Sunday, December 31, 2006

Gifu firms illegally hired Brazilian immigrants' children

Two temporary-job placement agencies in Gifu Prefecture had hired 12 children of Brazilian immigrants of Japanese origin for factory work in violation of Japan's labor regulations, officials of the labor ministry's Gifu bureau said Friday.

The detection highlights the problem that many children among an increasing number of immigrant workers in Japan choose to work, rather than attend school, due to language problems and hardships in their families' livelihoods, experts say.

A local labor standards inspection office has already told the two firms to stop the violation and the children are no longer at work, according to the officials of the Gifu Prefecture Labor Bureau.

The two firms hired a total of 12 boys and girls aged 13 to 15 from around February at an hourly wage of 850 yen at the lowest, and sent them to factories of several companies in Gifu, including parts manufacturers, with which it has such service contracts, they said.

The Labor Standards Act bans employment of any children aged up to 15, regardless of their nationality, from the viewpoint of child protection.

Receiving a tip about the child labor, the Gifu labor standards inspection office checked the firms and detected the practice in November, the officials said.

The children were supposed to attend junior high school but were not going, saying they wanted to supplement family income rather than go to school as classes given in Japanese are difficult to understand and boring.

The firms involved have said they knew the ages of the children but hired them at the request of their parents who were struggling to make a living, they said.

Japan in 1990 began accepting immigrant workers of Japanese descent, mostly Brazilians, who had swelled to around 350,000 as of the end of 2005, many of whom are working at factories in manufacturing-oriented regions such as in central Japan.

There are about 20,000 foreign children of elementary, junior high and senior high school age who need to be provided with Japanese lessons, the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry said.

But many of the children do not go to school because of language problems. International school, meanwhile, is expensive to attend, costing tens of thousands of yen a month, according to the experts.

Nearly 20% of children of immigrant workers are believed to stay away from school, aside from enrolled children who have stopped going to school, said an official of Yokkaichi, Mie Prefecture, which is an organizer of a meeting of local governments with large immigrant populations.

There are worries that illegal employment of immigrants' children might increase if the school attendance problem remains unaddressed, the official said.

Many immigrants used to go back to their home countries after working in Japan for a certain period, but have begun to settle in the country although it is generally still closed to immigration.

Record 44 sentenced to death in Japan in 2006

A record 44 people were sentenced to death in Japan this year, while capital punishment on 21 defendants was finalized, bringing the number of death row inmates to 94, also a record high, according to the Supreme Court and other sources.

The 21 defendants include Aum Shinrikyo cult founder Shoko Asahara, whose real name is Chizuo Matsumoto, 51, who was convicted of masterminding the 1995 sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway system and other charges, and Kaoru Kobayashi, 38, who murdered a 7-year-old girl in Nara Prefecture in 2004.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Watanabe eyes tougher 'amakudari' rules by end of Jan

Newly appointed administrative reform minister Yoshimi Watanabe said Friday he intends to formulate the framework of a bill to toughen rules on "amakudari," or the hiring of retired government officials by companies, possibly by the end of January.

"I will make a report to the Council on Fiscal and Economic Policy by the end of January or in early February at the latest," Watanabe told reporters after taking part in a TV talk show. Watanabe referred to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's initiative to eradicate a form of amakudari in which government entities give favors such as awarding contracts to effectively force companies to hire retired senior government officials.

Japanese man given death sentence in China for drug smuggling

A Japanese man has been sentenced to death by a court in Dalian, northeastern China, on charges of trying to smuggle 1.5 kilograms of stimulant drugs to Japan in 2003, Japanese officials said Friday. The man, only identified as a person in his 40s, pleaded not guilty and plans to appeal the ruling, according to the officials of the Dalian Branch Office of the Japanese Consulate General in Shenyang.

