Thursday, May 31, 2007

Y120 million gold bathtub stolen from hotel in Chiba

An 18-karat-gold bathtub worth roughly 120 million yen was stolen early Wednesday morning from a bathing area for men at a hotel in Kamogawa, Chiba Prefecture, police said. Employees of the Kominato Hotel Mikazuki confirmed that the 80-kilogram tub was in place at 2 a.m. in the bathing area on the 10th floor of the hotel, but at 9 a.m. they found that the tub had been removed and the chain on the door to the room had been broken.

The tub, which is 1 meter 10 centimeters long, 60 cm wide and 55 cm deep, had been placed in a glazed room and the door to the room was locked with the chain and padlock when not in use. Police said there were no marks on the floor showing that the heavy tub had been dragged. The hotel installed the tub, manufactured by a jewelry company in Tokyo, in 2005.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Agriculture minister Matsuoka commits suicide; leaves 6 notes

Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Toshikatsu Matsuoka committed suicide Monday at his residence in Tokyo amid various political funds scandals, dealing a blow to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe who had supported him in the face of increasing opposition pressure for his resignation ahead of the House of Councillors election in July. Six suicide notes, addressed to individuals, such as the premier, upper house member Shuntaro Kageyama, the vice agriculture minister and Matsuoka's secretary, were found on a desk in his room.

In addition, two pieces of paper were also left, with one of them, addressed to Japanese people and his supporters, saying, "I'm sorry for causing trouble," according to police.

Matsuoka also wrote on the pieces of paper, "I have to blame myself for the problems," and "Only my wife knows the inside details."

Abe told reporters, "He was a competent minister of agriculture, forestry and fisheries, so the effects on the administration will be significant."

The premier also said he is keenly aware of his "responsibility" for Matsuoka's action as the one who appointed the 62-year-old LDP lawmaker to the Cabinet post.

Asked what he thinks lay behind the suicide, the premier said shortly after confirmation of Matsuoka's death, "I do not have any comments to make at this stage. It is not appropriate to make presumptions lightly."

According to the lower house's secretariat, it was "probably the first case in postwar Japan" in which an incumbent Cabinet member has committed suicide since Army Minister Korechika Anami committed "hara-kiri" on Aug 15, 1945, the day World War II ended.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuhisa Shiozaki told a press conference that Environment Minister Masatoshi Wakabayashi has replaced Matsuoka as acting agriculture minister on a temporary basis.

A by-election to fill the vacant seat will be held in the No. 3 constituency in Matsuoka's home prefecture of Kumamoto on the same day as the upper house election, now speculated to be July 22, in line with the Public Offices Election Law.

Matsuoka was found by his secretary and a security police officer hanging by a rope resembling a dog leash in his pajamas in the living room of his residence in a parliamentary housing building in Tokyo's Akasaka District at 12:18 p.m., the Metropolitan Police Department said.

Matsuoka's heart was not functioning when the secretary, who talked to the minister in the room around 10 a.m., and the officer found him, the police said. They visited the room because Matsuoka had not shown up to attend a meeting of the House of Councillors Audit Committee.

Matsuoka was taken to Keio University Hospital at around 1 p.m., where he was pronounced dead at 2 p.m., Shiozaki, the top government spokesman, said. The cause of his death was suffocation.

Police said no autopsy was performed on Matsuoka's body and handed it over to his relatives later in the day.

Abe, Shiozaki and other cabinet members were among people who attended a wake held at a funeral hall in Tokyo's Shinjuku Ward on Monday evening. Abe left there some 15 minutes later without saying anything to reporters.

Matsuoka took the cabinet post for the first time last September, when Abe assumed office. He had been under fire for various political funds scandals, with opposition lawmakers demanding he resign as minister.

Matsuoka had been questioned for not providing a clear-cut account of the expenditures to run his office.

In March, the funds management body of Matsuoka was found to have booked more than 20 million yen as utility costs for five years until 2005, despite the fact the body used a cost-free official parliamentary office.

When questioned by opposition lawmakers during parliamentary committee deliberations, Matsuoka said the funds were booked appropriately under law and attributed the huge utility charge to "special water" he was buying, which he said cost 5,000 yen for a 500-milliliter bottle, a remark that sparked public controversy.

