Japanese authorities said Tuesday they had recovered a body part during the search for a crew member missing in a deadly military helicopter crash in the country's southwest. The Apache helicopter crashed Monday in a residential area in Saga province, killing co-pilot Hiroki Takayama and leaving lead pilot Kenichi Saito missing. ‘We were informed that a body part was found. But we're still confirming the identity of the body part,’ a defence ministry spokesman told AFP. The helicopter crashed in Saga prefecture seven minutes after takeoff, slamming into and setting on fire a house that was completely destroyed in the accident. An 11-year-old girl was in the house at the time, but survived with minor injuries. Video footage captured by a camera in a nearby car showed the helicopter dropping from the sky almost vertically, with its nose pointing directly towards the ground. The crash site was just 300 metres (1,000 feet) from a local elementary school and sent a thick plume of grey smoke rising from in between the rooftops of local houses. The AH-64 Apache attack helicopter was conducting a test flight after routine maintenance at the time of the accident, and had taken off from a Self-Defence Forces (SDF) base, according to the defence ministry. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe offered said his government would investigate the incident. ‘It is very regrettable that the Self-Defence Forces, which should protect the people's lives and peaceful living, threatened their safety and caused tremendous damage,’ he told a parliamentary session. ‘I apologise sincerely,’ Abe added. The defence ministry said it has suspended the flight of all 12 of its AH-64 helicopters for inspections. The incident revived memories of a 2016 crash in which a Japanese air force jet with six people aboard went missing in mountainous terrain. Their bodies were later recovered. There has also been a string of accidents involving US military helicopters that have fuelled opposition to their presence in the country. The latest was a UH-1 helicopter that was forced into an emergency landing last month on the southern Japanese island of Okinawa. Japan's SDF have been banned from waging any kind of combat beyond defence of the nation since the US-imposed constitution of 1947 that followed the carnage of World War II. But despite the limits on the scope of its military activity, Japan nonetheless boasts an impressive array of weaponry with highly trained personnel.
One crew member was confirmed dead and another was missing on Monday after a Japanese military helicopter crashed in a residential area in the southwest of the country, reportedly injuring a local girl and setting a home on fire. A 26-year-old co-pilot was found unconscious following the crash in the town of Kanzaki and later confirmed dead, a defence ministry spokesman said. "We are still searching for the 43-year-old pilot," the spokesman told AFP, retracting earlier remarks made by Defence Minister Itsunori Onodera, who said both crew members on board were retrieved "in a state of cardiac and respiratory arrest." That language is often used by Japanese officials before deaths are officially confirmed. Quoting local fire department officials, the Asahi Shimbun daily said an 11-year-old girl who was in the house when the helicopter crashed was sent to hospital after injuring her knee. Immediate confirmation of the report was not available. Japan's NHK television showed a thick plume of grey smoke rising from the site of the crash in between the rooftops of local houses, some 300 metres away from an elementary school. Local firefighters could be seen running through the streets with red fire hoses as people were evacuated from the area. "I heard something like a rumbling of the earth," a woman living near the crash site told NHK. "I rushed out there and saw a blaze and black smoke. It's impossible that this happens in such a place." Onodera earlier told reporters the AH-64 Apache attack helicopter had gone down in Japan's Saga region and "burst into flames". Local officials confirmed the crash site was a residential area, adding one home had caught fire. The local fire authority said it had sent 14 fire engines and three ambulances to the site. The incident revived memories of a 2016 crash in which a Japanese air force jet with six people aboard went missing in mountainous terrain. Four bodies were later recovered. There has also been a string of accidents involving US military helicopters that have fuelled opposition to their presence in the country. The latest was a UH-1 helicopter that was forced into an emergency landing last month on the southern Japanese island of Okinawa. No one was hurt in that incident, which officials blamed on a faulty rotor blade. Japan's Self-Defence Forces (SDF) have been banned from waging any kind of combat beyond defence of the nation since the US-imposed constitution of 1947 that followed the carnage of World War II. They have been deployed overseas in peacekeeping missions, some of which have proved controversial at home. And while the SDF is strictly limited in terms of the scope of its military activity, Japan nonetheless boasts an impressive array of weaponry with highly trained personnel.
