Entries in Japan (291)


Japanese Political Campaigns Go Digital

KAZUHIRO NOGI/AFP/Getty Images(TOKYO) -- For a country known for its high-tech prowess, Japan has had surprisingly archaic election laws.

Political parties have traditionally been banned from using the internet to aid their campaigns, thanks to a decades-old law that dictated everything from the amount of fliers a candidate could hand out to the exact size of campaign posters allowed, to ensure parity. In place of get-out-the-vote campaigns online, candidates armed themselves with megaphones, attached them to compact vans, and drove around cities and rural towns to trumpet their cause.

A legal change this spring reversed the trend, allowing politicians to tweet and Facebook their way to victory. Now candidates are getting their first taste of what’s been dubbed Internet Elections here, with the two-week campaign period officially underway for the upcoming Upper House Elections.

“There is some degree of excitement, and certain business opportunities for software companies. Whether it will revolutionize campaigning in Japan remains to be seen,” said Koichi Nakano, a political science professor at Sophia University.

The introduction of cyberspace into politics has pushed campaigns to find creative ways to woo voters.

Last week the ruling Liberal Democratic Party unveiled a new smartphone game application, featuring Prime Minister Shinzo Abe hopping and somersaulting his way to the sky. In “Abe-Pyon,” the popular Japanese leader’s avatar is seen jumping from one platform to another, with players racking up points while gaining access to information about the LDP’s campaign platform.

Not to be outdone, the opposition Democratic Party of Japan released an application that allowed voters to take virtual photographs with their favorite candidates, and create their own campaign posters on smartphones. The pitch from the DPJ? “Now you can be famous too!”

Since becoming prime minister in December, Abe has taken to Facebook to give voters a behind-the-scenes look at daily life, while other leaders have been urged to regularly tweet personal messages.

The efforts aimed at courting young, tech-savvy voters come amid increasing apathy over politics in Japan. The country has gone through seven prime ministers in six years, though Abe is expected to outlast his predecessors. Voter turnout in the Lower House election in December, which put Abe back in power, set a post-war record low, with just 59% going to the polls.

“If you look at the numbers, there are only one in six Japanese actively supporting Prime Minister Abe and the LDP,” said Nakano. “It’s not as if people are enthusiastically endorsing him and his agenda.”

Despite the perception that internet usage has added transparency to campaigns here, restrictive rules remain. While candidates are now allowed to email voters, election law bans voters from forwarding that email to others. Those too young to vote are restricted from re-tweeting campaign messages.

Nakano says the rigid rules stem from a fear that false information could be passed on virally, damaging the reputation of candidates in a relatively short campaign period.

Major parties have hired outside agencies to monitor blogs and social networking sites for “flaming” or candidate bashing, around the clock. Deliberate comments to discredit the candidates would promptly be taken down, LDP Public Relations Chief Yuriko Koike said, in a recent interview with broadcaster NHK.

“I worry [internet campaigning] will lead to irresponsible voting,” voter Sumiko Yasuda said. “It’s important to study the issues before [casting a vote] but people may just vote based on information that is conveniently available.”

The prime minister himself has gotten heat for online postings directed at his critics. Last month, he lashed out at former diplomat Hitoshi Tanaka after he criticized the administration’s foreign policy, and its “rightward shift.” Abe took to his Facebook page, saying Tanaka was “not qualified to talk about diplomacy.” Referring to previous disagreements over policies to bring home Japanese citizens abducted by North Korea, he added, “If [Tanaka's] judgment was accepted, the five [North Korean] abductees and their children would still be trapped in North Korea.”

“There’s a strong will of eliminating lies and untruthful messages altogether,” Nakano said. “It seems impossible in cyberspace but the state continues to hold a very naïve view that only truthful information should be disseminated within the supervision of the state.”

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Kerry on NKorea: US Would Not Rule Out Talks, but only if Denuclearization Steps Taken

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Tokyo Sunday for the last leg of his Asia trip, reiterating the Obama Administration's pledge to seek a "peaceful resolution" on the Korean peninsula, amid increasing unease about North Korean provocations in the region.

Meeting with Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida, Kerry said the U.S. would not rule out direct talks with North Korea, but would only consider it if Pyongyang took steps towards denuclearization, and agreed to negotiate in a "responsible way."

"I think it's really unfortunate that the media and others have been so focused on the possibility of war when there's a possibility of peace," Kerry said. "We can find a way to resolve these differences at the negotiating table."

Kerry's visit to Japan comes as Pyongyang ramps up its rhetoric towards Tokyo.

On Friday, the regime singled out Japan as the first target in the event of a war on the Korean peninsula, in a scathing commentary that raised concerns in a country without a combat military, but Self Defense forces.

On Sunday, Kishida said Japan was fully prepared against such contingencies, including a potential missile launch, but added that Tokyo would push forward with a "dialogue and pressure" policy.

"We must not be influenced by [these provocations]," Kishida said. "Instead we have to get North Korea to understand that such behavior will not benefit anybody whatsoever."

