Saturday, June 30, 2007

Hawker's parents plead for help; say they received letter from Ichihashi's parents

The parents of a murdered British teacher made an emotional plea for help in catching her killer at a news conference at the British embassy on Friday. In March, the naked body of Lindsay Ann Hawker, 22, was found in a bathtub filled with sand on the balcony of an apartment belonging to Tatsuya Ichihashi, 28. Ichihashi eluded police when they visited his apartment to question him.

Hawker's parents, William and Julia, and her sister Louise, also said that they had received a letter of condolence from the parents of Ichihashi. "They said they were very sorry for what their son had done and hoped that he would atone for his crime," said Julia.

Asked about the lack of progress by police to catch Ichihashi, William said: "We are very disappointed at it, obviously. Personally I hope he's alive and that he is caught shortly so that he can be brought to justice. As a parent of Lindsay, I'd like to appeal to all parents...and all honest, working people of Japan to look for this man. This man is a misfit. He's a loner. He is distanced from his own family.

"This evil man must be caught so that other British people can come to your country and hopefully work in safety," he said. "Lindsay loved working in your country. She loved teaching."

He also unveiled a T-shirt bearing Ichihashi's photo and the Japanese for "I can't sleep until he is caught," printed on them. "Three months ago, I showed a lot of you the photo of my daughter, which I still have, but the most important photo today is of this evil man who murdered, brutally murdered, my daughter," he said.

The Hawkers plan to appear on a weekend Japanese television show featuring a phone-in to gather fresh information on the case.

"When you are living 12,000 miles away, it's difficult to gain information. We've come back to Japan to raise the profile, to hopefully remind somebody somewhere that Ichihashi is still at large," said Julia.

"We want him captured. We feel we owe it to Lindsay, and that's the very least we can do. We've been helped tremendously over the last three months by the British police, by the Japanese police who have worked tirelessly and by the embassy staff both in Japan and in London. But we now need help from the Japanese people. We need leads. We need possible sightings and we need information."

Louise expressed concern that Ichihashi might commit a similar crime again if he continues to be on the loose.

"The suspect had no intention of ever giving up or even running away from the scene of the crime or ever feeling any remorse for what he did. He had all stay living in that flat with that body in the sand," Louise said.

"In my opinion, this man is going to hurt someone again, and whether it's a Western person or not, he could hurt anyone and needs to be caught immediately," she said.

Police said Friday they have received more than 1,000 tips and questioned 150 people. In an attempt to kickstart their stalled investigation, police have offered a 1 million yen reward for information leading to the arrest of Ichihashi. Police officers handed out wanted posters at Chiba, Gyotoku, Shinjuku, Ikebukuro and other train stations in the afternoon.

Julia urged people in Japan to provide any information they have on the suspect, however minute, to the police or on a website on Lindsay's case at

Friday, June 29, 2007

British documentary exposes risks for foreign hostesses in Japan

Working as a hostess in Japan remains a potentially unsafe job despite claims of better regulation in the wake of the Lucie Blackman case, according to a former police chief who helped the victim's family investigate her death.

Dai Davies found that bars in Tokyo are still prepared to employ young foreign women without proper work visas — as in Lucie Blackman's case — leaving them less likely to complain to police if attacked by clients because they are working illegally.

Davies made the discovery while assisting undercover Welsh TV reporter Sian Morgan who was making a documentary posing as a British hostess without a working visa.

He told Kyodo News that some of the bars were nothing more than "brothels." Making money is the most important thing for the bar owners, with the women given little or no protection and encouraged to go off on dates with strangers, he claimed.

Davies, who assisted Lucie Blackman's mother, Jane Steare, is calling for regular inspections of hostess bars and for the police to ensure that all the women have correct documentation. He said that while there may have been a crackdown in some areas, much more needs to be done, including increasing the police presence around the bars.

"My advice to any foreign girl thinking about becoming a hostess is: 'Don't even go there.' Things are no better than when Lucie Blackman was working in Tokyo," he said.

"I'm shocked that despite assurances that things are better, there was a complete non-inspection of many of these establishments which were bypassing the law. Many men were willing to break the law and pimp our reporter," Davies added.

In S4C's "Y Byd ar Bedwar" (The World on Four) program, Morgan tries to find work as a hostess and films her encounters using hidden cameras. The bars are places where Japanese and foreign women chat to male clients, who usually have to buy expensive drinks. The bars deny their hostesses are engaged in prostitution.

Morgan, who wore a blonde wig to boost her chances of finding work, was initially turned down by several bars because she only had a three-month tourist visa.

At one of the bars Morgan visited in Tokyo's Roppongi district, the manager said she might be able to get a job despite him knowing that she did not have a work visa. But he later said he did not have any work for her that month.

