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Posts tagged ‘Land of the Rising Sun’

Japanese roots of Nobel winner Kazuo Ishiguro celebrated

October 06, 2017

TOKYO (AP) — Nobel literature laureate Kazuo Ishiguro left Japan at the age of 5, but some in the country of his birthplace are celebrating his roots. Ishiguro’s former kindergarten teacher in Nagasaki said it’s like a dream come true. Teruko Tanaka recalled to Japan’s Kyodo News service that he was a quiet boy who liked to read books.

Ishiguro was born in Nagasaki but raised and educated in England. He was awarded the Nobel Prize on Thursday. Nagasaki Mayor Tomihisa Taue said he is proud that the city has a Nobel Prize winner who has kept Nagasaki close to his heart. Ishiguro’s first novel describes the city soon after the U.S. atomic bomb attack in 1945.


Japan’s Abe faces new challenge as he calls snap election

September 28, 2017

TOKYO (AP) — A surge of popularity for a freshly minted opposition party in Japan is making Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s decision to call a snap election look riskier than initially thought. Abe dissolved the lower house of parliament Thursday, setting the stage for an Oct. 22 vote.

The Party of Hope, launched earlier this week by Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike, may not dethrone Abe’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party but analysts say it could put a dent in the LDP’s majority. A major setback could derail Abe’s presumed hope to extend his rule for three more years at a party leadership meeting next year.

Minutes after the lower house dissolution, Abe made a fiery speech to party members. He said he is seeking a public mandate on his tough diplomatic and defense policies to deal with escalating threats from North Korea, and that party members would have to relay his message to win voter support during the campaign.

“This election is about how we protect Japan, the people’s lives and peaceful daily life,” Abe said. “The election is about the future of our children.” Abe’s decision to dissolve parliament is widely seen as an attempt to reconsolidate his hold on power within the LDP, after a series of scandals and missteps earlier this year. A big enough victory could help ensure his re-election as party leader in September 2018.

The move is not without risks, but analysts say the timing may be better now than later. The Democratic Party, the largest opposition group, is in disarray, and the sudden election gives the Party of Hope little time to organize candidates and a campaign strategy.

Media polls, though, show the new party off to a respectable start, though still trailing the LDP. Jeff Kingston, a professor at Temple University’s Japan Campus in Tokyo, called Koike’s new party a game changer.

“I think it is really bad news for Abe,” he said. “She doesn’t actually have to win, but she has to inflict a bloody nose on Abe … If her party does better than expected, expect the long knives to come out in the LDP, and Abe could be ushered to the exit.”

Koike, at a news conference, denied speculation that she might run for parliament herself. “I will stay in the city and put my energy to lead Tokyo’s preparations ahead of the upcoming Olympics and Paralympics,” she said.

Still, a relatively good showing by her party could allow it to influence Abe on policies such as constitutional change, an issue both politicians have an interest in, said Stephen Nagy, a professor at International Christian University in Tokyo.

Working in Abe’s favor, he said, are the LDP’s nationwide electoral organization and his handling of North Korea, which has sent two missiles over Japan in recent tests. “Another missile test would likely put him in the limelight further, casting a shadow on the Party of Hope’s policy credentials,” Nagy said.

The Democratic Party, whose predecessor party held power in 2009-2012, is splintering, and many members have defected to Koike’s party. Party leader Seiji Maehara said the Democrats would do whatever it takes to bring down the Abe government.

Lower house members all stood up and chanted “banzai” three times in a dissolution ritual, then rushed out of the assembly hall. The other chamber, the less-powerful upper house, will not be up for election but remain closed until parliament is reconvened after the vote.

AP journalist Richard Colombo contributed to this story.

Japan’s baby panda now has a name: Xiang Xiang, or fragrance

September 25, 2017

TOKYO (AP) — Japan’s baby panda now has a name: Xiang Xiang, or fragrance. Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike announced Monday that the 3-month-old giant panda is called Shan Shan in Japanese, or Xiang Xiang in Chinese.

