treated as semi-divine. The palace, surrounded by stone walls and mossy moats — is opened to the general public twice a year — on the emperor’s birthday and the second day of New Year — for the royal family to greet well-wishers.
Japanese police said on Wednesday they have arrested a couple whose 33-year-old daughter froze to death in a tiny room where they had confined her for years because they believed she had a form of mental illness that made her violent. Western Japan's Osaka Prefectural Police Department said Airi Kakimoto's body was found in a state of extreme malnutrition after her parents reported the death on Saturday. She was 145 cm tall and weighed just 19 kg . Police said Yasutaka Kakimoto, 55, and Yukari Kakimoto, 53, had confessed that they fed their daughter only once a day and kept her in a 3-square-metre room for some 15 years. "Our daughter was mentally ill and, from age 16 or 17, she became violent, so we kept her inside the room," police quoted her parents as saying. People with mental and physical disabilities and their families can still suffer stigma and shame in Japan despite some changes in public attitudes. Police said the parents added the small room - fitted with a camera and a double door that could only be unlocked from the outside - to their house and equipped it with a makeshift toilet and tube to a water tank outside. About 10 surveillance cameras were installed outside the single-storey home, which was surrounded by a 2-metre high fence, police said. The parents found their daughter dead on Dec. 18 but they reported the death Saturday. "We wanted to be together with our daughter," police quoted them as saying. Police said the couple were arrested on suspicion of illegally disposing of a body, a step that often precedes more serious charges.
Japan's government on Tuesday approved the introduction of the US military's land-based Aegis missile interceptor system, beefing up its defence against ‘serious’ and ‘imminent’ North Korea threats. The regime in Pyongyang has fired two missiles over Japan this year and has threatened to ‘sink’ the country into the sea. Last month, North Korea test-fired an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) that plunged into the waters of Japan's exclusive economic zone. ‘North Korea's nuclear and missile development has entered a new stage of threat that is more serious and imminent to our country's security,’ the government said as it endorsed the introduction of Aegis Ashore at a cabinet meeting. Japan needs to drastically improve its missile defence, Tokyo added. Speaking later Tuesday at a lecture hosted by Jiji Press, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe vowed to take a hard look at whether Japan's defence capability is sufficient to protect its people. ‘While keeping our defence-only policy as the basic premise, I will examine what our defence capability should truly be like while facing up to the severe reality for our country,’ he said. Abe argued that the UN sanctions on Pyongyang must be taking effect now and dismissed the view that too much pressure could trigger an ‘explosion’ of violence. ‘Thinking that way gives North Korea the maximum bargaining power... What is important is not to give in to North Korea's bluff,’ he said, vowing to keep imposing pressure until Pyongyang begs for dialogue. Abe also sought cooperation from China to solve the problem. ‘As the North Korean issue faces an important phase, the role of China is extremely important,’ he said, adding he wanted to elevate relations with China to ‘a new level’ by reciprocal visits and other exchanges. - 'Permanent vigilance' - Japan plans to introduce the Aegis Ashore system at two locations, covering the entire nation with powerful radars. The deployment will hand the US ally another layer of defence in addition to SM-3 guided missiles launched by Aegis destroyer vessels and Patriot Advanced Capability-3 (PAC-3) missiles. However, it will take years before the Aegis Ashore system is operational, according to Japanese officials. The contract is yet to be signed with the United States and deployment at two locations could cost a total of 200 billion yen ($1.8 billion), including the cost of building new facilities. However, officials insisted the new system would boost Japan's missile defence. ‘Naval vessels need to return to their ports regularly for rest and refuelling, but if it's ground deployment, we will be able to operate almost 24-7,’ an official said. ‘We can be on permanent vigilance even when signs (of missile firing) are hard to detect,’ he said. Japan is reportedly planning a record $46 billion defence budget for the next fiscal year in the face of the North Korean threat. Defence Minister Itsunori Onodera said this month the country also plans to purchase long-range cruise missiles from US firms with a range of some 900 kilometres (560 miles). The move would be controversial as Japan's pacifist constitution bans the use of force as a means of settling international disputes.
Japan Tuesday executed two convicted murderers, including one who committed his crime while in his teens, the justice ministry said, ignoring calls from international rights groups to end capital punishment. The hangings of Teruhiko Seki and Kiyoshi Matsui bring to 21 the total number of executions since conservative Prime Minister Shinzo Abe came to power in late 2012. Seki, 44, was convicted of killing four people in Chiba, southeast of Tokyo, in 1992 when he was 19, the ministry said. It was the first execution of a death-row prisoner who committed crimes as a minor since 1997 in Japan, local media said. People are considered adults at the age of 20 in Japan. Matsui, 69, was sentenced to death for killing his girlfriend and her parents in 1994. Both were seeking a retrial, local media said. Though not unprecedented, it is rare in Japan to put to death those appealing for a fresh trial. ‘They were extremely cruel cases,’ Justice Minister Yoko Kamikawa told reporters. ‘I ordered the executions after very careful consideration,’ she said. Japan and the United States are the only major developed countries that still carry out capital punishment. The death penalty has overwhelming public support in Japan despite repeated protests from European governments and human rights groups. Opponents say Japan's system is cruel because inmates can be on death row for many years in solitary confinement and are only told of their impending execution a few hours ahead of time.
