* PM Kishida denounces attack on "foundation of democracy" * Police arrest suspect at the scene of attack * Police say attacker used homemade gun * Political violence rare, guns tightly controlled in Japan Former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, the longest-serving leader of modern Japan, was gunned down on Friday while campaigning for a parliamentary election, shocking a country where guns are tightly controlled and political violence almost unthinkable. Abe, 67, was pronounced dead around five and a half hours after the shooting in the city of Nara. Police arrested a 41-year-old man and said the weapon was a homemade gun. "I am simply speechless over the news of Abe's death," Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, Abe's protege, told reporters. Earlier, as Abe still lay in hospital where doctors tried to revive him, Kishida struggled to keep his emotions in check. "This attack is an act of brutality that happened during the elections - the very foundation of our democracy - and is absolutely unforgivable," he said. Abe had been making a campaign speech outside a train station when two shots rang out. Security officials were then seen tackling a man in a grey T-shirt and beige trousers. "There was a loud bang and then smoke," businessman Makoto Ichikawa, who was at the scene, told Reuters. "The first shot, no one knew what was going on, but after the second shot, what looked like special police tackled him." Kyodo news service published a photograph of Abe lying face-up on the street by a guardrail, blood on his white shirt. People were crowded around him, one administering heart massage. Abe was taken to hospital in cardiopulmonary arrest and showing no vital signs. He was declared dead at 5:03 p.m. (0803 GMT), having bled to death from deep wounds to the heart and the right side of his neck. He had received more than 100 units of blood in transfusions over four hours, Hidetada Fukushima, the professor in charge of emergency medicine at Nara Medical University Hospital, told a televised news conference. Nara police said the shooter, identified in the media as Tetsuya Yamagami, was a Nara resident and had worked at Japan's Maritime Self-Defence Forces for three years but now appeared to be unemployed. The police said they were investigating whether he had acted alone. The suspect said he bore a grudge against a "specific organisation" and believed Abe was part of it, and that his grudge was not about politics, the police said, adding it was not clear if the unnamed organisation actually existed. Members of the public laid flowers near the spot where Abe fell. TV Asahi reported that Abe's body would be transferred to his Tokyo home on Saturday. It was the first killing of a sitting or former Japanese leader since a 1936 coup attempt, when several figures including two ex-premiers were assassinated. Post-war Japan prides itself on its orderly and open democracy. Senior Japanese politicians are accompanied by armed security agents but often get close to the public, especially during political campaigns when they make roadside speeches and shake hands with passersby. In 2007, the mayor of Nagasaki was shot and killed by a yakuza gangster. The head of the Japan Socialist Party was assassinated during a speech in 1960 by a right-wing youth with a samurai short sword. A few other prominent politicians have been attacked but not injured. Abe served two terms as prime minister, stepping down in 2020 citing ill health. But he remained a dominant presence over the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), controlling one of its major factions. Kishida, who won the premiership with Abe's backing, said the LDP would continue election campaigning on Saturday to demonstrate its resolve to "never give in to violence", and to defend a "free and fair election at all cost". "I am stunned, outraged, and deeply saddened by the news that my friend Abe Shinzo, former Prime Minister of Japan, was shot and killed while campaigning," U.S. President Joe Biden said in a statement. "This is a tragedy for Japan and for all who knew him... He was a champion of the alliance between our nations and the friendship between our people." The United States is Japan's most important ally. Similar messages of sympathy and shock poured in from around the world following news of Abe's death, including from neighbouring Taiwan, China and Russia, as well as from across Asia, Europe and the United States. The yen rose and Japan's Nikkei index fell on news of the shooting, partially driven by a knee-jerk flight to safety. Abe is best known for his "Abenomics” policy of aggressive monetary easing and fiscal spending. He also bolstered defence spending after years of declines and expanded the military’s ability to project power abroad. In a historic shift in 2014, his government reinterpreted the postwar, pacifist constitution to allow troops to fight overseas for the first time since World War Two. The following year, legislation ended a ban on exercising the right of collective self-defence, or defending a friendly country under attack. Abe, however, never achieved his goal of revising the U.S.-drafted constitution by writing the Self-Defense Forces, as Japan’s military is known, into the pacifist Article 9. Abe hailed from a wealthy political family that included a foreign minister father and a grandfather who served as premier. He first took office in 2006 as Japan’s youngest prime minister since World War Two. After a year plagued by political scandals, voter outrage at lost pension records, and an election drubbing for his ruling party, Abe quit citing ill health. He became prime minister again in 2012, winning three landslide elections in a row before stepping down in 2020, again citing his health.
