Japanese social media reacted with a storm of outrage to a video by YouTube star Logan Paul showing a suicide victim in a forest near Mount Fuji, as anger spread over the now-deleted video on Wednesday. Angry comments flooded Twitter after Paul, who gained notoriety on social media and has a popular video blog or ‘vlog’, apologised for the footage, which was reportedly viewed six million times. The video shows Paul discovering a body in Aokigahara, a dense woodland at the foot of Mount Fuji known as ‘the Japanese Suicide Forest’, in a country that has long struggled with some of the highest suicide rates in the developed world. As news of the video and apology was reported in Japan Wednesday, social media erupted with indignation over the film, which showed a man who had hanged himself. ‘It is insane to show to the world the body of someone who died after being depressed. Shame on you,’ said one Twitter user @j_rivoluzione. Others objected to Paul's appearance in a novelty hat, while outtakes showing the US internet celebrity laughing and joking about the incident also stirred anger. ‘It's good to raise awareness but you can do it without filming a person who committed suicide,’ @spiffymiffy1 said. ‘It looks like he did it for self-satisfaction. Suicide and depression are serious issues. There's nothing funny about them.’ In his apology, Paul said he had posted the video in a mistaken effort to draw attention to the problem of depression and suicide. ‘It's easy to get caught up in the moment without fully weighing the possible ramifications,’ he said in his statement. Actress Anna Akana was among many in the US and elsewhere to hit out at Paul. ‘When my brother found my sister's body, he screamed with horror & confusion & grief & tried to save her,’ she tweeted. ‘You do not walk into a suicide forest with a camera and claim mental health awareness.’ Japan has the highest suicide rate of any Group of Seven industrialised nation, with more than 20,000 people taking their own lives each year. Aokigahara, located 100 kilometers (63 miles) west of Tokyo, has become such a well-known place for desperate people to kill themselves that authorities have put up signs among the trees urging people with self destructive thoughts to contact a suicide prevention group. ‘Life is a precious thing... Think again about your parents, siblings and children,’ the signs say. Suicides in Japan have fallen since their peak of 34,427 in 2003, with 21,897 taking their own lives in 2016. Google-owned YouTube indicated the video was removed because it violated the video-sharing platform's terms of service. ‘Our hearts go out to the family of the person featured in the video,’ a Google statement said. The statement added that YouTube prohibits ‘violent or gory content posted in a shocking, sensational or disrespectful manner’ and that such content is allowed only ‘when supported by appropriate educational or documentary information.’
Japan’s Emperor Akihito yesterday delivered his traditional New Year address with tens of thousands of well-wishers flocking to the Imperial Palace for one of the last such occasions before he abdicates next year. It was the final New Year appearance alongside Akihito for Princess Mako, his eldest granddaughter, who is scheduled to wed her college sweetheart in November and leave the royal family. The Imperial Palace said more than 73,000 people attended his address, many waving small Japanese flags and shouting “Banzai” or “Long live”. “Happy New Year. I’m sincerely glad to celebrate the new year together with you,” the emperor said in a televised address from a glass-covered balcony at the palace, where he was flanked by Mako and other family members. They will make two further appearances before the crowd in the afternoon. The emperor shocked the country in 2016 when he signalled his desire to take a back seat after nearly three decades in the job, citing his age and health problems. He will be the first emperor to retire — on April 30, 2019 — in more than two centuries in the world’s oldest imperial family. Akihito’s eldest son, 57-year-old Crown Prince Naruhito, is set to ascend the Chrysanthemum Throne a day later. The status of the emperor is sensitive in Japan given its 20th century history of war waged in the name of Akihito’s father Hirohito, who died in 1989. Akihito has keenly embraced the more modern role as a symbol of the state— imposed after World War II ended. Previous emperors including his father, Hirohito, had been treated as semi-divine. The palace, surrounded by stone walls and mossy moats — is opened to the general public twice a year — on the emperor’s birthday and the second day of New Year — for the royal family to greet well-wishers.
