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.
* Fair trade regulators raid Airbnb Japan * Japan Fair Trade Commission suspects site broke antitrust rules * Airbnb denies wrongdoing, says cooperating with investigation Japanese fair trade regulators raided last month the offices of Airbnb Inc over suspected violations of antitrust laws, the home rental site said on Friday, denying any wrongdoing. The Japan Fair Trade Commission (JFTC) carried out an on-site inspection of Airbnb and the company is cooperating with the regulators' investigation, Airbnb Japan said. A JFTC spokesman declined to comment. Regulators seized documents from Airbnb in Tokyo on suspicion that it broke antitrust rules by asking users not to list properties on rival sites, according to the Nikkei business daily. "All hosts and partners in Japan who list properties on Airbnb are able to list them on other platforms, and we will work with the JFTC to address any questions they may have," a Singapore-based Airbnb spokesman said. The Nikkei said that Airbnb forced some users to sign contracts promising not to use other sites. The Airbnb spokesman said this was not the case. Airbnb competes with hotels and other traditional forms of lodging from bed and breakfasts to holiday lets by helping people rent out their homes or apartments, either in full or as part of a house-share. But as with its taxi-hailing peer Uber Technologies Inc , Airbnb's rise has seen a growing crackdown by legislators in cities such as Amsterdam and Barcelona. The hotel industry sees Airbnb and other services as providing unfair competition, while community groups have criticised the site for driving up property prices and contributing to housing shortages as landlords buy to let. In Japan, a scarcity of hotel rooms in metropolitan areas and record numbers of tourists have presented an opportunity for short-term rental providers such as Airbnb ahead of the 2020 Olympic Games. But community worries about noise and safety, along with opposition from hotels and traditional "ryokan" inns, have presented obstacles to efforts to loosen regulations on short-term rentals. In June, Japan passed a law allowing people to rent out their homes for up to 180 days, after registering with the authorities. Airbnb said five million people had used its service in Japan - its most popular destination in Asia - in the last twelve months.
A 70-year-old Japanese woman nicknamed the "black widow" was sentenced to death on Tuesday for killing her husband and two others and attempting to murder a fourth between 2007 and 2013, local media reported. The Kyoto District Court sentenced Chisako Kakehi to death. Her defence team had pleaded she was not guilty, due to a lack of physical evidence, and had argued she could not be held responsible because of her dementia, the Kyodo News agency reported. "In all four cases, the accused made the victims drink cyanide with intent to kill," Judge Ayako Nakagawa told the court, broadcaster NHK reported. Kakehi was arrested in November 2014 on suspicion of having killed her husband Isao with cyanide. When her trial began in June, Kakehi refused to speak, but later she admitted to killing Isao in December 2013, a month after their marriage. Kakehi said Isao had not treated her as well financially as he had another woman he had dated. "I wasn't given any money after I married him," she told the court in July, according to the Japan Times. "I have no intention of hiding the guilt. I will laugh it off and die if I am sentenced to death tomorrow." The Japanese press have nicknamed Kakehi a "black widow," or venomous spider. Kakehi married or dated more than 10 men and inherited about 1bn yen ($8.8mn) as she was looking for wealthy men through dating agencies. But she ended up falling into debt following her attempts to speculate in stocks and futures trading.