In the most recent case, his fund management and other related bodies were found to have gained a total of 13 million yen in donations over three years through 2005 from 14 contractors based in the southwestern Japan prefecture that have been awarded public works orders from the Japan Green Resources Agency.

The agency is a farm ministry-affiliated forestry management entity suspected of having been involved in rigging bids. Matsuoka formerly worked in the ministry as a bureaucrat and served as senior vice minister in it after becoming lawmaker.

Matsuoka was first elected to the lower house in 1990. He was reelected for a sixth term in 2005.

Hospital copes with 2 celebrity deaths, media swarm

Keio University Hospital, one of Tokyo's premier university hospitals, was packed with reporters, television crews and concerned ordinary people on Monday, with helicopters hovering in the sky, due to the deaths of two well-known people.

Izumi Sakai, the singer of Japanese pop group ZARD, died at the hospital on Sunday after falling from stairs there, her office said Monday morning. She had been hospitalized for treatment of cancer. Shortly after, scandal-hit farm minister Toshikatsu Matsuoka was found to have hanged himself at his residence on Monday and was taken to the hospital shortly after 1 p.m. where he was pronounced dead about an hour later.

Scores of reporters, photographers and TV crew members jammed every hospital gate and entrance they could find, trying to catch a glimpse of the two unfolding sagas. And some TV networks managed to capture the scene where Matsuoka was taken into the hospital on a stretcher — a scene repeatedly shown on their breaking-news programs.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Komeito chief warns Abe over constitutional revision

The New Komeito party would refrain from supporting Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's campaign for the upcoming House of Councillors election if the premier goes too far in calling for amending the Constitution, the party's head warned Sunday.

The New Komeito party, the coalition partner of the Liberal Democratic Party, will tolerate Abe's seeking constitutional revision in general terms, but "will have to hesitate in giving support if fundamentally different ideas from ours are called for," Akihiro Ota said in a TV Asahi talk show. "What is important is the substance," Ota said. "It would make no sense if we do not discuss what should be revised in the Constitution."

System glitch forces ANA to cancel 126 flights

All Nippon Airways Co cancelled 126 domestic flights on Sunday and delayed other flights due to a computer system glitch before restarting its operations at around 6 p.m., affecting about 57,000 passengers. The trouble also disrupted the operations of such regional airlines as Skynet Asia Airways Co, IBEX Airlines Co and Hokkaido International Airlines Co, known as Air Do, whose systems are linked with that of ANA.

As the system functions resumed at 3:30 p.m., ANA restarted its flight operations. However, some flights are expected to be delayed on Monday, ANA said. ANA said the glitch disrupted its computer system which controls the reservation process as well as boarding and luggage flows from early morning, forcing its staff to issue boarding tickets manually.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Shiga couple gets 7 years for fatally abusing 2-year-old daughter with steel bar, hot water

The Otsu District Court on Friday sentenced a couple in Takashima, Shiga Prefecture, to seven years in prison for fatally abusing their 2-year-old daughter by pouring hot water on her last year. Handing down the ruling on Kenta Nagasaka, 25, and his wife Chizuru, 26, Presiding Judge Hidenori Nagai said, "It was a selfish and shortsighted crime. The defendants do not seem to feel any compassion to their daughter while mental and physical pains she suffered are unimaginable."

According to the ruling, the couple, frustrated by their daughter Yuna taking too much time to eat meals, repeatedly hit her with a steel bar or poured hot water on her since late May. Yuna died July 5 due to septicemia resulting from burns.

Abe unconcerned about N Korea's missile launches

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told reporters Friday night that he does not regard the reported launches of short-range missiles by North Korea as "a serious issue for Japan's security."

The premier declined to give further details on what kinds of intelligence Japan has, but he said North Korea's actions were "regrettable" and again urged North Korea to carry out promised steps toward denuclearization before the international community runs out of patience. A senior Japanese Defense Ministry official said on condition of anonymity that the situation does not pose an immediate threat to Japan, noting that a similar incident involving the launch of multiple short-range missiles also occurred around the same time last year.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Emperor, empress arrive in Estonia

Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko arrived Thursday in the Baltic state of Estonia on the second leg of their 10-day European tour, marking the emperor's first visit to any of the 15 former Soviet republics.