Japanese police said on Wednesday they have arrested a couple whose 33-year-old daughter froze to death in a tiny room where they had confined her for years because they believed she had a form of mental illness that made her violent. Western Japan's Osaka Prefectural Police Department said Airi Kakimoto's body was found in a state of extreme malnutrition after her parents reported the death on Saturday. She was 145 cm tall and weighed just 19 kg . Police said Yasutaka Kakimoto, 55, and Yukari Kakimoto, 53, had confessed that they fed their daughter only once a day and kept her in a 3-square-metre room for some 15 years. "Our daughter was mentally ill and, from age 16 or 17, she became violent, so we kept her inside the room," police quoted her parents as saying. People with mental and physical disabilities and their families can still suffer stigma and shame in Japan despite some changes in public attitudes. Police said the parents added the small room - fitted with a camera and a double door that could only be unlocked from the outside - to their house and equipped it with a makeshift toilet and tube to a water tank outside. About 10 surveillance cameras were installed outside the single-storey home, which was surrounded by a 2-metre high fence, police said. The parents found their daughter dead on Dec. 18 but they reported the death Saturday. "We wanted to be together with our daughter," police quoted them as saying. Police said the couple were arrested on suspicion of illegally disposing of a body, a step that often precedes more serious charges.
Japan's government on Tuesday approved the introduction of the US military's land-based Aegis missile interceptor system, beefing up its defence against ‘serious’ and ‘imminent’ North Korea threats. The regime in Pyongyang has fired two missiles over Japan this year and has threatened to ‘sink’ the country into the sea. Last month, North Korea test-fired an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) that plunged into the waters of Japan's exclusive economic zone. ‘North Korea's nuclear and missile development has entered a new stage of threat that is more serious and imminent to our country's security,’ the government said as it endorsed the introduction of Aegis Ashore at a cabinet meeting. Japan needs to drastically improve its missile defence, Tokyo added. Speaking later Tuesday at a lecture hosted by Jiji Press, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe vowed to take a hard look at whether Japan's defence capability is sufficient to protect its people. ‘While keeping our defence-only policy as the basic premise, I will examine what our defence capability should truly be like while facing up to the severe reality for our country,’ he said. Abe argued that the UN sanctions on Pyongyang must be taking effect now and dismissed the view that too much pressure could trigger an ‘explosion’ of violence. ‘Thinking that way gives North Korea the maximum bargaining power... What is important is not to give in to North Korea's bluff,’ he said, vowing to keep imposing pressure until Pyongyang begs for dialogue. Abe also sought cooperation from China to solve the problem. ‘As the North Korean issue faces an important phase, the role of China is extremely important,’ he said, adding he wanted to elevate relations with China to ‘a new level’ by reciprocal visits and other exchanges. - 'Permanent vigilance' - Japan plans to introduce the Aegis Ashore system at two locations, covering the entire nation with powerful radars. The deployment will hand the US ally another layer of defence in addition to SM-3 guided missiles launched by Aegis destroyer vessels and Patriot Advanced Capability-3 (PAC-3) missiles. However, it will take years before the Aegis Ashore system is operational, according to Japanese officials. The contract is yet to be signed with the United States and deployment at two locations could cost a total of 200 billion yen ($1.8 billion), including the cost of building new facilities. However, officials insisted the new system would boost Japan's missile defence. ‘Naval vessels need to return to their ports regularly for rest and refuelling, but if it's ground deployment, we will be able to operate almost 24-7,’ an official said. ‘We can be on permanent vigilance even when signs (of missile firing) are hard to detect,’ he said. Japan is reportedly planning a record $46 billion defence budget for the next fiscal year in the face of the North Korean threat. Defence Minister Itsunori Onodera said this month the country also plans to purchase long-range cruise missiles from US firms with a range of some 900 kilometres (560 miles). The move would be controversial as Japan's pacifist constitution bans the use of force as a means of settling international disputes.
Japan Tuesday executed two convicted murderers, including one who committed his crime while in his teens, the justice ministry said, ignoring calls from international rights groups to end capital punishment. The hangings of Teruhiko Seki and Kiyoshi Matsui bring to 21 the total number of executions since conservative Prime Minister Shinzo Abe came to power in late 2012. Seki, 44, was convicted of killing four people in Chiba, southeast of Tokyo, in 1992 when he was 19, the ministry said. It was the first execution of a death-row prisoner who committed crimes as a minor since 1997 in Japan, local media said. People are considered adults at the age of 20 in Japan. Matsui, 69, was sentenced to death for killing his girlfriend and her parents in 1994. Both were seeking a retrial, local media said. Though not unprecedented, it is rare in Japan to put to death those appealing for a fresh trial. ‘They were extremely cruel cases,’ Justice Minister Yoko Kamikawa told reporters. ‘I ordered the executions after very careful consideration,’ she said. Japan and the United States are the only major developed countries that still carry out capital punishment. The death penalty has overwhelming public support in Japan despite repeated protests from European governments and human rights groups. Opponents say Japan's system is cruel because inmates can be on death row for many years in solitary confinement and are only told of their impending execution a few hours ahead of time.
