Famed Japanese manga artist Fujiko Fujio A, known for beloved children's cartoons including "Ninja Hattori" and "Little Ghost Q-Taro", has died aged 88, local media reported on Thursday. The artist, whose real name was Motoo Abiko, was found outside his home near Tokyo on Thursday, private broadcaster TBS and others said. Police declined to confirm the reports to AFP, but tributes to Abiko were tweeted by other artists and those in the publishing industry. Abiko was the eldest son of a monk at a historic temple in central Toyama region. But his family left the temple after the death of Abiko's father when he was in fifth grade. "My father's death changed my life the most. If he had not died, I think I would have been a monk," he told the Asahi Shimbun daily in 2020. In high school, he became friends with Hiroshi Fujimoto, who later created Japan's much-loved cartoon "Doraemon", and the pair started to work together. They formed a partnership that debuted in 1951, jointly producing works under the pen name "Fujiko Fujio", and shared a Tokyo apartment with other famous manga artists including Osamu Tezuka. One of the duo's early works was "Q-Taro", about a good-natured, mischievous ghost child who starts living with a human family, which found fans in Japan as well as abroad. Abiko also created various manga by himself, including "Ninja Hattori", a ninja who becomes best friends with a regular kid, as well as other works targeted at adults. Despite his long-time association with Fujimoto, Abiko once confessed he was reluctant to read "Doraemon" cartoons too closely. "I've been avoiding reading (them) as a protective measure, because when I read them, I'm influenced by them and think 'I can't draw like this'," he said with a laugh.
Every school has its rules, but tough regulations at some Japanese institutions, mandating everything from black hair to white shoelaces, are facing increasing criticism and even legal action. Toshiyuki Kusumoto, a father of two in western Japan's Oita, is seeking court intervention to protect his younger son from regulations he calls "unreasonable". They include rules on hair length, a ban on styles including ponytails and braids, prohibition of low-cut socks and a stipulation that shoelaces be white. "These kinds of school rules go against respect for individual freedom and human rights, which are guaranteed by the constitution," Kusumoto told AFP. Later this month, he will enter court-mediated arbitration with the school and city, hoping authorities will revise the rules. Change is already under way in Tokyo, which recently announced that strict rules on issues such as hair colour will be scrapped at public schools in the capital from April. But elsewhere, the rules are fairly common and Kusumoto, who recalls chafing at similar restrictions as a child, hopes his legal action will bring broader change. "It's not only about our children. There are many other children across Japan who are suffering because of unreasonable rules," he said. Such regulations, which generally come into force when children enter middle school at around age 12, emerged after the 1970s, according to Takashi Otsu, an associate professor of education at Mukogawa Women's University. - Rules 'destroyed a student's life' - At the time, "violence against teachers became a social problem, with schools trying to control the situation through rules", he told AFP. "Some kinds of rules are necessary for any organisation, including schools, but decisions on them should be made with transparency and ideally involving students, which would allow children to learn democratic decision-making," he said. The array of regulations has been defended as helping ensure order and unity in the classroom, but there have been other challenges. In 2017, an 18-year-old high-school girl who was repeatedly ordered to dye her naturally brown hair black filed a lawsuit in Osaka seeking compensation of 2.2 million yen ($19,130) for psychological suffering. The case made national headlines and eventually led to the government last year instructing education boards to examine whether school rules reflect "realities around students". But in a sign of the difficult debate over the subject, both Osaka's district and appeals courts ruled schools could require students to dye their hair black within their discretion for "various educational" purposes. The student said she was regularly harassed over the issue even though she was colouring her hair to meet the requirements, according to her lawyer. "This rule destroyed a student's life," he told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity to protect his client's identity. The student, now 22, has not given up though, and in November appealed to the supreme court. - 'Recipe for unthinking children' - There are other signs of pressure to change the rules, including a petition submitted to the education ministry in January by teen members of rights group Voice Up Japan. They want the ministry to encourage schools to work with students on discussing rule changes. "We started this campaign because some of our members have had unpleasant experiences with school rules," said 16-year-old Hatsune Sawada, a member of Voice Up Japan's high-school division. The petition gives the example of a girl who was humiliated by a teacher for growing a fringe that, when flattened with a hand, covered the girl's eyebrows -- a violation of the rules. In Oita, the rules also include school uniforms designated by gender, with trousers only for boys and skirts for girls. The local education board says the rules "not only nurture a sense of unity among children but also ease the economic burden for families of buying clothes". But Kusumoto disagrees. "A sense of unity is not something that is imposed, it's something that should be generated spontaneously," he said. Imposing these kinds of rules "is a recipe for producing children who stop thinking".