A Japanese military helicopter crashed Monday in a residential area in the southwest of the country, setting at least one home on fire, local officials said. ‘A Self-Defence Force helicopter crash-landed on a residential area. A house has caught fire,’ local government official Katsuhide Tanaka told AFP. There was no immediate confirmation of any casualties in the crash in the town of Kanzaki. Japan's NHK television showed a thick plume of grey smoke rising from the site of the crash in between the rooftops of local houses. Local firefighters could be seen running through the streets with red firehoses as people were evacuated from the area. Defence Minister Itsunori Onodera confirmed a helicopter had gone down in Japan's Saga region. ‘The helicopter crashed and burst into flames,’ he told reporters. ‘Images show that the helicopter appears to have crashed in a residential area and we are checking that.’ ‘We're still confirming the scale of casualties,’ he added. A defence ministry spokesman told AFP there were two people on board the Apache helicopter when it crashed. The local fire authority said it had dispatched 14 fire engines and three ambulances to the site. The crash raised memories of a 2016 incident in which a Japanese air force jet with six people aboard went missing in mountainous terrain. Four bodies were later recovered. Japan's Self-Defence Forces (SDF) have been banned from waging any kind of combat beyond defence of the nation since the US-imposed constitution of 1947 that followed the carnage of World War II. They have been deployed overseas in peacekeeping missions, some of which have proved controversial at home. And while the SDF is strictly limited in terms of the scope of its military activity, Japan nonetheless boasts an impressive array of weaponry with highly trained personnel.
Eleven people were killed in northern Japan after fire broke out at a home for elderly people with financial difficulties, police said on Thursday. Television footage showed the three-storey building engulfed in flames and dozens of firefighters battling the blaze in snowy conditions. Pictures of the aftermath showed the blackened husk of the building, whose roof had apparently collapsed due to the fire. The victims -- eight men and three women -- were among 16 residents of the facility in Sapporo, Hokkaido, run by a local organisation. The other five residents escaped, a police spokesman told AFP, adding that authorities were investigating the victims' identities. Kenji Kikai, a local police official, told AFP: ‘Of the five people who escaped, three people -- two men and one woman -- were rushed to hospital. The two men were slightly injured and the woman sustained moderate injuries. ‘They are still hospitalised but the injuries are not life-threatening,’ added Kikai. Two others escaped unharmed. Police said they had launched a probe into the cause of the fire first alerted at 11:42 pm (1442 GMT) Wednesday via an emergency call. The accommodation was originally a Japanese inn built around 50 years ago that was later turned into a welfare home. The facility is aimed at supporting elderly people with financial difficulties by offering low-cost accommodation and helping them find work, public broadcaster NHK reported. It is usually unstaffed overnight, according to local media. As dawn broke, police and firefighters were combing the blackened remains of furniture in freezing temperatures. - 'Small explosions' - ‘As there were many oil tanks (for kerosene stoves) there, I heard a number of small explosions,’ a 67-year-old woman in the neighbourhood told Jiji Press. ‘Luckily, the only damage to our house was some cracks on the window,’ she was quoted as saying. Another woman in the neighbourhood, 65, said when she spotted smoke and flames while she was watching the total lunar eclipse from the window of her house, Jiji Press said. ‘The smoke and flames were rising vertically. If there had been wind, the damage would have been bigger,’ she told Jiji. ‘The surrounding area was bright as if it were day because of efforts to extinguish fire, and smoke lasted until near the dawn,’ she said. Others saw ash falling like snow in the vicinity of the fire, local media reported. ‘It was an awful fire. It spread so quickly and flames were billowing,’ said one woman neighbour, who did not wish to be named. The fire sparked memories of a similar incident in Sapporo in 2010 when seven residents of a private nursing home for the elderly were killed in a pre-dawn fire. Four women and three men aged in their 60s to their 80s died when the blaze swept through the two-storey wooden house. In that case, all the residents were believed to suffer from dementia.