The wife of China's ambassador to Japan and the governor of Tokyo turned out on Monday to help mark this week's public debut of Japan's popular panda cub, who turned six-months-old this month. The healthy female cub was born in June, five years after her mother, Shin Shin, lost another cub within days of its birth. It has been nearly three decades since a baby panda at the capital’s Ueno Zoo has survived this long. Wang Wan, the wife of Chinese ambassador Cheng Yonghua, joined Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike at the media event one day before the general public can view the panda from Tuesday. Sino-Japanese ties are often strained by the bitter legacy of World War Two and regional rivalry, but panda diplomacy sometimes offers a touch of friendship to the relationship. ‘This year marks the 45th anniversary of the normalisation of ties between China and Japan. I think the birth of Shan Shan - pronounced Xiang Xiang in Chinese - is truly auspicious,’ Wang said. The panda toddler, small enough at birth to fit in the palm of a hand, now has typical panda markings and weighs around 12 kilograms. On Monday, media saw her munching bamboo, strolling and climbing - including perching precariously on a tree stump. The panda toddler's name, written with the Chinese character for fragrant, was chosen from more than 322,000 suggestions submitted by the public. Shin Shin and her partner, Ri Ri, arrived from China in February 2011 and went on view soon after the following month’s devastating earthquake, offering a scrap of good news for an anguished nation. A male cub born in 2012 was the first in 24 years at the Ueno Zoo, but six days after its birth, it was found lying motionless on its mother's belly and efforts to revive it failed.
A Delta flight travelling from Shanghai to Seattle made an emergency landing on Thursday in Tokyo due to a possible fuel leak, a Japanese transport ministry official said. None of the flight's 220 passengers and crew members was hurt in the incident, the official said. Delta 588, a Boeing 767-300, left the Chinese metropolis at 12:50 pm Chinese time, according to the company. Its pilot declared an emergency to the Japanese aviation authority as the plane flew over Japan, the official told AFP. "At 3:27 pm, the pilot told the air traffic service that there might be a possible fuel leak from the right wing," the official said. "An emergency was declared. The aircraft landed normally at Narita airport at 4:21 pm," he said. The airport dispatched 15 fire engines but they did not see any evidence of fuel leaking from the plane or any fuel dripping on the airport's runway, the official added.
A window from a US military helicopter fell onto a school sports ground in southern Japan Wednesday, the marines said, apologising for a "regrettable" incident likely to fuel opposition to their presence. There were no reports of serious injuries from the accident that took place at 10:09am (0109 GMT) local time at an elementary school near the Futenma marine airbase. The US military said it was taking the incident "extremely seriously" and was opening an investigation. "This is a regrettable incident and we apologise for any anxiety it has caused the community," the military added in a statement, urging local residents to stay clear from where the object landed "for safety purposes". The incident comes just two months after an American military chopper burst into flames after landing in an empty field in Okinawa. Such accidents have sparked opposition to the US bases on the strategic island, which would be a launchpad for any American military activity in Asia. "School children were taking a sports class on the field when the accident happened, but no one was injured seriously," a local police official told AFP. The window that came off from the chopper measured about 90 centimetres in length and width, he said. "My body is shivering with fear," a mother of one of the schoolchildren told private broadcaster TBS in front of the school. Another angry mother said: "My kid was among those who were on the field and children could have died if it fell on the wrong part of the field." The Futenma airbase is already a major source of mistrust between Japan's central government and Okinawa over a wider US military relocation programme signed between Tokyo and Washington in 1996. Residents want Futenma to be closed and a replacement built elsewhere in another part of Japan or overseas, saying they can no longer live with the noise pollution, accidents and occasional crimes committed by US service members. "This kind of incident causes worries among not only people at the school but all the people in Okinawa and should never happen," said chief Japanese government spokesman Yoshihide Suga.
