Strong quake hits Japan’s northeast coast; no tsunami alert


A strong earthquake has hit off the coast of northeastern Japan, shaking Fukushima, Miyagi and other areas

Tokyo Electric Power Co. said there were no irregularities at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant, which experienced meltdowns following a massive quake and tsunami 10 years ago.

There were no immediate reports of irregularities from other nuclear plants in the area, such as Onagawa or Fukushima Dai-ni, government spokesperson Katsunobu Kato told reporters.

Tokyo Electric Power Co. said that some 860,000 homes were without power as a result of the quake, but electricity was gradually being restored, according to Kato.

Kato said there was no danger of a tsunami from the quake. He said that some trains in northeastern Japan had stopped running, and that other damage was still being checked.

Video from public broadcaster NHK TV showed some pieces of a building wall had broken off and fallen to the ground, and pieces of glass were scattered at a store. Items fell off shelves because of the shaking, NHK said. NHK aerial footage showed a portion of a highway blocked by a landslide in Soma, a city in Fukushima prefecture.

The extent of damage from the landslide was not immediately clear, Kato said.

He said there were several reports of minor injuries from the quake, such as a man getting hit by a falling object.

The Japan Meteorological Agency said the quake was centered about 60 kilometers (37 miles) beneath the ocean.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga headed into his office immediately after reports of the quake, and a crisis center was set up there.

The shaking was felt in Tokyo, to the southwest.

The same northeastern area was slammed by a quake, tsunami and nuclear disaster in March 2011. Experts warned of aftershocks over the next several days, including possibly larger quakes.

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Japan’s Top League delayed due to virus


Michael Hooper’s debut for Toyota Verblitz in the Top League will have to wait with the Japan Rugby Football Union postponing the start of the competition because of COVID-19 outbreaks.

The competition was due to start this weekend but with 10 positive tests at Kobe Steelers on Thursday taking the total to 67 league-wide, organisers said they were now aiming for a mid-February start.

Last year’s season was cancelled entirely because of the pandemic.

“Japan Rugby Football Union and Top League have had discussions and we want to do everything we can to have this year’s Top League season,” said JRFU Chairman Kensuke Iwabuchi.

Organisers said they were yet to finalise a new start date and whether the format needed to be changed because of time restrictions and safety precautions.

Top League chief Osamu Ota hoped the season would finish by the scheduled end date of May 23 so that it would not interfere with the national team’s plans.

“We are aiming to start in mid-February,” said Ota.

“Regarding the COVID-19 situation, it changes on a day-to-day basis.”

Kobe are the sixth team to report positive COVID-19 results along with NEC Green Rockets, Toyota Verblitz, Suntory Sungoliath, Canon Eagles and Toshiba Brave Lupus.

They said in a statement on their website that all team members, including those who had tested negative, had been told to stay home since Tuesday, when the positive test results were confirmed.

Matches involving Toyota, Suntory and Canon scheduled for this weekend had already been cancelled but the entire slate of first round games have now been wiped.

Wallabies skipper Hooper apart, All Blacks Beauden Barrett and Kieran Read are among a host of top international players playing in this season’s Top League, the final campaign before it is overhauled next year.





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Japan’s households, firms keep piling up cash at record pace as pandemic persists





FILE PHOTO: Women walk past a restaurant at a shopping district in Tokyo, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, Japan August 17, 2020. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

January 13, 2021

By Leika Kihara

TOKYO (Reuters) – Japan’s currency in circulation and bank deposits rose at a record pace in December, data showed on Wednesday, as a resurgence in coronavirus infections prompted companies and households to continue hoarding cash rather than spending it.

The numbers highlight the challenge the government faces in trying to contain the virus without threatening Japan’s already fragile economic recovery.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga is expected to announce an extension of state of emergency measures beyond Tokyo as early as Wednesday as COVID-19 infections keep rising.

Japan’s M3 money stock – or currency in circulation and deposits at financial institutions – rose 7.63% in December from a year earlier, marking the biggest increase on record, Bank of Japan data showed. The rise slightly exceeded a 7.59% gain in November.

Companies continue to pile up deposits as a precaution against the pandemic, while households are holding off on spending due to uncertainty over the outlook, a BOJ official said at a briefing.

Japan’s economy has been recovering moderately, after suffering its biggest postwar slump in April-June last year due to curbs imposed on economic activity to contain the virus.