The time for “strategic patience” with North Korea is over, US President Donald Trump warned yesterday, after winning Japan’s backing for his policy of considering all options to rein in the rogue state. Trump described the North’s nuclear programme as “a threat to the civilised world and international peace and stability” on the second day of an Asian tour dominated by the crisis. The president has signalled in the past that Washington could look beyond a diplomatic solution to the North’s nuclear weapons ambitions and consider military intervention. “The era of strategic patience is over,” he declared alongside his host, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Washington in the past hoped that sanctions pressure and internal stresses in the isolated country would gradually bring about change. But critics said that policy gave Pyongyang room to push ahead with its nuclear ambitions. Close ally Abe echoed Trump’s remarks, voicing Japan’s support for Washington’s policy that “all options are on the table” to deal with the North Korean threat – including military force. Abe, whose country is under the path of North Korean missile launches, also announced Japanese sanctions on the assets of 35 North Korean groups and individuals. The United Nations has adopted multiple rounds of sanctions against the reclusive North, the most recent in September following its sixth nuclear test and a flurry of missile launches. Earlier, Trump had appeared to adopt a more conciliatory tone towards North Korea, saying he would not rule out talks with its bellicose young leader Kim Jong-un. “I would sit down with anybody,” he said. “I don’t think it’s strength or weakness, I think sitting down with people is not a bad thing,” he said in a television interview. “So I would certainly be open to doing that but we’ll see where it goes, I think we’re far too early.” And the president again praised the “great people” of North Korea, adding “they are under a very repressive regime” and that he hoped it “works out for everyone”. But Pyongyang showed no sign of let-up in its attacks on Trump, with ruling party newspaper Rodong Sinmun calling him the “lunatic old man of the White House” and saying there was no telling when he would start a nuclear war. Abe and Trump’s joint news conference capped two days of chummy behaviour in which the two golf fans have teed off for nine holes and enjoyed informal and relaxed dinners. Abe said they had enjoyed each other’s company so much over a dinner of scallops and steak on Sunday night that they lost track of time, while Trump said their relationship was “extraordinary”. At a state banquet Trump described the Japan leg of his marathon Asian tour as being like a “working vacation” and said he had enjoyed “every minute” of it. “It’s an honour. To have you as my good friend,” said Trump. The trip has also provided lighter moments, such as when Trump appeared to lose patience feeding koi carp at the Akasaka Palace and tipped his whole box into the pond, to the evident amusement of his secretary of state. Aides had been concerned the unorthodox Trump would go off message or commit some gaffe in the famously rules-sensitive country. But Trump sailed through a tricky protocol encounter with the emperor, greeting him with a slight nod and avoiding the criticism his predecessor Barack Obama got by bowing to the diminutive Japanese ruler. There were also moments of high emotion when Trump met the families of civilians abducted in the 1970s and 1980s, who were clutching pictures of their young family members. A number of ordinary Japanese citizens were kidnapped by North Korean agents in order to train spies in Japanese language and culture. Trump said he would do everything he could to secure their release and appeared to hold out the prospect of a deal with Kim. “I think it would be a tremendous signal if Kim Jong-un would send them back. If he would send them back, that would be the start of something very special,” he said. Despite the bonhomie, trade between the two nations remained a point of friction, with Trump earlier blasting ties as “not fair and open” and saying that Tokyo had been “winning” for decades at the expense of the US. “We seek equal and reliable access for American exports to Japan’s market in order to eliminate our chronic trade imbalances and deficits with Japan,” stressed Trump. Trump can expect a more muted welcome from his next hosts in South Korea, where his relationship with President Moon Jae-in is cooler. After that, he heads to Beijing for crunch talks with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping. “I like him a lot. I call him a friend. He considers me a friend. With that being said, he represents China, I represent the United States,” Trump said.