Visitors to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics can expect to arrive at an airport "scattered" with robots to help them, an official said on Tuesday as he unveiled seven new machines to perform tasks from helping with luggage to language assistance. Among the seven robots on show was a fluffy cat mascot that can carry out simultaneous interpretation in four different languages. Visitors speak into a furry microphone, and translations appear instantly on a smart screen. Travellers may also be approached by a small white humanoid robot, Cinnamon, asking if they need its help. The sleek white robot can converse with visitors through its AI system and give directions. Another robot on display can carry luggage through the airport alongside the traveller. Yutaka Kuratomi, a representative from the Japan Airport Terminal, hopes that by 2020, the terminals will be "scattered with robots", and it will be "normal" to see visitors communicating with machines. They are also aimed especially at foreign visitors, who already have high expectations that Japan will show off its world-beating technology in the upcoming Tokyo Olympics. "We want foreign tourists to think that the Japanese people are cool when they come here," Kuratomi told AFP. The launch of the robots also comes as Japan grapples with a labour shortage against the backdrop of an ageing population. With Tokyo hosting the 2020 Olympics, Haneda Airport is bracing for a sharp increase in visitors from abroad and hopes robots can compensate for a lack of staff. The robots will be on a trial for a month at Haneda from January 9.
Japan will hold a drill with the United States and South Korea this week to practise jointly detecting airborne missiles, officials said yesterday amid rising security threats from North Korea. The announcement of the joint exercise, a sixth such drill since 2016, comes less than two weeks after Pyongyang test-fired a ballistic missile which dropped into the sea inside Japan’s exclusive economic zone in late November. The drill will be held in waters near Japan, Defence Minister Itsunori Onodera said as he visited a garrison in northern Japan. It is aimed at “practising tracking an object and sharing information on it among the three countries,” said a defence official who declined to be named. “It will translate into a measure against ballistic missiles,” the official said. Tensions over the North’s weapons programmes have soared this year, with Pyongyang carrying out its sixth nuclear test as well as a series of missile launches in defiance of multiple sets of UN sanctions. The US State Department’s special representative for North Korea policy will travel to Japan and Thailand this week for talks on efforts to build pressure against Pyongyang after its latest ballistic missile test. “The United States looks forward to continuing its partnership with both these nations so that the DPRK will return to credible talks on denuclearisation,” the department said in a statement. A senior UN envoy warned Saturday there was a grave risk that a miscalculation could trigger conflict with North Korea as he urged Pyongyang to keep communication channels open after a rare visit to the seclusive state.
Japan plans to purchase offensive air-to-surface missiles to counter North Korea’s rising military threat, its defence minister said yesterday, a move likely to stir debate over its decades-long pacifist policy. Itsunori Onodera said the ministry intends to request a special budget for the fiscal year starting April 2018 to purchase long-range cruise missiles deployed on fighter jets. According to local media, the ministry plans to buy JASSM and LRASM long-range, air-to-ground missiles with a range of some 900 kilometres (560 miles) from US firms. It also plans to buy Joint Strike Missiles with a range of some 500km from Norway’s Kongsberg Defence and Aerospace, news reports said. The move will likely draw controversy as Tokyo has long maintained an exclusively defence-oriented policy under its pacifist constitution, which bans the use of force as a means of settling international disputes. But Onodera insisted his ministry will continue to uphold the policy, telling reporters: “We will introduce them as standoff missiles that allow us to deal with our opponents from outside the range of threats.” Japan’s military policy has been restricted to self-defence and relies heavily on the US to attack enemy territory under the Japan-US security alliance. US President Donald Trump had caused consternation during his White House campaign by suggesting allies such as Japan need to do more to defend themselves, although since taking office Trump and his diplomats have offered reassurances of support. Earlier this week, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told parliament that North Korea’s missile tests were an “imminent threat” to Japan and talking to the reclusive state was meaningless. The upper house unanimously adopted a resolution protesting against the North’s firing of an intercontinental ballistic missile that dropped into the sea inside Japan’s exclusive economic zone last week. Global anxiety about North Korea has steadily risen this year, and Washington last week called on other UN members to cut ties with Pyongyang in order to squeeze the secretive regime. The call, however, has fallen short of persuading key North Korean backers China and Russia to take steps to isolate the regime.