Japan's government warned Monday of a power crunch as extreme heat hits the country, with temperature records toppling and Tokyo's rainy season declared over at the earliest date on record. Residents in and around the capital have been asked to conserve energy, particularly in the early evening. Temperatures of 35 degrees Celsius (95 degrees Fahrenheit) are forecast in Tokyo throughout Monday, and the mercury is not expected to drop below 34 until Sunday, according to the Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA). "We ask the public to reduce energy consumption during the early evening hours when the reserve ratio falls," Yoshihiko Isozaki, deputy chief cabinet secretary, told a regular press briefing. But he warned that residents should do what was needed to stay cool and avoid heatstroke. Much of Japan would normally be experiencing rainy season at this time of year, but the JMA on Monday declared the season over in the Kanto region, home to Tokyo, and neighbouring Koshin area. It was the earliest end to the season since records began in 1951 and a full 22 days earlier than usual. The agency also declared an end to rainy season in central Japan's Tokai and part of southern Kyushu, saying this year's rainy season in these areas and Kanto-Koshin was the shortest on record. On Sunday, Isesaki city in Gunma prefecture north of Tokyo logged the hottest temperature ever seen in Japan in June, at 40.2C. "Immediately after the rainy season ends, many people are yet to be fully acclimated to heat and face a greater risk of heat stroke," the weather agency warned in a statement. Asako Naruse, 58, was out sightseeing in Ginza alongside pedestrians carrying parasols for shade. "Every year, July and August are this hot, but it's the first time I've felt such heat in June," she told AFP. "I'm from northern Japan, so these temperatures seem really extreme."
Japan Friday for the first time joined fellow members of the Group of Seven industrialised nations in pledging to end public financing for fossil fuel projects abroad by the end of the year to help combat global warming. "We commit to end new direct public support for the international unabated fossil fuel energy sector by the end of 2022," G7 energy and climate ministers said in a joint statement following talks in Berlin. The term ‘unabated’ refers to projects that do not employ techniques to offset some of the pollution caused by carbon dioxide emissions. Ending subsidies for the international fossil fuel energy sector was already part of a series of commitments agreed to by around 20 countries at last year's COP26 climate summit in Glasgow. Six of the G7 club of rich nations were among the signatories at the time -- Britain, Canada, Germany, France, Italy and the United States -- but Japan had resisted until now. "It is good that Japan, the world's largest financier of fossil fuels, has now joined the other G7 countries in making a shared commitment to end overseas fossil fuel financing," said Alden Meyer, senior associate at climate policy think tank E3G. Friday's pledge still allows for some "limited" exceptions of fossil-fuel financing so long as they are consistent with the 2015 Paris pact to curb global temperature increases. But Meyer said countries wishing to do so would face "a very stiff bar to clear". At their G7 talks, ministers also committed to largely end the use of fossil fuels in their electricity sectors by 2035, despite heavy tensions in the power market over Russia's invasion of Ukraine. "We further commit to a goal of achieving predominantly decarbonised electricity sectors by 2035," they said. - 'Absurdity' - To achieve this, member states promised to ramp up "the necessary technologies and policies for the clean energy transition" and accelerate the phase-out of coal. The pledge was welcomed by environmental campaigners, at a time when the war in Ukraine has sent energy prices soaring and Western countries are scrambling to wean themselves off Russian imports. "In a very difficult geopolitical situation, the G7 are united behind an end to fossil fuels by 2035 in the power sector. This is significant progress," said David Ryfisch of the Germanwatch environmental group. Speaking at the closing press conference, German Energy Minister Robert Habeck welcomed the pledges made by G7 nations, saying they sent a "strong signal for more climate protection". As well as a pledge to stop bankrolling fossil fuel projects abroad by the end of the year, Habeck highlighted the club's agreement to ditch all "inefficient fossil fuel subsidies" by 2025. "That we reward climate-damaging behaviour, either through direct subsidies or through tax advantages... is absurd and this absurdity has to stopped," he told reporters. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), in order to maintain the goal of capping global warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius, all financing of new fossil fuel projects must be stopped immediately. The Oil Change International campaign group has calculated that between 2018 and 2020, G20 countries alone provided $188 billion in financing for overseas oil, coal and gas projects.
