Thursday, February 28, 2008

Ishiba admits false account of destroyer crew interrogation

Defense Minister Shigeru Ishiba admitted Wednesday that his ministry gave a false explanation regarding its interrogation of the chief navigator of the Aegis destroyer Atago shortly after it collided with a fishing boat on Feb 19, describing the fiasco as "inappropriate." Ishiba told a subcommittee meeting of the House of Representatives Budget Committee that his ministry had not gained approval from the Japan Coast Guard, which is investigating the collision, when it questioned the chief navigator, correcting a statement from Maritime Staff Office chief Adm. Eiji Yoshikawa on Tuesday that the ministry had gained prior approval.
"It was not appropriate," Ishiba told the parliamentary meeting. He added, however, that the ministry did so "in order to secure information about the accident as soon as possible and to explain it externally."
Vice Defense Minister Kohei Masuda also admitted that the ministry has yet to confirm there was a phone call from the MSO to the coast guard notifying it of the MSO's plan to question the Atago navigator, telling a press conference Wednesday night, "The MSO chief should have made a confirmation more carefully."

Masuda also said the ministry did not record what the chief navigator said during its interrogation.
Meanwhile, the 3rd Regional Coast Guard Headquarters in Yokohama said late Wednesday it was told by the Defense Ministry on the afternoon of Feb 19 that the chief navigator had already got off the destroyer when it requested that the Atago's crew not get on or off the vessel.
Ishiba's remarks fueled criticism from opposition party lawmakers, with main opposition Democratic Party of Japan Secretary General Yukio Hatoyama saying the ministry deserves to be criticized for engaging in a "coverup." He also said, "It is inevitable that such action will make the public suspicious."

From the ruling side, Kazuo Kitagawa, secretary general of the New Komeito party, the junior partner of the Liberal Democratic Party in the ruling coalition, also criticized the ministry for questioning the Atago navigator without consulting the coast guard, telling a press conference, "I must say there was a problem."
In an apparent effort to play down such criticism, Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda told reporters that it is normal for "the minister in charge to examine by himself what has happened and it is within the scope of the minister's responsibilities."
"Considering the situation, there may have been things that cannot be helped," Fukuda said. But he also added that "it would have been better" if the ministry had contacted the Japan Coast Guard.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Nobutaka Machimura also said that the ministry should have conducted the questioning after consulting the coast guard, but denied that a coverup had occurred.

The 7,750-ton Atago collided with the 7.3-ton Seitoku Maru, from a fisheries cooperative in Katsuura, Chiba Prefecture, on Feb 19, leaving the fishing vessel's two crew members — Haruo Kichisei, 58, and his 23-year-old son Tetsuhiro — missing.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

U.S. Marine held on counterfeiting charge in Okinawa

Another U.S. Marine is suspected of committing a crime in Okinawa Prefecture as Japan is stepping up calls for the United States to toughen discipline on its military personnel stationed there, Japanese investigative sources said Tuesday.
U.S. military authorities have detained the Marine in his 20s who is suspected of counterfeiting dozens of $20 notes and passing some of them in Okinawa, the sources said.
Under the Japan-U.S. Status-of-Forces agreement, Japanese authorities will take over custody of the Marine after Japanese prosecutors file an indictment against him. Local police plan to soon send papers on him to prosecutors.
The suspect allegedly used a personal computer and a printer to copy the dollar notes and passed some of the counterfeit ones in Uruma, southern Okinawa Island.
Meanwhile, the municipal assembly in Nago in the central part of the main Okinawa island, where the Marine Corps' Camp Schwab is located, will adopt two resolutions protesting the alleged rape of a Japanese junior high school girl by a 38-year-old Marine staff sergeant and the alleged trespassing into a private residence by another Marine.
In the alleged rape case, Japanese police arrested the Marine based at Camp Courtney on Feb 11 on suspicion of raping the girl in Chatan, southern Okinawa Island. The suspect has denied the allegation.
On Monday, another Marine, aged 21, was arrested on suspicion of trespassing after he was found passed out on a sofa at a private residence in Nago, central Okinawa Island.
Local police also arrested another Marine, 22, on Sunday for drunken driving in the city of Okinawa.
The Nago municipal assembly is expected to unanimously adopt the protest documents that will call on the Japanese and U.S. governments as well as U.S. forces to strengthen discipline of U.S. military personnel, and to consolidate and reduce the presence of the U.S. forces in Okinawa, assembly members said.
On Tuesday, five municipal assemblies in Okinawa Prefecture adopted resolutions of protest against U.S. forces.
Of the 41 municipalities in Okinawa, 28 assemblies will have passed such resolutions of protests, including Nago, which is scheduled to hold a vote Wednesday.
Meanwhile in Tokyo, State Minister Shinya Izumi, who overseas Japanese police forces as chairman of the National Public Safety Commission, urged the United States to assume responsibilities for its troops in Japan.
"I can't understand why a series of such incidents has taken place. I feel it's unpardonable," Izumi said.
At a separate news conference, Fumio Kishida, state minister for Okinawa and Northern Territories affairs, expressed displeasure with the United States, saying he does not think U.S. forces have taken full measures to toughen discipline and prevent a recurrence of misconduct by troops.