(Reporting by Leika Kihara; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell)




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Update required – Japan’s new prime minister drags government into the digital era | Asia


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Japan’s state of emergency seen triggering first-quarter economic contraction



FILE PHOTO: Pedestrians wearing protective masks following the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, make their way on the first business day of the New Year in Tokyo, Japan, January 4, 2021. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

January 5, 2021

By Leika Kihara

TOKYO (Reuters) – Japan’s likely decision to declare a state of emergency in the Tokyo area will most probably trigger a contraction in January-March, analysts say, adding to the headache for policymakers struggling to cushion the blow to the economy from the pandemic.

The world’s third-largest economy rebounded sharply in the third quarter last year from a record April-June slump caused by the pandemic, heightening expectations a moderate recovery.

But such hopes have been dashed by a resurgence in COVID-19 infections that have forced the government to consider imposing a state of emergency that could last about a month.

Media reported on Monday that preparations were being made for a state of emergency that would take effect by Friday.

While the restrictions will be far less sweeping than those during last year’s nationwide state of emergency, analysts expect them to inflict severe damage on consumption.

“There’s no doubt Japan’s economy will suffer a contraction this quarter,” said Yoshiki Shinke, chief economist at Dai-ichi Life Research Institute.

“The question will be whether it’s a double-digit or a single-digit drop, which depends on how long the restrictions last and whether stronger curbs could be added.”

The current plan, unveiled by government officials this week, focuses on requests for restaurants to close early and for residents to refrain from non-essential outings in the evening.

BNP Paribas chief Japan economist Ryutaro Kono said he plans to slash his January-March forecast to an annualised contraction of around 2% from the current projection of a 0.2% increase.

Daiwa Institute of Research also expects the economy to shrink in January-March, even though it sees the hit to real gross domestic product (GDP) at less than 1 trillion yen ($9.7 billion) per month – one-third that from last year’s curbs.

“If the government is forced to impose longer and broader restrictions than the current plan, the risk of a double-dip recession rises sharply,” Daiwa economists wrote in a report.

In a Reuters poll last month, analysts had expected the economy to expand an annualised 3.9% in October-December last year followed by a 2.1% gain in January-March.

($1 = 102.8400 yen)

(Reporting by Leika Kihara; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)



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Tokyo 2020: Olympics and Paralympics will go ahead, says Japan’s PM amid rising infections


The Olympics are due to begin on 23 July and the Paralympics on 24 August

The delayed 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics will go ahead this summer despite concern over rising coronavirus cases, says Japan’s prime minister.

The Olympics are due to begin on 23 July with the Paralympics following a month later from 24 August.

Cases have surged in Japan in recent days with Tokyo reporting over 1,000 daily infections for the first time.

But prime minister Yoshihide Suga said the “Games will be held this summer” and be “safe and secure”.

Japan is responding to cases of the new variant of coronavirus first found in the UK, with Tokyo governor Yuriko Koike warning the number of infections could “explode”.

There were a record 1,337 cases in Tokyo on 31 December with 783 new infections announced on Friday.

Japan has recorded 239,041 coronavirus cases and 3,337 deaths during the pandemic, according to Johns Hopkins University.

Costs for the Games have increased by $2.8bn (£2.1bn) because of measures needed to prevent the spread of coronavirus but organisers have ruled out a delay.

The Games could be the most expensive summer Olympics in history.

A poll by national broadcaster NHK showed that the majority of the Japanese general public oppose holding the Games in 2021, favouring a further delay or outright cancellation of the event.

Suga said the Games going ahead could serve as a “symbol of global solidarity”.



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Japan’s New Gender Equality Policy Takes a Step Back – The Diplomat


On December 25, a fifth basic policy draft for gender equality, which made concrete recommendations regarding allowing different surnames after marriage, was dropped after heated pushback from conservative lawmakers.

Japan’s new five-year gender equality promotion policy fell short of embracing the use of premarital surnames despite growing calls within the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) to introduce a dual-surname policy. The original, more positive phrasing was slimmed down from three pages into just 10 lines which consisted of ambiguous wording: “many Japanese women continue working after marriage and the current system presents an obstacle for their daily lives.”

The LDP is generally known for its conservative stance on gender roles, but the resignation of Prime Minister Abe Shinzo has unlocked more support for women’s social advancement. The shift to a dual-surname system, however, continues to divide the ruling party. An earlier meeting to discuss the basic gender equality promotion policy on December 8 ended in a near stalemate after 19 lawmakers expressed caution and 18 lawmakers voted in support of separate surnames.

On December 25 at the Council for Gender Equality meeting, Prime Minister Suga Yoshihide refrained from directly addressing the controversy and stated, “We will form a policy which reflects women’s voices and aim for a society without gender bias for people in leadership positions.”