After meeting with Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves and his wife, Evelin, in Kadriorg, the imperial couple attended a formal luncheon hosted by the president and his wife at the nearby Kadriorg Art Museum. The emperor and empress then went to the Tallinn Song Festival Grounds to attend a concert of youth choirs.

Australia whale-watchers protest Japan's plans for humpbacks

An Australian petition of almost 40,000 signatures protesting Japan's plans to hunt humpback whales will be handed to the International Whaling Commission at its annual meeting in Alaska next week. The petition was compiled by Whale and Dolphin Watch Australia, a national association representing commercial whale-watching boat operators.

Southern humpbacks migrate north annually to Australian waters from the Antarctic Ocean, where Japan recently decided it would extend its whaling program to include taking 50 of the species. The decision has caused outrage among Australian whale-watching operators, who say it will destroy a tourism industry worth A$300 million (about $247 million) per year.

Tour operator Peter Lynch, who owns Blue Dolphin Marine Tours in the whale-watching town of Hervey Bay on the northeastern coast, said that humpbacks are considered the most outgoing whale species because of their willingness to swim close to boats.

"It is the humpbacks that make the whale-watching industry. They are very boat-friendly," Lynch said. "What we are most worried about in the whale-watching industry is that the Japanese whaling will cause a behavioral change in the humpbacks and they will no longer be willing to come near boats anymore."

Lynch and other whale-watch operators are calling on the Australian government to take a tougher stance than its previous diplomatic protests by imposing trade sanctions against Japan.

The resurgent opposition Australian Labor Party, which is leading in the polls, has declared it will take legal action against Japan for hunting in the protected waters of the Antarctic if it wins office in the upcoming national election, slated for November.

Over the weekend, the party also outlined a plan to use Australian navy ships to intercept Japanese whaling vessels in the Antarctic Ocean.

Australian Environment Minister Malcolm Turnbull has attacked the plan, saying the action would amount to piracy. The government has also rejected the option of taking legal action against Japan.

Blair asked to intervene in Hawker case

British Prime Minister Tony Blair is being urged to press his Japanese counterpart to ensure that everything is being done to find the killer of English teacher Lindsay Hawker, amid little signs of progress in the nine-week investigation.

Bill Olner, a member of Britain's lower chamber, the House of Commons, recently asked Blair to talk to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe," to put his (Abe's) authority behind the effort to ensure that the killer is caught, and to ensure that the Japanese state police are involved."

He also urged Blair to arrange for a British police officer to sit in on the Japanese investigation as an observer and report back to Hawker's parents.

Olner, who is the local parliamentarian for the Hawker family, said the Japanese police "had been doing their best to apprehend the killer," but "have not been successful."

Blair said he understood "the Japanese authorities are treating it as a major case" with "something like 100 police officers or more working on it."

He said he would "reflect carefully" on Olner's request and come back to him with a reply at a later date.

Hawker's body was found in a sand-filled bathtub on the balcony of an apartment in Ichikawa, Chiba Prefecture, on March 26. Tatsuya Ichihashi, 28, who lived in the property, is wanted in connection with her death.

Despite the sizeable police investigation and release of security camera footage of the suspect, little progress has so far been made. There have also been some concerns about the handling of the case.

Some experts have criticized the fact that Ichihashi was able to get past several police officers who arrived at the suspect's flat on March 26.

Lindsay's father, William Hawker, has recently said he thought the British Embassy or Japanese police could have come up with a more recent photo of Ichihashi as the one currently on posters is several years old.

Meanwhile, Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett called on the Japanese media to give the case more coverage.

The suspect befriended the 22-year-old English teacher, who worked for Nova Corp, several days before her death, and asked Hawker to give him English lessons.

Security camera footage shows Ichihashi and Hawker in a coffee shop on the day before her body was discovered.

Police believe Hawker was probably suffocated after being partially strangled and severely beaten. Her body had been found tied with synthetic-resin cord.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Former POWs want to meet emperor in Britain to spell out their grievances

Emperor Akihito, who arrives in Britain on Sunday for an official visit, will not face any of the protests he had to endure on his last trip, but former prisoners of war would still like to meet him and spell out their grievances.

Emperor Akihito's state visit to Britain in 1998 turned into something of a public relations disaster, when former Japanese POWs turned their backs on him and burned a Japanese flag as he rode with Queen Elizabeth in a royal carriage through central London.