The defendant was detained at Dalian airport in July 2003 over alleged possession of the drugs when he was about to board a flight to Osaka, they said. He was quoted as saying somebody asked him to carry them and that he did not know they were stimulant drugs.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Gov't protests weekly's report on 'abduction attempt'

The government protested Monday at a report by the major weekly Shukan Gendai that said Kaoru Hasuike, one of the Japanese who were abducted by North Korea in 1978, had secretly come back to Japan and tried in 1986 to take a school teacher to North Korea. "The report was totally groundless and is utterly deplorable," the government's special task force on the abduction issue said in a statement addressed to the weekly's publisher Kodansha Ltd.

Hasuike denied the allegations and sent a statement of protest, saying the article was a "preposterous and fabricated story." The article in the weekly's latest edition, which hit the stands Monday, was based on an interview with a former school teacher in Aichi Prefecture who said that a man resembling Hasuike appeared on the school premises on March 18, 1986, and tried to persuade him to go to North Korea.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Foreign intern sues over alleged sex assaults

A foreign woman who visited Japan to take part in a program to acquire farming skills filed suit with the Tokyo District Court on Monday, saying she was given only menial assignments at her host company and repeatedly sexually assaulted by an executive.

The woman is seeking a total of 37 million yen from several parties, including the executive and the Japan International Training Cooperation Organization, under whose internship program she came to Japan in November 2004.

The woman, 35, came to the country to acquire farm techniques and was subsequently sent to a construction company in eastern Japan as a technical intern through a sales cooperative of farm products, her primary host, according to the suit. Her lawyers asked to withhold her name and nationality.

After eight days of language training, however, the woman received no further training and was only assigned household work at the company executive's home, cleaning at the company and other menial jobs, the suit claims.

The woman's passport and bank account book were taken away from her, her wages were withheld, and she was given two days off a month — sometimes even none — the suit says.

The woman was forced to live alone at a house owned by the executive and subjected to sexual assaults by the executive, who had kept the key to the premises, over 60 times between March last year and June this year, according to the suit.

The woman finally ran away and was sheltered by the Tokyo Regional Immigration Bureau in July.

The woman has argued that the firm and the sales cooperative used the system in a legal loophole by using it as a cover for abusing workers at substandard wages.

"I had hopes that I could study and work, but only the irremediable pain has remained. I made a mistake by coming to Japan," she said.

The training organization said it cannot comment on the case because it will become a litigious matter.

4 death row inmates hanged; two in their 70s

Four death row inmates in Japan were hanged Monday, the first executions since September last year, informed sources said. They are Yoshimitsu Akiyama, 77, and Yoshio Fujinami, 75, who were both held at the Tokyo Detention House, Michio Fukuoka, 64, who was held at the Osaka Detention House, and Hiroaki Hidaka, 44, incarcerated at the Hiroshima Detention House.

The executions are the first under Justice Minister Jinen Nagase, who assumed the post when Prime Minister Shinzo Abe launched his Cabinet in September. Nagase's predecessor, Seiken Sugiura, did not give the go-ahead for any executions during his 11 months in office.

Amnesty International Japan released a statement to protest the executions. "The latest executions were carried out when the Diet is adjourned and without advance notice to the inmates themselves or their families," the statement said.

"The death penalty is a punishment that is cruel, inhumane and hurts dignity...We hope Japan will take the first step in the near future to abolish the death penalty," it said.

Japan resumed executions in March 1993 following a moratorium of some 40 months. Since then, hangings have been carried out every year, and the latest four brings to 51 the number of hangings since the resumption.

According to Amnesty, 128 countries around the world have abolished, or virtually terminated, capital punishment, while 69 countries still maintain the death penalty.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Another boy found murdered in Shizuoka

Police on Saturday found the body of a 15-year-old boy who had been missing from home in Yaizu, Shizuoka Prefecture, where his mother and younger brother were found murdered Friday, they said.

The bodies of Misaki Sonia Aparecida Ferreira Sampaio, a 41-year-old Japanese-Brazilian, and her 10-year-old son Hiroyuki were found Friday evening inside an apartment they lived in, apparently strangled, police said earlier.