Japan is the only country in the world that does not officially allow married couples to have different surnames. The law requiring married couples to have the same surname – in practice requiring the woman to change her name to match her husband’s – was first introduced in 1898. But as women continue to work after marriage, maintaining their identity in the academic and business spheres is a practical step that can prevent career disruptions. The basic plan for gender equality draft acknowledged that mandating the same surnames for couples was hindering women’s success as their achievements are not carried over under their married name.

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The United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women expressed concern over the current family system in Japan and requested international perspectives be taken into consideration when reviewing the civil code and the Family Register Act.

Meanwhile, backlash from conservative LDP lawmakers has been driven by ideals around traditional family values. In 2015 the Supreme Court upheld the same surname system as constitutional, citing entrenched Japanese views on family and child rearing. The court judgement rejected the notion that the current system and changing surnames after marriage promotes gender discrimination or damage to individual identities. The court argued that “the family system is rooted in the history and culture of each country and international comparisons which ignore it are meaningless.”

Although 96 percent of women in Japan adopt their husband’s surname after marriage, a growing number of women are choosing to maintain their maiden name in social and professional settings, especially if they remain at the same company. A 2018 survey by the National Institute of Population and Social Security Research found that 50.5 percent of married women believe couples should be allowed to retain different surnames. Public opinion appears to have grown increasingly accepting of a dual-surname system, with approval rising 9 points compared to 2013.

Minister of Gender Equality Hashimoto Seiko expressed support for introducing the option of different surnames and highlighted that the same surname law is a factor in Japan’s rapidly declining birth rate. It’s believed that some resistance to marriage can stem from wanting to continue one’s own family generational register, which under law certifies family relationships, birth, deaths, marriages, divorce, and designates a head of the household. While separate surnames are permitted for marriages between Japanese and foreign nationals, marriage between Japanese nationals means leaving one’s birth family registry for another.

There have been incremental inroads to permit the use of premarital names in social settings. In 2016 the Ministry of Foreign Affairs approved the use of premarital names in passports, albeit in parenthesis. That was expanded to resident cards and social security cards, without the need for official legal backing, in 2017. Judges and prosecutors are also able to work under their premarital name and arrests can be made in accordance with a premarital name on a driver’s license.  Some conservative lawmakers have proposed expanding the option of using premarital names unofficially, in parentheses, in order to minimize the inconvenience women face after marriage.

Ultimately the revised basic plan for gender equality highlighted the need for further discussion on the issue, underscoring Japan’s difficult progress toward gender equality.



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Japan’s Suga slips to 42% approval rating in new Nikkei poll


TOKYO — Public support for Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s government has gone underwater for the first time as officials have struggled to respond to COVID-19.

The approval rating of Suga’s cabinet sank to 42% in a weekend Nikkei/TV Tokyo survey — down 16 percentage points from the previous poll, taken in November. Disapproval climbed 16 points to 48%.

The decline in approval was the largest since October 2010, during Naoto Kan’s stint as prime minister. Back then, the government had recently released crewmembers of a Chinese fishing vessel that had collided with vessels of the Japan Coast Guard.

For Suga, the new poll marks a steep drop-off from the 74% approval rating his cabinet enjoyed right after he took office in September. The government’s coronavirus response appears to be the biggest cause of the slide.

The survey shows that 59% of respondents disapprove of the handling of COVID-19, up 11 points from November. The disapproval number is the highest since the coronavirus response question began being asked in February.

Disapproval of the virus response previously peaked at 55% in May, the month after then-Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had declared a state of emergency.

A lack of leadership was the top reason for not supporting Suga’s cabinet, at 48%. This was followed by poor policy measures at 36%.

The confluence of money and politics also factored into the low approval rating. Abe last week denied knowing that his office paid for lavish dinner parties held for his supporters. An aide was eventually fined for failing to record expenses.

Abe’s explanation failed to convince 74% of respondents in the latest poll. Tokyo prosecutors on Friday raided the offices of Takamori Yoshikawa, a former agriculture minister, over allegations of receiving money from an egg production company. The poll shows 82% of respondents do not find the scandal acceptable.

The poll was conducted by Nikkei Research over the phone from Friday to Sunday via random-digit dialing. It received 933 responses from men and women aged 18 and older, for a response rate of 47.4%.





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Iwao Hakamada: Japan’s top court gives retrial hope for man who spent almost 50 years on death row


Former professional boxer Iwao Hakamada — declared the world’s longest-serving death row inmate by Guinness World Records in 2014 — was accused of robbery, arson and the murder of his boss, his boss’ wife and their two children in 1966. The family was found stabbed to death in their incinerated home in Shizuoka, central Japan.