Japan announced Thursday it will reopen to tourists from 36 countries starting June 10, ending a two-year pandemic closure, but travellers will only be allowed in with tour groups. The decision comes after the government last week said it would test allowing small group tours with visitors from the United States, Australia, Thailand and Singapore from this month. On Thursday, the government revised border controls to resume accepting package tours from 36 countries and regions where the Covid situation is relatively stable, it said in a statement. The countries include Britain, Spain, Canada, Saudi Arabia, and Malaysia. Japan will also expand the number of airports that accept international flights to seven, adding Naha in its southern Okinawa prefecture and Chitose near Sapporo in northern Hokkaido. For most of the pandemic Japan has barred all tourists and allowed only citizens and foreign residents entry, though even the latter have periodically been shut out. All arrivals have to test negative before travel to Japan and most must be tested again on arrival, though triple-vaccinated people coming from certain countries can skip the additional test as well as a three-day quarantine required for others. Tour groups are expected to take responsibility for ensuring visitors respect Japan's near-universal mask-wearing and other measures that have helped keep the toll from Covid-19 comparatively low. Just how many people will be able to take advantage of the careful reopening is unclear. A daily cap on people entering Japan is to be doubled to 20,000 next month, though tour groups are not expected to be counted in that figure, local media has reported. Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has said he wants to ease border control measures, but moves are expected to proceed slowly, with strong public support for the current restrictions. Japan welcomed a record 31.9 million foreign visitors in 2019 and had been on track to achieve its goal of 40 million in 2020 before the pandemic hit.
On Japan’s bullet trains, dogs usually have to travel in a carrier, but yesterday they could stretch their paws and enjoy the scenery on a special pet-friendly express. At Ueno station in Tokyo, 21 furry passengers boarded the sleek shinkansen train for a one-hour ride to the resort town of Karuizawa with their owners. “We’re having fun,” Yukari Seino, 48, told AFP, petting her seven-month-old chihuahua named Chobi, perched comfortably on her lap. “We travel a lot together, but in the past I’ve felt bad about keeping my dog in a cage,” she said, adding that the journey had been stress-free so far. Other four-legged day trippers on board the first ever “doggy holiday” service run by Japan Railways included Pomeranians, a terrier and a pointy-eared, cheerful-looking Shiba Inu. “It’s like we’re at home. I’m happy we can ride the train without worrying,” said 39-year-old Yoko Okubo, who joined the trip with her corgi. Pets are allowed on the shinkansen but they must be kept inside a holder, and their total weight including the cage must not exceed 10kg. A whole carriage was dedicated to the pooches yesterday’s tour, a pilot project organised by railway company JR East and its subsidiary JR East Start Up. They are keen to organise more regular pet-friendly excursions in the future, Start Up official Shino Furukawa told AFP. “We’ve received requests from customers who want to have a relaxing time with their dogs on the train,” she said. “We want to create an environment where people can live in harmony with their pets, who are part of the family. This is a big step towards making pet-friendly public transport a reality.” Japanese trains are famous for being spotlessly clean, and one of the biggest challenges was to maintain the impeccable standards on board, she said. Staff put plastic covers on all the seats and brought four air purifiers into the carriage, which will be spruced up after the trip to remove all dog hair.
The leaders of Japan and Thailand announced a new defence agreement yesterday as well as plans to upgrade their economic relations, as Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida wrapped up the last leg of a three-nation tour of southeast Asia. The agreement would facilitate the transfer of defence hardware and technology from Japan to Thailand, which has one of the region’s biggest and most equipped armies and a long history of ties with the US military. Further details of the deal were not disclosed. “This will help improve national defence and support investment from Japan in this activity which is an important goal for Thailand,” Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha said in a joint statement read alongside Kishida. Prayut said he discussed improvements in supply chains and the drafting of a five-year economic partnership with Japan, Thailand’s biggest investor. Southeast Asia has for decades been an important region for Japan, hosting some of its biggest names in industry, from infrastructure, engineering and industrial zones to the manufacturing of vehicles and electronics. The region remains a battleground between the US, Japan’s close ally, and rival China, Southeast Asia’s biggest trade partner. On his three-day trip Kishida also visited Vietnam and Indonesia, where Japanese firms maintain a large presence. As the leader of Asia’s sole member of the Group of Seven (G7), Kishida discussed Russia’s invasion of Ukraine during his trip to Southeast Asia, where only one nation — Singapore — has joined sanctions against Moscow.