The wife of China's ambassador to Japan and the governor of Tokyo turned out on Monday to help mark this week's public debut of Japan's popular panda cub, who turned six-months-old this month. The healthy female cub was born in June, five years after her mother, Shin Shin, lost another cub within days of its birth. It has been nearly three decades since a baby panda at the capital’s Ueno Zoo has survived this long. Wang Wan, the wife of Chinese ambassador Cheng Yonghua, joined Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike at the media event one day before the general public can view the panda from Tuesday. Sino-Japanese ties are often strained by the bitter legacy of World War Two and regional rivalry, but panda diplomacy sometimes offers a touch of friendship to the relationship. ‘This year marks the 45th anniversary of the normalisation of ties between China and Japan. I think the birth of Shan Shan - pronounced Xiang Xiang in Chinese - is truly auspicious,’ Wang said. The panda toddler, small enough at birth to fit in the palm of a hand, now has typical panda markings and weighs around 12 kilograms. On Monday, media saw her munching bamboo, strolling and climbing - including perching precariously on a tree stump. The panda toddler's name, written with the Chinese character for fragrant, was chosen from more than 322,000 suggestions submitted by the public. Shin Shin and her partner, Ri Ri, arrived from China in February 2011 and went on view soon after the following month’s devastating earthquake, offering a scrap of good news for an anguished nation. A male cub born in 2012 was the first in 24 years at the Ueno Zoo, but six days after its birth, it was found lying motionless on its mother's belly and efforts to revive it failed.
A Delta flight travelling from Shanghai to Seattle made an emergency landing on Thursday in Tokyo due to a possible fuel leak, a Japanese transport ministry official said. None of the flight's 220 passengers and crew members was hurt in the incident, the official said. Delta 588, a Boeing 767-300, left the Chinese metropolis at 12:50 pm Chinese time, according to the company. Its pilot declared an emergency to the Japanese aviation authority as the plane flew over Japan, the official told AFP. "At 3:27 pm, the pilot told the air traffic service that there might be a possible fuel leak from the right wing," the official said. "An emergency was declared. The aircraft landed normally at Narita airport at 4:21 pm," he said. The airport dispatched 15 fire engines but they did not see any evidence of fuel leaking from the plane or any fuel dripping on the airport's runway, the official added.
A window from a US military helicopter fell onto a school sports ground in southern Japan Wednesday, the marines said, apologising for a "regrettable" incident likely to fuel opposition to their presence. There were no reports of serious injuries from the accident that took place at 10:09am (0109 GMT) local time at an elementary school near the Futenma marine airbase. The US military said it was taking the incident "extremely seriously" and was opening an investigation. "This is a regrettable incident and we apologise for any anxiety it has caused the community," the military added in a statement, urging local residents to stay clear from where the object landed "for safety purposes". The incident comes just two months after an American military chopper burst into flames after landing in an empty field in Okinawa. Such accidents have sparked opposition to the US bases on the strategic island, which would be a launchpad for any American military activity in Asia. "School children were taking a sports class on the field when the accident happened, but no one was injured seriously," a local police official told AFP. The window that came off from the chopper measured about 90 centimetres in length and width, he said. "My body is shivering with fear," a mother of one of the schoolchildren told private broadcaster TBS in front of the school. Another angry mother said: "My kid was among those who were on the field and children could have died if it fell on the wrong part of the field." The Futenma airbase is already a major source of mistrust between Japan's central government and Okinawa over a wider US military relocation programme signed between Tokyo and Washington in 1996. Residents want Futenma to be closed and a replacement built elsewhere in another part of Japan or overseas, saying they can no longer live with the noise pollution, accidents and occasional crimes committed by US service members. "This kind of incident causes worries among not only people at the school but all the people in Okinawa and should never happen," said chief Japanese government spokesman Yoshihide Suga.
Visitors to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics can expect to arrive at an airport "scattered" with robots to help them, an official said on Tuesday as he unveiled seven new machines to perform tasks from helping with luggage to language assistance. Among the seven robots on show was a fluffy cat mascot that can carry out simultaneous interpretation in four different languages. Visitors speak into a furry microphone, and translations appear instantly on a smart screen. Travellers may also be approached by a small white humanoid robot, Cinnamon, asking if they need its help. The sleek white robot can converse with visitors through its AI system and give directions. Another robot on display can carry luggage through the airport alongside the traveller. Yutaka Kuratomi, a representative from the Japan Airport Terminal, hopes that by 2020, the terminals will be "scattered with robots", and it will be "normal" to see visitors communicating with machines. They are also aimed especially at foreign visitors, who already have high expectations that Japan will show off its world-beating technology in the upcoming Tokyo Olympics. "We want foreign tourists to think that the Japanese people are cool when they come here," Kuratomi told AFP. The launch of the robots also comes as Japan grapples with a labour shortage against the backdrop of an ageing population. With Tokyo hosting the 2020 Olympics, Haneda Airport is bracing for a sharp increase in visitors from abroad and hopes robots can compensate for a lack of staff. The robots will be on a trial for a month at Haneda from January 9.
