Monday, April 30, 2007

Police to arrest 3rd man in Nagasaki mayor murder probe

Police said Monday they have obtained an arrest warrant for a man in his 20s on suspicion of helping a gangster who fatally shot then Nagasaki Mayor Itcho Ito on April 17. The Nagasaki prefectural police said the man was a driver for the gangster, 59-year-old Tetsuya Shiroo, and is suspected of keeping a close watch on the mayor's movements at places other than an election campaign office in Nagasaki where the shooting took place.

On Sunday, police arrested 60-year-old Hiromi Ogawa, who they said acknowledged having given Shiroo a ride to the neighborhood of the scene of the attack shortly before the shooting. The 61-year-old mayor was shot twice in the back at point-blank range in front of his election campaign office on the evening of April 17 during his mayoral election campaign. He died of blood loss the following morning.

Abe meets MSDF antiterrorism mission in Abu Dhabi

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Sunday addressed members of Japan's Maritime Self-Defense Force supporting the U.S.-led antiterrorism operations at a port in Abu Dhabi on the second leg of his five-nation tour to the Middle East.

Boarding the docked refueling ship Hamana, Abe told the crew he hopes they will help "write a new chapter for Japan on the frontlines of international contribution," referring to the recent upgrading of the Self-Defense Forces' overseas activities into one of its primary duties from previous subordinate status. "Your activities are highly appreciated internationally. I hope that you will proudly accomplish the mission and return to Japan in good shape," he said.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Japan offers oil storage facilities in Okinawa for use by Saudi Arabia

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe proposed a plan to Saudi Arabia on Saturday night to let the country use part of the state-owned oil storage tanks in Okinawa Prefecture in exchange for a preferential right to purchase the oil reserves there in case of emergency, Japanese officials said.

The proposal was extended during Abe's meeting with Saudi Arabian King Abdullah, who agreed that the largest oil supplier to Japan will examine the plan through the ministerial-level and working-level talks, the officials said.

On the first leg of his five-nation tour to the Middle East, Abe arrived in the Saudi Arabian capital earlier in the day and attended a banquet hosted by Crown Prince Sultan bin Abdul Aziz.

The oil storage plan is designed to deepen Japan's interdependent relationship with Saudi Arabia and ensure a stable oil supply, the Japanese officials said.

It is hoped to be useful for Saudi Arabia because it would enables the country to set a new commercial foothold in Asia.

At present, Tokyo uses the oil storage facilities on the Henza Island of Okinawa Prefecture, for government use, stockpiling about 5.25 million kiloliters of oil, or an amount equivalent to 10 days of the nation's consumption.

Under the proposed deal, the officials said, Tokyo wants to offer part of the oil tanks for Saudi's use, while asking for the rights to purchase the oil on a priority basis in times of emergency.

Abe and King Abdullah also discussed a range of bilateral and Japan-Middle East relations as well as multilateral issues during the meeting, the officials added.

The leaders then signed a joint statement in which the two countries agree to strengthen political dialogues through high-level talks including those between their foreign ministers.

The joint statement spelled out the creation of a joint task force comprising of representatives from the two governments and private sectors to expand investment, particularly in the fields of automotive, electronics and construction materials.

Abe arrived in the United Arab Emirates' capital Abu Dhabi on Sunday for the meeting with President Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan.

Abe's eight-day trip to Saudi Arabia, the United Emirates, Kuwait, Qatar and Egypt marks his first visit to the oil-rich Middle East since assuming office in September. It is also the first time for a Japanese premier to visit Kuwait.

Nagasaki man arrested for abetting mayor's murderer

Police arrested a Nagasaki man early Sunday on suspicion of helping a gangster who fatally shot the then Nagasaki Mayor Itcho Ito on April 17.

Nagasaki prefectural police identified the man as Hiromi Ogawa, 60, who they said acknowledged having given the suspect, Tetsuya Shiroo, a ride to the neighborhood of the scene of the attack shortly before the shooting.

"I was asked to give him a ride. I did not know he was planning to kill the mayor," Ogawa was quoted as telling investigators after his arrest.

The 61-year-old mayor was shot twice in the back at a one-meter point-blank range on the evening of April 17 during his mayoral election campaign. Ito died of blood loss the following morning.

According to investigators, Ogawa, president of a construction company, has long been a close acquaintance of Shiroo, 59, an acting leader of the Suishin-kai gang group affiliated with Japan's biggest organized crime syndicate, the Yamaguchi-gumi.

Shiroo had lent a total of about 80 million yen to Ogawa to help finance his company's operations in the past.

Ogawa gave Shiroo the two-kilometer ride from the assailant's home to a place near the murder scene, police said.

Shiroo hid himself near the entrance of a building close to the mayor's election campaign office, ambushing the mayor after he had returned from the day's barnstorming, they said.

Around 2003, Ogawa's company tried in vain to take out a loan from a financial institution by obtaining a repayment guarantee from the Nagasaki city government. The local government has been running a loan guarantee system to provide assistance to troubled small and midsize companies.

The financial institution turned down Ogawa's request for the loan, leading Shiroo to develop a grudge against the city government. Shiroo was heard complaining about the city's attitude to the matter of the loan, police said.

Police investigators are planning to question Ogawa in connection with the loan matter.

Ogawa's construction company went effectively bankrupt in January 2004 with debts of 50 million yen, according to a credit research company.

Prior to the attack on the mayor, Shiroo had forwarded a letter to TV Asahi Corp, which read, "I cannot forgive Mayor Itcho Ito." The letter claimed that the mayor had perpetrated wrongdoing in connection with public works projects.

The brushstrokes of the handwritten letter are similar to Ogawa's, police said, adding that the investigators are planning to ask him whether he had written the letter on behalf of Shiroo.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Abducted Chinese woman released; police then arrest her for overstaying visa

A 37-year-old Chinese woman, who was abducted in Tokyo on April 22, was taken into protective custody Saturday, police said. After she was kidnapped on her way home in Adachi ward at around 5 a.m. last Sunday, there were some 20 threatening calls via her mobile phone to her relative, who also lives in Tokyo.

The group of kidnappers, believed to be four or five, demanded in Japanese that the relative pay a 15 million yen ransom, police said. While detained, the woman was handcuffed, blindfolded and punched, police said. She was released early Saturday morning with slight injuries, while there was no transfer of money from her relative to the criminals, according to the police.

The woman, who was involved in the adult entertainment business, was arrested on suspicion of overstaying her visa following her release by the kidnappers, police said.

Abe, Bush discuss N Korea, sex slaves, climate, beef issues

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and U.S. President George W Bush reaffirmed a strong bilateral alliance Friday and warned North Korea of more sanctions unless it acts on a February promise to take initial denuclearization steps soon.

In the summit talks to foster closer friendship during Abe's first visit to the United States as premier, Abe expressed to Bush his apology over the Japanese military's wartime sex exploitation of Asian women, reiterating his sympathy for them, and Bush said he accepted the apology and "appreciated his candor."

At the Camp David presidential retreat in Maryland just outside Washington, the two leaders also resolved to continue cooperation on Iraq's reconstruction, agreed in a joint statement to confront climate change and concurred to enhance bilateral and global trade.

"The biggest objective for my visit this time was to reaffirm the irreplaceable Japan-U.S. alliance and make it grow stronger as an unshakeable alliance," Abe told a joint news conference afterwards.