Later, as Emperor Akihito laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Westminster Abbey, around 500 protesters once again turned their backs on the Japanese emperor. They also started humming "Colonel Bogey," a song whistled by British POWs while working to build a bridge over the River Kwai in Burma (now Myanmar).

The ex-POWs were, and still are, pressing Japan for a meaningful apology and compensation for their suffering during World War II. Thousands of POWs died in captivity as a result of the grueling conditions they had to endure. They were also angry at Britain's decision to award the Order of the Garter to Emperor Akihito.

Instead of a positive visit emphasizing the otherwise harmonious state of relations between the two countries, the adverse publicity in 1998 served to reopen old wounds.

However, nine years on, a more moderate approach seems to be being taken. With most of the veterans either deceased or in their 90s, no such demonstrations are planned during the emperor's three-day stay.

Arthur Titherington, chairman of the Japanese Labour Camp Survivors' Association, said any apology would have to come from Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, but the emperor could influence him. He is seeking a short meeting with Emperor Akihito during his visit to Oxford University.

He said, "I would like, more than anything, to meet Emperor Akihito and speak about our problems getting a proper and meaningful apology from the Japanese government.

"I would ask him whether he had the authority to make the government see that in order to create a better relationship, a meaningful apology and compensation is the answer.

"Don't get me wrong, I have no ax to grind with him. He has done nothing wrong and was far too young during the war to bear any responsibility. I really do feel that nothing but good could come by meeting him."

Titherington claims the declaration from Japanese Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama in 1995 — in which he expressed "deep remorse" and a "heartfelt apology" for suffering caused by Japan during World War II — did not go far enough. He claims the Japanese language used amounted to a "regret."

Instead, Titherington would like to see the word 'shazai' used, the Japanese term for a formal apology. Titherington went on to explain that it means, "I have committed a sin for which I humbly apologize."

Back in 1998 on his state visit, the emperor spoke of his "deep sorrow and pain" over the suffering inflicted by Japan during the Second World War, but the veterans felt this fell well short of what they demanded.

But nine years on, Titherington does not regret the demonstration he helped to organize for the state visit, despite accusations the veterans were manipulated by the British media looking for a good story.

He said, "That demonstration was as much to try and shame our government as much as the Japanese government."

And Titherington believes the protest may have helped "nudge" the British government two years later into giving $20,000 each to former servicemen who were imprisoned by the Japanese. The cash was paid in recognition of their treatment and the derisory financial settlement each former POW received at the end of the war from Japan following the signing of the San Francisco Peace Treaty in 1951.

He felt, however, that this money should have come from Japan instead of the British government. Britain has always shied away from pressing any claim with Japan, claiming the matter was settled with the signing of the treaty.

The issue of an apology and compensation has always divided the former POW community, with some thinking that it is best to move on after all these years and look to the future.

Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko will visit Britain between May 27 and 29. During their stay, they will attend a dinner hosted by Queen Elizabeth and visit Oxford University.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Newborn baby girl found in Tokyo garbage disposal container

A newborn baby girl was found in a garbage disposal container in Kita-Otsuka, Toshima Ward, on Tuesday morning. Police said they received an anonymous call at 7:30 a.m., saying that a baby's cries could be heard coming from the garbage container outside a condominium.

When police arrived at the condo, they found the infant, still with its umbilical cord attached, inside a large paper bag. She was taken to hospital where doctors said she was unharmed. The child was born five days ago, doctors said.

Australian navy dives on sunken WWII Japanese midget sub

Australian navy divers collected a jar of sand Monday from next to a sunken Japanese World War II midget submarine now on the ocean floor off Sydney's coast. The sand will be presented to the families of two Japanese submariners — Sub-Lt Katsuhisa Ban and Petty Officer Mamoru Ashibe — who are believed to have died inside the vessel.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Environment and Water Resources said the sand was collected at the request of Ashibe's relatives and would be given to the families when they visit Australia later this year. The midget sub, which was one of three that took part in Japan's historic raid on Sydney Harbor, was discovered by recreational divers in November last year, following hundreds of false "discoveries," and ending almost 65 years of speculation. On the night of May 31, 1942 the M24 entered Sydney Harbor and fired torpedoes that missed the U.S. cruiser USS Chicago but exploded beneath the barracks ship HMAS Kuttabul, killing 19 Australian and two British sailors.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Fukushima teen went to karaoke after killing mother

An arrested 17-year-old boy has told police he went to a karaoke shop after killing his mother last week at an apartment in Fukushima Prefecture, investigative sources said Sunday. Police are examining security-camera images provided by the karaoke shop to uncover his behavior before he turned himself in with the mother's severed head after the suspected murder in the city of Aizuwakamatsu, the sources said.