Japanese rescuers on Monday confirmed the death of a child in a weekend sightseeing boat accident, raising the death toll to at least 11, as efforts to find survivors continued. The Kazu I was carrying 24 passengers, including two children, and two crew when it sent a distress signal on Saturday afternoon as it began to take on water in the frigid waters off Japan's northern Hokkaido island. Ten people were recovered and confirmed dead by early Sunday evening, and the coast guard said it retrieved a child later that night, whose death was confirmed on Monday morning. The boat sent the distress signal from off the coast of Japan's Shiretoko Peninsula, prompting the launch of an immediate search-and-rescue operation, though the remote nature of the location meant it took several hours for coast guard vessels and helicopters to arrive on the scene. All those on board were reportedly wearing life jackets, but hopes for survivors faded due to icy temperatures, with the water estimated to be at around two or three degrees Celsius. The boat had set out on Saturday morning on a sightseeing cruise of the sort that is popular in the Shiretoko Peninsula, a designated UNESCO World Heritage site for its pristine natural environment and diverse wildlife. The tour went ahead despite high winds and waves that reportedly prompted some local fishing boats to return to shore to avoid the worsening conditions. Japan's Self Defence Forces and police, as well as some local fishing boats, were assisting in the search operation, with local media saying bodies had been retrieved from both the water and coast. The transport ministry has sent officials to the company that operated the sightseeing boat to determine whether they were operating within safety guidelines, and to investigate the cause of the accident, a ministry spokesman told AFP. - 'Praying for their safety' - Those killed in the accident have not yet been identified, though officials said they included seven men and three women, in addition to the child. A man whose parents and brother were on the boat told the Mainichi Shimbun newspaper that he had given them the tour as a present. "They may still be in the cold sea, but I'm praying for their safety," he told the newspaper. He said his parents had messaged him earlier in their trip to ask what souvenirs he would like, and soon after some crab and other Hokkaido specialities arrived at his house. He messaged them to say thank you, but got no reply. "I want to find out what happened to them as soon as possible, but I don't know what to do," he added. The Kazu I ran aground in shallow water in June last year, becoming stranded with 21 passengers and two crew members on board, according to Japanese media. The boat was able to leave the shallows on its own and returned to the port, but police investigated its captain for endangering traffic by negligence in the conduct of business. The Shiretoko Peninsula was designated a UNESCO world heritage site in 2005. It is well known for its unique wildlife, including the endangered Steller sea lion, as well as migratory birds and brown bears.
Japan’s famed cherry blossom season blankets the country in the delicate white flowers of the prized and popular “somei-yoshino” tree, delighting residents and visitors alike. But some want change. The season produces a nationwide frenzy, as forecasters compete to declare when full bloom will arrive, and Japanese unfurl picnic blankets for sometimes raucous flower-viewing parties — at least in pre-pandemic times. The blooms of the ubiquitous somei-yoshino strain, which accounts for more than 90% of the cherry trees planted in Japan, last only around a week and tend to emerge simultaneously in a given region because the trees are clones of a single specimen. And while the tree has become synonymous with blossom season, it is a growing headache for city planners because the strain is prone to disease and tends to grow too large to be well managed in urban settings. “It’s all about planting the right flora in the right place,” says Hideaki Tanaka, an expert on sakura — Japanese for cherry blossoms — who is trying to popularise other strains. “There are all kinds of sakura, not just somei-yoshino. I want to help recreate the old times when people enjoyed a wide variety,” added Tanaka, 63. He runs a farm in Yuki, in eastern Japan’s Ibaraki prefecture, with around 1,000 sample trees of 400 cherry varieties. His goal is to convince local officials across Japan to consider alternatives with petals in all shades of pink, or even rare green. As Tanaka sits on the grass among his trees, nail-sized petals of pale pink flutter down in the gentle breeze, while elsewhere other flowers are still coming into bloom. It’s a scene more like the cherry blossom seasons Japanese enjoyed several centuries ago, with a range of blooms arriving at different times. His farm is operated by the Flower Association of Japan, which gives cherry saplings to communities that want to create scenic spots to draw tourists and please residents. The farm has distributed about 3mn saplings, including somei-yoshino, but it is now promoting the “jindai-akebono” variety which is more resistant to infection and grows smaller, making it easier to prune. Its flowers bloom around four days earlier than somei-yoshino’s and are a stronger pink colour. But convincing Japan to turn its back on the somei-yoshino strain may not be easy. As urban development swept the country from the 1950s to 1980s, cities competed to plant countless millions of fast-growing somei-yoshino trees. Decades on, many of those trees have not been properly pruned, leaving them vulnerable to an infection called “witch’s broom” that deforms twigs, discourages flowering and can kill the trees. Somei-yoshino also grows large — as high as five-storey buildings in some cases — with sprawling branches stretching from enormous trunks that can develop hollows, and bulky roots that can crack pavements. Older trees are at risk during the country’s typhoon season, giving city planners plenty of reasons to consider replacing them. But residents are less convinced. In western Tokyo’s Kunitachi, it has taken officials three decades to remove around 80 of the approximately 210 trees that have been designated as needing to be felled or replaced. The trees formed an elegant floral tunnel every spring and residents wanted to keep them, said Ryusuke Endo, an official at the city’s roads and traffic division. “Some people moved here to enjoy them and bought apartments along the street,” he said, describing locals as emotionally attached to the trees.