Describing their meeting as a "very constructive, strong dialogue," Bush said they agreed on the need to press North Korea to implement the initial denuclearization steps contained in a Feb 13 agreement at the six-party talks. The president also underscored his commitment to help Japan resolve the issue of Japanese abducted by North Korea.

"Our partners in the six-party talks are patient, but our patience is not unlimited," Bush said, noting, "We have the capability of more sanctions."

The confirmation of unity against North Korea came amid growing concern that Washington is softening its stance on Pyongyang and that Japan will be isolated if it insists on not participating in the provision of aid without first seeing progress on resolving the abduction issue.

Abe, who sought to forge tight personal ties with Bush like those enjoyed by his predecessor Junichiro Koizumi, referred to the president by his first name George several times at the news conference, in an apparent move to show the friendship they developed.

Abe made efforts to calm the furor in the United States over his March remarks denying the military coerced women to work in war brothels, repeating to congressional leaders on Thursday and to Bush on Friday his sympathy for the victims and regret about the misunderstanding.

In a joint statement on climate change and energy security issued after their meeting, Bush and Abe agreed to "work constructively" with international frameworks, including the Kyoto Protocol which Washington has not ratified, to advance clean energy technologies.

They agreed to remain committed to the "ultimate objective" of stabilizing greenhouse gas concentrations and promised to enhance bilateral high-level consultations on climate change, with in mind the post-Kyoto Protocol framework to be discussed at the summit of the Group of Eight nations in Japan next year.

A commitment from Washington, which followed an accord between Japan and China to cooperate on creating the new framework, is a boost for Abe as he seeks to take leadership on the issue which will be high on the agenda of the 2008 summit.

"To resolve the environmental issues and the greenhouse gas issue, I believe this agreement represents important progress," Abe said.

On the security alliance, Abe vowed to stand by the United States at all times, conveying to Bush his plans to revise the postwar pacifist Constitution and to also consider easing Japan's self-imposed ban on exercising the right of collective defense to protect allies under attack, moves that will broaden the global role of Japanese troops and enable further cooperation with U.S. forces.

Abe also expressed Japan's understanding and support for U.S. efforts to stabilize Iraq, saying, "I would like to pay respect and express my gratitude for the noble sacrifice the United States is making" in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The two leaders were also believed to have agreed on expediting the realignment of U.S. troops and deployment of a missile defense system in Japan.

On the economic front, the leaders agreed to demonstrate leadership to secure a successful outcome of the Doha Round of World Trade Organization free trade negotiations. They also welcomed progress in the bilateral sharing of information on each other's free trade agreements with third countries to deepen understanding.

Among trade issues between the two nations, Bush said he urged Japan to ease restrictions on U.S. beef imports, saying, "It's good beef, it's healthy beef...I'm going to feed the prime minister's delegation a good hamburger today for lunch."

The two sides endorsed enhanced bilateral efforts to protect intellectual property rights, strengthen global energy security and facilitate more secure trade flows and increase transparency of regulatory processes.

On Thursday, Abe visited a naval hospital to meet U.S. soldiers wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan, and laid wreaths at Arlington National Cemetery.

Abe and his wife Akie then enjoyed dinner with the president and U.S. first lady Laura Bush, engaging in casual conversation, including on Daisuke Matsuzaka, the Japanese pitcher who plays for the Boston Red Sox, and exchanged gifts.

While it has been common for Japanese prime ministers to visit the United States soon after taking office, Abe broke with tradition and went first to China and South Korea in October to mend chilled ties. He met Bush in November on the sidelines of a regional summit in Hanoi.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Top court denies right of Chinese individuals to seek war reparation

The Supreme Court ruled Friday that Chinese individuals have no right to demand war reparations under postwar agreements. The top court's first decision on the rights claim came after the Hiroshima High Court ordered Nishimatsu Construction Co to pay 27.5 million yen to two former Chinese laborers and relatives of three deceased workers who said they were forced to work at a construction site in Hiroshima Prefecture during World War II.

Nishimatsu appealed the 2004 high court ruling, arguing China gave up individual rights to seek war compensation under the 1972 Japan-China Joint-Communique, in which Beijing declared that "it renounces its war reparation from Japan."

3 death row inmates hanged in Tokyo, Fukuoka, Osaka

Japan hanged three death row inmates Friday, the Justice Ministry said, in a rare move while parliament is in session. The executions, which came amid general calls for tougher punishment by crime victims but drew criticism by human rights activists, were the second set of multiple executions under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe following the hanging of four people in December.

The government usually refrains from executing people while parliament is sitting due to concern the action could affect deliberations on bills there.

The ministry did not disclose the names of those executed in accordance with normal practice. But judicial sources said the three were Yoshikatsu Oda, 59, who was hanged at the Fukuoka Detention House for the murders of two people, Masahiro Tanaka, 42, who was hanged at the Tokyo Detention House for the murders of four people, and Kosaku Nada, 56, executed at the Osaka Detention House for the murders of two people.

The executions, like those in December, were carried out on the orders of Justice Minister Jinen Nagase.

Nagase's predecessor, Seiken Sugiura, did not give the green light to any executions, citing his religious beliefs, during his 11 months in office through September last year, when Abe took office.

According to the ministry, the number of people under sentence of death who had exhausted all avenues of appeal or had not appealed topped 100 in March. With Friday's executions, the number dropped to 99.

There were no executions in Japan for three years and four months until March 1993, mainly due to the reluctance of justice ministers to issue execution orders. Since the resumption of hanging, 54 prisoners have been executed, including Friday's three.

Human rights group Amnesty International Japan on Friday lodged "a strong condemnation" of the government's executing the three inmates only four months after the previous hangings.

The Fukuoka District Court sentenced Oda to death in March 2000 for the murders of two people for insurance money in 1990 in Fukuoka Prefecture. The sentence was finalized because he retracted his appeal.

The Supreme Court in September 2000 dismissed Tanaka's appeal against the death sentence for the murders of four people for robbery or other reasons from 1984 to 1991 in Kagawa, Tokushima, Tokyo and Kanagawa prefectures, as well as other crimes.

The top court rejected Nada's appeal in September 1992 against the death sentence for the murders of two people for robbery in January 1983 in Hyogo Prefecture.

Abe explains his stance on sex slave issue to Pelosi, 10 other U.S. lawmakers

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Thursday expressed regret to U.S. Congressional leaders about misunderstandings over his recent remarks on the Japanese military's wartime sexual exploitation of Asian women, upon arrival in Washington for his first visit to the United States as premier.

Abe's two-day visit, during which he will reaffirm the bilateral alliance with U.S. President George W. Bush in summit talks Friday, came as Congress debates a resolution that calls for Tokyo's apology to the victims. U.S. civic groups placed a full-page newspaper advertisement the same day while about 100 protesters rallied outside the White House.

"I believe my remarks and true intentions were not conveyed accurately, but I as an individual and as prime minister sympathize with the former 'comfort women' for their sufferings and feel sorry for the hardship they were put through," Abe was quoted by Japanese officials as telling House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi and 10 other U.S. lawmakers.

The Japanese premier visited Capitol Hill for the hourlong meeting first thing upon arrival in Washington, in apparent hopes that an explanation in person will help abate harsh criticisms over his remarks in March that there was no evidence to prove physical coercion by the Japanese military on the "comfort women."

Prior to Abe's arrival, a senior White House official said the matter will not be a major issue during the Abe-Bush summit on Friday as the premier has "done a lot to clear up the misunderstanding" by reiterating he will uphold a 1993 government apology and expressing his personal apology.