A former priest wielding a samurai sword killed his Shinto priestess sister and another woman in an apparent family vendetta at a historic Tokyo shrine, before turning the blade on himself, police told AFP on Friday. Shigenaga Tomioka, 56, set upon his older sister Nagako, chief priestess at Tomioka Hachimangu shrine, with a samurai sword late on Thursday in a rare violent assault in the Japanese capital. The 58-year-old Nagako was later pronounced dead with a "deep" stab wound to her chest along with a laceration to the back of her neck. Shigenaga Tomioka had once served as a priest and the siblings had long quarrelled over shrine affairs, according to local media. Police refrained from commenting on the motive but said it was not a random assault. Nagako and Shigenaga are known to have fought over the succession rights at the shrine, local media said. While Shigenaga was assaulting his sister, another woman -- reportedly the attacker's wife -- pursued Nagako's driver with a sword. The driver escaped but suffered deep cuts to his shoulder, arm, and chest, police said. After the attack, the pair then moved to an area near the residential compound on the shrine's leafy grounds. "We believe the male suspect (Shigenaga) stabbed the woman before stabbing himself," the spokesman said, adding that they both died, bringing the total fatalities to three. The shrine dates back to 1627 and is best known for its summer water-splashing festival, seen as one of the top three festivals in Tokyo. It has received Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko in the past. Sumo wrestlers also pay visits to the shrine, which had hosted tournaments in historic times.
Japan’s Emperor Akihito will step down on April 30, 2019, the prime minister announced yesterday, the first retirement in more than two centuries in the world’s oldest imperial family. Shinzo Abe said he was “deeply moved” at the “smooth decision” taken at a special meeting of the Imperial Council to decide on the date for the popular 83-year-old to step down for health reasons. “The government will make utmost efforts to ensure that the Japanese people can celebrate the emperor’s abdication and the succession of the crown prince,” added Abe. Akihito’s eldest son, 57-year-old Crown Prince Naruhito, is expected to ascend the Chrysanthemum Throne the next day. The news was splashed across the front pages of the evening papers, with the Sankei Shimbun distributing a special abdication edition. The abdication will bring to an end the current Heisei era which has lasted the 30 years Akihito has been on the throne. The emperor shocked the country last year when he signalled his desire to take a back seat after nearly three decades, citing his age and health problems. There have been abdications in Japan’s long imperial history dating back more than 2,600 years but the last one was more than two centuries ago. Akihito is the 125th person to sit on the Chrysanthemum Throne since Emperor Jimmu, said to be a descendant of the legendary sun goddess Amaterasu. Emperors have played a crucial role in the country’s native Shinto religion, conducting various annual rites and prayers for the prosperity of the nation. There is no republican movement to speak of in Japan and the emperor and the royal family enjoy the admiration of the vast majority of the country. The emperor and his wife Empress Michiko are seen as being the more accessible face of a monarchy that largely remains in the shadows, unlike the British royals. But Akihito’s unexpected move presented a challenge since there was no law to deal with an emperor retiring from what is usually a job for life – and it reignited debate about allowing women to ascend the traditionally male-only throne. In June, the parliament passed a one-off rule allowing the ageing emperor to step down. The abdication must take place within three years and applies only to Akihito, who has been treated for prostrate cancer and has also had heart surgery. Some worried that changing the rule to allow any emperor to abdicate could put Japan’s future monarchs at risk of political manipulation. The status of the emperor is sensitive in Japan given its 20th century history of war waged in the name of Akihito’s father Hirohito, who died in 1989. Akihito was born in 1933 just as Japan was embarking on its militaristic sweep across Asia, and was 11 when the war ended in defeat. His father was allowed to remain on the throne after Japan’s defeat, but his status was downgraded from semi-divine sovereign to a figurehead with no political power. Akihito embraced the role and tried to use it to help heal the scars of the war while remoulding one of the world’s oldest monarchies for a democratic age. Even before he assumed the throne, Akihito broke with tradition when he married the daughter of a wealthy flour magnate in 1959, becoming the first imperial heir to wed a commoner. Akihito is barred from commenting on politics, but he has over the years hinted at his own anti-nationalist views. Speaking at a memorial marking the 70th anniversary of Japan’s surrender, Akihito expressed “deep remorse” for the country’s actions in World War II. The looming abdication has reignited concerns about a potential succession crisis. There are no more eligible male heirs after the 11-year-old son of Crown Prince Naruhito’s younger brother Akishino. Japan’s centuries-old succession would be broken if that son, Hisahito, does not have a male child. In response, Japan’s parliament has called for a debate on giving women a bigger role in the male-dominated monarchy. The idea – including the possibility of letting women ascend the throne – is popular with ordinary Japanese, but it is vehemently opposed by traditionalists. Female imperial family members lose their royal status upon marriage to a commoner, a point highlighted by the engagement of one of Akihito’s granddaughters, Princess Mako, to her college sweetheart.