Poor atmosphere for Olympics

The Olympic Games are the arena for the world's athletes to give all that is in them for sport and their nations. The 29th Olympiad that is coming up next August in Beijing makes it extremely challenging if not impossible for them to do so.
The reason is the astonishing air pollution that remains the dominating ambience of China's capital, after years striving to reduce it, including more than $16 billion spent in preparation for the 2008 Games. Many observers credit this effort with notable results, but Beijing air is four or five times more contaminated than the level prescribed by the World Health Organization, and 40 times worse than Los Angeles, America's most polluted city.
Jacques Rogge, president of the International Olympic Committee, is confident that by the opening ceremonies, Beijing's air quality will be suitable for the competition.
However, he hedges his bet, saying some endurance events might have to be rescheduled. Athletes in the marathon and triathlon as well as cyclists, take in about 10 times more air with every breath, making them particularly susceptible to Beijing's fouled air.
Face masks, which are sure to forestall peak performances, are nevertheless being tried out.
Many participating nations don't share Rogge's optimism. Contrary to custom, they are training their contingents not in the host country, but in Japan or South Korea, or in Chinese cities distant from Beijing.
One may well ask why such a venue was selected in the first place when the choice was made in 2001. The answer is that it was as a gesture to a nation growing in stature and influence, with the pious hope that it would encourage China to improve its dismal human rights record. Indeed, the Chinese promised to do so and also committed themselves to cleaning up Beijing's air.
China has failed on both counts, although it did make enormous efforts to relocate polluting industrial plants, planted 300 million trees, rerouted an ever increasing volume of automobile traffic and expanded subway lines and constructed a light railway system.
As for human rights, Communist Chinese authorities are still locking up dissidents at home. Internationally, their continued reluctance to use their large trade ties with Sudan to mitigate the atrocities in Darfur last week resulted in Steven Spielberg, the American filmmaker, withdrawing from his advisory role for the Games.
The Chinese point to some minor steps they have taken with Sudan and stress that politics should not afflict the games. Indeed, the Olympic Charter commands "no kind of demonstration of political, religious or racial propaganda" by participants is permitted.
But Tibet is still an issue with legs and among the anticipated 550,000 visitors from abroad there are sure to be some determined to demonstrate. Some 20,000 foreign journalists will be present to report on how the authorities cope with any demonstrations.
Other problems bedevil the Beijing Games, but these are generally easier to deal with, though at some expense.
China does not have a good reputation when it comes to the quality of its food supply despite the global popularity enjoyed by its cuisine. Reports have revealed candy laced with carcinogens, fish contaminated by insecticides, unreliable grains and -- with particular relevance to athletes -- meat and fowl pumped up with steroids.

Olympic athletes are responsible for what they ingest, and if steroids show up in tests, they would suffer consequences.
The U.S., for one, has set up a secure food supply chain, and will ship adequate supplies of beef, chicken and pork as well as grains to feed its athletes and officials. Seafood and fruit are coming in from other countries.
The date set for the opening of the Olympics is the eighth day of the eighth month of the year 2008. In the Chinese view, all those eights will bring good luck. The Games certainly will require an unusually heavy dose of it.