Abe and Bush are instead expected to reaffirm at their talks at the president's retreat Camp David on Friday the strengthening of the bilateral security alliance, cooperation in dealing with North Korea, and enhancing beef trade.

"I would like to have a solid and irreplaceable Japan-U.S. alliance as the cornerstone of Japan's security...and build a relationship with President Bush in which we can discuss everything frankly," Abe told reporters at his official residence ahead of his departure from Tokyo earlier Thursday.

Abe added that he wants to confirm U.S. cooperation on Japan's efforts to press North Korea to return all abducted Japanese, an issue of top priority for his administration. Securing U.S. support will help dissipate concerns that Japan will be isolated at the six-nation talks when there is progress on the North's denuclearization.

To show Japan's determination to boost the bilateral alliance and stand by the United States, Abe visited the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, just outside Washington, on Thursday afternoon to see U.S. soldiers wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan. He also laid wreaths at the Arlington National Cemetery.

In his meeting with Bush on Friday, Abe will explain Japan's decision to extend its troop deployments to support Iraqi reconstruction and his plans to consider easing Japan's self-imposed ban on exercising the right to protect allies under attack.

The wide array of issues to be covered at Friday's summit is also expected to include expediting the realignment of U.S. troops and missile deployment in Japan and boosting cooperation to fight global warming beyond the 2012 Kyoto Protocol time frame.

On the economic front, Abe and Bush are likely to touch on the issue of easing Japanese import restrictions on U.S. beef and discuss how to proceed in light of Washington's agreement Tuesday to accept Japanese inspections of U.S. meatpacking plants.

A U.S. official said the two leaders will also look for ways to coordinate their approaches on the Doha Round of global trade talks and global and bilateral trade liberalization.

Abe, who took office last September, broke with tradition by first visiting China and South Korea to mend chilled ties with those countries before making a trip to the United States, Japan's closest ally.

But he hopes to build mutual trust with the president during this trip like his predecessor, Junichiro Koizumi, who is known for having developed close personal ties with Bush.

After the summit talks with Bush, Abe will continue on with his first visit to the Middle East as premier. He will travel to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Qatar and Egypt to meet with the leaders there and discuss securing energy supplies for Japan as well as cooperation on the Middle East peace process.

The prime minister and his wife will arrive back in Tokyo on May 3.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Hirohito not happy with Yasukuni's honoring Class-A war criminals, diaries show

Japan's late Emperor Hirohito was discontented with Yasukuni Shrine's enshrining of Class-A World War II criminals and concerned about disputes with other Asian countries over history, a set of diaries kept by his close aide showed Thursday.

The diaries were kept by Ryogo Urabe, a chamberlain of the Imperial Household Agency, every day from December 1969, shortly after he took the post, to February 2002. Urabe gave them to the major daily Asahi Shimbun before he died in March 2002. The Asahi Shimbun distributed excerpts of the diaries to other media.

On July 31, 2001, Urabe wrote, "The circumstances about why his majesty called off his visit to Yasukuni Shrine...Directly, the emperor was not pleased with its honoring Class-A war criminals."

On April 28, 1988, the emperor mentioned "Yasukuni's honoring war criminals" in a meeting with Urabe, apparently referring to Japanese Class-A war criminals.

The meeting came after the emperor met with then Grand Steward Tomohiko Tomita the same day. Tomita also wrote in his own memoir that the emperor voiced displeasure with Yasukuni's honoring Class-A war criminals in the day's meeting with him.

The emperor also talked about "China's condemnation and Okuno's remarks" during the 1988 meeting with Urabe, his diary said.

Urabe did not elaborate but the emperor was apparently referring to controversial remarks made by Seisuke Okuno, a Cabinet member who then headed the National Land Agency trying to justify Japan's invasion of China shortly before the emperor-Urabe meeting.

The remarks angered China as well as South Korea.

The diaries also included detailed records of the emperor's fight against diseases after he complained of health problems in 1987.

On Sept 14, 1987, Urabe said, "We're on the track of going ahead with a surgery and judged the trip to Okinawa was impossible. Finally, what should come has come. With being overcast with dark clouds, I'm low-spirited and am not enjoying myself."

Urabe was referring to the cancellation of the emperor's trip to Okinawa.

Urabe also recounted his memory of Jan 7, 1989, when the emperor died at age 87, saying, "We transferred the corpse of his majesty from his bedroom to a living room. I was surprised it was so heavy."

Ex-gangster sentenced to death for murdering 2 in Saitama in 2003

The Saitama District Court on Thursday sentenced a former gangster to death for murdering two people and seriously injuring two others in Saitama Prefecture in August 2003. The court found Hidenori Ogata, 29, guilty of killing Hideaki Suzuki, 28, over disputes about Suzuki's relationship with his girlfriend.

The girlfriend, then age 16, was sentenced by the Saitama District Court in 2004 to an indeterminate sentence of between five to 10 years in prison for encouraging Ogata to kill Suzuki. The ruling for the woman, now age 20, has been finalized. Ogata stabbed Suzuki to death on Aug 18, 2003, in a condominium in Kumagaya. He also abducted three women who were at the scene and strangled one of them, Ai Kanto, 21.

Abe calls for debates on Constitution

The Diet held a ceremony Wednesday commemorating the 60th anniversary of the enforcement of the Constitution, with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe signaling his willingness to revise it and House of Representatives Speaker Yohei Kono being cautious about it. "Toward creation of a new nation, I strongly hope that debates on the Constitution to shape the nation will be promoted actively among the people," Abe said.

Abe expressed appreciation of the role the Constitution has played in Japan's rehabilitation since World War II and subsequent economic growth. But he pointed out that a new era has come, and it is necessary to contribute to the international community and reform fundamental frameworks such as education, the economy and the administrative system, with the Constitution paramount.

Iranian family deported, leaving eldest daughter behind

An Iranian family that has overstayed its visa for more than 10 years was deported Thursday morning, while leaving their eldest daughter behind so she can continue her education at a Japanese junior college. The family — Amine Khalil, 43, his wife Fharoki Akram, 40, and their second daughter Shahrzad, 10, who was born in Japan, were deported as their temporary stay permit expires Friday.

On Wednesday, the three spent their last night in Japan at an apartment where their eldest daughter, Maryam, 18, resides in Takasaki, Gunma Prefecture. Earlier this month, Maryam enrolled in a junior college in the city to become a nursery professional in Japan. Maryam's family came to Japan on short-term visas between 1990 and 1991 but overstayed. Facing a deportation order in 2000, the family filed a suit to have it rescinded. The Supreme Court dismissed the request last year, finalizing the order.

Blackman's mother shocked at ruling; blames husband for taking 'blood money'

The mother of slain British woman Lucie Blackman said Tuesday she was in "complete shock" following the acquittal of Japanese businessman Joji Obara on all charges involving the death of her daughter. Jane Steare also criticized her former husband and Lucie's father, Tim Blackman, for accepting a 100 million yen condolence payment from Obara last September, which she called "blood money." She said Japanese prosecutors warned her and her ex-husband that it could affect the ruling.

The Tokyo District Court sentenced Obara to life in prison Tuesday for drugging and raping nine women, which included the subsequent death of Australian Carita Ridgway, but acquitted him of all charges related to Blackman due to lack of evidence.

Tim Blackman told a press conference in Tokyo that crucial evidence was not presented by the prosecution at Obara's trial and that he wanted the prosecutors to appeal against the district court's decision.