* Abe agrees all options on table on North Korea * Trump says Japan would shoot N.Korean missiles 'out of the sky' * Trump says working with Japan on trade problems US President Donald Trump said on Monday that America stood with close ally Japan against the North Korean "menace" and that Washington would work with Tokyo to sort out problems on trade between the world's biggest and third-largest economies. Speaking after a summit with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Tokyo, Trump repeated his mantra the "era of strategic patience" with North Korea was over, and that the two countries were working to counter the "dangerous aggressions" of the North Korean regime, which has fired two rockets over Japan. He said that Japan would shoot North Korean missiles "out of the sky" after completing purchases of US military equipment. Abe, for his part, said Tokyo would do so "if necessary". Trump also pressed Japan to lower its trade deficit with the United States and buy more US military hardware, but Abe dodged questions about the trade deficit. The US president is on the second day of a 12-day Asian trip that is focusing on trade and North Korea's nuclear missile programmes. "Most importantly, we're working to counter the dangerous aggressions of the regime in North Korea," Trump said, calling Pyongyang's nuclear tests and recent launches of ballistic missiles over Japan "a threat to the civilised world and to international peace and stability". "Some people said that my rhetoric is very strong. But look what's happened with very weak rhetoric over the last 25 years. Look where we are right now," he added. North Korea's recent actions have raised the stakes in the most critical international challenge of Trump's presidency. The US leader has rattled some allies with his vow to "totally destroy" North Korea if it threatens the United States and with his dismissal of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un as a "rocket man" on a suicide mission. Abe, with whom Trump has bonded through multiple summits and phone calls, repeated at the same news conference that Japan backed Trump's stance that "all options" are on the table, saying it was time to exert maximum pressure on North Korea and the two countries were "100 percent" together on the issue. Japan's policy is that it would only shoot down a missile if it were falling on Japanese territory or if it were judged to pose an "existential threat" to Japan because it was aimed at a US target. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hua Chunying, in response to Abe's comments, said that the North Korean "situation" was "already extremely complex, sensitive and weak". "We hope that under the present circumstances, all sides’ words and actions can help reduce tensions and reestablish mutual trust and getting the North Korean nuclear issue back on the correct track of dialogue and negotiations," she said. Trade deficits Trump said he was committed to achieving "free, fair, and reciprocal" trade and wants to work with Japan on this issue. "America is also committed to improving our economic relationship with Japan," Trump said. "As president, I'm committed to achieving fair, free, and reciprocal trading relationship. We seek equal and reliable access for American exports to Japan's markets in order to eliminate our chronic trade imbalances and deficits with Japan." Earlier, speaking to Japanese and US business executives, Trump praised Japan for buying US military hardware, which he said was the "best military equipment in the world". But he added that "many millions of cars are sold by Japan into the United States, whereas virtually no cars go from the United States into Japan". Japan had a $69bn trade surplus with the United States last year, according to the US Treasury Department. The United States was Japan's second biggest trade partner after China, while Japan was the United States' fourth largest goods export market in 2016. Emperor, abductees Japanese officials have countered US trade complaints by noting Tokyo accounts for a much smaller slice of the US deficit than in the past, while China's imbalance is bigger. In a second round of economic talks in Washington last month, US Vice President Mike Pence and Japanese Finance Minister Taro Aso, who doubles as deputy premier, failed to bridge differences on trade issues. The two sides are at odds over how to frame future trade talks, with Tokyo pushing back against US calls to discuss a bilateral free trade agreement (FTA). Trump also said earlier that an Indo-Pacific trade framework would produce more in trade that the Trans-Pacific Partnership pact pushed by his predecessor but which he announced Washington would abandon soon after he took office. The 11 remaining nations in the TPP, to which Japan's Abe is firmly committed, are edging closer to sealing a comprehensive free trade pact without the United States. Trump met Emperor Akihito, exchanging a handshake and nodding, before his lunch and talks with Abe. He also met relatives of Japanese citizens abducted by North Korean agents decades ago to help train spies, calling the kidnappings a "tremendous disgrace" and pledging to work with Abe to bring the victims "back to Japan where they want to be". "I think it would be a tremendous signal if Kim Jong Un would send them back," Trump said. "If he would send them back, that would be the start of something, something very special." Abe has made resolving the emotive abductions issue a keystone of his career. The families hope their talks with Trump - the third US president they have met - will somehow contribute to a breakthrough, although experts say progress is unlikely. Abe also expressed his condolences for the victims of a gunman who massacred at least 26 worshippers at a church in Texas. White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said Trump had no plans to change the schedule for his 12-day Asian trip, which will also take him to Seoul, Beijing and Danang, Vietnam.