Aegis destroyer collides with fishing boat off Chiba; two missing

Japanese destroyer collides with fishing boat off — A Maritime Self-Defense Force destroyer with an advanced radar system collided with a small fishing boat early Tuesday morning in the Pacific off the coast of Chiba Prefecture, causing the boat to capsize and leaving its two crewmembers missing, the MSDF and the Japan Coast Guard said.
Defense Minister Shigeru Ishiba said authorities are making all-out efforts to rescue the fishermen and that the MSDF has yet to determine the cause of the collision. It was the first serious accident involving an MSDF vessel and civilian ship since a submarine and a fishing boat collided in Tokyo Bay in 1988, killing 30.
The hull of the 15-meter-long tuna fishing boat Seitoku Maru split into its bow and stern parts following the collision with the 165 m-long Atago, which is equipped with the high-tech Aegis defense system, the MSDF said. The MSDF and the coast guard have dispatched boats and aircraft to conduct a search at the site, they said.
The coast guard said it tried unsuccessfully to find the missing men in searches of the two parts of the hull, which were still afloat.
Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda told the Defense Ministry and the coast guard to make all-out search-and-rescue efforts when he was notified of the 4:07 a.m. incident about two hours after it occurred.
Ishiba said his ministry has yet to determine what caused it, including how the high-tech radar was functioning at the time.
The Maritime Staff Office's Operations and Plans Department chief Katsutoshi Kawano apologized to people concerned as well as the public for the accident.
The collision took place in what Kawano described as relatively "calm" sea around 40 kilometers south-southwest of Nojimazaki Cape at the southernmost tip of the Boso Peninsula. The cape is about 85 kilometers south of Tokyo.
The fishing boat belongs to a fishery cooperative in Katsuura, Chiba Prefecture, and was carrying Haruo Kichisei, 58, and his 23-year-old son Tetsuhiro, from Katsuura city, the coast guard said.
It left port in Katsuura at 1:30 a.m. Tuesday together with several other fishing boats, according to the cooperative.
According to the coast guard, it was cloudy in the area when the accident occurred and the sea was relatively calm with good visibility of around 2 kilometers. Wind velocity was 25.2 kilometers per hour.
The MSDF said five vessels and four helicopters have been dispatched to the site to conduct a search. It has set up an accident investigation commission, while the government established an information liaison office within the crisis management center at the prime minister's office.
With regard to the handling of the accident, Fukuda questioned the crisis management system of the ministry and the Self-Defense Forces, saying the first accident report to Ishiba, which was at 5:38 a.m., was "late."
Ishiba said, "It even took 40 minutes for the information to reach me from the ministry's Internal Bureau...The lag should be shortened. The first report should have reached the minister much earlier."
In July 1988, the MSDF submarine Nadashio, now decommissioned, collided with a fishing boat off Yokosuka in Kanagawa Prefecture, killing 30 people including anglers.
Fukuda, Ishiba, Chief Cabinet Secretary Nobutaka Machimura and transport minister Tetsuzo Fuyushiba, who oversees the coast guard, met prior to the Cabinet meeting to be briefed on the accident and the latest search activities.
The Atago, which went into commission in March 2007, was heading for the port of Yokosuka after completing tests of its equipment related to Standard Missile-2 interceptors in Hawaii, according to the MSDF.
The 7,700-ton ship, under the command of Capt Ken Funato, 52, was supposed to arrive at Yokosuka port at 9 a.m. Tuesday, Kawano said.
The Atago destroyer is the latest version of destroyer equipped with the Aegis advanced defense system. It is based at the MSDF Maizuru base in Kyoto Prefecture on the Sea of Japan coast. It typically carries around 300 crew members.
An Aegis ship is designed to play a central role in Japan's missile defense shield. It is capable of dealing with more than 10 incoming missiles, aircraft and other enemy targets simultaneously.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

JAL plane attempts takeoff without permission in Hokkaido

A Japan Airlines jet carrying 446 passengers and crew members started heading down a runway without permission while another JAL aircraft was still running after landing at New Chitose Airport on Saturday morning but stopped on an order by an air traffic controller, airport and airline officials said.
According to Japan Airlines, the pilot in command of JAL flight 502, a Boeing 747 passenger jet bound for Tokyo's Haneda airport, misheard an instruction by an air traffic controller in English, or the controller may have used terminology that was misunderstood. The controller told the aircraft that it was expected to be cleared for takeoff soon but the pilot apparently misunderstood it as an order for an immediate takeoff, the airline said.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Kanagawa targets teachers who refuse to stand to sing national anthem

The Kanagawa prefectural education board decided Monday to continue collecting the names of teachers who refuse to stand when attendants at school ceremonies sing the "Kimigayo" national anthem, despite a recommendation by a prefectural panel on protection of personal information not to do so, board officials said.
"It's undesirable there are such school staff members who don't stand to sing the anthem, as enrollment and graduation ceremonies are important events," said Takaichi Hikichi, head of the education board.
The education board has since March 2006 ordered the principals of prefecture-run high schools to report the names of teachers who refuse to stand and sing the anthem at school ceremonies.
The panel determined in January that the practice is inappropriate, saying it is not legitimate or necessary to touch on such information that falls under the category of personal beliefs and creeds.
A 58-year-old male teacher who is seeking nullification of the order said, "The education board doesn't understand the weight of the panel recommendation. We may resort to legal measures next."
Kanagawa Gov Shigefumi Matsuzawa, meanwhile, said of the education board's decision, "It's an international norm to respect the national anthem and flag. I expect teachers who refuse to stand and sing the anthem to consider their responsibility as a teacher," he said.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Japan and China to hold talks over food-poisoning outbreak