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said on Monday the government would consider granting conditional early approval for the oral Covid-19 treatment being developed by Shionogi & Co Ltd. Kishida told a televised parliamentary committee meeting that provided the drug's safety and efficacy are confirmed by clinical trials "we would like to review it promptly". Shionogi separately said that new results from an ongoing clinical trial of the drug, known as S-217622, showed "significant difference" in antiviral effect compared to a placebo, as well as symptom improvement. Chief executive Isao Teshirogi told reporters that the company could file for early approval of the drug as soon as next week, and that it could deliver 1 million doses by the end of March. The Mainichi newspaper reported earlier that Japan is considering allowing Shionogi to start selling the antiviral oral tablets as early as this spring after giving the pharmaceutical company special permission to skip the final stage of the clinical trial. Shionogi's shares rose 3% in Tokyo trading on Monday, versus a 0.7% drop in the broader market.
Japan expanded regions subject to tighter coronavirus curbs to cover 70% of the country yesterday, as the government tried to counter a record wave of Covid-19 cases caused by the Omicron variant. The measures, already in force in 16 prefectures, will take effect in a further 18 including the western prefectures of Kyoto and Osaka and remain in place until the middle of next month. Nationwide cases rose above 60,000 for the first time since the pandemic began, a tally by broadcaster Fuji TV showed on Tuesday, with the capital, Tokyo, posting 12,813 new cases while the region of Osaka reported 8,612, both records. Economy minister Daishiro Yamagiwa told reporters the central government agreed to impose tougher counter-measures in 18 more regions in response to an increase of infections and hospital admissions driven by Omicron. A panel of health experts signed off on the plan earlier in the day. The curbs will run from tomorrow until Feb 20, empowering regional governors to ask restaurants and bars to shorten their business hours and to stop serving alcohol. The stricter measures come as the government is shifting its approach to handling the soaring number of cases. The health ministry announced late on Monday it will allow doctors to diagnose those who have had close contact with a Covid-19 patient and who show symptoms as being infected without the need for a test, if deemed necessary by local governments. The new policy will enable patients to get prompt treatment, said Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno. “We’re presenting a policy to expand the options available to patients,” he said. Managing Covid-19 without laboratory test confirmations is similar to how doctors fight influenza in areas where “the community burden is high”, said Kazuaki Jindai, a physician and researcher at Tohoku University. “The important thing is that some people will get sick eventually and we need to have a good monitoring system to make sure that they are safe. Not only by providing them hospitalisation but also access to new oral medications.” Kyle Tattle, president of the Japanese arm of US drugmaker Merck & Co INC., told reporters the company was working to provide its Covid-19 oral pill, molnupiravir, as soon as possible. The government would also weigh scientific data in considering shorter quarantines for people who have had close contact with Covid-19 patients, Kishida told a parliamentary debate.
Several high school students sitting their university entrance exam in Tokyo were wounded on Saturday in an apparent knife attack, Japanese media said. Public broadcaster NHK said three people were conscious after being injured in the morning when another student attacked them with a bladed object as they gathered to take their entrance exam. The alleged assailant, a 17-year old high school student, was arrested, the Asahi newspaper said. Half a million high school students across Japan are taking the annual university entrance exams this weekend in hundreds of venues across the country. Tokyo's Metropolitan Police Department said it could not comment on the details of the attack nor confirm any arrests. Violent crimes are exceedingly rare in Japan, but there have been a spate of knife attacks by assailants unknown to the victims. In October, a man dressed in Batman's Joker costume stabbed more than a dozen people on a train carriage in Tokyo, sending passengers screaming down the aisles of train carriages and scrambling out of windows to escape. A few months earlier, a man wounded several people in a knife attack on a Tokyo commuter train.