The name, whose Chinese characters mean fragrance, was chosen from more than 320,000 suggestions and was approved by Chinese authorities. The Ueno Zoo in Tokyo says the panda is healthy and growing rapidly. She now weighs 6 kilograms (13 pounds) and measures 65 centimeters (26 inches) long, nearly twice as big as she was a month ago, according to the latest measurement marking the 100th day since birth.

Videos released last week showed the fluffy black-and-white cub crawling, and some teeth coming in. Xiang Xiang was born on June 12 to the zoo’s resident giant panda, Shin Shin.

US WWII vet returns Japanese flag to fallen soldier’s family

August 15, 2017

HIGASHISHIRAKAWA, Japan (AP) — The former U.S. Marine knew the calligraphy-covered flag he took from a fallen Japanese soldier 73 years ago was more than a keepsake of World War II. When Marvin Strombo finally handed the flag back to Sadao Yasue’s younger brother and sisters Tuesday, he understood what it really meant to them.

Tatsuya Yasue buried his face into the flag and smelled it, then he held Strombo’s hands and kissed them. His elder sister Sayoko Furuta, sitting in her wheelchair, covered her face with both hands and wept silently as Tatsuya placed the flag on her lap.

The flag is a treasure that will fill a deep void for Yasue’s family. The flag Strombo handed to Yasue’s siblings is the first trace of their brother. The Japanese authorities only gave them a wooden box containing a few rocks, a substitution for the remains that have never been found.

The flag’s white background is filled with signatures of 180 friends and neighbors in this tea-growing mountain village of Higashishirakawa, wishing Yasue’s safe return. “Good luck forever at the battlefield,” a message on it reads. Looking at the names and their handwriting, Tatsuya Yasue clearly recalls their faces and friendship with his brother.

“The flag will be our treasure,” Tatsuya Yasue, a younger brother of the fallen soldier, told the Associated Press at his 400-year-old house. The 89-year-old farmer says the return of the flag brings closure. “It’s like the war has finally ended and my brother can come out of the limbo.”

Yasue last saw his older brother alive the day before he left for the South Pacific in 1943. Tatsuya and two siblings had a small send-off picnic for the oldest brother outside his military unit over sushi and Japanese sweet mochi, which became their last meal together. At the end of the meeting, his brother lowered his voice, asking Tetsuya to take good care of their parents, as he would be sent to the Pacific islands, harsh battlegrounds where chances of survival were low.

A year later, the wooden box containing the stones arrived. Months after the war ended, the authorities told Yasue his brother died somewhere in the Marianas on July 18, 1944, at age 25. “That’s all we were told about my brother, and we could only imagine what might have happened,” he said. Yasue and his relatives wondered Sadao might have died at sea off Saipan. About 20 years ago, Yasue visited Saipan with his younger brother, imagining what their older brother might have gone through.

The only person who can provide some of those answers, Strombo, said he found Yasue’s body on the outskirts of Garapan when he got lost and ended up near the Japanese frontline. He told Yasue’s siblings that their brother likely died of a concussion from a mortar round. He told them that Sadao was lying on his left, peacefully as if he was sleeping, not in pain.

At least the flag and his story suggest Yasue died on the ground, which raises hopes of retrieving his remains. The remains of nearly half of 2.4 million Japanese war-dead overseas have yet to be found 72 years after the World War II ended. It’s a pressing issue as the bereaved families reach old age and memories fade.

Allied troops frequently took the flags from the bodies of their enemies as souvenirs. But to the Japanese bereaved families, they have a much deeper meaning, especially those, like Yasue, who never learned how their loved ones died and never received remains. Japanese government has requested auction sites to stop trading wartime signed flags.

Strombo had the flag hung in a glass-fronted gun cabinet in his home in Montana for years, a topic of conversation for visitors. He was in the battles of Saipan, Tarawa and Tinian, which chipped away at Japan’s control of islands in the Pacific and paved the way for U.S. victory.

In 2012, he was connected to an Oregon-based nonprofit Obon Society that helps U.S. veterans and their descendants return Japanese flags to the families of fallen soldiers. The group’s research traced it to the tea-growing village of 2,300 people in central Japan by analyzing family names.