Famed Japanese manga artist Fujiko Fujio A, known for beloved children's cartoons including "Ninja Hattori" and "Little Ghost Q-Taro", has died aged 88, local media reported on Thursday. The artist, whose real name was Motoo Abiko, was found outside his home near Tokyo on Thursday, private broadcaster TBS and others said. Police declined to confirm the reports to AFP, but tributes to Abiko were tweeted by other artists and those in the publishing industry. Abiko was the eldest son of a monk at a historic temple in central Toyama region. But his family left the temple after the death of Abiko's father when he was in fifth grade. "My father's death changed my life the most. If he had not died, I think I would have been a monk," he told the Asahi Shimbun daily in 2020. In high school, he became friends with Hiroshi Fujimoto, who later created Japan's much-loved cartoon "Doraemon", and the pair started to work together. They formed a partnership that debuted in 1951, jointly producing works under the pen name "Fujiko Fujio", and shared a Tokyo apartment with other famous manga artists including Osamu Tezuka. One of the duo's early works was "Q-Taro", about a good-natured, mischievous ghost child who starts living with a human family, which found fans in Japan as well as abroad. Abiko also created various manga by himself, including "Ninja Hattori", a ninja who becomes best friends with a regular kid, as well as other works targeted at adults. Despite his long-time association with Fujimoto, Abiko once confessed he was reluctant to read "Doraemon" cartoons too closely. "I've been avoiding reading (them) as a protective measure, because when I read them, I'm influenced by them and think 'I can't draw like this'," he said with a laugh.
Every school has its rules, but tough regulations at some Japanese institutions, mandating everything from black hair to white shoelaces, are facing increasing criticism and even legal action. Toshiyuki Kusumoto, a father of two in western Japan's Oita, is seeking court intervention to protect his younger son from regulations he calls "unreasonable". They include rules on hair length, a ban on styles including ponytails and braids, prohibition of low-cut socks and a stipulation that shoelaces be white. "These kinds of school rules go against respect for individual freedom and human rights, which are guaranteed by the constitution," Kusumoto told AFP. Later this month, he will enter court-mediated arbitration with the school and city, hoping authorities will revise the rules. Change is already under way in Tokyo, which recently announced that strict rules on issues such as hair colour will be scrapped at public schools in the capital from April. But elsewhere, the rules are fairly common and Kusumoto, who recalls chafing at similar restrictions as a child, hopes his legal action will bring broader change. "It's not only about our children. There are many other children across Japan who are suffering because of unreasonable rules," he said. Such regulations, which generally come into force when children enter middle school at around age 12, emerged after the 1970s, according to Takashi Otsu, an associate professor of education at Mukogawa Women's University. - Rules 'destroyed a student's life' - At the time, "violence against teachers became a social problem, with schools trying to control the situation through rules", he told AFP. "Some kinds of rules are necessary for any organisation, including schools, but decisions on them should be made with transparency and ideally involving students, which would allow children to learn democratic decision-making," he said. The array of regulations has been defended as helping ensure order and unity in the classroom, but there have been other challenges. In 2017, an 18-year-old high-school girl who was repeatedly ordered to dye her naturally brown hair black filed a lawsuit in Osaka seeking compensation of 2.2 million yen ($19,130) for psychological suffering. The case made national headlines and eventually led to the government last year instructing education boards to examine whether school rules reflect "realities around students". But in a sign of the difficult debate over the subject, both Osaka's district and appeals courts ruled schools could require students to dye their hair black within their discretion for "various educational" purposes. The student said she was regularly harassed over the issue even though she was colouring her hair to meet the requirements, according to her lawyer. "This rule destroyed a student's life," he told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity to protect his client's identity. The student, now 22, has not given up though, and in November appealed to the supreme court. - 'Recipe for unthinking children' - There are other signs of pressure to change the rules, including a petition submitted to the education ministry in January by teen members of rights group Voice Up Japan. They want the ministry to encourage schools to work with students on discussing rule changes. "We started this campaign because some of our members have had unpleasant experiences with school rules," said 16-year-old Hatsune Sawada, a member of Voice Up Japan's high-school division. The petition gives the example of a girl who was humiliated by a teacher for growing a fringe that, when flattened with a hand, covered the girl's eyebrows -- a violation of the rules. In Oita, the rules also include school uniforms designated by gender, with trousers only for boys and skirts for girls. The local education board says the rules "not only nurture a sense of unity among children but also ease the economic burden for families of buying clothes". But Kusumoto disagrees. "A sense of unity is not something that is imposed, it's something that should be generated spontaneously," he said. Imposing these kinds of rules "is a recipe for producing children who stop thinking".