Snow blanketed Tokyo yesterday as hours of flurries forced the cancellation of over 100 domestic flights and the weather agency issued the city’s first heavy snow warning in four years. Residents held umbrellas and pushed their bicycles as large snowflakes began to settle, with the Japan Meteorological Agency saying up to 10cm could fall over a 12-hour period. The JMA issued a heavy snow alert for the Tokyo area for the first time since 2018, warning of potential disruption to traffic. The snow caused the cancellation of 66 departing and 53 arriving domestic flights at the Japanese capital’s main airport Haneda, an airport official told AFP, but no international flights were cancelled. Some commuter trains in Tokyo were delayed due to heavy snow, JR East railway operator said on its website. On Twitter, the weather agency warned residents that “caution for heavy snow is warranted” in central Tokyo. “Heavy snow warnings are being issued... The affected areas might be expanded. Please check the latest weather and traffic information!” At Sensoji Temple in central Tokyo, a popular tourist destination, some visitors dressed in traditional kimono and “geta” wooden sandals with split-toe socks walked past the landmark’s red columns and golden bells as snowflakes fell. The scene was more prosaic for commuters stuck navigating the rare weather event in the Ginza shopping and business district. “It’s kind of unusual that it snows this much in Tokyo in January,” Tokyo worker Keiichi Masuda, 37, said as he hurried home. “I need to be careful not to slip as I walk.” But others in the area were taking the time to soak up the unusual snowfall, including Tokyo resident Shigeko Nagahama, 73, who was taking pictures of the iconic Kabukiza Theatre. She stood alongside others enjoying the snow settling on the traditional architecture of the building that hosts kabuki performances. “It’s a beautiful sight. The snow lends a quaint aura to it, I think,” she said.
Snow blanketed Tokyo on Thursday as hours of flurries forced the cancellation of over 100 domestic flights and the weather agency issued the city's first heavy snow warning in four years. Residents held umbrellas and pushed their bicycles as large snowflakes began to settle, with the Japan Meteorological Agency saying up to 10 centimetres (four inches) could fall over a 12-hour period. The JMA issued a heavy snow alert for the Tokyo area for the first time since 2018, warning of potential disruption to traffic. The snow caused the cancellation of 66 departing and 53 arriving domestic flights at the Japanese capital's main airport Haneda, an airport official told AFP, but no international flights were cancelled. Some commuter trains in Tokyo were delayed due to heavy snow, JR East railway operator said on its website. On Twitter, the weather agency warned residents that "caution for heavy snow is warranted" in central Tokyo. "Heavy snow warnings are being issued... The affected areas might be expanded. Please check the latest weather and traffic information!" At Sensoji Temple in central Tokyo, a popular tourist destination, some visitors dressed in traditional kimono and "geta" wooden sandals with split-toe socks walked past the landmark's red columns and golden bells as snowflakes fell. The scene was more prosaic for commuters stuck navigating the rare weather event in the Ginza shopping and business district. "It's kind of unusual that it snows this much in Tokyo in January," Tokyo worker Keiichi Masuda, 37, said as he hurried home. "I need to be careful not to slip as I walk." But others in the area were taking the time to soak up the unusual snowfall, including Tokyo resident Shigeko Nagahama, 73, who was taking pictures of the iconic Kabukiza Theatre. She stood alongside others enjoying the snow settling on the traditional architecture of the building that hosts kabuki performances. "It's a beautiful sight. The snow lends a quaint aura to it, I think," she said.
A Japanese health ministry panel has recommended approval of the Covid-19 antiviral pill developed by Merck & Co, part of Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s plan to roll out new treatments by year-end as concerns rise about the Omicron variant. The panel’s decision sets the stage for shipments of 200,000 doses across the country, based on preparations announced earlier by Kishida. “I’m convinced the distribution of this drug is a major step forward for our nation’s Covid-19 handling,” Health Minister Shigeyuki Goto told reporters after the decision, adding that some medical institutions and pharmacies will start receiving the pill as soon as next Monday. Japan is betting heavily on oral treatments to keep serious infections and deaths at bay should a feared sixth wave of the pandemic emerge. The government agreed last month to pay Merck and its partner Ridgeback Biotherapeutics about $1.2bn for 1.6mn courses of their drug molnupiravir. In addition, Kishida announced last week a deal to procure 2mn doses of a separate antiviral pill developed by Pfizer and Japan’s Shionogi & Co is expected to soon file for approval of its own treatment, supplying another 1mn doses by early next year. US regulators on Thursday authorised the Merck pill for certain high-risk adult patients. Countries rushed to buy Merck’s molnupiravir after very promising initial results, but subsequent company data in late November indicated the drug was markedly less effective than previously thought. France cancelled its order on Wednesday. Asked about the debate over its efficacy, Goto said the Japanese panel evaluated the use of molnupiravir based mainly on the earlier test result, while adding the updated result “does not negate this drug’s effectiveness”.