Japan will hold a drill with the United States and South Korea this week to practise jointly detecting airborne missiles, officials said yesterday amid rising security threats from North Korea. The announcement of the joint exercise, a sixth such drill since 2016, comes less than two weeks after Pyongyang test-fired a ballistic missile which dropped into the sea inside Japan’s exclusive economic zone in late November. The drill will be held in waters near Japan, Defence Minister Itsunori Onodera said as he visited a garrison in northern Japan. It is aimed at “practising tracking an object and sharing information on it among the three countries,” said a defence official who declined to be named. “It will translate into a measure against ballistic missiles,” the official said. Tensions over the North’s weapons programmes have soared this year, with Pyongyang carrying out its sixth nuclear test as well as a series of missile launches in defiance of multiple sets of UN sanctions. The US State Department’s special representative for North Korea policy will travel to Japan and Thailand this week for talks on efforts to build pressure against Pyongyang after its latest ballistic missile test. “The United States looks forward to continuing its partnership with both these nations so that the DPRK will return to credible talks on denuclearisation,” the department said in a statement. A senior UN envoy warned Saturday there was a grave risk that a miscalculation could trigger conflict with North Korea as he urged Pyongyang to keep communication channels open after a rare visit to the seclusive state.
Japan plans to purchase offensive air-to-surface missiles to counter North Korea’s rising military threat, its defence minister said yesterday, a move likely to stir debate over its decades-long pacifist policy. Itsunori Onodera said the ministry intends to request a special budget for the fiscal year starting April 2018 to purchase long-range cruise missiles deployed on fighter jets. According to local media, the ministry plans to buy JASSM and LRASM long-range, air-to-ground missiles with a range of some 900 kilometres (560 miles) from US firms. It also plans to buy Joint Strike Missiles with a range of some 500km from Norway’s Kongsberg Defence and Aerospace, news reports said. The move will likely draw controversy as Tokyo has long maintained an exclusively defence-oriented policy under its pacifist constitution, which bans the use of force as a means of settling international disputes. But Onodera insisted his ministry will continue to uphold the policy, telling reporters: “We will introduce them as standoff missiles that allow us to deal with our opponents from outside the range of threats.” Japan’s military policy has been restricted to self-defence and relies heavily on the US to attack enemy territory under the Japan-US security alliance. US President Donald Trump had caused consternation during his White House campaign by suggesting allies such as Japan need to do more to defend themselves, although since taking office Trump and his diplomats have offered reassurances of support. Earlier this week, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told parliament that North Korea’s missile tests were an “imminent threat” to Japan and talking to the reclusive state was meaningless. The upper house unanimously adopted a resolution protesting against the North’s firing of an intercontinental ballistic missile that dropped into the sea inside Japan’s exclusive economic zone last week. Global anxiety about North Korea has steadily risen this year, and Washington last week called on other UN members to cut ties with Pyongyang in order to squeeze the secretive regime. The call, however, has fallen short of persuading key North Korean backers China and Russia to take steps to isolate the regime.
A former priest wielding a samurai sword killed his Shinto priestess sister and another woman in an apparent family vendetta at a historic Tokyo shrine, before turning the blade on himself, police told AFP on Friday. Shigenaga Tomioka, 56, set upon his older sister Nagako, chief priestess at Tomioka Hachimangu shrine, with a samurai sword late on Thursday in a rare violent assault in the Japanese capital. The 58-year-old Nagako was later pronounced dead with a "deep" stab wound to her chest along with a laceration to the back of her neck. Shigenaga Tomioka had once served as a priest and the siblings had long quarrelled over shrine affairs, according to local media. Police refrained from commenting on the motive but said it was not a random assault. Nagako and Shigenaga are known to have fought over the succession rights at the shrine, local media said. While Shigenaga was assaulting his sister, another woman -- reportedly the attacker's wife -- pursued Nagako's driver with a sword. The driver escaped but suffered deep cuts to his shoulder, arm, and chest, police said. After the attack, the pair then moved to an area near the residential compound on the shrine's leafy grounds. "We believe the male suspect (Shigenaga) stabbed the woman before stabbing himself," the spokesman said, adding that they both died, bringing the total fatalities to three. The shrine dates back to 1627 and is best known for its summer water-splashing festival, seen as one of the top three festivals in Tokyo. It has received Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko in the past. Sumo wrestlers also pay visits to the shrine, which had hosted tournaments in historic times.