Speaking to Sky News, Steare, who stayed in Britain for the verdict, said, "I'm in complete shock. I never thought he would get acquitted."

"I'm pleased for Carita Ridgway's mother, Annette, that justice has been served for her and the other victims. I don't know whether he will stay in prison for life, though," Steare said.

She said she did not know why Obara had been found not guilty of raping and fatally drugging Lucie, aged 21, in 2000, as well as mutilating and abandoning her body.

Regarding the condolence payment, Steare told the TV station, "I don't know how you could take money from someone who has been convicted as being a rapist...I just don't understand it."

The court handed Obara, 54, the life sentence, as sought by the prosecution, in the cases of five foreign and four Japanese women. Of these, Ridgway died and two others suffered injuries.

Obara has already appealed the life sentence.

Explaining the ruling, presiding Judge Tsutomu Tochigi said there was no evidence to directly link Obara to the dismembering and abandonment of Blackman's body.

On the charge of raping Blackman resulting in death, Tochigi said that, unlike with other victims, there was no video recording of the rape and no evidence to prove the suspect administered any drugs to her or assaulted her.

The judge said although there were similarities between Blackman's case and the other women's, supposition was not enough given that the cause of her death was unknown.

Speaking to Sky News after the verdict, Tim Blackman said he was jubilant when he heard the word life imprisonment in court. But when he found out it did not apply to his daughter, "in just a few moments the six years we have been pushing and struggling...just disappeared in a few words."

He said that following the ruling he learned in a meeting with prosecutors that important evidence — which he did not go into details about — was not presented by the prosecution.

"Now we have started to find out more about the background and potential holes in the prosecution, we are sort of thinking that she deserves better than that. She deserves to get the justice she should have," he said.

He said he had "no regrets" about taking the condolence money and his daughter and Lucie's sister, Sophie, said the judge had told the court that receipt of the money had had no bearing on the verdict or sentencing.

Blackman also took aim at his ex-wife, who has not only criticized the condolence payment but also claimed Monday that her former husband "was a serial adulterer who put his own needs before those of his children."

He said, "The most regrettable thing is that Sophie and I are here, doing what we are doing, and yet it has taken this opportunity to kick off some sort of 'hell hath no fury like a woman scorned' against me on this matter, and it is wrong and just so inappropriate."

On the ruling, Sophie Blackman said, "I just felt distraught and shattered. I never anticipated acquittal. We are facing years and years of legal battles."

Obara pleaded not guilty to the charges against him in all 10 cases in the course of the trial, which lasted about six-and-a-half years.

On Blackman's case, the center of attention in the trial, the indictment said Obara made her drink a beverage laced with a drug before raping her at his condominium in Zushi, Kanagawa Prefecture, in July 2000. She subsequently died, and Obara was accused of dismembering her corpse and abandoning it in a beachside cave nearby.

The dismembered body of Blackman, who worked as a hostess in Tokyo before she went missing in early July 2000 about two months after arriving in Japan, was found in the cave in Miura, Kanagawa Prefecture, in February 2001.

Protest over sex slaves planned during Abe's visit to Washington

A rally and march seeking that Japan apologize for its wartime sexual enslavement of civilian women from other Asian countries will be held Thursday near the White House when Prime Minister Shinzo Abe arrives for talks with U.S. President George W Bush, organizers said Tuesday.

About 500 people are expected to take part, with a speech planned by one of the surviving former sex slaves, according to an application filed with the police. Such protest events during a Japanese leader's visit are rare in the United States. The organizers include Amnesty International USA and other private groups who support a resolution submitted in Congress seeking that Tokyo officially acknowledge and apologize for forcing women to serve in military brothels during World War II.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Abe urges early passage of Iraq bill

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called Tuesday for early passage of a government-proposed bill aimed at extending for two years the deployment of Japanese air troops in the Persian Gulf to provide airlift support for U.N. and multinational forces operating in Iraq.

"Iraq's stability and reconstruction are an important theme for the entire international community and directly linked with Japan's national interests," Abe said at the day's plenary session of the House of Representatives as the lower chamber launched debate on both the government bill and an opposition-sponsored bill designed to terminate Japan's airlift support activities in Iraq.

Obara gets life for drugging, raping 9 women; acquitted in death of Lucie Blackman

The Tokyo District Court sentenced Joji Obara, who was indicted for drugging and raping 10 women including Briton Lucie Blackman, to life in prison Tuesday, but acquitted him of charges related to Blackman's death.

The court handed Obara, 54, the life sentence in connection with the rape and drugging of nine of the women, including Australian Carita Ridgeway who died.

But the court found Obara not guilty of the charges involving Blackman, who was 21 at the time of her death, including raping and fatally drugging her and mutilating and abandoning her body.

Obara was indicted on charges of drugging or raping the women, two of whom died and two were injured, between February 1992 and July 2000.

He pleaded not guilty to all the charges.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Gangster apologizes to nation, but not to family of murdered Nagasaki mayor

The gangster who allegedly shot former Nagasaki Mayor Itcho Ito to death last week made an apology on Monday, saying, "I caused trouble to the people of Nagasaki and the entire nation," his lawyer said. There was no apology to the late mayor's family, however, the lawyer said.

Tetsuya Shiroo, 59, said trouble with the city had triggered the murder, according to the lawyer, who met him earlier in the day for one hour at Nagasaki Police Station. Shiroo claims he shot Ito because no compensation was given for a car damaged by a pothole at a road-works site on a city road.

Shiroo also said a company connected to him could not secure a loan from the city, according to the lawyer. "I was financially struggling," he was quoted as saying.

The lawyer said Shiroo told him that on April 17 he arrived at the scene of the shooting, near the Japan Railways Nagasaki Station, "on foot, alone." "I did it without consulting with anyone else," he said, according to the lawyer.

It was reported that a suspicious car had been spotted near the shooting site around the time of the incident, raising the possibility that Shiroo had at least one accomplice.

"The car has nothing to do with the shooting," Shiroo said Monday, according to his lawyer.

Shiroo had until recently turned down interviews with his lawyer. He had done so because he was "not feeling well," according to the lawyer.

Ito, who was campaigning for a fourth four-year term as Nagasaki mayor, was shot twice in the back in front of his election campaign office, and died from loss of blood in a hospital early Wednesday.

Shiroo, a member of a gang affiliated with Japan's biggest organized crime syndicate, the Yamaguchi-gumi, was arrested on the spot on suspicion of attempted murder.

DPJ wins Fukushima upper-house seat; LDP gains Okinawa

The opposition Democratic Party of Japan captured an upper-house seat in Fukushima, one of the two prefectures where by-elections were held Sunday, while the governing coalition secured a seat in the other prefecture, Okinawa, election returns showed.

The outcomes of the two by-elections could have a major impact on the upper-house election this summer where the governing coalition led by the Liberal Democratic Party is hoping to retain a majority, while opposition forces such as the DPJ will be seeking to outnumber the coalition.

Teruhiko Mashiko, 59, running on the DPJ ticket and backed by the opposition New People's Party, won the House of Councillors seat in Fukushima, beating candidates on the LDP and Japanese Communist Party tickets.

In Okinawa, former Naha city assembly member Aiko Shimajiri, 42, backed by the LDP and its ruling coalition ally, the New Komeito party, defeated Yoshimasa Karimata, 57, who was backed by the DPJ and other opposition parties.