At least 27 people were killed after a blaze gutted a mental health clinic in a commercial building in the Japanese city of Osaka yesterday, local media said, with police reportedly considering it a possible arson case. The fire broke out mid-morning and raged for half an hour on the fourth floor of the clinic, which also provided general medical care. The clinic’s charred interior was visible through burnt-out window frames as firefighters put up a tarpaulin to block the scene from view. Public broadcaster NHK and other major Japanese media said 24 people had died, citing local police, who did not immediately confirm the toll. Earlier yesterday an Osaka fire department official said that 27 people are feared dead in the blaze. In Japan, only a doctor can officially certify a death. “The municipal fire department is investigating the cause of the fire. I have received a report that Osaka police is investigating the fire as possible arson,” regional governor Hirofumi Yoshimura said on Twitter. Japanese media said a man in his 50s or 60s had allegedly dispersed a liquid to start the blaze. The man believed to have set the fire was taken to hospital and is in critical condition, NHK said. “Most of the people who lost their lives could be medical workers or patients at the clinic. This is unbearable,” Yumiko Inoue, a doctor from a nearby hospital, told Reuters as she looked up at the building’s charred windows from across the street. Prime Minister Fumio Kishida offered his “sincere condolences” to the victims and sympathy to those injured in the incident. Dozens of fire engines rushed to the scene of the blaze, which occurred in a business area near Kitashinchi train station in the city in western Japan. Osaka, a major economic hub, is Japan’s second-biggest metropolis after the greater Tokyo region.
Japanese researchers have developed masks that use ostrich antibodies to detect Covid-19 by glowing under ultraviolet light. The discovery by Yasuhiro Tsukamoto and his team at Kyoto Prefectural University in western Japan could provide for low-cost testing of the virus at home, they said in a press release. The scientists started by creating a mask filter coated with ostrich antibodies targeting the novel coronavirus, based on previous research showing the birds have strong resistance to disease. In a small study, test subjects wore the masks, and after eight hours, the filters were removed and sprayed with a chemical that glows under ultraviolet light if the virus is present. The filters worn by people infected with Covid-19 glowed around the nose and mouth areas. The team hopes to further develop the masks so that they will glow automatically, without special lighting, if the virus is detected. Tsukamoto, a veterinary professor and the president of the university, has studied ostriches for years, looking for ways to adapt their immunity power to fight bird flu, allergies, and other diseases. Tsukamoto told the Kyodo news agency he discovered his own positivity for Covid-19 after he wore one of the special masks and found that it glowed when checked. The diagnosis was confirmed after a standard test.
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida yesterday outlined an urgent plan to increase hospital beds and medical resources in preparation for a possible resurgence of Covid-19 infections this winter. After a deadly fifth wave of infections almost overwhelmed the medical system during the summer, infections and deaths have fallen dramatically as vaccinations have increased to cover more than 70% of the population. Emergency measures covering most of the country were lifted last month, but health experts warn that cases will likely rebound, as they did in Japan last winter. Ahead of that, the government plans to boost hospital bed capacity by about 30%, bolster in-home care, and collect data to predict which hospitals will come under pressure. “In parallel with strengthening the medical system, from December will use IT systems to make public the number of hospital beds and conditions at each hospital,” Kishida told reporters. The prime minister said earlier this week that the “trump card” in the government’s pandemic fight was the procurement of oral treatments that could prevent the need for hospitalisation. Japan will pay about $1.2bn to Merck & Co for 1.6mn courses of the Covid-19 antiviral pill molnupiravir, according to terms announced on Wednesday. That’s about half the supply that has been secured by the US and compares with a total of 1.7mn coronavirus cases seen in Japan since the start of the pandemic. Meanwhile, vaccine booster shots are due to start from next month, and the government is considering expanding inoculations to children as young as five. Japan has weathered the pandemic better than many countries, with just over 18,000 deaths so far and without the imposition of stringent lockdowns. But the government faced heavy criticism over a spate of deaths at home among patients due to hospitals’ inability to handle the rash of cases during the summer. Former prime minister Yoshihide Suga resigned in September over his handling of the crisis. To stave off the bed shortage, the health ministry has adopted a system that uses past and present infection data to predict when and where medical resources will come under strain. “A sixth wave is a question of when rather than if,” said Yuki Furuse, a Kyoto University professor who developed the predictive tool.