According to the program, the bars expect their hostesses to go out on "dohans" (paid-dates) with clients, as Blackman did before she went missing. The bars are keen for their hostesses to go on dohans because they receive money from the client and the hostesses bring customers to the bar at the end of the date.

Later, the reporter got a job as a hostess straight away at another bar. She was told to change her name.

Davies, who is now an international security consultant, went in masquerading as a client and was told by the mama-san (who oversees the hostesses) that he could go on a date with Morgan, even though it was his first visit to the club and he was not known to the management.

Morgan was also offered work at two other bars which were fully aware of her visa status. She was also told that she could make much more money by having sex with the clients.

When approached later, the mama-san denied meeting the reporter and said she never employed people without the correct documentation. The manager at the first bar said he had never heard of Lucie Blackman and said he had no comment to make before putting the phone down.

Davies said, "Foreign women must understand that hostessing has inherent risks. There are lots of magazines in Japan depicting the rape of Western women. If you go into this kind of area you are going into a grey area where wicked and unscrupulous men will take advantage of you and you have no protection."

He said that the hostess industry taints the image many Westerners have of Japan as a safe country which respects tradition and culture.

TV reporter Morgan concluded that while there are many hostesses who merely serve drinks and chat to customers, in some quarters a hostess could also mean a prostitute.

In the summer of 2000, Blackman disappeared after going out on a dohan with a client she met in a Tokyo hostess bar. Her dismembered body was later found in a cave in Miura, Kanagawa Prefecture. Tokyo businessman Joji Obara was recently cleared of involvement in her death.

Davies said he does not think that Blackman was in any way engaged in prostitution. Instead, he believes that she was "naive" and just wanted to talk to the clients and pour drinks in order to earn money.

Commenting on the outcome of the trial, Davies said that if the case had been heard in Britain, the judge would probably have directed the jury to find the defendant guilty, given the strength of the circumstantial evidence.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Man beats 1-year-old boy unconscious for not saying 'Itadakimasu' before meal

A 20-year-old man was arrested in Osaka Monday on suspicion of beating a 1-year-old boy, leaving him unconscious, because the boy did not show the proper etiquette while eating. According to police, restaurant owner Masato Shimoshiraki, 20, allegedly beat his girlfriend's son Toshihisa Tsuboi, 1, about the face multiple times around 12:30 pm. Saturday because Toshihisa did not say "Itadakimasu" properly before eating his lunch.

Toshihisa remains unconscious, police said. Bruises were also found on the boy's sister leading police to suspect that the two children have been repeatedly abused constantly. Police are also questioning the mother.

Monday, June 25, 2007

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Sunday, June 24, 2007

Abe promises to revise Constitution in 3 years

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pledged Sunday to revise the Constitution in three years, making constitutional revision one of the key issues in the July 29 House of Councillors election.

"It will be necessary to declare to the public that we will aim to revise the Constitution three years from now," Abe said, appearing on broadcaster NHK's "Sunday Debate" program and other TV programs.

His remarks came after it became possible for parliament to initiate constitutional amendment as the law for its national referendum procedures will come into force in three years.

He went further than his recent remarks on the issue, in which he had said he wanted to revise the Constitution during his premiership, lasting up to six years since he assumed the post last September.

But he acknowledged, "The hurdle to constitutional revision is extremely high," alluding to strong public support for the war-renouncing Article 9.

Meanwhile, main opposition Democratic Party of Japan leader Ichiro Ozawa said on TV programs he expects the opposition bloc to capture a majority in the upper house election.

New Komeito leader Akihiro Ota expressed opposition to making constitutional revision the central issue of the election, saying, "Our party and the premier have come to an understanding that we will start discussing the contents of the Constitution after we submit our own constitutional idea in three years."

The DPJ's Ozawa emphasized his stance to focus on improving people's daily lives, saying, "We will present the frameworks of safety nets over social security, food and employment."

Abe refrained from commenting on any numerical target for seats in the upcoming election, while Ozawa said the DPJ wants to secure 55 seats or more.

On high-profile pension-related problems, Abe said he plans to explain to Japanese voters how his government will tackle the pension scandal and shoulder responsibility for it.

Abe said he has "humbly" accepted his dwindling public support ratings and characterized the upcoming upper house election as "a good opportunity" to help restore confidence in his government.

In addition to constitutional revision and pension system reform under which the Social Insurance Agency will be dismantled, he cited economic expansion measures, the need to revitalize struggling local economies, and assertive diplomacy as among key issues in the election.

Abe dismissed concern about a diplomatic initiative by the United States to be unilaterally in touch with North Korea over Pyongyang's nuclear programs.

"Not at all," Abe responded when asked if Japan might be kept in the dark about the United States and North Korea seemingly moving closer together in connection with a recent trip to Pyongyang by top U.S. nuclear negotiator Christopher Hill.