According to investigations so far, the teen is suspected of killing his mother with a knife around 1:30 a.m. last Tuesday and cutting her head and right arm with a saw. He is then believed to have changed his clothing, gone to the karaoke shop on a bicycle, moved to an Internet cafe and stayed there mainly listening music DVDs for about two hours from around 5 a.m. that day before going to the police station by taxi. He is believed to have carried the severed head in a school shoulder bag the whole time.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Lower house panel approves 3 education bills

An education panel of the House of Representatives approved Thursday a set of three education reform bills aimed at instilling patriotism during compulsory education, reinforcing state control over local education boards and requiring teachers to renew their licenses every decade. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who places top priority on education reform, hopes the bills will be enacted during the current regular session through June 23, coalition sources said.

One of the bills is to revise the School Education Law, with a provision citing instilling patriotism as a goal of compulsory education, while another is to amend the regional education administration law by reinforcing the power of the education minister in managing schools. The third bill is designed to strip teachers of tenure for life and require them instead to renew their licenses every 10 years.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Couple arrested for dumping body of baby boy

Police arrested a young couple early Thursday on suspicion of abandoning the body of a boy who was recently identified as a 1-year-old from Toyonaka in the prefecture. The arrest of Mika Tamiya, 21, and her husband Motoki, comes just a day after police identified the boy as Yu Minematsu, whose body was found in a roadside gutter in the town of Nose in the prefecture last month, they said.

The two have both admitted to the charge. Mika was identified to be the boy's mother through a DNA analysis, they said. The two told the police they "put the boy in a space to hold helmets on a motorcycle because two people cannot go out on a bike while holding a child." They said the boy was dead when they returned, according to police. The body was naked, with its head in a blue plastic bag, police said. It had no external injuries and an autopsy also failed to pinpoint the cause of the boy's death.

Man shoots policeman, fires at 2 others; holes up in residence with wounded officer in Aichi

A man fired a gun at a police officer and two other people shortly past 4 p.m. Thursday in Nagakute, Aichi Prefecture, and is now holed up in a private residence with the wounded officer lying outside, police said. The two others — a man in his 30s and a woman in her 20s — have been taken to a hospital and are not in a life-threatening condition, according to police.

The police officer, who is in his 50s, is believed to be conscious, they said. Prior to the shooting, police received an emergency call at around 3:50 p.m. in which the caller said, "My father has gone crazy with a gun." Police have surrounded the residence and are trying to persuade the man to surrender.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Wakayama grades anthem-singing by teachers, students at local schools

The Wakayama prefectural board of education has been appraising how well teachers and students sing the "Kimigayo" national anthem at school ceremonies since April 1999, board officials said Wednesday. "The appraisal is in line with the nation's school curriculum guidelines, which seek respect for the anthem," a board official said.

According to the board, its officials sit in on entrance and graduation ceremonies at elementary and junior high schools and grade the singing on a scale of "good," "relatively good" and "poor."The education board has also checked if the singing is part of the ceremony, if the anthem is sung to a piano accompaniment or to recorded music, and where the "Hinomaru" national flag is displayed.

Of some 400 schools in the western Japan prefecture, singing at seven schools was judged to be "poor" at entrance ceremonies in April 2004, but the number has remained zero since graduation ceremonies in March 2005.

Hiroichi Yamaguchi, superintendent of the prefectural education board, said, "We will collect opinions on the assessment process from local schools and district education boards, and decide whether or not the practice should be continued."

Kimigayo and Hinomaru are legally defined as Japan's national anthem and flag, respectively. However, forcing teachers and students to sing the anthem and show respect for the flag at school ceremonies has been criticized as infringing upon freedom of thought and conscience as guaranteed under the Constitution.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

1 in 3 amusement parks did not know of safety standards

One third of major amusement parks in Japan were not aware of government-set standards for safety checks on their facilities, a Kyodo News survey showed Saturday. The results, released as park operators are under scrutiny nationwide following a fatal roller-coaster accident in Osaka Prefecture earlier this month, show many of them lack the proper knowledge about inspection norms under the Japanese Industrial Standards.