A former US military base employee was sentenced to life in prison on Friday for the rape and murder of a local woman on the southern island of Okinawa, according to local media. The case has intensified longstanding local opposition to the American military presence on the strategic island, which reluctantly hosts nearly 75 percent of land allotted for US bases in Japan even though it accounts for just a fraction of the country's total area. Kenneth Franklin Shinzato, a 33-year-old former US Marine employed at the US Air Force's sprawling Kadena Air Base, was arrested last year for disposing of the body of the victim and was later charged for murder and sexual assault leading to death. Shinzato in November denied intending to kill the woman, identified as Rina Shimabukuro, but confessed that he had assaulted her. Prosecutors told the Naha District Court in Okinawa that the accused choked Shimabukuro with his hands and stabbed her in the neck during an attempted sexual assault on a road. The court on Friday handed down the life imprisonment sentence as requested by the prosecutors, according to public broadcaster NHK and the Asahi Shimbun daily. The court was not immediately available for comment. The victim's father said in a statement issued in April that the family ‘wants capital punishment’, according to NHK. ‘We think of her and pray for her soul every day... We cannot forgive’ Shinzato, the father said. A series of crimes including rapes, assaults, hit-and-run and drink-driving accidents by US personnel have long sparked protests on Okinawa, and have been a frequent irritant in relations between close security allies Japan and the United States. More than half the 47,000 American troops in Japan under a decades-long security alliance are stationed on Okinawa, the site of a major World War II battle that was followed by a 27-year US occupation of the island.
* Emperor defined as symbol of the state and people * Ex-monarchs sometimes retained clout in past * Second son to assume crown prince duties Emperor Akihito will hand over all public duties to his heir after retiring in what will be Japan's first abdication in nearly two centuries, the monarch's younger son said, responding to worries a former emperor might weaken his successor's status. Japan's constitution defines the emperor as a symbol of the state and the people, without political power. His duties include Shinto religious ceremonies and constitutionally-defined tasks, such as the opening of parliament. The octogenarian Akihito's 29-year reign has also been marked by travels to domestic disaster sites to cheer survivors, and overseas to soothe the wounds of a war fought in the name of his father, Emperor Hirohito, who was considered divine until Japan's defeat in World War Two. Some experts, recalling past examples when ex-emperors kept their influence, had feared the former monarch's existence would undercut the symbolic status of his heir, Crown Prince Naruhito. ‘The emperor all along has intended to pass all his public duties including state acts to the next emperor,’ Naruhito's younger brother, Prince Akishino, said in remarks published to mark his 52nd birthday on Thursday. ‘Even if there are concerns about 'dual authority', if that expression is appropriate, I can clearly say that it is impossible,’ he added. A law enacted in June allows Akihito, who turns 84 on Dec. 23, to step down, but details have yet to be worked out. A special panel will discuss possible dates on Friday, with the cabinet to make a final decision. The abdication is expected to take place in 2019. Akihito, who has had heart surgery and treatment for prostate cancer, said in rare remarks last year that he feared age might make it hard to fulfill his duties. Akishino, who is next in line to the throne after the 57-year-old Naruhito, said he wanted his father to rest after retiring. ‘I hope the emperor will spend relaxing time as much as possible after the abdication,’ he said. Akishino said he was willing to take on the crown prince's duties as much as possible after Naruhito ascends the throne but would need to consult his older brother. ‘This is unprecedented, so there are many things I can not imagine,’ he said. Akishino's 11-year-old son, Prince Hisahito, is the emperor's only grandson and will be second in line to the throne after the abdication. Naruhito's daughter, Princess Aiko, who turns 16 on Friday, cannot inherit the males-only throne.