Abe stressed that Japan and the United States enjoy an "unshakable alliance."

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Japan to stick to dialogue and pressure on N Korea: Abe

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Thursday Japan will stick to its policy of "dialogue and pressure" to resolve the North Korean nuclear and abduction issues, dismissing concerns that a visit by the top U.S. nuclear negotiator to North Korea the same day may jeopardize Tokyo's efforts. "North Korea has yet to carry out its initial denuclearization steps and it is important that these measures are first fulfilled," Abe told reporters.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Christopher Hill headed to North Korea from Japan on Thursday morning in a bid to move forward the stalled six-party talks on defusing the nuclear standoff with the country. Downplaying speculation that Japan would become further sidelined in the six-nation nuclear talks as a result of the U.S.-North Korea bilateral contact, Abe stressed that Washington "is well aware" of Tokyo's stance to press Pyongyang to resolve the issue of its past abductions of Japanese and other nationals.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Gangster arrested for refusing to turn off cell phone on plane

Police arrested a 34-year-old man Sunday for refusing to turn off his cell phone in a plane in March in violation of the Aviation Law. The arrest is the first in Japan over the use of cell phones in a plane after the law was revised in January 2004 to prohibit the use of the phones aboard a plane.

Naoyuki Shimoda, a member of a gang group, is suspected of using his cell phones on March 10 in an All Nippon Airways plane as it was taxiing toward a runway for takeoff at Haneda airport despite warnings by its captain, police said.

Shimoda, a resident of Hiratsuka, Kanagawa Prefecture, brought five cell phones on the plane and initially turned them off after being told to do so by cabin attendants.

He later turned them back on, the police said.

The arrest was made because Shimoda took a threatening attitude by saying, "Shut up," when the cabin attendants warned him against using the phones, police said.

The plane returned to an aircraft parking apron to have Shimoda get off the plane, and then took off for Miyazaki airport after a 30-minute delay.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Nakasone admits possibility of U.S. 'nuclear transit'

Former Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone admitted in a recent interview that U.S. warships carrying nuclear weapons may have sailed through Japanese territorial waters during the 1980s when he was in office. This is the first time a former prime minister of Japan — which is especially sensitive about nuclear arms as the only country ever attacked with them — has mentioned the possibility of U.S. "nuclear transit" during the Cold War era.

"Nuclear warships might have come through Japanese waters" during the Cold War era, Nakasone said. "It is impossible for us to confirm that U.S. submarines are submerged in waters along the coast of Japan," he added, saying such nuclear transit had to take place without his clear knowledge. "I thought we could not do anything." It has been swept under the rug whether U.S. Navy ships and Air Forces bombers carrying nuclear arms had actually passed through Japanese territorial waters and air space.

15,000 child porn DVDs confiscated in Sendai

Miyagi prefectural police on Saturday confiscated about 15,000 child pornographic DVDs in Sendai. The DVDs were seized from a mansion in what officials believe to be the single largest DVD seizure from one location. Three men were arrested in Sendai on suspicion of selling 44 child porno DVDs to two men in Aichi in December for 20,500 yen.

The three suspects have allegedly been selling child porno DVDs online since August 2005, netting more than 100 million yen, police say.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Publisher fined Y1.5 mil over obscene comic

The Supreme Court ordered a comic book publisher to pay a fine of 1.5 million yen for distributing obscene comic books containing sexually explicit scenes, upholding a lower court ruling, legal sources said Friday. The top court dismissed an appeal by Motonori Kishi, 58, president of publisher Shobunkan Corp.

The district court had sentenced Kishi to one year in prison, suspended for three years, saying, "We cannot overlook the fact that the defendant brought about a harmful influence on sexual morality" by distributing the comic. According to court rulings, Kishi distributed about 20,000 copies of the "Misshitsu" (Honey Room) comic book containing graphic sexual scenes to 16 companies in April 2002.

Nova eyes new share issuance to dispel market concerns after gov't terminates subsidies

Nova Corp, the embattled English-language school operator, is considering issuing new shares to strengthen its capital and dispel market concerns that its business could worsen in the wake of a government order to suspend part of its operations, President Nozomu Sahashi said Friday.

Although the details are yet to be worked out, Nova thinks tapping external capital is a "measure toward a next step," Sahashi said after a business suspension order was imposed by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare The welfare ministry said Friday that Nova's English language courses will no longer qualify for government subsidies designed to support educational opportunities as the company has been found to have lied to consumers when soliciting students.

The government provides subsidies for those engaged in educational training authorized by the welfare ministry to improve the abilities of the unemployed and other people.

In 1999, Nova's 32 courses were approved for the subsidies program by the welfare ministry. In fiscal 2006, about 4,700 people received a total of 560 million yen in subsidies under the program. Since 1999, around 71,000 Nova students have received a total of about 16.1 billion yen in such subsidies.