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said on Monday the government would consider granting conditional early approval for the oral Covid-19 treatment being developed by Shionogi & Co Ltd. Kishida told a televised parliamentary committee meeting that provided the drug's safety and efficacy are confirmed by clinical trials "we would like to review it promptly". Shionogi separately said that new results from an ongoing clinical trial of the drug, known as S-217622, showed "significant difference" in antiviral effect compared to a placebo, as well as symptom improvement. Chief executive Isao Teshirogi told reporters that the company could file for early approval of the drug as soon as next week, and that it could deliver 1 million doses by the end of March. The Mainichi newspaper reported earlier that Japan is considering allowing Shionogi to start selling the antiviral oral tablets as early as this spring after giving the pharmaceutical company special permission to skip the final stage of the clinical trial. Shionogi's shares rose 3% in Tokyo trading on Monday, versus a 0.7% drop in the broader market.
Japan expanded regions subject to tighter coronavirus curbs to cover 70% of the country yesterday, as the government tried to counter a record wave of Covid-19 cases caused by the Omicron variant. The measures, already in force in 16 prefectures, will take effect in a further 18 including the western prefectures of Kyoto and Osaka and remain in place until the middle of next month. Nationwide cases rose above 60,000 for the first time since the pandemic began, a tally by broadcaster Fuji TV showed on Tuesday, with the capital, Tokyo, posting 12,813 new cases while the region of Osaka reported 8,612, both records. Economy minister Daishiro Yamagiwa told reporters the central government agreed to impose tougher counter-measures in 18 more regions in response to an increase of infections and hospital admissions driven by Omicron. A panel of health experts signed off on the plan earlier in the day. The curbs will run from tomorrow until Feb 20, empowering regional governors to ask restaurants and bars to shorten their business hours and to stop serving alcohol. The stricter measures come as the government is shifting its approach to handling the soaring number of cases. The health ministry announced late on Monday it will allow doctors to diagnose those who have had close contact with a Covid-19 patient and who show symptoms as being infected without the need for a test, if deemed necessary by local governments. The new policy will enable patients to get prompt treatment, said Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno. “We’re presenting a policy to expand the options available to patients,” he said. Managing Covid-19 without laboratory test confirmations is similar to how doctors fight influenza in areas where “the community burden is high”, said Kazuaki Jindai, a physician and researcher at Tohoku University. “The important thing is that some people will get sick eventually and we need to have a good monitoring system to make sure that they are safe. Not only by providing them hospitalisation but also access to new oral medications.” Kyle Tattle, president of the Japanese arm of US drugmaker Merck & Co INC., told reporters the company was working to provide its Covid-19 oral pill, molnupiravir, as soon as possible. The government would also weigh scientific data in considering shorter quarantines for people who have had close contact with Covid-19 patients, Kishida told a parliamentary debate.
Several high school students sitting their university entrance exam in Tokyo were wounded on Saturday in an apparent knife attack, Japanese media said. Public broadcaster NHK said three people were conscious after being injured in the morning when another student attacked them with a bladed object as they gathered to take their entrance exam. The alleged assailant, a 17-year old high school student, was arrested, the Asahi newspaper said. Half a million high school students across Japan are taking the annual university entrance exams this weekend in hundreds of venues across the country. Tokyo's Metropolitan Police Department said it could not comment on the details of the attack nor confirm any arrests. Violent crimes are exceedingly rare in Japan, but there have been a spate of knife attacks by assailants unknown to the victims. In October, a man dressed in Batman's Joker costume stabbed more than a dozen people on a train carriage in Tokyo, sending passengers screaming down the aisles of train carriages and scrambling out of windows to escape. A few months earlier, a man wounded several people in a knife attack on a Tokyo commuter train.
Snow blanketed Tokyo yesterday as hours of flurries forced the cancellation of over 100 domestic flights and the weather agency issued the city’s first heavy snow warning in four years. Residents held umbrellas and pushed their bicycles as large snowflakes began to settle, with the Japan Meteorological Agency saying up to 10cm could fall over a 12-hour period. The JMA issued a heavy snow alert for the Tokyo area for the first time since 2018, warning of potential disruption to traffic. The snow caused the cancellation of 66 departing and 53 arriving domestic flights at the Japanese capital’s main airport Haneda, an airport official told AFP, but no international flights were cancelled. Some commuter trains in Tokyo were delayed due to heavy snow, JR East railway operator said on its website. On Twitter, the weather agency warned residents that “caution for heavy snow is warranted” in central Tokyo. “Heavy snow warnings are being issued... The affected areas might be expanded. Please check the latest weather and traffic information!” At Sensoji Temple in central Tokyo, a popular tourist destination, some visitors dressed in traditional kimono and “geta” wooden sandals with split-toe socks walked past the landmark’s red columns and golden bells as snowflakes fell. The scene was more prosaic for commuters stuck navigating the rare weather event in the Ginza shopping and business district. “It’s kind of unusual that it snows this much in Tokyo in January,” Tokyo worker Keiichi Masuda, 37, said as he hurried home. “I need to be careful not to slip as I walk.” But others in the area were taking the time to soak up the unusual snowfall, including Tokyo resident Shigeko Nagahama, 73, who was taking pictures of the iconic Kabukiza Theatre. She stood alongside others enjoying the snow settling on the traditional architecture of the building that hosts kabuki performances. “It’s a beautiful sight. The snow lends a quaint aura to it, I think,” she said.