* Harumafuji reported to have attacked junior wrestler in bar * Mongolian wrestler has won nine grand tournaments * Education minister urges ancient sport to eradicate violence Sumo grand champion Harumafuji announced he would retire on Wednesday to take responsibility for injuring a junior wrestler in an incident that has threatened to taint the image of Japan's national sport just as it was regaining popularity. The 33-year-old Mongolian-born ‘yokozuna’ (grand champion) had already apologised earlier this month after media reported he had beaten junior wrestler Takanoiwa while drinking at a restaurant-bar with other wrestlers. ‘As 'yokozuka' I feel responsible for injuring Takanoiwa and so will retire from today,’ a stern-faced Harumafuji told a news conference carried live by several Japanese broadcasters in Fukuoka, southern Japan, site of the most recent tournament. ‘I apologise from my heart to the people, sumo fans, the Japan Sumo Association, to supporters of my 'stable' (gym) and my 'oyakata' (coach) and his wife for causing such trouble.’ Harumafuji gave no details of the incident -- still under investigation by police -- which media reports said occurred when he got angry because the younger wrestler was checking his smartphone after being chastised for a bad attitude. ‘I had heard that he was lacking in manners and civility and thought it was my duty as a senior wrestler to correct and teach him,’ Harumafuji said. ‘But I went too far,’ he said, adding that the incident did not occur because he had been drinking. The incident has highlighted sumo's struggle to reform harsh conditions that can breed violence in its closed, hierarchical world, although some wrestlers say there have been improvements in the decade since a trainee was beaten to death. ‘Sumo, recognising its responsibility as the sport with the longest history in Japan, must stamp out violence so that the expectations of the people, including youth, are not again betrayed,’ Education Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi, whose ministry oversees sports, said in a parliamentary committee meeting. STRUGGLE WITH VIOLENCE The head of an advisory body to the JSA, the Yokozuna Deliberation Council, had said this week the affair warranted ‘extremely harsh punishment’ but did not issue a final decision because both the JSA and police were still investigating. ‘There is almost no doubting that an act of violence was carried out,’ Masato Kitamura, chairman of the panel, told a news conference after a council meeting on Monday. ‘The general feeling within the council is that a strict disciplinary measure is required,’ he added. A former oyakata was sentenced to five years in prison in 2010 after a court found he had ordered wrestlers to beat 17-year-old trainee Takashi Saito, who had tried to run away, in 2007. Saito died from his injuries. Mongolian yokozuna Asashoryu, who often found himself at odds with sumo authorities over his behaviour, quit the sport that same year after a probe into reports of a drunken scuffle in Tokyo. Those incidents and increased competition from other sports eroded the popularity of sumo, in which giant wrestlers clad in silk loin-cloths seek to topple, throw or push each other out of a raised ring. However, January's promotion of Japanese wrestler Kisenosato to grand champion, the first home-grown yokozuna in 19 years, helped to rebuild the sport's fan base. Harumafuji, one of many Mongolian wrestlers to dominate sumo in recent years, started his career in Japan at the age of 16 and was promoted to yokozuna in 2012. He has won nine grand tournaments in all. Reflecting on his 17-year career in sumo, Harumafuji said: ‘I really love sumo. The way of sumo is not simply to be strong, but through sumo... I wanted to inspire the people and give them courage and hope. The assault affair has grabbed headlines since the news broke earlier this month and on Wednesday was the second top news story on public broadcaster NHK, after the launch of a North Korean ballistic missile that splashed down near Japan.
Eight bodies, which had been reduced partly to skeletons, were found on Monday in a small wooden ship that washed up on a beach in the sea of Japan, the Japan Coast Guard (JCG) said. The ship came ashore on a beach 70 km north of a marina where police last week found eight men who said they were from North Korea. Police said they appeared to be fishermen whose boat, found nearby, had run into trouble. The JCG said they were working to establish the nationalities of the eight bodies on the ship. The bodies of two males, similarly partly skeletonised, were also found at the weekend on the western shore of the Sea of Japan island of Sado. Although the nationalities of these two have not yet been established, what appeared to be North Korean cigarettes and life jackets with Korean lettering on them were nearby, the JCG's Sado station said. Both local police and the JCG said the two may have been from North Korea. The incidents come at a time of rising tension over North Korea's nuclear arms and missile programmes after President Donald Trump redesignated the isolated nation a state sponsor of terrorism, allowing the United States to levy further sanctions. Experts say North Korea's food shortages could be behind what is potentially a series of accidents involving North Korean ships. "North Korea pushes so hard for its people to gather more fish so that they can make up their food shortages," said Seo Yu-suk, research manager of North Korean Studies Institution in Seoul. Small and old North Korean ships that sail beyond its coastal waters are vulnerable to bad weather, he said. Yoshihiko Yamada, professor at Japan's Tokai University, said fishermen operating in the Sea of Japan have just entered a season of hostile weather conditions. "During the summer, the Sea of Japan is quite calm. But it starts to get choppy when November comes. It gets dangerous when northwesterly winds start to blow," he said. A total of 43 wooden ships that were believed to have come from the Korean peninsula washed up on Japanese shores or were seen to be drifting off Japan's coast from January to Nov. 22 this year, compared with 66 ships for the whole of last year, the JCG said.