"The victory in Okinawa is significant," Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who doubles as LDP president, was quoted by party lawmakers as saying in a phone conversation with Hidenao Nakagawa, the party's secretary general.

Voter turnout in Okinawa was 47.81%, down from a record low 54.24% marked in the previous election. In Fukushima, it stood at 56.72%, down 3.62 percentage points from the July 2004 upper-house election.

Underscoring the importance of the by-elections, the LDP and DPJ both sent heavyweight politicians to drum up support in Fukushima and Okinawa, including Abe and DPJ leader Ichiro Ozawa.

Voters also cast ballots for mayoral elections in 77 cities, including Nagasaki, where the incumbent mayor was gunned down during campaigning, as well as 96 towns and villages, and 13 Tokyo wards. Also up for grabs were seats in local assemblies.

In the mayoral election in Toyo, Kochi Prefecture, Yasutaro Sawayama, a 63-year-old candidate opposed to a plan to host a nuclear dump site, defeated former Mayor Yasuoki Tashima, 64, who advocated the plan. It was a de facto referendum on whether people were willing to host a site for high-level radioactive waste from nuclear power stations.

In Nagasaki City, the mayoral election was overshadowed by the shooting death of incumbent Mayor Itcho Ito by a gangster during campaigning. Tomihisa Taue, 50, a former city government employee, defeated four other candidates including Makoto Yokoo, 40, a son-in-law of Ito.

Other municipalities also being closely watched in the second and last round of the unified regional elections include Yubari in the northernmost prefecture of Hokkaido, a city that is undergoing fiscal rehabilitation after running up huge debts. Seven candidates contested the mayoral post.

Hajime Fujikura, a 66-year-old former company president, was elected mayor in Yubari.

In eight cities, candidates associated with the governing coalition and those linked with the opposition camp locked horns. The governing bloc won in five, while the opposition won in three including the city of Ginowan in Okinawa Prefecture, which may have some impact on the course of a plan to relocate a U.S. air station from the city.

In Ginowan, incumbent Mayor Yoichi Iha, supported by the DPJ and other opposition parties, was reelected, defeating a candidate backed by the LDP and New Komeito.

He is opposed to the plan to relocate the U.S. Marines Corps Futemma Air Station to another site within the prefecture as envisaged under an agreement between Japan and the United States.

Ballots were counted the same day in most constituencies. A limited number of municipalities are planning to count ballots the following day.

In the first round of the April regional election on April 8, the LDP lost seats in the prefectural assembly elections, while the DPJ sharply increased its presence, chiefly in urban constituencies.

The first round also picked governors for 13 of the nation's 47 prefectures, including Shintaro Ishihara, who was reelected to the post of Tokyo governor for a third consecutive term.

Regional elections are held concurrently on designated dates every four years to increase administrative efficiency and voter turnout.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Blackman family arrives in Japan to hear verdict in Obara murder trial

The father and sister of Lucie Blackman, a British woman who was killed in Japan in 2000, arrived in Japan Sunday to hear Tuesday's verdict in the trial of the man accused of her death. Tim Blackman and Lucie's sister, Sophie, 26, will be in court when the verdict is read out for Joji Obara, who is charged with raping and fatally drugging Blackman, 21.

"It's been a very long seven years," Blackman said upon arrival at Narita airport. "It's been quite a strain on all of us, unfortunately, but hopefully this will be the end of it."

Before leaving London Saturday, Blackman told reporters he did not know what to expect. "It's a complicated situation and a complicated trial. I'm apprehensive about it because there is an awful lot of circumstantial evidence and he has denied all of the allegations," he was quoted as saying.

Obara, 54, has maintained his innocence throughout the trial, while prosecutors have demanded life imprisonment, arguing he committed "barbaric and extremely vicious and serious acts unprecedented in the history of sexual crimes."

Obara was indicted on charges of drugging or raping 10 women between February 1992 and July 2000, of whom two died, including Blackman.

According to the indictment, he made Blackman drink a beverage containing a drug before raping her at a condominium in Zushi, Kanagawa Prefecture. She subsequently died.

During his testimony, Obara told the court that all the women had agreed to have sex with him as they had visited his condo.

Obara's defense team has said that the condolence money offered to Tim Blackman by their client last year may mitigate the sentence. Blackman father was criticized by his ex-wife Jane Steare (Lucie's mother) for accepting "blood money" of 100 million yen (450,000 pounds) from a businessman friend of Obara.

Under Japanese law, defendants can pay "condolence cash" to victims in return for leniency in sentencing. Blackman said at the time the money would be split between the Lucie Blackman Trust and to support the family in the future.

Osaka man arrested for raping woman aboard train last year

Police said Sunday they have arrested a 36-year-old man on suspicion of raping a woman aboard a train last year. Although there were many passengers on board at the time of the crime in August last year, none of them tried to stop it or report it to the train conductor as the suspect, Takamitsu Uezono, made threats to them, police said.

According to investigators, Uezono, a demolition worker from Shiga Prefecture, raped a 21-year-old woman aboard a Thunderbird express train bound for Osaka from Toyama on JR Hokuriku Line on the night of Aug 3 last year.

Uezono sat next to the victim after the train left Fukui, and told her, "Don't raise your voice or I'll kill you."

After making further intimidating remarks such as "If you report me to the police, I'll stalk you," he forcibly took her to a rest room and raped her, the investigators said, adding Uezono has admitted to the allegations.

Uezono had been arrested by the Shiga police on suspicion of raping a woman on a train in another incident.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Man arrested for holding daughter hostage at knifepoint in Kagawa

A 50-year-old man was arrested Friday for holding his daughter hostage with a knife and locking himself inside his home in Takamatsu, Kagawa Prefecture, police said. Yusuke Murakami, a part-time worker, released his 26-year-old daughter about an hour after police officers arrived at the scene and persuaded him to surrender. The daughter was unharmed.

When police arrived at the scene in response to an emergency call from his 57-year-old wife, Murakami threatened to kill his daughter and kill himself as well, and locked himself inside the living room on the first floor, they said. "I had a quarrel with my wife and became outraged. I did not intend to harm my daughter," he was quoted by police as saying after his arrest.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Man fires 9 shots from Machida apartment after shooting gangster to death in Kanagawa

A man armed with a handgun locked himself in an apartment in suburban Tokyo and fired nine shots out into the open around noon Friday apparently after shooting a gangster to death several kilometers away in Kanagawa Prefecture across the prefectural border, police said.

One of the shots hit a police patrol car which rushed to the apartment in the city of Machida, around 30 km southwest of central Tokyo. No one has been hurt so far and no hostages appear to have been taken, the police said.

The Metropolitan Police Department has deployed a contingent around the site while the Tokyo Fire Department has mobilized five ambulances to prepare for possible emergencies.

Investigators are positioned on both sides of the apartment building.

Education authorities have instructed primary and junior high schools near the scene not to allow students to leave until safety is ensured.

Residents around the apartment were evacuated on the instruction of the police.

Police said the armed man is the occupant of the apartment and has been identified as Yuji Takeshita, a member of a gang affiliated with the Kyokuto-kai underworld syndicate.

While a senior member of the gang group has continued efforts via mobile phone to persuade Takeshita to surrender to police, he was quoted as telling the senior member that he would kill himself in a sign of apology, according to police.

Earlier, a man was shot in the head at around 11:30 a.m. near a Family Mart convenience store in Sagamihara, Kanagawa Prefecture, and was pronounced dead shortly afterwards at a hospital.