A total of 51 major amusement parks with roller coasters in 29 prefectures responded to the survey conducted after the May 6 accident at the Expoland park in Suita, Osaka, that killed a woman and injured about 20 other people. The operator of the park has admitted that it did not conduct a necessary checkup for 15 months. The survey showed 17 of the 51 amusement parks did not know even of the existence of the JIS norms. Many of them said they had not been notified or that they had depended on maintenance companies for checkups.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Female bar owner stabbed to death in Saitama

A 65-year-old female owner of a bar in the town of Sugito, Saitama Prefecture, was found dead with a kitchen knife stuck in her left chest on Friday, police said. Kazuko Makiuchi was found lying in the bar by her eldest son, Kazuo, a 35-year-old company employee, who informed police around 6:10 p.m.

The son visited the bar Friday evening as his mother had not returned home Thursday night. The bar's main door was unlocked, and bloodstains were found on the floor, police said, adding there were marks on the floor from chairs and tables being dragged.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Diet enacts law to reduce air pollution in big cities

The Diet enacted a revised law Friday aimed at reducing motor vehicle emissions by tightening regulations on the construction of department stores, offices and other facilities in Tokyo, Nagoya and Osaka. The revised law on vehicle-emitted nitrogen oxides and particle matters is designed to regulate those facilities, which may generate heavy vehicle traffic.

The revised law empowers prefectural governors to formulate and implement antipollution measures such as building flyover roadways at intersections or other designated areas polluted heavily with nitrogen oxides and particles from vehicle emissions that cause asthma. It requires reporting to governors projections of gas emissions and plans for reducing emissions before building facilities such as hotels and theaters that may draw vehicles.

In addition, trucking and transport companies in areas surrounding the designated ones are required to work out measures to cut vehicle emissions such as reducing the number of their entries into such areas.

Teenager sexually assaulted by teacher files damages suit over stress disorder

A female teenager in Hokkaido has filed a suit seeking 105 million yen in damages following repeated sexual assaults by a junior high school teacher that left her with post-traumatic stress disorder, her lawyer said Thursday.

The suit also claims that the school and the Hokkaido prefectural education board neglected to take any measures, and is seeking the damages from the teacher, school principal and local government.

According to the suit filed with the Sapporo District Court, she was repeatedly assaulted by the teacher at her home and school for two years from April 2004. She was diagnosed as suffering from PTSD later.

The teacher, who was in his 30s and was eventually arrested for violating the Child Welfare Law and fired, is now serving a prison term.

Though her father and relatives asked the school to take preventive measures, the teacher did not stop assaulting her, prompting her father report to the police in February last year.

Her lawyer Tsuyoshi Takamori said, "The school's and the prefectural education board's failure to take appropriate measures increased her suffering."

An official of the prefectural government said, "We will respond appropriately after reviewing the complaint."

Thursday, May 10, 2007

12 Chinese nabbed over faking relations as war-displaced Japanese

Japanese police have arrested 12 Chinese people believed to be kin of a woman who entered Japan using the name of a displaced Japanese in China during World War II, suspecting they have committed fraud and an immigration law violation, the police said Thursday.

The woman had been officially recognized as Hideko Mizusaki in October 1995 and subsequently came to Japan along with several other people including the woman's eldest son Lin Xunwen, 59, and his wife Yang Xiangzhu, 58, who are among the 12 who have been arrested. Lin and his wife are suspected of inviting their relatives to Japan, hoping to get them recognized as Japanese based on the alleged blood relations with Mizusaki.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

NHK announcer arrested for indecent assault

An announcer of Japanese public broadcaster NHK was arrested Tuesday night for allegedly pressing himself against a woman and fondling her breasts on a Tokyo street, NHK said Wednesday. Toru Takahashi, 41, was arrested on a charge of indecent assault around 10 p.m. by police who rushed to the street in Shibuya, said NHK.

Takahashi says he hardly remembers what he was doing because he was drunk, NHK said. Takahashi joined NHK in 1991 and is in charge of reporting on location for the broadcaster's morning news program "Good Morning Japan." "It is quite regrettable and we deeply apologize that a member of our staff has been arrested," NHK's public relations department said in a statement.