Tokyo opened its first new permanent venue for the 2020 Olympics Saturday in a welcome public relations boost for the organisers after a series of setbacks. The opening of the Musashino Forest Sport Plaza, which will also host badminton and modern pentathlon fencing, offers Tokyo organisers some respite after a disastrous rollout of plans for the 2020 Olympic stadium. ‘We are making real progress in our preparations,’ Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike told reporters at the venue's opening ceremony. ‘We have passed the 1,000-days-to-go mark and ... intend to build on this momentum and continue the hard work.’ The venue, which will also host wheelchair basketball at the 2020 Paralympics, is the first of eight new permanent venues to be completed. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe tore up the blueprints for the new national stadium two years ago amid public anger over its $2 billion price tag in an embarrassing setback. That decision deprived the 2019 Rugby World Cup -- also hosted by Japan -- of its main venue. Designs for the official Games mascot then had to be scrapped following accusations of plagiarism. There was more bad news last month when Olympic organisers admitted that prolonged summer rain had brought high levels of bacteria to a venue earmarked for triathlon and open water swimming. While Tokyo has taken successful measures to slash costs, the International Olympic Committee has urged local organisers to try to further reduce its current $12 billion Games budget, including finding ways to cut services at the athletes' village. Tokyo will have a total of 39 venues for the 2020 Summer Olympics and Paralympics, including 23 existing sites and eight temporary facilities in addition to the eight new permanent ones.
A local Japanese female politician who brought her baby into an assembly meeting to highlight the issues women face in the workplace has sparked debate after being ejected from the chamber. Yuka Ogata took her seven-month-old son to join a municipal assembly session of southern Kumamoto city on Wednesday but other lawmakers asked her to leave, according to local media. “Under the rules, only politicians, staff members and city officials can go on to the assembly floor,” an official at Kumamoto City Assembly told AFP yesterday. The assembly was delayed for 40 minutes. Ogata joined after leaving the child with a friend, according to public broadcaster NHK. “Apparently she told the chairman that she wanted to create a woman-friendly work environment,” the official said. Her move has sparked debate online with supporters saying she was brave and opponents questioning if it was a good idea to bring a baby to a workplace. “I think her act was wonderful. People wouldn’t take problems seriously” if she hadn’t shown up with the child, one Twitter user said. “Balancing work and child rearing isn’t about being with a child all the time at a workplace,” said another user, who identified herself as a fellow working mother. “I really cannot understand her action,” wrote this user. In May, a breastfeeding senator made Australian political history by becoming the first woman to nurse her newborn baby in the parliament.
A baby brought into a Japanese municipal assembly chamber by his lawmaker mother was promptly ejected because his presence was against the rules, an official said on Friday, highlighting the hurdles faced by working women in Japan. Yuka Ogata, a member of the Kumamoto city assembly, brought her seven-month-old son into the chamber on Wednesday but she was asked to take him out because of a rule limiting attendance to assembly members, city official Naoya Oshima said. Ogata tried to stay but the speaker of the assembly eventually persuaded her to take the infant out. She handed him over to a babysitter and returned. "I wanted to highlight the difficulties facing women who are trying to juggle their careers and raise children," the 42-year-old Ogata was quoted by the Asahi Shimbun daily as saying. Ogata was not immediately available for comment. Economists say given Japan’s rapidly ageing population, bringing women into the workforce is essential. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has made increasing the number of women workers a key part of his economic plan, pledging, among various measures, to increase daycare for children. He told the United Nations in 2013 that he would create "a society where women can shine", but little progress has been made. Japan ranked 114 out of 144 in the World Economic Forum’s 2017 Global Gender Gap report, falling 13 places since Abe took power. Abe appointed only two women to ministerial posts in a cabinet reshuffle in August, down from three and five respectively in his previous two cabinets. Only 14% of Japan’s lawmakers are women. Japanese labour law has no official system in place for maternity or parental leave for politicians. In 2000, a national lawmaker in Abe's Liberal Democratic Party took three days off from parliament to give birth, prompting the legislature to allow maternity leave for members. A total of 12 lawmakers have taken advantage of the time off, being granted up to three months of maternity leave at the most, the Mainichi Shimbun daily reported this year.