He was identified as a 37-year-old member of a gang also under the Kyokuto-kai syndicate.

The man who shot the gangster fled from the scene in a car to the apartment in Machida, a few kilometers to the northeast, police said.

The registered owner of the car is the same as the occupant of the apartment unit in Machida, police said.

A total of 44 primary and junior high schools near the apartment in the cities of Machida and Sagamihara closed their school gates and kept students inside, local government officials said. School guards are patrolling the school premises, they said.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Funeral held for slain Nagasaki mayor

A private funeral was held Thursday for Nagasaki Mayor Itcho Ito, who died after being shot by a gangster, in the Nagasaki prefectural capital.

Relatives, friends, supporters and city officials attended the funeral to mourn for Ito, who had worked for the abolition of nuclear arms and to help atomic-bomb victims as head of a city devastated by the 1945 U.S. atomic-bombing in World War II, participants said.

Ito's murder sparks anger among politicians; Abe calls it challenge to democracy

The murder of Nagasaki Mayor Itcho Ito prompted outrage among politicians Wednesday, with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe calling it a challenge to democracy. "We have to eradicate this kind of violence," Abe told reporters. "I want a stringent investigation to be conducted by investigative authorities and for the truth to be discovered."

Ito's predecessor, former Mayor Hitoshi Motoshima, who was shot and seriously injured by a right-wing extremist in 1990 for his remarks about the late Emperor Hirohito's war responsibility, said: "We have to renew our vow that violence is wrong, first and foremost."

The 85-year-old said he could barely sleep last night. "I was lucky because I was only injured...I feel terribly for his wife. I would like to pray for him from my heart and offer condolences to his family," he added.

Ichiro Ozawa, leader of the main opposition Democratic Party of Japan, expressed outrage at the incident, noting that Ito had worked to have nuclear weapons declared illegal and had appealed for world peace.

"It's extremely regrettable and I feel very outraged at the fact that such an outstanding person has lost his life," he told reporters in Kagoshima Prefecture.

The DPJ's acting leader, Naoto Kan, said freedom of speech should never be taken away. He also criticized Abe's remarks. "Prime Minister Abe only mentioned a stringent investigation. We cannot feel any sense of crisis from such a comment about the shooting of a political leader."

Social Democratic Party leader Mizuho Fukushima had similar words for the incident. "This is very shocking to me. I can never condone a short-sighted act that takes away the life of a municipal leader with bullets and obstructs political activities," she said, offering her condolences to the late mayor's family.

Nagasaki Gov Genjiro Kaneko also offered condolences to Ito's family in a statement after his death was confirmed and expressed his anger at the shooting, in which a local gangster allegedly shot Ito twice in the back outside his election campaign office on Tuesday evening.

"This is the most painful thing of all because I was praying for his recovery, and I feel a strong sense of outrage at the vicious, violent act of shooting a mayor," he said.

The incident represents "a challenge to freedom and democracy" given that it took place during an election campaign period, he said, expressing hope that it will be investigated thoroughly.

Other municipal leaders, including Fukuoka Gov Wataru Aso, Saga Gov Yasushi Furukawa and Okinawa Gov Hirokazu Nakaima, also offered condolences to Ito's family and vowed not to tolerate any violence against politicians.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Nagasaki Mayor Ito shot in back while campaigning outside train station; in serious condition

Nagasaki Mayor Itcho Ito was shot twice in the back by a gunman at 7:50 p.m. Tuesday in front of Japan Railway's Nagasaki Station and is in a serious condition with his heart not moving, local authorities said. The alleged shooter, Tetsuya Shiroo, 59, was arrested at the scene on suspicion of attempted murder, police said, adding he is believed to be a member of a gang affiliated with Japan's largest organized crime syndicate, the Yamaguchi-gumi. The motive is unknown.

Ito, 61, was shot twice in the back while campaigning for his fourth four-year term in Sunday's mayoral election in the western Japan city. He was immediately taken to a hospital past 8 p.m., a hospital official said.

Ito was shot near his campaign office and fell on his stomach.

Ito, formerly a Nagasaki city assembly member and Nagasaki prefectural assembly member, has made a number of statements and remarks to promote peace since he was first elected in 1995 as mayor of Nagasaki, which was devastated by an atomic bomb dropped by the United States in 1945 in World War II.

Debate on constitutional referendum bill begins in upper house

The House of Councillors on Monday began debating a bill setting procedures to amend Japan's pacifist Constitution, which has been unrevised since coming into force in 1947. The governing coalition of the Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito party called for an early enactment at a plenary session of the upper house, while opposition parties stressed the need for thorough deliberations.

The governing coalition's bill, revised in March in the course of deliberation, proposes that the referendum be held only for the purpose of constitutional revision and with eligible voters being Japanese citizens aged 18 and older. One of the focal points in a revision is Article 9, which says, "Aspiring sincerely to an international peace based on justice and order, the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as a means of settling international disputes."

Monday, April 16, 2007

U.S. asks Japan to relax beef import conditions with deadline

The United States has requested that Japan consider softening a condition it has attached to importing beef from the United States by setting a concrete deadline by which Tokyo should abide by, sources informed on bilateral relations said Sunday.

The request, which the sources said includes a hint that Washington would file a complaint with the World Trade Organization over the matter, could put pressure on Tokyo ahead of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's visit to the U.S. capital for summit talks later this month. Japan, which banned beef imports from the United States following the discovery, resumed the imports in December 2005 on the condition that the beef be limited to those from cattle aged up to 20 months and that dangerous parts be removed completely.

Washington has since been asking Tokyo to soften the age restriction and is now threatening to take the matter to the WTO, the sources said. Those who have referred to the move are senior officials of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, including Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns, they added.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

North Korean female agent linked to abduction of 2 kids ordered terror attack, police say

Japanese police have learned from testimonies that a woman believed to be the leader of North Korean agents involved in a 1974 abduction case in Japan allegedly ordered another agent to carry out a terrorist attack in South Korea in the 1970s, investigative sources said Saturday.

In the alleged abduction case of two children born to a Japanese mother and Korean father who went missing in 1973, the police have found a high possibility that a husband of the 59-year-old female agent knew of the kidnapping plan, the sources said.

The sources said the police obtained the testimonies from people related to Universe Trading — a now-defunct trading company in Tokyo's Shinagawa believed to have served as a base for covert North Korean operations in Japan. The woman also worked there.

Police believe the terrorism order was based on an instruction from North Korea, and came shortly after the failed assassination attempt in August 1974 of then South Korean President Park Chung Hee.

According to the testimonies, the female agent ordered a male agent who worked under her to "do something like that" after the failed assassination incident, the sources said.

The male agent left Japan in 1978 after disappearing from the company because of what was then explained as his increasing distrust of the female agent.

In the assassination attempt on Aug 15, 1974, Mun Se Gwang, a South Korean resident of Japan, shot at the president and his wife at a ceremony marking the 29th anniversary of the liberation of Korea from Japanese occupation. Park survived, but his wife and a female high school student died. Mun was sentenced to death and executed later that year.

The male agent is believed to have been involved in the suspected killing of Hideko Watanabe, the Japanese mother of the two children who went missing together in 1973.

The man had allegedly told acquaintances about circumstances before and after the killing, the sources said.

The sources said the husband, who married the female agent after the abduction incident occurred in 1974, had told workers of Universe Trading and other people about the kidnapping.