War bereaved families study separate enshrinement at Yasukuni

The Japan War-Bereaved Association held its first meeting Tuesday in Tokyo to study the proposed separation of Class-A war criminals enshrined at Yasukuni Shrine, group members said.

Association president Makoto Koga, a senior lawmaker of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, said in a speech, "We cannot merely continue to leave the situation as it is when there are various public opinions." Koga, a former LDP secretary general, has expressed support for the idea of separating the 14 Class-A war criminals from other souls enshrined at the shrine, mostly comprising the Japanese war dead.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Train groper eludes arrest by jumping onto tracks in Osaka

A man who groped a girl on a morning rush-hour train jumped onto the tracks and disrupted operations in Osaka, West Japan Railway officials said. At around 8:15 a.m., a man apparently in his 30s and wearing a business suit allegedly touched a 15-year-old girl on the Osaka Kanjo Line and other passengers caught him red-handed, officials said.

When the man was pulled off the train at Osakajo Koen Station and was about to be handed over to station staff, he jumped onto the tracks and fled toward the next station, Morinomiya, the officials said. To ensure safety, JR West suspended more than 25 train runs, affecting 28,000 passengers, they said.

Shiozaki says Abe sent offering to Yasukuni in 'private capacity'

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuhisa Shiozaki said Tuesday Prime Minister Shinzo Abe sent an offering to Tokyo's war-related Yasukuni Shrine in late April in his "private capacity" and the Japanese government therefore had no comment.

Shiozaki told a press conference that politicians in any country hold positions as private citizens. "This is a matter that concerns the thoughts and faith of the prime minister as a private individual, so we would like to refrain from commenting from the government's standpoint," he said. On media reports that Abe used the title "prime minister" in sending the offering, Shiozaki repeated the government's official view that using one's title does not negate one's private capacity.

School teacher caught filming up girls' skirts with remote-controlled camera

An elementary school teacher was arrested Tuesday for secretly filming up the skirts of high school students, utilizing a remote controlled camera on the stairs of a subway station in Nagoya.

The teacher, identified as Eiichi Tsunekawa, 35, allegedly set up a hidden camera by the stairs near an exit of Mizuhokuyakusho station and secretly filmed up the skirts of two girls on April 7. Tsunekawa hid the camera by wrapping it in newspaper and placed it on the stairs and transmitted the footage to a remote place. Police are questioning him on how often and where else he has done this in the past.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Man arrested for choking wife to death after she finds porn on his cell phone

Police on Monday arrested a 34-year-old man on charges of choking his 28-year-old wife to death in Machida. The man, identified as Hitoshi Kawakami, allegedly attacked his wife Kazuko at their apartment in Morino, Machida, around 9 p.m. on Sunday night.

According to police, Kawakami called a friend after he had choked his wife. The friend notified police at a nearby "koban" (police box). Kazuko was taken to hospital but died around 1:45 a.m. Monday. Kawakami told police that he killed his wife because she found porn images on his cell phone while he was taking a bath. He said she often argued violently with him. The couple married in February.

Japan donates $100 mil to combat climate change

Japan on Sunday announced a plan to contribute $100 million to the Asian Development Bank to set up two new funds to fight global warming and facilitate the investment climate in the Asia-Pacific region.

Finance Minister Koji Omi, who chairs the two-day annual meeting of the ADB that opened earlier in the day, unveiled the plan in his keynote speech delivered at the outset of its general session.

"Japan will establish two funds in cooperation with the ADB...I expect this initiative will help ensure sustainable economic development in the region," Omi said.

The proposed funds are the Asian Clean Energy Fund and the Investment Climate Facilitation Fund. They will be installed as part of efforts aimed at solving challenges under Japan's initiative called "Enhanced Sustainable Development for Asia."

Omi also announced that Tokyo will extend yen loans worth up to $2 billion over the next five years through the Japan Bank for International Cooperation in the area of investment promotion and climate change under joint programs with the ADB.

Japan is keen to boost its presence in the international community as a leading nation to promote environment conservation and energy saving, ahead of its hosting of a Group of Eight summit in 2008.