Fresh off meetings with Chinese President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang, Kerry once again expressed confidence in Beijing's willingness to pressure North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, and calm tensions on the peninsula.

In a joint statement Saturday, both Kerry and Chinese State Councilor Yang Jiechi reaffirmed U.S. and China's commitment to work on the denuclearization of North Korea.

Yang said China was committed to restarting stalled six-party talks and holding North Korea accountable to its international agreements.

"What happened yesterday should not be underestimated and it is not a small event," Kerry said. "What you have is a China that made it very clear that we can't simply have a rhetorical policy. I agree with China. Question is, what steps do you take to make sure we don't repeat the cycles of the last year."

In North Korea, festivities continued for the upcoming 101th birthday celebration of founder Kim Il Sung Monday, with Pyongyang hosting an international marathon. But threats toward the outside world remained persistent denouncing South Korean President Park Geun-hye's offer of dialogue as a "cunning ploy" and an "empty shell."

"It is a cunning ploy to hide the South's confrontational policy towards the North and escape from its responsibility for putting Kaesong Industrial Complex into a crisis," an announcer read on North Korea's Central TV.

The statement came from the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea, in charge of handling relations with South Korea.

Kaesong Industrial Complex, a joint economic project using South Korean capital investment and the North's cheap labor, was recently shut down after North Korea pulled out its 53,000 workers in light of a series of tension building measures in the past few weeks.

Pyongyang has strongly protested the ongoing U.S.-South Korea military exercises scheduled to wrap up at the end of this month.

Eager to defuse tensions on the Korean peninsula, President Park offered peace through dialogue on Thursday, a surprise move that was widely welcomed by Kerry, who has repeatedly extended his support for bilateral talks, adding any missile launch would be a "huge mistake."

"I think she's shown great courage in her willingness to take [talks] in that direction, provided she has a willing partner," Kerry said in Tokyo.

Analysts have speculated that North Korea may launch a mid-range Musudan missile sometime before the April 15 celebration.

But on Sunday, South Korean local media questioned why the North's young leader Kim Jong-Un has not been seen in public over the past two weeks.

That's prompted further speculations his absence may be a sign he "might be tempted to tone down fiery threats," though others say it may be a sign Kim is posturing for the launch.

His last public appearance was on April 1, at the annual rubber-stamp parliamentary meeting. Kim is widely expected to show up in the military parade in Pyongyang on Monday.


Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Japan Marks Second Anniversary of Deadly Earthquake and Tsunami

Sankei via Getty Images(TOKYO) -- Services were held in Japan on Monday to mark the second anniversary of a devastating earthquake and tsunami that took nearly 19,000 lives and triggered the worst nuclear power plant accident since the Chernobyl disaster in 1986.

The entire Japanese nation paused for a moment of silence at 2:46 p.m. to mark the exact moment when a 9.0-magnitude earthquake struck off the coast of Northern Japan on March 11, 2011.  Memorial ceremonies took place in several locations around the country, including areas along the coast that were overwhelmed by the killer tsunami that followed the quake.  Tens of thousands of people remain displaced because their communities were washed away by the tsunami.


The tsunami also battered the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, triggering meltdowns in three reactors and the release of deadly radiation into the air.  Some 160,000 people were forced to evacuate the region surrounding the power plant.  They have not been allowed to return to their homes.

Eight hundred evacuees displaced by the nuclear disaster filed a class-action lawsuit against the plant operator and the Japanese government on Monday.  The victims are demanding that the land, their homes and the natural environment be restored to pre-disaster conditions.  They’re also seeking medical compensation related to radiation exposure and the stress of being displaced.

The plaintiffs, which include housewives, fishermen and farmers, are demanding a monthly payment of 50,000 yen, approximately $540, in addition to the monthly $1,000 compensation they already receive.

Japan’s 50 nuclear reactors were shut down for inspection after the deadly quake, and only two have been put back into service.  On Sunday, thousands of people marched in the streets of Tokyo, calling for an end to the use of nuclear power in Japan.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


On Eve of Quake Anniversary, Thousands Demand End to Nuclear Power

Stockbyte/Thinkstock(TOKYO) -- Thousands rallied against a government plan to restart idle nuclear reactors in Japan on Sunday.

The protests come as the country marks the second anniversary of the Fukushima nuclear disaster. Two years later, 160,000 people remain displaced, and the 12 mile area around the plant remains off limits, though radiation levels have dropped 40 percent.

At the plant, 3,000 thousand workers continue to lay the groundwork to decommission the reactors, which is a process that is expected to take 40 years.

But new Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has already reversed a plan to phase out nuclear power angering the public, which remains largely opposed to atomic energy.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Japan Rattled by 6.2 Magnitude Quake, No Tsunami Warning Issued

Zoonar/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- A 6.2 magnitude earthquake shook Japan on Monday, according to the Japan Meteorological Agency.