While her husband hit the greens, First Lady Melania Trump got a glimpse on Sunday of Japanese cultured pearls at Tokyo's glitzy Ginza shopping district on the first day of their Asia tour. Melania was welcomed by Akie Abe, the wife of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, at Mikimoto's flagship pearl shop as part of her cultural programmes, while dozens of security guards kept close watch. The two greeted and kissed each other on the cheek instead of shaking hands or bowing. Then they went upstairs to a "hidden floor" of the building, reserved for VIPs, to talk over tea and coffee. No details of their discussions were released. Mikimoto brought in two "ama" divers who traditionally harvest pearls, clad in typical white costumes with big goggles and wooden buckets, to explain pearl farming to the US First Lady. Japan is known for producing especially high-quality pearls. "Wonderful visit w/ Mrs. Abe today! Enjoyed conversation over tea & the cultural presentation on the history of pearls," Melania tweeted after the meeting. One of the divers, 57-year-old Miaki Okumura, told reporters after the two VIPs left the shop: "I was asked how deep the waters we dive are, and how long I can hold my breath." "I answered that the depth was about five-six metres and I can hold my breath for about 40-50 seconds," she said, adding that Melania Trump seemed impressed at her endurance. "She looked like a very kind person and was also very beautiful. Her hands were beautiful and warm when we shook hands." The other diver Saki Satonaka, 22, said Melania Trump "congratulated me for my debut as a professional ama diver a month ago." "I'll keep the wonderful memory of today's event throughout my life," Satonaka said. Melania posed with Akie and the divers for photos but made no comment to the press. The pair also watched an educational video on cultivated pearls. In the old days ama divers, the majority of whom are women, played an essential role in collecting pearl oysters in the sea. The firm was founded in 1899 after Kokichi Mikimoto, known as the pearl king, succeeded in cultivating pearls for the first time in the world in 1893 in the western prefecture of Mie.
Golfing buddies Donald Trump and Shinzo Abe teed off for a quick nine holes on Sunday, relaxing ahead of a high-stakes summit on the North Korea crisis. After a business lunch of hamburgers with US beef -- a possible cue to discuss trade issues -- the pair donned golfing kit for a round at the Kasumigaseki Country Club, which will host the event at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. They played with Hideki Matsuyama, one of the world's top golfers, and Trump had warm words for his skills. "He is the greatest player in the history of Japan. Possibly their greatest celebrity... He's a truly great player, a great athlete," Trump told reporters on Air Force One. Trump described Matsuyama as a "long ball hitter" but could not resist adding: "I hit the ball pretty long." However, he graciously conceded that Matsuyama was likely to tee off further than him, warning the press of possible fake news. "If I come back and say I was longer than him, don't believe it." Inside, the two leaders signed white caps that read, "Donald and Shinzo Make Alliance Even Greater." Abe and Trump played golf when the Japanese prime minister visited the United States in February, with the Japanese leader keen to stress that his skills were not on a par with Trump's. At the time Trump tweeted a photograph in which he was wearing a white baseball cap and polo shirt, high-fiveing Abe who was dressed in white pants and a navy blue cap. The two have enjoyed a near-bromance forged by a shared love of golf. Trump has praised Abe's "strong hands" and a "very, very good chemistry" between them. When they met at the Country Club, they greeted each other warmly, grasping each other's elbows under a clear blue Tokyo sky. "It's going to be a lot of fun," Trump said on the plane. Abe also appeared to have enjoyed his round, tweeting: "A round of golf with a marvellous friend (President Donald J. Trump), full of spirited conversation." He posted a picture of the pair apparently in earnest conversation strolling down the fairway, Abe in an indigo golfing jacket and blue cap, Trump in a grey jumper and white cap.
An AI character was made an official resident of a busy central Tokyo district on Saturday, with the virtual newcomer resembling a chatty seven-year-old boy. The boy named ‘Shibuya Mirai’ does not exist physically, but he can have text conversations with humans on the widely used LINE messaging app. Tokyo's Shibuya Ward, an area popular with fashion-conscious young people, has given the character his own special residence certificate. This makes him Japan's first, and maybe the world's first, artificial intelligence bot to be granted a place on a real-life local registry. Mirai, whose name means ‘future’ in Japanese, is supposed to be a first grader at an elementary school. He can reply to messages and make light-hearted alterations to selfies he is sent. Shibuya said the project aimed to make the district's local government more familiar to residents and allow officials to hear their opinions. ‘His hobbies are taking pictures and observing people. And he loves talking with people... Please talk to him about anything,’ the ward said in a statement with Microsoft, the joint developer of the AI character.