Sahashi said Nova will have a tough time in the first half of the current business year, but that it will see some improvement in the second half. "It is possible that we could return to profitability."

The company booked a net loss of 2.50 billion yen for the year through March 31.

Following the order by METI on Wednesday, Nova suspended part of its business Thursday for six months.

The ministry said many Nova students were unable to take lessons at a school or time of their choosing despite the fact that Nova solicited new students by telling potential customers that they could book language lessons "anytime and anywhere."

The Nova management "must take responsibility," Sahashi said, indicating the company will impose disciplinary measures on its executives, including himself, in the future.

The president also said Nova will strive to solve the problems by setting up an internal inquiry panel.

Nova, Japan's biggest English-language school headquartered in Osaka with a total of about 480,000 students, violated a law designed to protect consumers in fields such as education, beauty services and arranged marriages, METI said.

Friday, June 15, 2007

China says Japan's protest over war museum photos shows lack of courage

Demands by Japanese lawmakers that China remove anti-Japanese photos from Chinese war museums show their lack of courage to recognize Japan's past wrongdoings, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said Thursday.

"The war of invasion triggered by Japanese militarism brought about great disaster to the Chinese people," Qin Gang said at a regular news conference. "Keeping memory of that period of history is not meant to maintain bad feelings, but to prevent a repetition of tragedy." Demands to pull pictures from museums "only reflect the lack of courage to recognize mistakes in history," he added.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Dismembered body of woman found in Adachi

Parts of a female body were found in a house in Adachi Ward, Tokyo, on Thursday, police said, adding that they have arrested two other occupants of the house. According to police, NHK bill collector Koji Shiga, 47, and his common-law wife Tomoko Hitomi, 34, allegedly killed Shiga's ex-wife, Miho Shiga, 40, earlier this month and cut up her body.

Shiga and Hitomi turned themselves in to police early Thursday morning. Upon inspecting the house, police found an amputated neck, arm, leg and torso in a plastic bag in the living room on the second floor. Shiga and Hitomi shared the house with the victim, police said. According to NHK, Shiga has taken several days off from work since late May due to injury. Police said the suspects have so far given no motive for the crime.

woman badly hurt after being dragged with hand caught in train doors

A 57-year-old woman sustained serious injuries Wednesday after getting her hand caught in the doors of a train at a station in Hadano, Kanagawa Prefecture, and being dragged nearly 40 meters along the platform and falling into the gap between the platform edge and the train.

The woman, a resident of the city, was rescued after the train was halted by the screams of other passengers and she was taken to a hospital but has sustained heavy injuries such as broken ribs, police said.

The incident occurred at around 10:40 a.m. at Tokaidaigakumae station on the Odakyu Odawara Line, operated by Odakyu Electric Railway Co.

The conductor, usually in the last car of the train, did not notice anything amiss because the slight curve of the platform obscured his view of the woman when she was getting into the third car of the 10-car train as the doors were closing, according to Odakyu and other sources. He accordingly sent a signal to the driver that the doors had been closed, they said.

The woman was initially dragged for several meters before her hand was freed from the doors but she was then dragged further as she was trapped between the train and the platform edge.

The conductor, alerted by the shouts and screams of other passengers on the platform, activated an emergency stop button and the train halted after running for about 40 meters, the sources said.

Odakyu said a conductor is required to check the doors before the train starts moving and that the doors have sensors that detect objects measuring at least 1.5 centimeters in width between the doors and, if detected, prevent the train from moving.

The conductor was quoted as saying that due procedures were taken to close the doors and no abnormalities, including the presence of the woman, had been detected. No station attendants were on the platform at the time of the incident.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

10,000 items of police data leaked onto Internet via Winny software

A 26-year-old policeman at the Metropolitan Police Department's Kitazawa Police Station has mistakenly leaked internal documents, including investigative information, onto the Internet via the Winny file-sharing software, department officials said Wednesday.

About 9,000 documents, including reports on interrogations, and 1,000 photo images are believed to have been leaked from a personal computer belonging to the police officer, the officials said.

The officer, who works for the station's Community Police Affairs Section, had imported the data concerned to his own home PC by borrowing an external hard disk from a 32-year-old sergeant in the same division, according to the officials. The sergeant used to work for an organized crime control section of the Tokyo police headquarters, and so the leaked data are believed to include information on investigations he was involved with at the time.

The department learned of the leak from messages posted on a huge Japanese Internet bulletin board called 2 Channel, the officials said.

The officer in question did not respond to a survey the police department conducted in March to check if any of its employees had installed Winny in their private PCs following a spate of data leaks via the software.

Hirofumi Kitamura, a senior official at the police department's Personnel and Training Bureau, said, "The incident is truly regrettable, taking place amid our efforts to take thorough information security measures. We hope to ascertain the facts and deal strictly with the case."