Police had been searching for the older son, Hiroaki, who had been missing since around Tuesday, and found his body inside an apartment, some 800 meters away from his home, they said. The boy was also apparently strangled, they added.

Police are searching for a man in his 30s or 40s, who is Sampaio's acquaintance, believing that he knows something about the death of the three as he lived in the apartment where the 15-year-old was found.

But the man is believed to have left Japan on Tuesday, flying out to Brazil from Narita airport, police said.

The woman was found lying on the living room floor and the boy in the lower level of a bunker bed in a bedroom around 7:30 p.m. Saturday, police said.

The three were apparently strangled as there were marks on their necks and ropes had been found inside a room, police said, adding they believe the three had been murdered several days ago.

The apartment did not appear to be ransacked and the front door was locked when the bodies were found, police said.

The city office had asked the police to check in on the 10-year-old student as he had been absent from school without notice since Tuesday.

The mother worked for a seafood processing plant in the city. The company said she had been missing from work since Tuesday.

Police said the woman's husband, who lived separately, has been interviewed.

The site is in a residential area about 2 kilometers south of JR Yaizu Station.

Abe wants int'l community to keep pressure on N Korea

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Friday the international community is likely to increase pressure on North Korea if it does not respond to demands for it to take steps toward abandoning its nuclear programs.

Abe told reporters as the six-party talks on Pyongyang's nuclear programs ended in Beijing without progress that it is important for the international community to unite in implementing the U.N. sanctions resolution to prompt North Korea to take specific actions toward denuclearization. "If North Korea wants the international sanctions to be lifted, they must respond to our demands or they will not be able to resolve their problems," Abe said.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Revised education law to enhance patriotism goes into effect

Japan adopted a revised basic education law Friday aimed at instilling patriotism in classrooms as the amendments were promulgated in the government gazette. The first revision to the Fundamental Law of Education, which came into effect in 1947 in an effort to realize the ideals of Japan's postwar pacifist Constitution through education, was enacted by the Diet on Dec 15.

The 18-article education law introduces the idea of respect for the public spirit in its preamble and calls for developing "an attitude which respects tradition and culture and loves the nation and homeland that have fostered them" as a goal of education. Revising the law was the centerpiece of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's policy agenda which has stirred criticism that it could lead to the control of children's thoughts and excessive state intervention in education.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Abe should tone down nationalist rhetoric on constitution: LA Times

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe — and his right-wing supporters — should tone down the nationalist rhetoric and unambiguously apologize for imperial aggression during World War II in their bid to amend Japan's pacifist constitution, a major U.S. newspaper said in its editorial published Wednesday.

"A constitution that bars Japan from military action seems quaint in the face of North Korea's nuclear threat," the Los Angeles Times said. "But right-wingers should tone down the rhetoric."

North Korean leader Kim Jong Il's nuclear ambitions have not won him any admirers in China or any concessions from the United States, but they are turning Japan into a more implacable — and militarily more independent — foe, the Times observed, the paper said.

"Though Tokyo has long been edging away from its traditionally pacifist stance, the move has been accelerated by provocations such as Pyongyang's missile tests and its first test of a nuclear weapon in October.

"Hence the election of a new prime minister, the Liberal Democratic Party's Shinzo Abe, who promises to revise Japan's pacifist constitution, and a parliamentary victory last week for hawkish Japanese nationalists," the Times said.

"The constitution hasn't stopped Japan from building one of the world's most advanced militaries. The hope now is that the world's second-largest economy can shed its ghosts to help more with international peacekeeping operations...A less restrictive constitution for Japan would also enhance U.S. security.

"Although the debate is welcome and a new constitution would pay dividends for this country, the discussion has been tainted by the stance of Japanese conservatives and the nation's unwillingness to atone as fully as Germany has for its World War II behavior.

"Many in Japan downplay or deny imperial atrocities in Asia. Victims richly deserving of reparations have been turned away by Japanese courts, while the insistence of national leaders to bow before war criminals at the infamous Yasukuni Shrine justifiably infuriates Chinese and Koreans.