Harassment in the workplace "can never be tolerated," Ivanka Trump, the daughter of US President Donald Trump, told an audience in Tokyo on Friday. The 36-year-old Ivanka Trump was speaking at the World Assembly for Women's conference, currently taking place in the Japanese capital. "All too often, our workplace culture has failed to treat women with appropriate respect," she said, in a speech about female participation in the economy. "This takes many forms, including harassment, which can never be tolerated." The comments come in the wake of a number of allegations in recent weeks made against Hollywood film industry heavyweights, who used their influence to get away with harassing women. The US president himself faced allegations of sexual harassment from several women during the 2016 election campaign, which his spokesperson described at the time as "fiction." But a recording of Trump speaking behind the scenes on a television show in 2005, which emerged last October, showed him boasting about being able to get away with inappropriate behaviour towards women. He later apologised for the remarks, saying "Anyone who knows me, knows these words don't reflect who I am."
Japanese police have found nine bodies with their flesh stripped off and heads severed in containers in a suburban Tokyo flat, media reported Tuesday. Police confirmed to AFP they had arrested 27-year-old Takahiro Shiraishi, who lives in the apartment in the quiet residential neighbourhood of Zama. Police originally found two heads inside a cool box at the entrance to the apartment before making the grisly discovery of the other body parts, according to Jiji Press. "During the course of the investigation, the heads of nine bodies have been discovered" inside various coolers and containers in the apartment, private TV network TBS said. For the time being, police arrested Shiraishi on a charge that he dismembered one body and placed it inside a cooler, a charge that he was not contesting, according to a spokesman at Tokyo Metropolitan Police. "He has said 'I dismembered a body and placed it inside a cooler and poured cat litter over it. It was meant to hide the body that I killed and to hide evidence'," the spokesman told AFP, declining to elaborate. According to TBS, Shiraishi told police he "dumped cut flesh and organs in the trash". 'Smell of sewage' The bodies were of eight women and one man, media reported. Jiji Press said Shiraishi had told police he chopped up the bodies in a bathroom and a saw was found in his room. The police spokesman could not immediately confirm these reports. The Sankei Shimbun newspaper quoted a neighbour as saying he had "smelled an odour he had never smelled before". "I thought it was the smell of sewage," he said. TBS said the body parts had been stripped of flesh. Teams of investigators swarmed over the apartment as dozens of journalists joined curious neighbours on the narrow street. Police used blue tarps to block views inside the two-storey building, and covered windows of the second-floor room where the bodies were discovered. 'Die with me' Authorities had been investigating the disappearance of a 23-year-old woman and discovered a connection between her and Shiraishi. This woman had earlier tweeted "I'm looking for someone to die with me," according to the Sankei Shimbun daily. Other media said Shiraishi and the woman had connected via a website featuring information about suicides. A CCTV image showed Shiraishi and the 23-year-old woman walking together last Monday, NHK reported. She had been missing since September 21 and her older brother reported her disappearance to police, according to the Asahi Shimbun. Japan prides itself on a low crime rate but is no stranger to high-profile violent crimes. Earlier in October, a 32-year-old father was arrested on suspicion of stabbing his daughter to death. He admitted torching the house in which his wife and four other children were found dead. In Japan's bloodiest crime for decades, Satoshi Uematsu faces charges of killing 19 people and attempting to kill or injure 24 others at a disability centre near Tokyo in July 2016. In 1997 a 14-year-old schoolboy decapitated an 11-year-old acquaintance and placed the head at the gates of his school.