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuhisa Shiozaki told a press conference, "The information leakage is unacceptable, and I expect the police force to fully investigate its cause and take preventive measures."

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Sunday, June 10, 2007

Woman arrested for causing 4-year-old son to die by force-feeding him pepper powder

A 31-year-old unemployed woman was served with a fresh arrest warrant Friday on suspicion of causing her 4-year-old son to die by force-feeding him red pepper powder in Kurashiki, Okayama Prefecture, in January, police said.

Miyuki Mitsunaka has denied the allegations, saying she does not recall having done such an act, police said. The latest arrest warrant was on a charge of causing injury resulting in death.

Police said their investigation showed that her son Kakeru, a kindergarten student, choked to death at their house at around 1:30 p.m. on Jan 3 on an amount of red pepper powder that was more than a small child could swallow.

On the day of the incident, Mitsunaka called for an ambulance, telling the rescue team that her son stopped breathing after having mistakenly swallowed the powder, and then became unconscious, according to the police.

Police initially arrested Mitsunaka on Jan 4 and served her with another warrant on Feb 7 for allegedly beating Kakeru and leaving him outside last December after she got upset about his having eaten meat in the refrigerator. She is currently standing trial on a charge of assault and negligence as a guardian.

Kakeru had red pepper in his bronchial tubes and died later at a hospital. Police found a bottle of cayenne pepper almost empty in the kitchen.

Mitsunaka had lived with Kakeru alone, as her older son was institutionalized in 2004 after he and Kakeru were found to have been abused. Since the older boy was the main victim of the abuse at that time, a child consultation office considered it safe for Kakeru to return home, according to sources of the office.

Lawmakers group to seek removal of China's anti-Japan photos

Veteran conservative lawmaker Takeo Hiranuma and other Diet members will launch a parliamentary league on Wednesday to urge China to remove photos from its war museums that show the Japanese military's wartime atrocities, involved lawmakers said Friday.

The launch of the league was initially planned for January but was delayed because Hiranuma, an independent member of the House of Representatives, who is expected to head the group, suffered a stroke in December and was hospitalized.

The group plans to urge China through diplomatic channels to remove what it calls "unjustifiable" photos which are believed to be displayed in about 150 Chinese war museums and aim to convey China's victory in its resistance to Japanese military aggression. The lawmakers said the museums have apparently been established in response to the Chinese Communist Party's efforts to boost patriotism among the younger generations.

1,000 protest in Okinawa at gov't view on military role in war suicide

Some 1,000 people staged a rally in Okinawa on Saturday demanding the education ministry retract its contentious instruction to history textbook publishers to play down the Japanese military's role in mass suicides by civilians during the 1945 Battle of Okinawa.

Participants including members of local teachers unions took to Kokusaidori Street in downtown Naha, chanting, "Don't distort the reality of the Battle of Okinawa." In March, the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology advised publishers of new high school history textbooks to reword descriptions in the current versions that the embattled Imperial Japanese Army forced civilians to kill themselves in the war so as not to be taken prisoner by the United States.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Man hurls plastic bottles at Lee at Narita

A man hurled two plastic bottles containing liquids at former Taiwanese President Lee Teng-hui at Narita airport Saturday as he was about to take a return flight home after an 11-day trip to Japan, police said. The 84-year-old former leader was unhurt as the bottles failed to hit him. The incident took place around 3:20 p.m. in the departure lobby of the Terminal 2 building of the international airport east of Tokyo.

The man was immediately taken into custody. He refused to answer questions from police, they said. The man emerged from among some 60 people waving flags at Lee in the lobby to show their support for Taiwan and to see him off, investigators said.

Lee blasts China for making fuss over Japan leaders' Yasukuni visits

Former Taiwanese President Lee Teng-hui on Saturday blasted China for making a fuss over Japanese leaders' visits to Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo which is seen by Beijing as a symbol of Japanese militarism during and before World War II.

Speaking at the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan in Tokyo, the 84-year-old former leader also reiterated that Taiwan is an "independent country" and urged Beijing to promote democracy.

On Yasukuni Shrine, which honors Japan's war dead, Lee said, "There is no rationale for a foreign government to say anything at all about or criticize" visits by Japanese leaders to the shrine because "it is natural to pay homage to young people who died for their own country."

Lee said the problem of Yasukuni visits is an issue "made up by mainland China and Korea" in an attempt to divert criticism by their peoples away from domestic issues that they have "failed to deal with."

"Even so, the Japanese government has been too soft in dealing with them," he said.

The Yasukuni shrine venerates 2.5 million war dead including colonial subjects and — most controversially — 14 top war criminals from World War II.

Lee said he paid the pilgrimage to mourn his late brother, who is enshrined as he died fighting in the Japanese navy in 1945 when Taiwan was Tokyo's colony.