Toshiba's board has approved a plan to split the storied Japanese conglomerate into three companies, it announced Friday, following tension with shareholders and a controversial takeover offer. The announcement confirms reports earlier in the week that said management was under pressure from shareholders to maximise the firm's value by dividing its businesses. The proposal aims to spin two companies off from the rest of Toshiba's operations, one focused on infrastructure and the second on devices. The move is expected to take two years, with the goal of listing both new companies, Toshiba said. "The separation allows each business to significantly increase its focus and facilitate more agile decision-making and leaner cost structures," the company said in a statement. "As such, both companies will be much better positioned to capitalise on their distinct market positions, priorities and growth drivers to deliver sustainable profitable growth and enhanced shareholder value." The decision comes after months of tumult for the company, including the ouster of its board chairman and revelations that management sought to enlist government help in blocking shareholder action. Analysts said it was the result of pressure from activist investors who believe the move will boost the value of Toshiba's shares. They want "moves to shake the company up and get investors to reevaluate it and hopefully get a higher share price," said LightStream Research analyst Mio Kato, who publishes on Smartkarma.
Japan has detected its first outbreak of bird flu for the 2021 winter season, with confirmation of a case of "highly pathogenic avian influenza" at a poultry farm in the northeast of the country, the agriculture ministry said on Wednesday. About 143,000 egg-laying chickens are being exterminated at the farm in Yokote city in Akita Prefecture, the ministry said in a statement on its website, adding that restricted zones up to 10 km (6.2 miles) from the site have been established. "Under the current situation in Japan, we do not believe that there is any possibility of avian influenza being transmitted to humans through the consumption of chicken meat or eggs," the ministry said. But an increase in the number of people in China getting infected from bird flu this year is turning into a source of concern among epidemiological experts, especially as the world slowly recovers from the Covid-19 pandemic. China has reported 21 human infections with the H5N6 subtype of avian influenza in 2021 to the World Health Organization, compared with only five last year, it said, with six dead and many of the others critically ill. Outbreaks of bird flu have also been reported in recent days and weeks in Europe with farms in Poland the latest locations for infections, totalling 650,000 poultry. Last winter, Japan had its worst season of winter flu on farms yet, with more than 3 million chickens culled and a quarter of the country's prefectures affected. Japan has an egg-laying flock of around 185 million hens and a broiler population of 138 million, according to the ministry of agriculture.
A former nurse who murdered three patients by contaminating their intravenous drips with disinfectant was sentenced to life in prison on Tuesday by a Japanese court, according to local media. During her trial, 34-year-old Ayumi Kuboki admitted to killing the patients in their 70s and 80s five years ago in a case that shocked Japan. She had previously told police she may have killed 20 people over just two months, but later told prosecutors she could not comment on that during the trial. The presiding judge at the Yokohama district court said he had considered handing Kuboki the death sentence, public broadcaster NHK reported. "She said she regrets (her actions) and wants to pay for her crime. There's a chance she will be reformed, and I couldn't help but to hesitate over choosing a death sentence," the judge said. Court officials were unavailable for comment on Tuesday afternoon. Japan, where more than 100 inmates await execution, is one of the few developed nations that still have the death penalty. Prosecutors had demanded a death sentence for Kuboki but the nurse's lawyers reportedly argued that she suffered depression due to stress over the deaths of her patients, and had diminished capacity. Kuboki had told the court she did not want to be blamed by family members when something wrong happened to her patients when she was on her shift, and felt "relieved" when one of the victims died, NHK said. The son of one of the victims said he was not happy with the ruling, according to the broadcaster. "She killed innocent people with selfish motives and she's not sentenced to death. It's wrong," he said. Public support for capital punishment in Japan remains high despite international criticism, including from rights groups.