From a car that wants to be your friend to another that burns off the fat: here are five hot vehicles on display at the Tokyo Motor Show. The biennial event opens for a media preview on Wednesday, before throwing its doors open to the public until November 5. The event will feature concept vehicles from top Japanese manufacturers, as well as fresh offerings from major European firms, such as Volkswagen, Peugeot Citroen and Volvo. - An 'understanding' car - The petrol heads that flock to the Tokyo Motor may really love their car but now there's a car that loves them back. Artificial intelligence is making further inroads into cars, with vehicles monitoring emotions, alertness, and stress levels for safe driving, including offering an option to take the wheel if the driver is tired or stressed. Japanese giant Toyota has created a series of concept vehicles that aims to ‘understand’ the driver so that machine and user can bond as ‘partners.’ ‘It loves you back,’ said one Toyota executive. The headline unit of Toyota's ‘Concept-i’ is a futuristic four-wheel model that talks to the motorist like a confidant. It reviews the person's behaviour patterns, as well as latest news and social media activity, to assess what the driver needs or wants to hear in a given situation, like offering comforting words to a parent after a fight with a teenage daughter inside the vehicle. Nissan, Honda and Mitsubishi will also feature vehicles assisted by artificial intelligence that analyses the driver, passengers and road conditions for a safe and comfortable ride. - Country for old men - Japan is well on its way to becoming the first ‘ultra-aged’ society, with 28 percent of the population over 65 and the car industry is doing its best for those who need a little help. Toyota will showcase a vision for a two-seater electric vehicle that uses a joystick for easy operation, assisted by auto-drive technology. Its design and spacious interior allow wheelchair users to easily transfer to the driver's seat. The vehicle also provides information on whether the driver's destination is wheelchair-friendly. Toyota will also display a Segway-like personal mobility unit called Concept-i Walk. But unlike Segway, the concept unit monitors the surrounding environment and the operator's physical and psychological conditions to ensure a safe ride. - Diet 'n drive - For fitness freaks frustrated by the sedentary nature of driving, car-seat maker TS Tech has the answer, a seat that allows you to burn the calories on the road. The seat surface shifts from side-to-side, exercising the pelvis and various muscles and burning off, so the firm claims from testing, as much as 100 calories in half an hour of driving. When the dream of fully automated driving becomes a reality, there will be a much greater opportunity for in-car exercise, says the firm. - Gadget central - Fittingly in gadget-obsessed Japan, several car manufacturers are unveiling extras for vehicles that make life run that little bit more smoothly. Smartphone texting app Line is teaming up with Toyota to show off ‘Clova’, a cyber assistant that can read text messages for motorists that cannot bear to disconnect while driving, among a range of other functions. With automated driving all the rage, Honda will showcase its ‘NeuV’ electric vehicle concept that drives itself, even when unmanned, so that multiple people can share the car. This could be especially popular in Japan where many urban motorists are reluctant to buy cars because they only drive at the weekend. - Sporty, Olympic electric cars - As tighter emission regulations around the world force global automakers to develop electric units, manufacturers at the show will be parading their latest offerings, with the emphasis on polished, sporty design. Nissan has put its LEAF electric in the hands of its motor sports engineers to create the NISMO concept that also offers autonomous drive features. Honda is staying secretive, but has promised to unveil ‘Honda Sports EV Concept’ for the first time. Mitsubishi is displaying its e-Evolution concept, billed as a ‘high-performance all-electric crossover SUV.’ Meanwhile, Toyota will show off a hydrogen powered fuel-cell bus concept named ‘Sora’, which will serve as a base for 100 buses to be introduced next year to run in Tokyo ahead of 2020 Olympics. Fuel cells work by combining hydrogen and oxygen in an electrochemical reaction to produce electricity that can then be used to power vehicles or home generators.