"There is no reason for Japan to be criticized by foreign countries or foreign governments over this kind of issue," Lee said. "It is such a natural thing to honor young people who died for their country."

Japan's former prime minister Junichiro Koizumi paid annual pilgrimages to the Yasukuni shrine, infuriating China and South Korea which refused any summits with him.

In a bid to improve relations, Koizumi's successor Shinzo Abe has maintained a strategic silence on whether he will go while in office, even though he was a frequent visitor before becoming premier in September.

Lee angered Beijing during his 1988-2000 tenure by seeking a separate identity for Taiwan. Beijing lobbed missiles near the island in 1995 and 1996, prompting the United States to send in warships.

In remarks that will likely trigger more furor in Beijing, Lee repeated the island was already effectively independent.

"I won't be daunted at all by whatever China says about Taiwan," Lee said. "The people in Taiwan shouldn't care about it, either."

"The residents of Taiwan must hold the opinion that this is our country, otherwise no one would help us," Lee said.

China's defeated Kuomintang nationalists fled to Taiwan in 1949 after losing the mainland's civil war. Beijing considers the island a territory awaiting reunification, by force if necessary.

Lee's remarks came hours after Chinese President Hu Jintao, on the sidelines of a Group of Eight summit in Germany, warned Abe to exercise caution on any Taiwanese moves for independence.

Abe replied there was no change in Japan's policy of recognising only Beijing. His government has said Lee was on a private visit. As a Taiwanese, he does not need a visa to enter Japan.

Only a dwindling handful of countries recognise Taipei as China's legitimate government, with Costa Rica on Wednesday switching allegiance to Beijing.

Despite repeated protests by Beijing, Lee said his trip to Japan was "a big success" and he wants to visit again.

Taiwan was a Japanese colony from 1895 to 1945 and many Taiwanese tend to be friendlier than Koreans and mainland Chinese towards Japan.

But indigenous Taiwanese leaders were outraged by Lee's visit to the Yasukuni shrine, saying Japan has not yet atoned for its colonial rule.

Abe gives himself pat on the back over contribution to G-8 summit

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Friday claimed that Japan made a "significant contribution" to the just ended Group of Eight summit and pledged to continue taking up the issue of climate change as a major topic next year when Japan takes over as host of the summit from Germany.

Giving himself a pat on the back, a beaming Abe told a press conference that he was "very satisfied" that discussions at the summit for a consensus on emissions reduction "were centered on my proposal" and that Japan's initiative was included in the summit declaration.

Abe, who made his debut at the summit in the German resort of Heiligendamm, also emphasized his leadership in guiding discussions on the North Korean nuclear, missile and abduction issues.

"I won the understanding and support of the other leaders and we were able to send a strong message in the Chair's Summary that included a demand for an early resolution of the abduction issue," Abe said.

Abe's carefully scripted language, including the repeated use of "I," which is rare in Japanese, reflects the premier's eagerness to impress the Japanese public with his achievements at the summit in hopes of improving his ailing support ratings just a month ahead of a crucial House of Councillors election.

"I will ensure that next year's summit will be managed so that it is absolutely environmentally friendly," Abe said. "I also hope to make Japan's superb technology and expertise in energy saving a showcase, so I hope you all will come and enjoy it too."

Although Abe promised Japan will "do the best" to meet its obligation to cut emissions under the Kyoto Protocol, the country is in reality nowhere close to meeting it. While it is obliged to cut carbon dioxide emissions by 6% from 1990 levels by 2012, emissions actually increased by 8% in 2005.

Japan will host next year's summit of the world's top industrial powers at the Lake Toya hot-spring resort in Hokkaido from July 7-9, 2008.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Suicides in 2006 top 30,000 for 9th straight year

More than 30,000 people killed themselves in Japan in 2006 for the ninth consecutive year with suicides among students marking a record high, the National Police Agency said Thursday. The total number of suicides came to 32,155, down 1.2% from a year earlier. Those believed to have died because of financial difficulties, however, declined by a sharp 10.1% to 6,969. The agency attributed the drop to the impact of the economic recovery.

Reflecting a spate of children's suicides reportedly triggered by bullying, suicides by elementary school pupils doubled to 14 in the reporting year and those by junior high school students rose 22.7% to 81, the agency said. Nearly half the overall suicides, 15,402, were attributable to health problems, topping the ranking by cause of death, followed by financial difficulties. Home and work problems came third and fourth at 2,960 and 1,919, respectively.

British ambassador hopes police can make arrest in Hawker murder case

British Ambassador to Japan Graham Fry expressed hope Thursday that the police will soon apprehend the 28-year-old Japanese man wanted in connection with the murder of a British woman in Chiba Prefecture in March. "I'm disappointed that he is not yet caught...I hope he will be caught soon," Fry said in response to a question about the case of Lindsay Ann Hawker, 22, whose body was found March 26 at the suspect's condominium.