Hakamada initially admitted to all charges before changing his plea at trial. He was sentenced to death in a 2-1 decision by judges, despite repeatedly alleging that police had fabricated evidence and forced him to confess by beating and threatening him.

In 2014, in a rare reversal for Japan’s rigid justice system, the Shizuoka District Court ordered a retrial and freed Hakamada on the grounds of his age and fragile mental state. But four years later, the Tokyo High Court scrapped the request for a retrial, for reasons it would not confirm to CNN.

Hakamada’s defense team then appealed to the Supreme Court.

“We were afraid that Hakamada could be redetained at any moment and given the death penalty. But at least now, with the hope of a retrial, we know he is safe,” said Kiyomi Tsunagoe, a lawyer on Hakamada’s defense team, on Thursday.

Tsunagoe added that Hakamada’s case will return to the Tokyo High Court for fresh deliberation — although a retrial is still not guaranteed, and the defense team is now awaiting the high court’s response. Tsunagoe said it was unclear when this would come.

Japan puts far fewer people in prison than most developed countries: 39 per 100,000 people, compared with 655 in the United States and 124 in Spain, according to the World Prison Brief website.
But the country is known to have a rigid criminal justice system, with a 99.9% conviction rate. According to a 2019 report released by the Cabinet Office, 80% of people surveyed also supported the death penalty.

Hakamada’s sister, Hideko Hakamada, has maintained her brother fell victim to “hostage justice,” when police allegedly strip suspects of their right to remain silent and coerce them to confess.

Hakamada now lives with his sister in Hamamatsu city, Shizuoka prefecture. Though he will likely never return to full mental health, Hideko Hakamada told CNN in March that her brother’s condition was improving, and he had lost a limp that he developed while on death row.

Unlike in the US where execution dates are set in advance, death-row prisoners in Japan are executed in secret, with no advance warning given to the inmate, their family or legal representatives, according to Amnesty International.

Prisoners often only learn of their execution hours before it’s due to take place. Authorities say this occurs “out of consideration that an advance notice would disturb the inmate’s peace of mind and might cause further suffering.”

Usually, inmates must be executed within six months of their sentencing hearing. But Tsunogae says this rarely happens, and many end up waiting years.

Capital punishment is usually reserved for those who have committed multiple murders. All executions are carried out by hanging.



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Japan’s rising COVID crisis means Mayu will miss Mum for Christmas


She said hotel quarantine was very different in Japan than in Australia.

“In Australia, governments take us to hotels for quarantine. In Japan we have to find a hotel by ourselves,” she said.

She described Japan’s COVID-19 outbreak as “very bad”.

“Last week Tokyo had 800 new cases just in one day,” she said.

“It is quite bad because they don’t have any lockdown.”

“Japan’s situation was very, very bad. Everyone was moving at that time. I thought if I went to the airport and take the plane it was very risky to get COVID,” Ms Kumagai said.

“I am fine to get COVID. But I don’t want to bring any virus to Japan, to my family.

To get to the town of Aomori on Japan’s most-northern tip of Honshu, she needs to take a train after flying into Tokyo.

The risk of catching COVID-19 was just too high, her family decided.

“I am the only child, so I decided to stay here,” she said.

Her family sold her unit in Tokyo during the COVID-19 crisis while she was in Australia so if she returns to Tokyo she will have to quarantine in a hotel for two weeks.

Her family – particularly her grandparents – insisted she stay safe in Australia because COVID-19 was not under control in Japan.

Tokyo's COVID-19 caseload jumped to 748 on Wednesday.

Tokyo’s COVID-19 caseload jumped to 748 on Wednesday.Credit:Yuichi Yamazaki/Getty

“They think that every other country is very bad. They don’t know that Queensland has no COVID,” she said on Wednesday before Queensland recorded two new cases on Christmas Eve.

“They don’t know that I don’t have to wear a mask in Queensland every day. They don’t understand that,” she said.

“Only my mum knows that. My grandparents and others just don’t understand even if tried to explain everything.”

She spent 2020 studying global communications, business and Indigenous studies at Queensland University of Technology as part of a 12-month exchange from her “home university” in Tokyo.

She has widened her business and communications studies in the past 12 months in Queensland.

She works in Botero House cafe in Adelaide Street in Brisbane’s CBD.

Now as Christmas dawns and New Year approaches, she really misses her both mum – whom she describes as her best friend – and her grandparents.

“I really, really wanted to see them all. But it really is just too risky they say,” she said.

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