* Fujifilm says to slash 10,000 jobs at Fuji Xerox * Xerox to combine with Fujifilm JV: WSJ * Fujifilm to take control of new entity: WSJ * Icahn, Deason had demanded Xerox CEO ouster, better terms on JV * Fujifilm shares tumble after WSJ report Japan's Fujifilm Holdings said it is cutting 10,000 jobs globally at its joint venture with Xerox Corp to cope with a decline in the photocopying business, amid speculation of a new deal between the two companies. Fujifilm owns 75 percent of the joint venture, called Fuji Xerox, which accounts for nearly half of the Japanese company's sales and operating profit. Fuji Xerox had over 47,000 employees as of March 2017, according to its website, meaning the job cuts would likely slash its workforce by more than a fifth. Xerox Corp owns the remaining 25 percent of Fuji Xerox and has faced pressure from investors to explore strategic options and negotiate better terms on the venture with Fujifilm. The Japanese company's job cuts announcement comes after the Wall Street Journal, citing people familiar with the matter, reported that Xerox Corp is nearing a deal with Fujifilm that would cede control of the US photocopier pioneer to Fujifilm. ‘The market environment surrounding the company's subsidiary Fuji Xerox has grown increasingly severe,’ Fujifilm said in a statement on Wednesday. Fujifilm said it would book restructuring costs of 49 billion yen ($450.95 million) in the second half of the fiscal year through March, lowering its operating profit forecast for the year to 130 billion yen from a previous 185 billion yen. It said the planned restructuring measures involve job cuts and closing or integrating manufacturing bases, and would lower annual costs by 50 billion yen from the year ending March 2020. The Journal report said a deal would be announced as soon as Wednesday, and would include plans to combine Xerox with the five-decades-old Fuji Xerox. Xerox shareholders would own just under half of the resulting entity and would get an implied premium for their stock and cash, it said. The talks could still fall apart or the terms could change, the paper said, adding that Xerox shares would continue to trade following any deal. Fujifilm and Xerox declined to comment on the report. Fujifilm is due to hold a news conference at 5 p.m. (0800 GMT). Xerox has been under pressure to find new growth sources as it struggles to reinvent its legacy business amid waning demand for office printing. Fujifilm is also trying to streamline its copier business with a larger focus on document solutions services. Xerox has been targeted by activist investor Carl Icahn and shareholder Darwin Deason, who joined forces last week to push Xerox to explore strategic options, oust its ‘old guard’, including its CEO, and negotiate better terms for its decades-long deal with Fujifilm. Icahn is Xerox's biggest shareholder, with a 9.72 percent stake. Fujifilm shares fell 8.3 percent on Wednesday ahead of its announcement of job cuts but after the Journal report about a deal with Xerox. Xerox shares ended down 0.5 percent on Tuesday.
A Japanese woman who was forcibly sterilised as a teenager due to intellectual disabilities sued the government on Tuesday in the first case of its kind, seeking compensation because her basic human rights had been trampled on. Under Japan's eugenics protection law, in force from 1948 to 1996, about 25,000 people were sterilised due to mental or genetic illnesses, Japanese media said. They included leprosy sufferers and some with intellectual and cognitive disabilities. About 16,500 of them are believed to have had the surgery without their consent. The 60-year-old who sued had developed mental problems following surgery for a cleft palate as an infant and was diagnosed with an intellectual disability at 15, after which she was forcibly sterilised, media said, quoting court documents. As the result of side-effects she later had to have her ovaries removed. Subsequently, marriage talks were broken off as a result of her inability to have children. No further details were given, including the woman's name. "Thanks to the law, my sister has really suffered, living her life hidden away," the woman's sister told a news conference. "We wanted to stand up and build a society where even people with disabilities can have a happy life." The woman seeks compensation of 11 million yen ($101,149), saying the government should have set up relief measures for those subjected to the surgery, in recompense for violating their human rights. Health Minister Katsunobu Kato declined to comment, telling reporters he did not know the details of the case, but his ministry would investigate. People with disabilities have long suffered shame and stigma in Japan, although anti-discrimination efforts have gathered pace since a law took effect in 2016. That July, however, Japan was forced to confront its attitudes after a man went on a stabbing spree at a facility for disabled people near Tokyo, killing 19 as they slept and wounding 26. He had previously threatened to "obliterate" disabled people. Almost nothing about the victims was disclosed except for gender and age, mainly at the request of their families.
A powerful winter storm pummelled a wide swathe of Japan, bringing blizzard conditions and sub-zero temperatures, weather authorities said Thursday. Commuters in Tokyo saw temperatures drop to four degrees below zero on Thursday morning, a level the capital had not seen in 48 years, as the Meteorological Agency issued a cold weather warning to the region for the first time in 30 years. A total of 1,900 people had to spend the night in train cars as heavy snow caused delays to high-speed bullet trains between Nagoya and Osaka, broadcaster NHK reported. The agency warned of strong winds, high waves, blizzard conditions and heavy snow across wide areas of Japan due to "cold air of the sort that comes only once in many years." On Wednesday, the storm brought wind gusts of up to 113 kilometres per hour in Erimo Town on the northern island Hokkaido, while temperatures plunged to 30.8 degrees below zero in the town of Kimobetsu, the Hokkaido Shimbun newspaper reported. Japan has been hard-hit this winter. On Monday, the heaviest snow in four years battered the capital, injuring hundreds of people and causing more than 700 traffic accidents. Additional snowfall of up to 80 centimetres is forecast for Sea of Japan coastal areas and up to 50 centimetres for Nagano prefecture and north-eastern Japan by Friday morning, according to the agency.