But he also defended the police, saying they are "doing their best" and that more than 100 police officers are still working on the case and about 30,000 posters have been printed and displayed at police boxes and other locations.

The suspect, Tatsuya Ichihashi, is still at large after fleeing from police officers who called at his apartment on March 26 after the language school Hawker worked for said it had been unable to contact her.

Police have not been able to locate him since his escape. They have issued an arrest warrant for Ichihashi on suspicion of abandoning Hawker's body. The body was found buried in sand in a bathtub on the balcony of the condominium unit.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Abe leaves for G-8 summit debut in Germany

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe left for Germany on Tuesday morning to attend a Japan-European Union summit in Berlin and make his debut at the Group of Eight nations summit in the Baltic resort of Heiligendamm, where issues related to global warming and Africa are expected to top the agenda.

Abe, plagued by domestic woes including the recent suicide by a cabinet minister, is set to take up the North Korean nuclear, missile and abduction issues and seek reconfirmation of support from his G-8 counterparts, in hopes of salvaging his falling support rating ahead of a crucial House of Councillors election next month. With Japan set to host next year's G-8 summit, the Heiligendamm meeting will test Abe's diplomatic clout as he seeks to demonstrate leadership in forging a consensus over a new international framework to fight global warming from 2013.

Monday, June 04, 2007

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Australia accuses Japan of 'dummy-spit' over whales

Australia's environment minister on Sunday accused Japan of a "dummy-spit" — a childish tantrum — over its failure to lift the ban on commercial whaling at an international conference last week. "It was a very bad conference for Japan," Malcolm Turnbull said of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) meeting in Alaska.

After losing its bid to overturn the two-decades-old moratorium on commercial whaling, Japan threatened to pull out of the 77-nation IWC and start a breakaway group.

"I think their huge dummy-spit at the end will not reflect well on Tokyo," Turnbull told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. "I think the Japanese government really has to sit back and ask itself, looking at the debacle that was Japan's outcome at the whaling conference... 'Can we continue to fly in the face of world opinion on this issue?'"

Australia is a leading opponent of the resumption of commercial whaling and a strong critic of Japan's "scientific" whaling program, under which it kills hundreds of whales each year.

This year, it wants to include on the hit list 50 humpback whales from stocks that migrate annually from Antarctic waters along the Australian coast to their breeding grounds in the tropical Pacific.

The plan has caused outrage in Australia, where whale-watching is a multimillion dollar industry with boats taking tourists to see the giant mammals making their way up the country's east coast.

Turnbull said engaging Japan over whaling had to be done constructively.

"Whaling is essentially a nationalistic issue in Japan; that's its support base, so the engagement with Japan has to be as a friend, it has to be candid, it has to be constructive. If you threaten Japan, they dig their heels in."

But he rejected the suggestion that accusing Tokyo of a "dummy-spit" was far from constructive. "Their own mothers would recognize they did a dummy-spit," he said. "To stand up at the end of the conference and say: 'That's it, we're threatening to pull out' — that is a dummy-spit on any view."

Aso suggests China need not worry over Lee's visit

Foreign Minister Taro Aso offered assurances to his Chinese counterpart Yang Jiechi that China need not worry about former Taiwan President Lee Teng-hui's recent visit to Japan, Japanese officials said. Yang, who met Aso on the sidelines of a trilateral meeting with their South Korean counterpart on South Korea's Jeju Island, expressed concern over the itinerary of Lee, currently in Japan, the officials said.

Aso said that he understands Lee will not conduct any political activity. Beijing has criticized the Japanese government for allowing Lee, who left office in 2000 and is seen by Beijing as one of the key supporters of Taiwan independence, to make the visit.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Approval rating for Abe cabinet plunges to 35.8%

The approval rating for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's cabinet plunged to 35.8%, down 11.8 percentage points from mid-May, marking a record low since he took office last September, a Kyodo News poll showed Saturday.

The fall was apparently caused by the recent suicide of former Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Toshikatsu Matsuoka, who had been implicated in financial scandals, and the ruling coalition's forcible passage of bills to revise the Social Insurance Agency. The poll also showed 28.8% said they would vote for the main opposition Democratic Party of Japan if the House of Councillors election is held now, exceeding 26.5% who would vote for Abe's Liberal Democratic Party.

Efforts to hand down history of wartime sex slavery continue

While references to wartime sex slavery have almost disappeared from textbooks, efforts to hand down its history and to unite with former so-called "comfort women" on a grassroots level are continuing, panelists at a Tokyo symposium said Saturday.

In the symposium, teachers, college students and human rights advocates shared their activities to learn about the history of the wartime atrocities, with some 100 people attending.