NKorea nukes, missiles top concerns in Japan defense review

August 08, 2017

TOKYO (AP) — The threat to Japan from North Korea has reached a “new stage” now that the country is capable of launching an intercontinental ballistic missile and its nuclear weapons program has advanced, a defense ministry report said Tuesday.

North Korea was the main concern cited as Japan’s Cabinet approved the report, less than two weeks after the North test-fired a second ICBM that analysts say has a range that could include more of the U.S. mainland, including Los Angeles and Chicago.

The security review came just a week after Itsunori Onodera, who was defense minister in 2012-2014, resumed that job when Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe revamped his Cabinet after a slew of politically costly scandals.

Onodera told reporters Friday he planned to update Japan’s defense guidelines to reflect the threat from the North, suggesting he may seek an offensive missile capability. “North Korea’s missile launches have escalated tensions both in terms of quality and quantity. I would like to study if our current missile defense is sufficient just with the Aegis destroyers and (surface-to-air) PAC 3,” said Onodera, who headed a ruling party study in March that called for beefing up Japan’s missile response capability.

The ICBM North Korea tested July 30 flew on a highly lofted trajectory and landed about 200 kilometers (120 miles) off Japan’s Hokkaido island. North Korea has been increasing the range, accuracy and versatility of its missiles and diversifying its launch sites and methods. It has conducted two nuclear tests and more than 20 missile launches over the past year alone, exceeding the total of 16 missiles launched over 18 years under former leader Kim Jong Il, the report said.

“North Korea’s development of ballistic missiles and its nuclear program are becoming increasingly real and imminent problems for the Asia-Pacific region including Japan, as well as the rest of the world,” it said.

The 532-page defense report also raised concerns over China’s ongoing assertiveness in air and maritime activity in the regional seas, and raised concerns about the lack of transparency in the country’s military buildup with its budget tripling over the past decade.

While North Korea’s intentions are mainly to put the mainland U.S. in range, its weapons advancements have furthered Abe’s effort to beef up the role of Japan’s military and its missile defenses. Joint exercises with its ally the U.S., also, have dramatically increased. The Defense Ministry already plans to acquire upgraded ship-to-air interceptors SM-3 Block IIAs and mobile PAC-3 MSEs, which would double the coverage area of Japan’s current defenses.

The defense report was originally meant to be issued Aug. 1, but that was delayed by the Cabinet reshuffle. Days before that, defense minister Tomomi Inada stepped down after admitting that ministry officials had covered up information about dangers faced by Japanese peacekeeping troops while they were stationed in South Sudan.

The rise in regional tensions with both China and North Korea has raised the level of alert in Japan. Despite Onodera’s comments, the ministry’s report did not mention the possibility of installing more advanced defense systems such as the land-based Aegis Ashore or Terminal High Altitude Area Defense missiles, or THAAD, or allowing Japan’s self-defense-only troops to conduct retaliatory attacks as proposed by the ruling Liberal Democratic Party.

The THAAD system was deployed last year in South Korea, much to the irritation of China, which has opposed the installation of systems that it suspects could be used to conduct surveillance from outside its borders.

In the East China Sea, China has stepped up activity around Japanese-controlled islands claimed by both countries, expanding to the south and also elsewhere along the Japanese coast, the Defense Ministry report said.

Increased Chinese activity in the East China Sea prompted Japanese air defense troops to scramble against Chinese military aircraft a record 851 times during fiscal 2016, up from 571 times the year before.

“China, particularly when it comes to maritime issues where its interests conflict with others, continues to act in a coercive manner,” the report said. It expressed “strong concern” over China’s behavior and its impact on regional security.

Japan’s prime minister reshuffles Cabinet as support dips

August 03, 2017

TOKYO (AP) — Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe reshuffled his Cabinet on Thursday, opting for seasoned party veterans to help restore his battered popularity. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, who retained his post, announced the new lineup.

Abe’s approval ratings have suffered from a spate of scandals over alleged cronyism and other abuses and objections to the ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s tendency to force unpopular legislation through parliament.

The shake-up reflects Abe’s recognition that despite the Liberal Democrats’ overwhelming majority in parliament, his own once seemingly invincible position after more than four years in office may be imperiled.