"Also worrisome was last week's approval in parliament's upper house of a bill calling on schools to teach respect for tradition and love of the homeland. Such changes in education are a key goal of nationalists that until now have been rejected by the mainstream.

"Abe and his right-wing supporters could make them a lot more palatable by toning down the nationalist rhetoric, unambiguously apologizing for imperial aggression and keeping propaganda out of the schools." the Times said.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

21 nations protest over Japan whaling

The governments of at least 21 anti-whaling nations have undertaken the largest single diplomatic protest yet against Japan's lethal scientific whaling program, according to statements released this week by the governments of New Zealand and Australia.

New Zealand's Conservation Minister Chris Carter said in a statement that 27 countries took part in a march at the Japanese Foreign Ministry in Tokyo last Friday, while a further protest was planned for this week at the Japanese Fisheries Agency. Australian Environment Minister Ian Campbell said in a separate statement that far from benefiting the scientific community, "Japan's whaling will undermine international efforts to conserve and protect whales."

Abe aiming to realize Constitution revision

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Tuesday he is aiming to realize the revision of Japan's pacifist Constitution during his term as premier and to have legislation for a national referendum on the issue passed during next year's parliamentary session. "I understand this will be a historical and huge task," Abe told a news conference after the first extraordinary parliament session under his administration adjourned earlier in the day.

"Over the past 60 years, the security situation surrounding Japan has changed significantly," said the premier, seen by many as a conservative hawk. "Bearing the responsibility to protect the lives and property of our people, I have to consider what policies will be best for our national security."

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

U.S. punishes BTM UFJ over lax anti-money-laundering measures

U.S. financial regulators said Monday they have issued separate but coordinated enforcement actions against the Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ and some of its U.S. operations for their failure to adequately implement anti-money-laundering compliance programs.

The regulators are the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp, the Federal Reserve Board and the New York State Banking Department. Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ Trust Co, without admitting or denying the allegations, consented to the issuance of the order, they said, adding the order determined that Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ Trust failed to implement adequate Bank Secrecy Act and anti-money-laundering compliance programs.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Gov't ordered to compensate 61 war-displaced Japanese

The Kobe District Court ordered the government Friday to pay 468.6 million yen in compensation to 61 of 65 war-displaced Japanese who filed a lawsuit over their delayed homecoming from China and poor offers of support in Japan compared with victims of North Korean abduction.

It is the first ruling to admit state responsibility in a series of lawsuits filed by people repatriated from China after World War II, often referred to as "war orphans" in Japanese, following a dismissal by the Osaka District Court in July 2005.

Recognizing the government has neglected its obligation to support them to live independently in Japanese society and comparing its support measures with those for repatriated Japanese victims of North Korean abduction, the judge said, "The support for war orphans to be self-reliant has been quite poor."

The court dismissed four plaintiffs' demands due to a difference in the timing of their return to Japan, saying the 20-year statute of limitations allowing them to claim compensation had expired.

State ordered to pay damages to family of inmate killed by guards

The Kyoto District Court ordered the state Thursday to pay about 39 million yen in damages to the family of an inmate who died as a result of abuse by guards at Nagoya Prison in Aichi Prefecture in December 2001.

According to the ruling, three guards sprayed water using a fire-fighting hose into the rectum of the 43-year-old inmate, inflicting severe injuries which caused him to die from bacterial shock. The three guards have been found guilty by the Nagoya District Court of violent acts by special public officials resulting in death. Two of them have appealed.

Three found dead in Fukuoka apartment

Three people were found dead in a second-floor condominium unit in Kitakyushu, Fukuoka Prefecture, on Thursday, police said. Investigators found two bodies almost reduced to skeletons on futons in different rooms and the third body — that of a woman — in the kitchen, after a condo resident alerted the police that a female resident had been missing for two to three months and an odor was coming from her unit.

The two bodies were so decomposed that their age and sex were unidentifiable, police said, adding that autopsies will be performed Friday. The door was locked when the police arrived and there were no traces of the condo having been burgled, they said.