"I was really shocked to know through a college seminar that women who were about the same age as I am now were forced to become sex slaves and they have been left without sufficient compensation even now," said Naoko Kotani, a senior at Kobe College.

She visited South Korea last year with classmates to meet with former sex slaves, known euphemistically as comfort women in Japan, who told the students it is necessary for people to keep amicable ties even if the relations of their countries are at odds.

"Since then, I have been requested to tell the experiences of learning about the sex slavery and seeing the victims to high school students," Kotani said. "Some of the students asked me at what college they could learn about the history of the wartime sex slavery."

The symposium was held at the start of an exhibition at the Women's Active Museum in Tokyo, at which panels are displayed explaining how women were kidnapped and forced to serve as sex slaves, and who managed the wartime brothels and for what purposes.

Also exhibited are an example of a condom that the Imperial Japanese Army distributed to its soldiers for use at the wartime brothels and a preventive ointment for sexually transmitted diseases, as well as photos of comfort women and Japanese soldiers lined up in front of a brothel.

The event, named "Exhibition of 'Comfort Women' for Junior High School Students," will continue through May 25 next year.

Another panelist, Mai Murakami, who is involved in group activities in Kyoto to invite former comfort women to Japan, said, "I was once told by one of the former comfort women that people in Japan forget what she told them shortly after listening to her story."

"So I repeatedly attend their lecture meetings and say I do not forget them," Murakami said. "I also visit them in the Philippines and Taiwan."

She also said she sees some aggressive comments posted by people on her group's website, such as, "Is there any evidence for wartime sex slavery?" or "The women are telling lies."

Tomomi Oda, a senior at Yokohama National University, said at the symposium she has also experienced facing biased counterarguments about sex slavery.

"But now I think it may be necessary to talk with those who have a difference historical perspective to find out why they have come to have such thoughts," she said.

From the floor, a social studies teacher at a junior high school in Tokyo said, "It's difficult to take up the issue of comfort women in classes now in Tokyo," suggesting a rise in nationalistic education there. "A teacher would face harsh criticism only by distributing the leaflet of this exhibition at school, but I want to let my students see it somehow."

The participants, meanwhile, showed concern over the advanced age of the former comfort women, with Murakami from Kyoto saying, "I fear many of them will pass away within several years."

"It's our responsibility to hand down what they've told us," Murakami said. Oda shared much the same view, saying, "As a citizen, I'd like to continue seeking ways we can commit to memory their stories and how we should hand them down."

Japanese fishing boat captured off Kamchatka

The Russian border guard captured a Japanese fishing boat from Toyama Prefecture in waters east of the Kamchatka Peninsula on Friday, Japan's consulate general in Vladivostok said Saturday.

The Hoshin Maru No. 88, with 16 crew members and the captain, is now being taken to Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskiy on the peninsula on suspicion of illegal operations, according to the consulate general and a local report. It will arrive there Sunday.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Japan hints at withdrawing from IWC to form new whaling body

Japan indicated Thursday it may withdraw from the International Whaling Commission and seek to form a new whaling body as it faced strong opposition to its proposal for small-scale coastal whaling for four Japanese communities.

The Japanese delegation made comments hinting at withdrawal during the final-day session of the four-day IWC annual meeting in Anchorage, Alaska.

Japan said it has put up with "dysfunction" of the IWC ever since the 1986 moratorium on commercial whaling was set and that the rejection of the proposal regarding small-scale coastal whaling was the last straw.

"IWC lost the last chance to reclaim the role of a resource management organization. We are not able to give them any more concession," said Akira Nakamae, Japan's alternate commissioner.

"Our resolution was really well thought and there is no logical reason to turn that down from the resource management perspectives," said Nakamae.

As for the forming of the new body, Japan disclosed no details of its plan at the press conference, saying it is very interested in the idea and would explore options in discussion with other countries.

Japan said it was disappointed by not getting any support from the United States on small-scale coastal whaling, as Tokyo was hoping Washington would change its mind and support Japan's resolution.

In line with the hard-line Japanese stance, Yokohama Mayor Hiroshi Nakada, who was attending the meeting, withdrew his city's candidacy for hosting the annual IWC meeting in 2009.

"The IWC's policy is nothing but a double standard and I fully support Japan's remarks and actions," said Nakada after the press conference, explaining his decision.

Japan dropped the proposed resolution on small-scale coastal whaling after failing to obtain consensus, and did not call for a vote.

The resolution was submitted earlier in the week, asking the commission to consider implementing interim arrangements to assist coastal whaling communities in Japan.

Earlier in the meeting, the IWC approved a nonbinding resolution for maintaining the moratorium on commercial whaling Thursday.

A group of 26 whaling nations including Japan abstained from voting, while 37 conservation-minded nations supported the resolution.