Snow blanketed Tokyo on Thursday as hours of flurries forced the cancellation of over 100 domestic flights and the weather agency issued the city's first heavy snow warning in four years. Residents held umbrellas and pushed their bicycles as large snowflakes began to settle, with the Japan Meteorological Agency saying up to 10 centimetres (four inches) could fall over a 12-hour period. The JMA issued a heavy snow alert for the Tokyo area for the first time since 2018, warning of potential disruption to traffic. The snow caused the cancellation of 66 departing and 53 arriving domestic flights at the Japanese capital's main airport Haneda, an airport official told AFP, but no international flights were cancelled. Some commuter trains in Tokyo were delayed due to heavy snow, JR East railway operator said on its website. On Twitter, the weather agency warned residents that "caution for heavy snow is warranted" in central Tokyo. "Heavy snow warnings are being issued... The affected areas might be expanded. Please check the latest weather and traffic information!" At Sensoji Temple in central Tokyo, a popular tourist destination, some visitors dressed in traditional kimono and "geta" wooden sandals with split-toe socks walked past the landmark's red columns and golden bells as snowflakes fell. The scene was more prosaic for commuters stuck navigating the rare weather event in the Ginza shopping and business district. "It's kind of unusual that it snows this much in Tokyo in January," Tokyo worker Keiichi Masuda, 37, said as he hurried home. "I need to be careful not to slip as I walk." But others in the area were taking the time to soak up the unusual snowfall, including Tokyo resident Shigeko Nagahama, 73, who was taking pictures of the iconic Kabukiza Theatre. She stood alongside others enjoying the snow settling on the traditional architecture of the building that hosts kabuki performances. "It's a beautiful sight. The snow lends a quaint aura to it, I think," she said.
A Japanese health ministry panel has recommended approval of the Covid-19 antiviral pill developed by Merck & Co, part of Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s plan to roll out new treatments by year-end as concerns rise about the Omicron variant. The panel’s decision sets the stage for shipments of 200,000 doses across the country, based on preparations announced earlier by Kishida. “I’m convinced the distribution of this drug is a major step forward for our nation’s Covid-19 handling,” Health Minister Shigeyuki Goto told reporters after the decision, adding that some medical institutions and pharmacies will start receiving the pill as soon as next Monday. Japan is betting heavily on oral treatments to keep serious infections and deaths at bay should a feared sixth wave of the pandemic emerge. The government agreed last month to pay Merck and its partner Ridgeback Biotherapeutics about $1.2bn for 1.6mn courses of their drug molnupiravir. In addition, Kishida announced last week a deal to procure 2mn doses of a separate antiviral pill developed by Pfizer and Japan’s Shionogi & Co is expected to soon file for approval of its own treatment, supplying another 1mn doses by early next year. US regulators on Thursday authorised the Merck pill for certain high-risk adult patients. Countries rushed to buy Merck’s molnupiravir after very promising initial results, but subsequent company data in late November indicated the drug was markedly less effective than previously thought. France cancelled its order on Wednesday. Asked about the debate over its efficacy, Goto said the Japanese panel evaluated the use of molnupiravir based mainly on the earlier test result, while adding the updated result “does not negate this drug’s effectiveness”.
At least 27 people were killed after a blaze gutted a mental health clinic in a commercial building in the Japanese city of Osaka yesterday, local media said, with police reportedly considering it a possible arson case. The fire broke out mid-morning and raged for half an hour on the fourth floor of the clinic, which also provided general medical care. The clinic’s charred interior was visible through burnt-out window frames as firefighters put up a tarpaulin to block the scene from view. Public broadcaster NHK and other major Japanese media said 24 people had died, citing local police, who did not immediately confirm the toll. Earlier yesterday an Osaka fire department official said that 27 people are feared dead in the blaze. In Japan, only a doctor can officially certify a death. “The municipal fire department is investigating the cause of the fire. I have received a report that Osaka police is investigating the fire as possible arson,” regional governor Hirofumi Yoshimura said on Twitter. Japanese media said a man in his 50s or 60s had allegedly dispersed a liquid to start the blaze. The man believed to have set the fire was taken to hospital and is in critical condition, NHK said. “Most of the people who lost their lives could be medical workers or patients at the clinic. This is unbearable,” Yumiko Inoue, a doctor from a nearby hospital, told Reuters as she looked up at the building’s charred windows from across the street. Prime Minister Fumio Kishida offered his “sincere condolences” to the victims and sympathy to those injured in the incident. Dozens of fire engines rushed to the scene of the blaze, which occurred in a business area near Kitashinchi train station in the city in western Japan. Osaka, a major economic hub, is Japan’s second-biggest metropolis after the greater Tokyo region.