The man told them of such abduction circumstances as the children being given sleeping pills but waking up in the middle of being taken to North Korea on a spy ship, and the children having bad motion sickness, the sources said.

Given such testimonies from related people, police suspect the man was either directly involved in the abduction or received detailed reports.

The female agent and the man were allegedly in an intimate relationship before their marriage, the sources said. They left Japan in 1979 and there are no confirmed records of their return, leading the police to believe that they are now living in North Korea, the sources said.

The female agent is suspected of ordering her group of agents to abduct the two children in 1974 after receiving instructions in North Korea where she went after leaving Japan with the passport of another person, the sources said.

On Thursday, police designated two children as having been abducted by North Korean agents, and set up an investigation headquarters to start a full-fledged probe into the case.

The two children are Ko Gyong Mi, then a 6-year-old girl whose Japanese name is Kiyomi, and Ko Gang, then a 3-year-old boy whose Japanese name is Tsuyoshi.

They were born to Ko Dae Gi, a pro-Pyongyang Korean resident in Japan, and his Japanese wife Watanabe, who was 32 when she went missing.

Watanabe is suspected of having been murdered before the children were taken to North Korea.

Ko Dae Gi, who had gone missing earlier, worked for Universe Trading, and is believed to have led the group there before the female agent took over the leading role.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Abe hosts 11,000 guests at garden party; pledges to create 'beautiful Japan'

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe hosted the government's annual cherry blossom viewing party at Shinjuku Gyoen park on Saturday and told the 11,000 invited guests that he would work hard to create a "beautiful Japan." Speaking under clear skies, Abe mingled with guests invited from the business, sporting and entertainment worlds. Since coming to power last year, Abe has vowed to create a more assertive Japan under his favorite campaign phrase "a beautiful nation" and made revising the 1947 constitution the top item on his political agenda.

"We have fair weather today with the cherry flowers in full bloom because your wishes reached up there, I believe," Abe told guests.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Wen meets farmers, plays baseball with students in Kyoto

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao visited Kyoto to add a human touch on the final day Friday of his three-day visit to Japan, chatting with local farmers and enjoying baseball with university students. When asked about the outlook for bilateral ties, Wen said, "I can't say all the problems have been solved. We need more time."

In Kyoto, he visited a farmer's house, toured historic spots and took part in baseball and other exchange programs with Ritsumeikan University students. Wen will have a meeting in Osaka on Friday night with government and business leaders in the Kansai region.

Man arrested for groping woman cop on train

A man was arrested last week for groping a woman who happened to be a police officer, police revealed Thursday. The incident happened on JR's Yamanote Line on April 6, they said. The 20-year-old police officer felt her coat lifted and her buttocks touched between Kanda and Akihabara stations, they said.

The officer immediately grabbed the man and hauled him off at Akihabara. The suspect, a 39-year-old construction worker, has denied the allegation. The police officer was in plain clothes at the time.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Wen calls for Sino-Japanese friendship, but urges Japanese leaders to face up to history

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao on Thursday called for friendship and cooperation to "thaw the ice" of years of strained relations, while urging Japanese leaders to act in line with past apologies for Japanese wartime aggression.

In a speech in the Diet aimed at wooing the Japanese public as well as subduing anti-Japanese sentiment back home, Wen laid out China's vision for developing closer, forward-looking strategic ties with Japan through building mutual trust and working on common interests.

Stressing that both Chinese and Japanese people were victims of wartime suffering that should be blamed on "a handful of militarists," Wen acknowledged Japan's repeated apologies over its deeds before and during World War II.

But he added, "We sincerely hope that Japan will demonstrate its past statements and promises with actual concrete actions."

The premier avoided reference to specific issues, but his remark was apparently made in connection with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's recent denial of the Japanese military's involvement in wartime sex slavery.

Wen's remark was also an apparent warning to Abe not to visit Tokyo's war-related Yasukuni Shrine like his predecessor Junichiro Koizumi did, which angered Japan's neighbors.

Wen was clear in speaking about Taiwan. He reiterated that China would "absolutely not tolerate" Taiwanese independence, urging Japan to understand the sensitivity of the issue, deal with it cautiously and uphold its one-China policy.

In the background of Beijing's concerns is the fact that Japan and its ally the United States included the Taiwan issue as part of their common strategic objectives in a security alliance statement in February 2005.

Citing the more than 2,000 years of "friendly exchanges" between the people of the two nations — albeit disrupted by "painful and unfortunate" rancor in the postwar decades — Wen called for future-oriented friendship between the Chinese and Japanese people "with history as the mirror."

"For the sake of friendship and cooperation, it is necessary to sum up and remember the lessons of the unfortunate past history," he said.

The premier, on the first Japan visit by a Chinese leader in nearly seven years, also noted that the Chinese people will never forget the "support and assistance" from the Japanese government and public of China's reform and modernization.

The speech, broadcast live nationwide in both countries, was made at a time chilled relations are recovering with the resumption of top-level political dialogue following Abe's Beijing visit last October.

Wen, as the first Chinese leader to speak at Japan's parliament in 22 years, made the speech not only in hopes of dispelling negative feelings and anxiety toward China among some Japanese, but also to deliver the message to the Chinese public to calm anti-Japanese sentiment that developed into riots two years ago.

The speech was well received by the Japanese side, with Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuhisa Shiozaki describing it as "very positive" and House of Councillors President Chikage Ogi saying, "I believe the ice has melted here right now."

Later in the day, Abe described Wen's visit as "the first step of a major breakthrough." Asked by reporters if he felt the "ice" has melted, Abe said, "The cherry blossoms were in full bloom at the Iikura guesthouse where we took a commemorative photo just now. I believe the season has already arrived."

In building a strategic and mutually beneficial relationship, Wen called for more mutual trust and to work for common interests without dwelling on differences.

He also expressed China's understanding of Japan's desire to play a larger international role and said China is prepared for more dialogue with Japan on international affairs including U.N. reforms, hinting at a softening of Beijing's reluctance toward Japan's desire for a permanent U.N. Security Council seat.

Describing bilateral economic cooperation as a "win-win relationship," Wen expressed a positive attitude toward resolving the bilateral dispute over gas exploration rights in the East China Sea, stressing it is important to realize the agreed joint development project.

"Economic development on both sides is an opportunity, not a threat, to both sides," he said, dismissing concerns that China's rapid growth threatens the Japanese economy.

Wen emphasized that China will stay on the path of peaceful development, in words apparently meant to dissipate Abe's concerns a day earlier of the lack of transparency in China's military buildup.

The Chinese premier, who arrived in Tokyo on Wednesday and held talks with Abe, was the first Chinese leader to address the Japanese Diet since Peng Zhen, then chairman of the Standing Committee of China's parliament, delivered a speech in 1985.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Abe, Wen meet to build strategic ties

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and visiting Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao met in Tokyo on Wednesday evening to seek concrete steps to build mutually beneficial strategic ties and underscore a steady improvement in relations, highlighted by the first visit to Japan by a Chinese leader since 2000. Abe praised Wen's visit as "a big step forward" toward nurturing the strategic relationship and Wen responded by saying the trip "will lead to significant achievements and reflects both sides' desires."