The venue of the 40th ADB meeting — the nation's ancient capital — is regarded as ideal for Japan to make a commitment for environmental protection because the 1997 Kyoto Protocol aimed at curbing greenhouse gas emissions was agreed here 10 years ago.

Omi reiterated his call for a new pact aimed at curbing greenhouse gas emissions after 2013, stressing the need for the United States, China and India to join it.

"More efficient use of energy and the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions in Asia are necessary for achieving sustainable growth not only in the region but also in the world," he said.

The 1997 Kyoto Protocol, agreed here a decade ago, requires developed countries, including Japan, to cut their greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 levels by an average of 5.2% by 2012.

Omi also urged the ADB to play a greater role in helping Asian economies to overcome problems such as poor infrastructure, poverty and climate change.

"The economy in the Asia-Pacific region has continued rapid growth in recent years. However, there are still about 600 million people living in poverty in the region and poverty reduction remains as an important agenda," he said.

Following Omi's speech, ADB President Haruhiko Kuroda made his opening remarks in which he stressed the need to realize "prosperity with inclusiveness," noting increased inequality across the region.

"To achieve prosperity that benefits all, we must use our natural resources wisely so that the poor do not bear the brunt of the environmental impacts of growth," he said.

Kuroda added he is confident that accelerating regional cooperation and integration will change the regional economy for the better.

More than 3,000 people from both the public and private sectors joined in the annual event, where environmental issues and ways to further eradicate poverty in the region are among the key points of the agenda.

On Monday, Crown Prince Naruhito is scheduled to attend a luncheon hosted by Omi before the gathering concludes in the evening.

The ADB, established in 1966 and based in Manila, has 67 member economies. Japan and the United States are the largest donors.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Iraqi PM sees no need for ASDF after year's end

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki told Kyodo News on Friday that the demand for logistical support extended by Japanese air troops will not last long, saying there will be no need for them "by the end of this year." Maliki said Iraq instead needs civilian Japanese experience, capabilities and technical know-how for reconstruction.

This was the first time the Iraqi prime minister cited a specific time when Air Self-Defense Force troops might be withdrawn from Iraq. With their current mission scheduled to expire July 31, the Japanese government and Japan's governing coalition have introduced legislation to extend the mandate by another two years.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Japan calls on Iran, Syria to play constructive role on Iraq

Japan on Friday called on Iran and Syria to play a role in helping to stabilize the situation in Iraq and vowed to continue Tokyo's own financial assistance and other forms of cooperation for the reconstruction of Iraq. In a speech addressing a key ministerial meeting in Egypt on the security and stability of Iraq, Foreign Minister Taro Aso reaffirmed Japan's strong backing for Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

In his speech, Aso described the stabilization of Iraq as "one of the most urgent issues confronting the international community," and stressed that it is "important for countries such as Iran and Syria to play a constructive role for the stabilization of the region and make efforts to this end."

Noting that the successful reconstruction of Iraq is directly linked to Japan's national interests, Aso briefed his counterparts from Iraq's neighboring countries, the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, and Group of Eight nations on Japan's assistance to Iraq.

Japan, which depends on the Middle East region for over 90% of its oil supply, is the world's second largest donor for Iraq after the United States.

No. of children drops for 26th straight year to 17.38 mil

The number of children below 15 in the nation came to 17.38 million as of April 1 for the 26th straight year of decline, accounting for a record-low 13.6% of the population, according to an internal affairs ministry population estimate released Friday.

The number was 140,000 lower than last year, and the children's share of the population declined for the 33rd straight year, according to the survey, which was released ahead of Children's Day on May 5, a national holiday. The number of boys and girls below 15 decreased by 70,000 each from last year to 8.91 million and 8.47 million, respectively, according to the estimate.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Nagoya man suspected of more than 90 rapes

Police said Friday they have arrested a 27-year-old man for allegedly raping a woman in her apartment last September, and added that the man is a suspect in more than 90 other sexual assaults in the city since 2004. Police have identified the suspect as Seiichi Uesugi, 27, a company employee from Nagoya. He has been charged with raping a 23-year-old woman at knifepoint in her apartment. Police allege he hid outside her apartment and put a knife to her throat when she returned home after work.

Aichi prefectural police say the same MO has been used in more than 90 attacks in the city. Uesugi has admitted to last September's attack, but was quoted by police as saying that he couldn't remember how many women he had assaulted.