Japanese police have finally nabbed a nimble ‘ninja’ thief who dressed in black and scrambled over walls to commit scores of break-ins over an eight-year career -- and were astonished to find he was 74. Police in the western Japanese city of Osaka had been stumped by a string of burglaries, their only lead being security camera footage showing an agile thief with a black neck-warmer pulled up to the nose and a parker hood down to the eyebrows. ‘He was dressed all in black just like a ninja,’ a senior official at the Kawachi police station told AFP. But the master thief made a mistake in May -- his neck-warmer slipped and his identity was revealed on camera. Police recognised their man as Mitsuaki Tanigawa, 74, who had a previous record of thefts. They then started watching the aged crook and tried to trap him. ‘Investigators watched him doddering out from his house like any other old man during daytime. He then went to an abandoned apartment room where he changed and waited until it got dark,’ the official said. ‘When he came out in the dark, he was all in black... He did not take ordinary streets, squeezing through tight spaces between houses and running on the tops of walls,’ he added. As investigators were unable to pursue the agile thief to catch him in the act, they finally pounced when he came back to his hideout at 4am after robbing an electronics store. Under arrest, Tanigawa said he ‘hated working and thought stealing is quicker,’ according to the police official. He has been charged for over 254 break-ins for thefts totalling 30 million yen ($260,000) over the past eight years. He later told the police that he needed only 10 minutes to sneak into a house, stealing mainly cash from people as they slept. ‘He's a pro. He told us 'I have confidence in my job',’ the police official said. ‘If I were younger, I wouldn't have been caught. I'll quit now as I'm 74 and old enough,’ the thief was quoted as saying.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, buoyed by a huge election win for lawmakers who favour revising Japan’s post-war, pacifist constitution, signalled a push towards his long-held goal yesterday but will need to convince a divided public to succeed. Parties in favour of amending the US-drafted charter won nearly 80% of the seats in Sunday’s lower house election, media counts showed. That left the small, new Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDPJ) as the biggest group opposed to Abe’s proposed changes. Formed by liberal members of the Democratic Party, which imploded before the election and no longer exists in the lower house, the CDPJ won 55 seats, a final count by public broadcaster NHK shows. That is a fraction of the ruling bloc’s two-thirds majority of 313 seats in the 465-member chamber. Abe said he wanted to get other parties on board, including Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike’s new conservative Party of Hope, and was not insisting on a target of changing the constitution by 2020 that he floated this year. “We won a two-thirds majority as the ruling bloc, but it is necessary to strive to form a wide-ranging agreement among the ruling bloc and opposition (to revise the constitution),” Abe told a news conference yesterday. “And then we aim to win the understanding of the people, so that we can gain a majority in a referendum,” Abe said. He stopped short of claiming to have won a mandate for amending the constitution in Sunday’s election. Amending the charter’s pacifist Article 9 would be hugely symbolic for Japan. Supporters see it as the foundation of post-war democracy but many conservatives view it as a humiliating imposition after Japan’s defeat in 1945. It would also be a victory for Abe, whose conservative agenda of restoring traditional values, stressing obligations to the state over individual rights and loosening constraints on the military, centres on revising the constitution. “Mr. Abe is trying to create a legacy. His first legacy project was to get the economy out of deflation,” said Jesper Koll, head of equities fund WisdomTree Japan. “The second legacy is to change the constitution,” he said. “You can debate whether he has a mandate but what will make or break him ... is the constitutional issue.” Any revision of the constitution requires support from two-thirds of the members of both chambers of parliament and a majority in a public referendum, with no minimum quorum. “I think that debate in parliament will begin,” said Zentaro Kamei, a senior researcher at think tank PHP Institute and a former lawmaker of Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). “But the reason given for this snap election was Abe’s proposal to change what sales tax hike revenues would be used for. If he starts talking about the constitution, people will say, ‘You didn’t ask me that’,” Kamei said. Abe proposed last May adding a clause to Article 9 to legitimise Japan’s Self-Defence Force. Read literally, Article 9 bans a standing military but has been interpreted to allow armed forces exclusively for self defence. Parliament enacted laws in 2015 allowing Japan to exercise collective self-defence, or aid allies under attack, based on a reinterpretation of the constitution rather than a formal revision. Critics, including CDPJ leader Yukio Edano, say those laws violate the constitution. The LDP’s junior partner, the Komeito, is cautious about revising Article 9, perhaps even more so after signs that some of its dovish supporters had voted for the CDPJ. It also believes the biggest opposition party should agree with the proposed changes. Opinion polls show the public is divided on Abe’s proposal. An NHK survey before the election showed 32% in favour, 21% opposed, and 39% unsure. Media exit polls showed that, despite the LDP’s big win, 51% of voters do not trust the prime minister, a hangover from suspected cronyism scandals that eroded his support this year and a potential risk in case of a referendum.