Despite a drizzle, Abe hosted a welcoming ceremony for Wen in the garden of the prime minister's residence and told his counterpart he looked forward to talks in "a relaxed atmosphere," their third in just half a year. Abe and Wen are expected to issue a joint document confirming cooperation in areas of common interests as well as separate documents on collaboration on environmental and energy issues. Enhancing economic dialogue is also a main item on the agenda.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Japan extends economic sanctions on N Korea for 6 more months

The government decided in a cabinet meeting Tuesday to extend the economic sanctions Japan imposed on North Korea after Pyongyang's first nuclear test last October, officials said.

The sanctions prohibit North Korean ships from entering Japanese ports, ban imports of all items from North Korea, and block all North Korean people from entering Japan. Japan imposed more limited sanctions after North Korea conducted missile tests last July. These sanctions banned a cargo-passenger ferry link between the two countries and barred North Korean officials from entering Japan.

GSDF camp's internal info leaked from PC via Winny

The layout of an arms dump and other internal information from the Ground Self-Defense Force's Matsudo garrison in Chiba Prefecture was leaked onto the Internet in late March from a personal computer of a sergeant who used to work there via the Winny file-sharing software, Defense Ministry sources said Monday.

Although the data leaked did not include confidential information, the Defense Ministry plans to punish the officer ranked sergeant first class as he has not complied with the ministry's ban on storage of professional data on any privately owned PC.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Murder suspect Ichihashi living on 50,000 yen

Two weeks after the murder of English teacher Lindsay Ann Hawker, 22, prime suspect Tatsuya Ichihashi is still on the run, most likely living on 50,000 yen in cash, police said Monday. Further investigations have revealed that Ichihashi, 28, ran off with 50,000 yen in cash he had withdrawn from a bank ATM after getting away from police who came to his apartment on March 26. Police said they are watching his account and said he had made no cash withdrawals since then.

Police also said that Ichihashi's bicycle had been left at nearest station to his home before the murder, refuting rumors that he had used it to make his getaway from the area.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

No. of homeless people down 6,700 to 18,500

The number of homeless people in Japan decreased from about 25,300 four years ago to about 18,500 as of January this year apparently due to economic recovery and welfare, the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry said Friday. "It is apparently a result of employment due to economic recovery and state assistance measures," a ministry official said.

The ministry conducted the survey in January following the first of its kind in 2003, by consigning the project to prefectural governments across Japan with prefectural officials visually counting the number of homeless people living at parks, riversides, roads, stations or other public facilities. By prefecture, the homeless population was largest in Osaka at 4,911, followed by Tokyo at 4,690, Kanagawa at 2,020, Fukuoka at 1,177 and Aichi at 1,023.

Abe eyes allowing Japan forces to defend U.S. in missile attacks

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is leaning toward allowing Japan to exercise the right to collective self-defense — currently banned in line with an official interpretation of the Constitution — in a limited number of cases such as a ballistic missile attack against the United States, a government source said Saturday.

The government is expected to form a panel of handpicked experts later this month to conduct detailed discussions on four situations in which Japan could mobilize its forces when an ally comes under attack, with the aim of reaching a conclusion possibly this fall on whether to lift the self-imposed ban under those limited circumstances, according to the source.

The panel, chaired by former Japanese Ambassador to Washington Shunji Yanai, is expected to examine employing Japan's missile defense shield to intercept a ballistic missile targeted at an ally as well as staging a counterattack when a warship of another country sailing along with a Japanese Self-Defense Forces vessel comes under attack on the high seas, the source said.

These two cases are subject to a ban under the Cabinet Legislation Bureau's interpretation of the pacifist Article 9 of the Constitution on the grounds that either of them is tantamount to exercising the right to collective self-defense beyond the necessary minimum self-defense.

But calls for reviewing the interpretation for limited cases are growing around Abe, who is keen on bolstering Japan's lesser role in its bilateral security arrangement with the United States, the source said.

Abe may be hoping that mentioning such a move, even just for consideration, could help attenuate bilateral discord generated by his or other ruling lawmakers' remarks downplaying the Japanese military's role in running wartime brothels, ahead of his very first official trip to the United States in late April, observers said.

Critics say moves to expand the scope of Japan's missile defense and to enable Japan-U.S. joint vessel operations in the high seas may alarm other Asian countries, particularly China.

The two other cases are Japan staging a counterattack when another country's military units in multinational forces including Japanese troops working for a shared objective are attacked, and Japan using arms to eliminate obstacles to implementing duties as part of U.N. peacekeeping operations.

The government has said Japan inherently has the right to collective self-defense under international law but is prohibited from exercising it under Article 9 of its Constitution.

Reinterpretation of the article is a sensitive subject that may generate heated debate even within the governing coalition of Abe's Liberal Democratic Party and its junior partner the New Komeito party, which is highly cautious about Japan exercising the right to collective defense, and will also likely be a focus in the House of Councillors election slated for July.

Article 9 renounces Japan's right to wage war or to maintain armed forces.

Abe proposed in his first policy speech in September studying which specific cases of cooperation with an ally may be prohibited under the Constitution.

In a book published in July when he was chief cabinet secretary under former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, Abe questioned the ban on exercising the right, saying of the ban, "I wonder how long it can remain valid in the context of norms in the international community."

Japan and the United States agreed in a summit in November that they will reinforce and accelerate bilateral cooperation for building missile defense systems. Last month, Japan installed a land-to-air interceptor system north of Tokyo.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Ishihara leads rivals in Tokyo gubernatorial race

Incumbent Tokyo Gov Shintaro Ishihara is one-up on his main rival, former Miyagi Gov Shiro Asano, in the April 8 gubernatorial election, Kyodo News analyses showed Sunday.

Ishihara, who is seeking a third four-year term, has secured sufficient support from the affiliates of the ruling parties — the LDP and the New Komeito party — as well as from parts of the DPJ supporters. Asano, on the other hand, has not yet solidified the support base in the DPJ, which backs him, according to the analyses. The other two major candidates — architect Kisho Kurokawa and former Adachi Ward mayor Manzo Yoshida — have failed to expand their support base, according to the analyses.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

U.S. student becomes world sudoku champion

Harvard University student Thomas Snyder become the world sudoku champion in Prague on Saturday when he beat Japan's Yuhei Kusui in the head-to-head final round.

Snyder, 27, who was runner-up in the first world championships of the popular numerical logic game last year, scored 162 against Kusei's 135 points in the final session of the three-day event in which 141 of the world's best players took part.

"I was really disappointed not to have won last year," Snyder, who is also the reigning U.S. world puzzle champion, said. "I do not think people were surprised to see me in the play-offs."

Snyder, a chemistry student who expects to finish his post-graduate studies this year, said the secret of his success was playing "lots of logic puzzles, not just sudoku."

"I started doing mathematical and logic puzzles when I was four or five at the time between crawling and walking," he said, adding that the interest was nurtured by his mathematics teacher mother and his father, a university science professor.

Japan won the world team competition, which was held for the first time this year, with 4,490 points. The United States took second place with 4,328 points, followed by the Czech Republic with 3,690 points.

Sudoku, a sort of numerical crossword where contestants have to fill a nine by nine grid so that each column, each row, and each of the nine three by three internal squares contains only the numbers from one to nine, was revived at the end of the 1980s and has recently enjoyed a worldwide boom in popularity.

Organizers of the second world championship said they choose to mix classical sudoku puzzles with logic brain teasers for this year's world championships in a move welcomed by the finalists.

"That was my aim this year," one organizer, Vitezslav Koudelka, said. He added that the game's popularity has now leveled off following its rocking success.

"As the players said, it gets a bit boring filling in gaps with missing numbers in the same way," he explained.