A group of Chinese experts held a meeting with their Japanese counterparts Sunday over a food-poisoning outbreak allegedly triggered by Chinese-made frozen meat dumplings. The five-member team from China is led by Li Chunfeng, vice director of the Import and Export Food Safety Bureau in the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine, the national quality control bureau.
At the outset of the meeting, Shigeru Hotta, senior official in the Cabinet Office, said, "We need to bring the issue under control immediately as it has become a big public concern in Japan. I hope the two countries will jointly work to clarify the cause." The first meeting concluded "as an opportunity for information sharing between the two sides," Masaki Ichikawa, another official in the Cabinet Office, told reporters. "We'll continue the meeting tomorrow and later."

Friday, February 01, 2008

3 death row inmates hanged in Tokyo, Osaka, Fukuoka

Japan executed three death row inmates Friday, less than two months after hanging three others in December, showing its determination to continue executions despite international calls for a moratorium on the death penalty.
Justice Minister Kunio Hatoyama held a news conference Friday morning to announce the names of the three inmates and where they were executed. "Each of the three inmates was convicted of killing their victims out of selfish motives and in a cruel manner. After making careful studies, I ordered the inmates to be hanged," Hatoyama said.
The nonpartisan Japan Parliamentary League against the Death Penalty protested against the executions. Group member Nobuto Hosaka, a House of Representatives member of the Social Democratic Party, told a news conference, "Barely two months have passed since the previous executions. Is it the start of a mass execution period? We lodge a stern protest."
Six death row inmates have been hanged since Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda assumed office in September and all of the executions have been ordered by Hatoyama. More than 100 inmates are currently on death row in Japan.
The three executed Friday were Takashi Mochida, 65, who was hanged at the Tokyo Detention House, Masahiko Matsubara, 63, who was hanged at the Osaka Detention House, and Keishi Nago, 37, who was hanged at the Fukuoka Detention House.
According to court rulings, Mochida stabbed a 44-year-old woman to death in Tokyo in April 1997, two months after he was released from prison. He killed the woman out of revenge because she had filed a report with the police accusing him of rape. Mochida served a seven-year prison term for the rape.
Matsubara was convicted of strangling a 61-year-old woman in Tokushima Prefecture in April 1988 and a 44-year-old woman in Aichi Prefecture in June the same year.
Nago was convicted of killing his 40-year-old sister-in-law and her daughter, 17, and wounding her son on Tokunoshima Island, Kagoshima Prefecture, in August 2002.
Mochida spent three years and three months in prison after he was sentenced to death. Matsubara served 10 years and nine months in prison and Nago three years and five months.
On Thursday, the parliamentary league against the death penalty urged Hatoyama not to order the execution of death row inmates after the organization obtained information about imminent executions.
On Friday, Hosaka, the head of the league's secretariat, referred to the resolution calling for a moratorium on executions adopted by the U.N. General Assembly on Dec 18. "The Japanese government for its part is not supposed to take the resolution lightly but these executions are its reply. It is going against the world trend and information disclosure is insufficient."
Rights group Amnesty International Japan also issued a strong protest, saying that apart from the names of the executed, no other information has been disclosed and the executions were undertaken secretly as in the past.
Following a lapse of three years and four months, the Justice Ministry resumed executions of death row inmates in March 1993 under orders from then Justice Minister Masaharu Gotoda.
With the latest executions, the total number of inmates hanged since the resumption has reached 63.
There were no executions when Seiken Sugiura was justice minister between October 2005 and September 2006.
Hatoyama, the current justice minister, once proposed omitting the present requirement for the justice minister to sign an order for the execution of a death row inmate.
Hatoyama's predecessor, Jinen Nagase, who occupied the post between September 2006 and August 2007, ordered the executions of 10 inmates.
On Dec 7, Hatoyama announced the names of executed inmates and where they were executed for the first time.
At the time, Hatoyama said he announced the executions "in order to gain public understanding on the implementation of justice."
Previously, the Justice Ministry announced only the number of inmates executed without disclosing their names.