Japan announced on Tuesday that it has successfully launched a rocket carrying nine small satellites, all put into orbit, on a mission to test a variety of spaceflight technologies. The Epsilon-5 rocket lifted off from Uchinoura Space Center in the southwestern prefecture of Kagoshima at around, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) said. The rocket, which measures 2.6 meters in diameter and 26 meters in length and weighs 96 tons, carried nine satellites, and the size of the rocket is half the size of the rockets that Japan has been launching, and it uses artificial intelligence to ensure its safety. JAXA stated that one of the satellites on board the rocket, developed by Kawasaki Heavy Industries, is an experimental vehicle designed to collect space debris. JAXA launched an Epsilon in January 2019, sending seven satellites into space. The Epsilon series uses solid fuel, which takes less time to load on rockets than liquid propellant.
Japanese horse racing fans celebrated and commentators cursed their luck after a filly named Sumomomomomomomomo claimed her maiden win. The three-year-old made a dramatic late surge to claim victory at Tokyo's Oi racecourse on Monday, winning in the 12th race of her career. The horse's unusual name has made her a social media phenomenon in Japan, with fans and TV personalities lining up to cheer her first victory. "She finally won -- the horse with the name that makes race commentators cry!" wrote one Twitter user. "I'm finally able to say it properly," wrote another. Japanese television showed the commentator coping admirably with the eight "mo" in Sumomomomomomomomo's name as she sped down the final straight. The name is based on a Japanese tongue-twister that means "plums and peaches are both peaches". Nikkan Sports daily reported that soft toys of the filly were on sale in the racecourse shop, noting that the horse's popularity looked "set to take off". Jockey Naoki Machida said the fan support had helped secure the win. "When you hear cheers like that, it feels great when you're almost at the finish line," Nikkan Sports quoted him as saying.
Voting kicked off in Japan's general election on Sunday with Prime Minister Fumio Kishida hoping to win over a pandemic-fatigued public with spending promises as his long-ruling conservatives seek a fresh start. Kishida became leader of the Liberal Democratic Party a month ago after Yoshihide Suga resigned just a year into the job, partly due to public discontent over his response to the Covid-19 crisis. Following a record wave of infections that pushed the Tokyo Olympics behind closed doors, cases have now plummeted and most restrictions have been lifted. While this may ease some voters' frustrations, the LDP -- which has held power almost continuously since the 1950s -- is likely to lose seats and may have trouble retaining its commanding majority, analysts say. Kishida, 64, has pledged to issue a fresh stimulus package worth tens of trillions of yen to counter the impact of the pandemic on the world's third-largest economy. He has also outlined plans to distribute wealth more fairly under a so-called new capitalism, although details so far remain vague. Voters in Tokyo told AFP the virus crisis was an important factor in their decision. "The economy is suffering because of the coronavirus, so I compared the politicians' responses," said Chihiro Sato, 38, a housewife and mother of a toddler. Teruyo Kaneko, a 76-year-old retiree, said she was "focused on virus policies, and also wanted to say something to the long-running government about its arbitrary way of decision-making". But engineer Hiroyasu Onishi, 79, said he was more concerned by "the military threat from China". As of 11 am, voter turnout stood at 11.3 percent, down nearly one percentage point on the last general election in 2017. Japan's 106 million voters have "struggled to get excited about the new prime minister", said Stefan Angrick, a senior economist at Moody's Analytics. "Kishida faces headwinds from weak ratings and a more coordinated opposition, but an improving Covid-19 situation and economic outlook are factors in his favour." Across Japan, 1,051 candidates are standing for election to parliament's lower house. In recent decades, votes against the LDP have been split between multiple major opposition parties, but this time five rival parties have boosted cooperation in a bid to dent its stranglehold. Nonetheless, the LDP enjoys "great advantages" in Japan's political arena, with a strong network of supporters nationwide, said Michael Cucek, assistant professor of Asian studies at Temple University. The LDP wants to put a tumultuous year behind it, but "the fact that they are still having to fight so hard is, for them, highly embarrassing", Cucek told AFP. Kishida's approval ratings are around 50 percent, the lowest in two decades for a new administration in Japan. He has set a comfortable target of winning 233 of the 465 lower-house seats -- a simple majority including lawmakers from the LDP's junior coalition partner Komeito. However, such a result would be seen as a setback for the LDP, which previously held 276 seats on its own. Even if the party wins, a poor showing could lead to losses in next summer's upper-house vote, risking a return to Japan's history of revolving-door premierships, analysts warn. Since World War II, only five politicians have hung on to the prime minister's office for five years or longer, with some lasting just two months. Suga's predecessor Shinzo Abe was the longest-serving prime minister in Japan's history, in power from 2012 to 2020 after his first one-year term. "Kishida will need to convince the public and younger members of his party that continuity does not mean status quo, but rather maintaining what has worked and improving on what has not," Angrick said. As well as vowing to tackle the pandemic and working to boost the middle class, the LDP has said it will aim to increase defence spending to counter threats from China and North Korea. Meanwhile, some opposition parties have emphasised their support for social causes that Kishida has so far distanced himself from, such as same-sex marriage and allowing married couples to have different surnames.