A Japanese soldier was killed yesterday and several other people injured after a volcano erupted near a popular ski resort, sparking an avalanche and leaving scores stranded – including tourists from Britain and Taiwan. Footage broadcast on Japanese television showed thick black smoke interspersed with falling rocks rolling down the snow-covered side of the volcano towards a ski slope. Defence Minister Itsunori Onodera told reporters that one of eight members of the Self Defence Forces who had been on a training mission on Mt. Kusatsu Shirane, northwest of Tokyo, had died after being hit by volcanic rocks. “His lungs were damaged” because of the impact of the rocks, Onodera said, adding that the other seven soldiers had sustained injuries. The defence ministry had initially said a total of six infantry troops were caught up in the incident. “Black smoke rose from the top of the mountain and we were told to evacuate inside 30 minutes later,” a man who was at the ski resort told public broadcaster NHK. Around 80 people were stranded for hours at a gondola station at the top of the mountain after a power outage. Television footage showed military helicopters buzzing overhead as people were airlifted to safety. Yuko Iguchi, an official from nearby Kusatsu town, told AFP: “All the people stranded at the summit were brought down to the safe zone. We have not received any injured people among them.” Another local official, Yoichi Takai, told AFP that “15 people from Taiwan and four from Britain were among those who were stranded at the peak.” One woman who was trapped at the gondola station but later rescued told Japanese TV: “There was an eruption in front of my eyes. Black and white plumes came towards me. Then the ski slope went completely black.” The area had seen heavy snowfall in the hours leading up to the eruption, making the slopes ripe for avalanches. A snowboarder told NHK his gondola had stopped suddenly and he saw that other gondolas around him had broken windows and were covered in ash. “I realised it was an eruption. Forty to 50 minutes later, all the gondolas moved up to the station on the top of the mountain,” he said. Japan’s Meteorological Agency urged people to stay away after it detected what it said was “slight volcanic activity.” Agency official Makoto Saito told reporters the volcano could still spew more rocks and ash, and that there was a risk of further avalanches. A local fire department official told AFP that 10 people had been hurt in the incident. “Five of them were seriously injured. We began sending the injured to a hospital,” he said. Among the injured were four people hurt by shattered glass while on a ropeway gondola at the ski resort. The official said an earlier report that one person was missing in the avalanche was not accurate. Japan, with scores of active volcanoes, sits on the so-called Pacific “Ring of Fire” where a large proportion of the world’s quakes and volcanic eruptions are recorded. On September 27, 2014, Japan suffered its deadliest eruption in almost 90 years when Mt Ontake, in central Nagano prefecture, burst unexpectedly to life. An estimated 63 people were killed in the shock eruption, which occurred as the peak was packed with hikers out to see the region’s spectacular autumn colours. According to the Meteorological Agency, this was the first time Mt Kusatsu Shirane has erupted since 1983. There are currently 111 active volcanoes in Japan, according to agency officials.
By popular demand, Tokyo's new panda cub Xiang Xiang is working extra hours from Tuesday, the latest example of overtime in a country famous for its hard-working ‘salarymen.’ Ueno zoo's first baby panda since 1988 will be on display for an extra two hours every day until the end of January and working a full seven-hour day from February to cater to the thousands of fans of the cuddly celebrity. Munching on bamboo shoots and nuzzling her mother, the bright-eyed seven-month-old has been the object of major media attention, with visitors clad in panda paraphernalia flocking to see her since her first public appearance in December. More than a quarter of a million fans entered a lottery to get a first glimpse but zoo officials initially limited visitors to 400 per day during a three-hour window. Until the end of January however, panda fans can get a first-come, first-served ticket to see Xiang Xiang, who will be on display for five hours a day. And from February, the hours are expected to be extended again -- to a seven-hour shift -- as the zoo seeks to accommodate up to 9,500 fans of the curious cub. Some visitors at the zoo on Tuesday were not sure whether the baby panda was ready for grown-up working hours. Asami Sato, a 45-year-old mother visiting with daughter Yuriya, questioned whether the cub was ready for so much exposure. ‘It must feel unnatural,’ she said, ‘but as long as she is happy and not stressed, I guess it's OK.’ Dennis Pook, 36, an assistant manager, said the extended hours were ‘too much, too fast.’ ‘I think the increase is very sudden. If they had extended the hours more slowly and let the panda adapt, it would probably be a lot better,’ he said. For Chinese student Chen Gingya, 20, the most surprising part of the issue was the massive attention Xiang Xiang has attracted. ‘Pandas are not much of a novelty to me back home. I think it's interesting to see people queue for so long though. The extended hours will probably help the crowd to be honest,’ she said. To avoid congestion, each visitor gets two minutes to observe the cub -- along with her 12-year-old mother Shin Shin. There are no limits for viewing Xiang Xiang's father Ri Ri in the neighbouring enclosure.