But plans for the reshuffle were disclosed weeks in advance, and it was not expected to have a major impact on the foreign policy or economy of America’s biggest ally in Asia. The newly named ministers included many Cabinet veterans, including Itsunori Onodera, a former defense minister who again was named to that post.

Last week, Abe’s protege Tomomi Inada stepped down as defense minister after the disclosure that the ministry hid information about risks faced by Japanese peacekeeping troops in South Sudan. In Japan, choice Cabinet positions tend to be distributed between factions that operate almost like political fiefdoms within the ruling party. This time, the ministers appear to be chosen with factions in mind, but they went to politicians with proven expertise or track records.

Abe also chose several popular lawmakers known to differ from him on key issues such as nuclear power and revision of Japan’s pacifist constitution. The new foreign minister, Taro Kono, 54, is known to be liberal-leaning and has opposed nuclear energy, though he toned down his stance while serving as reform minister in an earlier Abe Cabinet.

A politics graduate of Georgetown University, Kono is fluent in English. He is probably best known for being the son of Yohei Kono, a former speaker of the lower house who also served as foreign minister.

The senior Kono is known for making an apology in 1993 to Asians who were forced to serve Japanese troops as “comfort women” before and during the world War II. Kono’s predecessor, Fumio Kishida, opted out of this Cabinet to become the policy chief for the Liberal Democrats. He is widely thought to be aiming to become prime minister after Abe’s term ends or if he steps down.

Tokyo election, populist leader could shift Japan politics

June 30, 2017

TOKYO (AP) — An election for Tokyo’s metropolitan assembly on Sunday is attracting more attention than usual because it could shift the political landscape in Japan. A big win for a new political party created by populist Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike could strengthen her base and foreshadow an eventual run for prime minister.


A former TV newscaster-turned-politician, Koike served in key Cabinet and ruling party posts, including defense minister, before becoming the first female leader of Japan’s capital in July 2016. Stylish and media savvy, she is a populist whose policies can sway depending on public opinion, experts say. Once called a migratory bird for her repeated party-hopping before settling with the ruling Liberal Democratic Party in 2002, she launched a new party in May for Sunday’s election: “Tomin (Tokyoites) First.” She has put her nationalistic and hawkish stances on defense on the back burner.


A reformist image and challenge to the male-dominated Tokyo city government have won her an approval rating of around 60 percent. The assembly has long been dominated by the Tokyo branch of the LDP, and Koike has portrayed it as the anti-reform politics of the old boys. She has pushed administrative reforms, reviewed costly venues for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics to reduce city spending, suspended a divisive relocation of the Tsukiji fish market over safety concerns and halved her salary. “It’s a typical populist approach. She is challenging the establishment and stressing she is on the side of Tokyo residents,” said University of Tokyo politics professor Yu Uchiyama.


Media polls show Koike’s Tomin party slightly ahead of the LDP in the race for the 127-seat assembly. Some experts predict victory for most of the 50 Tomin candidates even though most are unknowns. Hakubun Shimomura, a senior LDP lawmaker in charge of the party’s Tokyo branch, has said he expects a setback. The ruling party’s popularity has been hit by scandals and gaffes at the national level, and for railroading a contentious anti-conspiracy law through parliament.

The result of the Tokyo assembly election usually sets the tone for the subsequent national election, experts say. Koike has struck an alliance with the Komei party that could allow them to gain a majority. It’s politically interesting, because Komei is a longtime LDP partner at both the local and national levels. Koike, despite her row with the LDP’s Tokyo branch, has maintained friendly ties with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, prompting speculation she may eventually return to national politics.


Koike ranked third in a Nikkei newspaper survey in March about who should be prime minister, trailing current leader Abe and former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s son, Shinjiro. So far, Koike has brushed off speculation about a return to national politics, saying her focus is on Tokyo and its future.

The University of Tokyo’s Uchiyama says Koike would have to broaden her party vision to something like “Japan First” to aim for parliament. Jeff Kingston, coordinator of Asian Studies at Temple University’s Japan Campus, says Koike has a high support rating but hasn’t achieved much. “I would say her popularity is as high as it goes, and there are a lot more risks of the downside from here onward,” he said. “It’s too soon to declare her as the likely successor of Abe.”

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