* Japan's Princess Mako marries Kei Komuro, leaves royal family * Mako says aware of differing views on marriage * "Incorrect" reporting about husband caused her sadness, stress * Around 100 gather to protest marriage Japan's Princess Mako, the emperor's niece, married her college sweetheart on Tuesday, giving up her royal title and saying she was determined to build a happy life with her "irreplaceable" husband after a tumultuous engagement. In a news conference with new husband and commoner Kei Komuro marked by unusual candour for Japan's royal family, Mako said her marriage to Komuro had been inevitable despite the widespread opposition to it. Mako - now known as Mako Komuro - was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) earlier this year after an engagement plagued by a money scandal, intense media scrutiny and a three year separation from her fiance. "Kei is irreplaceable for me. For us, marriage is a necessary choice to live while cherishing our hearts," Mako told a news conference. She said "incorrect" reporting on her new husband had caused her "great fear, stress and sadness". "The flow of arbitrary criticism of Kei's actions, as well as one-sided speculation that ignored my feelings, made falsehoods somehow seem like reality and turn into an unprovoked story that spread," she added. The two, 30, were married in the morning after an official from the Imperial Household Agency (IHA), which runs the family's lives, submitted paperwork to a local office registering their marriage. Royal marriages usually involve a series of formal ceremonies and a celebration, but the two forewent all rituals and even turned down the $1.3 million usually given to women who leave the family. During the news conference, Komuro pledged to protect and support Mako. "I love Mako. I want to spend the only life I have with the one I love." "THEIR FEELINGS NEVER WAVERED" The two announced their engagement in 2017 at a news conference, where the smiles they exchanged won the hearts of the nation. But things soon turned sour as tabloids reported on a money scandal involving Komuro's mother, prompting the press to turn on him. The marriage was postponed, and he left Japan for law studies in New York in 2018, keeping in touch with Mako through the Internet. They were finally reunited this month. Television footage earlier showed Mako, wearing a pastel dress and pearls, saying goodbye to her parents and 26-year-old sister, Kako, at the entrance to their home. Though all wore masks in line with Japan's coronavirus protocol, her mother could be seen blinking rapidly, as if to fight off tears. Mako bowed formally to her parents, while her sister grabbed her shoulders and the two shared a long embrace. Komuro, dressed in a crisp dark suit and tie, bowed briefly to camera crews gathered outside his home as he left in the morning, saying nothing. His casual demeanour on returning to Japan in September, including a ponytail which was cut off before the marriage, had sent tabloids into a frenzy. The two will live in New York after Mako applies for her first ever passport. In a statement, Mako's parents acknowledged the opposition the marriage had faced. "But their feelings never wavered even once," they said. FINANCIAL DISPUTE Just months after the two announced their engagement, tabloids reported a financial dispute between Komuro's mother and her former fiance, with the man claiming mother and son had not repaid a debt of about $35,000. The scandal spread to mainstream media after the IHA failed to provide a clear explanation. Komuro said during the news conference he had offered a settlement and was working towards a solution, after issuing a 24-page statement on the matter earlier this year. About a hundred people gathered in a Tokyo park to protest the marriage. Public opinion polls show the Japanese people are divided. "There are various alleged problems involving Kei Komuro and his mother," said 44-year-old protester Kei Kubota. "However, they forced through this marriage without giving us any explanation." Analysts say the problem is that the imperial family is so idealised that people think not the slightest hint of trouble involving money or politics should touch them. In a statement issued after the news conference, Mako said she was distressed by one of the questions which had associated their marriage with the word "scandal". "What I would like is to just lead a peaceful life in my new environment," she said.