Japanese researchers have developed masks that use ostrich antibodies to detect Covid-19 by glowing under ultraviolet light. The discovery by Yasuhiro Tsukamoto and his team at Kyoto Prefectural University in western Japan could provide for low-cost testing of the virus at home, they said in a press release. The scientists started by creating a mask filter coated with ostrich antibodies targeting the novel coronavirus, based on previous research showing the birds have strong resistance to disease. In a small study, test subjects wore the masks, and after eight hours, the filters were removed and sprayed with a chemical that glows under ultraviolet light if the virus is present. The filters worn by people infected with Covid-19 glowed around the nose and mouth areas. The team hopes to further develop the masks so that they will glow automatically, without special lighting, if the virus is detected. Tsukamoto, a veterinary professor and the president of the university, has studied ostriches for years, looking for ways to adapt their immunity power to fight bird flu, allergies, and other diseases. Tsukamoto told the Kyodo news agency he discovered his own positivity for Covid-19 after he wore one of the special masks and found that it glowed when checked. The diagnosis was confirmed after a standard test.
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida yesterday outlined an urgent plan to increase hospital beds and medical resources in preparation for a possible resurgence of Covid-19 infections this winter. After a deadly fifth wave of infections almost overwhelmed the medical system during the summer, infections and deaths have fallen dramatically as vaccinations have increased to cover more than 70% of the population. Emergency measures covering most of the country were lifted last month, but health experts warn that cases will likely rebound, as they did in Japan last winter. Ahead of that, the government plans to boost hospital bed capacity by about 30%, bolster in-home care, and collect data to predict which hospitals will come under pressure. “In parallel with strengthening the medical system, from December will use IT systems to make public the number of hospital beds and conditions at each hospital,” Kishida told reporters. The prime minister said earlier this week that the “trump card” in the government’s pandemic fight was the procurement of oral treatments that could prevent the need for hospitalisation. Japan will pay about $1.2bn to Merck & Co for 1.6mn courses of the Covid-19 antiviral pill molnupiravir, according to terms announced on Wednesday. That’s about half the supply that has been secured by the US and compares with a total of 1.7mn coronavirus cases seen in Japan since the start of the pandemic. Meanwhile, vaccine booster shots are due to start from next month, and the government is considering expanding inoculations to children as young as five. Japan has weathered the pandemic better than many countries, with just over 18,000 deaths so far and without the imposition of stringent lockdowns. But the government faced heavy criticism over a spate of deaths at home among patients due to hospitals’ inability to handle the rash of cases during the summer. Former prime minister Yoshihide Suga resigned in September over his handling of the crisis. To stave off the bed shortage, the health ministry has adopted a system that uses past and present infection data to predict when and where medical resources will come under strain. “A sixth wave is a question of when rather than if,” said Yuki Furuse, a Kyoto University professor who developed the predictive tool.
Toshiba's board has approved a plan to split the storied Japanese conglomerate into three companies, it announced Friday, following tension with shareholders and a controversial takeover offer. The announcement confirms reports earlier in the week that said management was under pressure from shareholders to maximise the firm's value by dividing its businesses. The proposal aims to spin two companies off from the rest of Toshiba's operations, one focused on infrastructure and the second on devices. The move is expected to take two years, with the goal of listing both new companies, Toshiba said. "The separation allows each business to significantly increase its focus and facilitate more agile decision-making and leaner cost structures," the company said in a statement. "As such, both companies will be much better positioned to capitalise on their distinct market positions, priorities and growth drivers to deliver sustainable profitable growth and enhanced shareholder value." The decision comes after months of tumult for the company, including the ouster of its board chairman and revelations that management sought to enlist government help in blocking shareholder action. Analysts said it was the result of pressure from activist investors who believe the move will boost the value of Toshiba's shares. They want "moves to shake the company up and get investors to reevaluate it and hopefully get a higher share price," said LightStream Research analyst Mio Kato, who publishes on Smartkarma.