* Avalanche engulfs skiers after volcano erupts at ski resort * At least 12 people hurt; six Self Defence Force members trapped * SDF members had been on manoeuvres; all rescued but some hurt * Footage shows falling rocks, gondola with smashed window At least 12 people were injured, some critically, when rocks from an erupting volcano rained down on skiers at a mountain resort in central Japan on Tuesday and an avalanche soon after the eruption engulfed about a dozen skiers. Six of those trapped were members of Japan's Ground Self Defence Force (SDF) engaged in winter training manoeuvres, Defence Minister Itsunori Onodera said. All were rescued but most were injured, with several suffering fractures. Japanese media reported that at least 12 people were injured, many apparently hit by volcanic rocks. Two were critically injured and three suffered serious injuries, national broadcaster NHK said. One person was trapped in the avalanche for some time before being dug out by rescuers, who included SDF members. Kusatsu-Shirane, a 2,160-metre (7,090 ft) volcano, erupted on Tuesday morning, the Japanese Meteorological Agency (JMA) said. The agency warned that further eruptions could not be ruled out and that rocks could be thrown as far as 2 km (1 mile) from the peak. Video footage from the top of the resort's gondola showed black rocks plummeting through the sky and snow billowing up as they struck the ground, followed by a curtain of black smoke. ‘There was this huge boom, and a big plume of totally black smoke rose up,’ one skier told NHK. ‘I had absolutely no idea what had happened.’ A photograph taken at the site and shown on NHK depicted a gondola with a shattered window. At least several of the injuries were due to broken glass. ‘Several other people appeared to be hurt by the stones, which appeared to be around 10 to 20 cm in size,’ another skier told NHK. The resort temporarily lost power, leaving a number of skiers suspended in gondolas for around half an hour until they resumed moving. Around 80 skiers were awaiting rescue at a hut at the top of the mountain. It was unclear whether the avalanche was caused by the volcanic activity, but they occurred nearly simultaneously. The warning level for the peak was raised to 3, meaning that people should not climb the mountain, the JMA said. Japan has 110 active volcanoes and monitors 47 of them around the clock. In September 2014, 63 people were killed on Mount Ontake, the worst volcanic disaster in Japan for nearly 90 years.
The operator of Fukushima's crippled nuclear power plant has released fresh images of the wreckage inside a damaged reactor, showing broken metal parts and debris that could be melted fuel. Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO) inserted a special camera into one of the plant's three melted-down reactors on Friday, a company spokesman said, as part of its efforts to dismantle the disaster-hit facility in northeastern Japan. Images captured by the camera and released late Friday show rubble spread over the bottom of the unit, including part of a fuel container and rock-like fragments that could contain melted nuclear fuel. Locating fuel debris is a key part of the plant's decommissioning process, which is expected to take decades. Due to extremely high radiation levels, TEPCO has struggled to inspect the reactors which melted down when the plant was hit by a huge tsunami in March 2011. However it has recently succeeded in using cameras to visually monitor inside the units, last year releasing similar pictures of suspected fuel debris at the No. 3 reactor. ‘The success in taking the latest pictures was another milestone for our decommissioning process,’ the spokesman told AFP, adding that the operator plans to begin removing the debris in 2021. A massive undersea earthquake on March 11, 2011 sent a tsunami barrelling into Japan's northeast coast, leaving more than 18,000 people dead or missing and sparking the Fukushima crisis, the worst such accident since Chernobyl in 1986. The government has said that it expects total costs for decommissioning, decontamination and compensation to reach 21.5 trillion yen ($194 billion).
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.