Japan's Princess Mako married her university sweetheart on Tuesday, giving up her title in a union bereft of traditional extravaganza, with the couple reportedly planning a move to the United States. Women in the imperial family cannot ascend the Chrysanthemum Throne, and lose their royal status when they marry a commoner. Emperor Naruhito's 30-year-old niece Mako is no exception as she weds Kei Komuro, who is the same age and works for a US law firm. Since announcing their engagement in 2017, the couple has faced tabloid scandals over reports his family had run into financial difficulties. But after years of delays, the pair have finally married -- albeit with no wedding ceremony, reception banquet or any of the traditional elaborate rites -- opting to do so privately, away from a public that has not always been kind. Mako has also turned down a large payment usually offered to royal women on their departure, reportedly up to 153 million yen ($1.35 million). Japanese royals are held to exacting standards and Mako has developed complex post-traumatic stress disorder because of the media attention, according to the Imperial Household Agency. A household official told AFP the marriage papers had been "filed and accepted" after TV footage showed her leaving the Akasaka Imperial Residence in the morning. The princess, holding a small bouquet of pale pink flowers, bid farewell to her family -- bowing to her parents and the press, and hugging her sister. Despite the negative press coverage and vicious online sniping, many Japanese say they support the marriage. "The most important thing is that she is happy," said Tokyo resident Machiko Yoshimoto, in her 60s. "Certainly, it would have been better to have a festive atmosphere, instead of this difficult situation, which is rather sad and regrettable," Shigehiro Hashimoto, 54, told AFP. In a survey by the Yomiuri Shimbun daily, more than half of respondents said they thought the marriage was a good thing, against 33 percent who did not. When the pair got engaged, they were all bashful smiles as Komuro called Mako "the moon" quietly watching over him, and she compared his smile to the sun. But while Japanese media initially fawned over Komuro, reports soon emerged that his mother had failed to repay a four-million-yen loan from a former fiance. The couple postponed their marriage and he moved to New York for law school in 2018, a move seen as a bid to defuse negative attention. The recent graduate only returned to Japan last month, sporting a headline-grabbing ponytail. Their reported plan to live in the US has drawn inevitable comparisons with another royal couple who have faced a media onslaught: Britain's Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. It is not clear if Mako will work once there, but she is well qualified, having studied art and cultural heritage at Tokyo's International Christian University. She also holds a Master's degree from Britain's University of Leicester. Tuesday's muted proceedings stood in contrast to those of another royal to marry out of the family: Ayako, the youngest daughter of former emperor Akihito's late cousin. At her wedding in 2018, she wore a crimson kimono robe for female aristocrats, with her hair swept back in a ponytail in a traditional style. The Japanese throne can pass only to male members of the family, and the children of female royals who marry commoners are not included. There has been some debate over changing the rules, and a government panel in July compiled notes on the issue including a proposal that royal women stay in the family, even after marriage. Although polls show the public broadly support women being allowed to rule, any change is likely to be slow, with traditionalists vehemently opposed. The newlyweds are due to speak to reporters on Tuesday afternoon, but will give a statement and provide written answers to questions to make the experience less stressful for Mako, the household said.
Japan's new prime minister on Sunday sent a ritual offering to the controversial Yasukuni shrine that honours the war dead but is seen by neighbouring countries as a symbol of Tokyo's past militarism. Fumio Kishida sent the "masakaki" tree offering under his name as prime minister to celebrate the shrine's biannual festival held in the spring and autumn, a spokeswoman for the shrine told AFP. Two of Kishida's ministers also offered sacred trees. Yasukuni honours 2.5 million war dead, mostly Japanese, who have perished since the late 19th century. But the central Tokyo shrine also honours senior military and political figures convicted of war crimes by an international tribunal. Earlier this year, three top ministers paid their respects at the shrine on the anniversary of Japan's World War II surrender. But a Japanese prime minister has not appeared there since 2013, when Shinzo Abe sparked fury in Beijing and Seoul and earned a rare diplomatic rebuke from close ally the United States. Kishida's predecessor Yoshihide Suga made a pilgrimage to the shrine on Sunday, the spokeswoman said, while public broadcaster NHK showed footage of his visit. Suga had avoided visiting the shrine after 2012, when he became the Abe government's spokesman, and only sent ritual offerings when he became prime minister. Visits to the shrine by government officials have angered countries that suffered at the hands of the Japanese military during World War II, particularly South Korea and China. Kishida, who became Japan's prime minister on October 4, does not plan to visit the shrine during the two-day autumn festival that runs through Monday, Kyodo News reported, citing unnamed people close to him.