The quake hit at 4:23 p.m. local time in northern Tochigi Prefecture and was 10 kilometers deep. It registered 5 on the Japanese intensity scale of 0 to 7. The strongest shaking was felt in the historic city of Nikko, about 100 miles north of Tokyo.

No immediate damages were reported at any of Japan's nuclear plants.

The agency said the earthquake posed no tsunami risk.

A number of aftershocks shook the region following the quake.

Copyrigth 2013 ABC News Radio


Japan’s Sweet Twist on Valentine’s Day

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(TOKYO) -- Nobody does Valentine’s Day quite like the Japanese -- more specifically, Japanese women.

While Feb. 14 has been set aside as the day of romance in the U.S., Japanese tradition calls for women to give chocolates to men.

A sleek marketing campaign conjured up by Japanese confectioner Mary’s Chocolate reportedly started the custom in the 1950s.  Fifty years later, the holiday has morphed into an all out celebration of chocolate in Japan, with women and social obligation driving half the annual $5 billion in sales.

“It’s almost like a fifth season.  It’s that big,” said Adam Kassab, a professor at Globis University in Tokyo.  “The marketing people are very clever because they linked giving chocolates with a very core, cultural belief or value which is showing appreciation or social obligation.”

The gift giving isn’t limited to a significant other; chocolates are also given out to co-workers, friends and family.  The exchange even comes with its own etiquette rules, according to Kassab.

Cheaper chocolates given to male bosses and co-workers are dubbed “giri-choco” or “obligation chocolates.”

“Anything below $10 is, they’re not that special to you,” Kassab said.  “You just have to do it because everybody else does it.”

The chocolate giving custom isn’t cheap.  A recent survey by department store Printemps Ginza found that women on average spend about $35 on chocolate for their significant other, and shell out more than $100 for obligation chocolates.  They set aside $30 to buy chocolates for themselves, also known as “jibun choco.”

And Japanese men aren’t entirely off the hook.  While they may not have to give chocolates on Valentine’s Day, they are expected to return the favor on their own manufactured holiday -- "White Day" -- a month from now.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Japan Scrambles Jets in Island Dispute with Russia

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(TOKYO) -- The Japanese government lodged a protest with Moscow on Thursday after two Russian fighter jets briefly violated Japanese air space above disputed islands off the northern coast of Hokkaido island, the defense ministry said.

Japanese F-2 fighter jets were scrambled following the breach by two SU-27 jets, according to the ministry.  The foreign ministry lodged a protest with the Russian embassy in Tokyo, but a Russian military spokesman denied any intrusion took place, saying the jets were conducting regular flights in “strict accordance with international regulations,” according to local media.

The dispute over four small islands, known as the Northern Territories in Japan and the Southern Kurils in Russia, dates back six decades.  The former Soviet Union took control of the islands, located some 4,000 miles from Moscow, in the final days of World War II.  A 1956 treaty called for two of the islands to be returned to Japan, but Tokyo has demanded all four.

The ongoing spat has prevented Russia and Japan from signing a peace treaty to this day.

Tensions flared up last July when then Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev visited one of the islands, prompting protests from Tokyo.

The latest incident coincided with “Northern Territories Day” in Japan.  The Japanese government has annually used Feb. 7 as a day to remind citizens of an 1855 treaty, which Japan says supports its claims to the Pacific island chain.

At an annual rally marking the day, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe vowed to do his utmost to find a solution that was “mutually acceptable” to both countries.

Japan has been locked in several territorial disputes with its neighbors, including an increasingly tense standoff with China over the Senkaku or Diaoyu islands.  The Sino-Japanese spat reached a tipping point last month after a Chinese warship locked a radar used to guide missiles on a Japanese ship.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Did China Aim Radar at Japanese Ship?

George Doyle/Thinkstock(TOKYO) -- Tokyo has lodged a formal protest against Beijing after a Chinese warship aimed a radar used to direct missiles at a Japanese naval ship, reports The New York Times.

On Tuesday, Itsunori Onodera, Japan's defense minister, said the incident played out last Wednesday in the East China Sea, near disputed islands.  And it wasn't the first time -- Tokyo said a Chinese ship also aimed the radar at a military helicopter earlier last month, according to the Times.

It's a significant escalation in a spat that began when Japan bought the disputed Senkaku islands, also claimed by Beijing.  

The Chinese ship didn't fire in either incident, but Onodera said one misstep would've led to a "dangerous situation."

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Japanese Pop Star Shaves Head for Dating Remorse 

AKB48/YouTube(TOKYO) -- In a long list of publicity stunts thought up by Japan’s most popular pop group AKB48, this may be the most bizarre.

Minami Minegishi is one of the most popular idols in the 90-plus member super unit.  The 20-year-old singer offered a tearful apology on YouTube Thursday, saying she shaved her head to atone for committing a cardinal sin: violating the group’s no-dating rule.

The video, posted to the band’s YouTube channel, followed a Japanese tabloid report claiming Minegishi spent the night at a 19-year-old boy band member’s apartment.  Published photos showing the star sneaking out of the building with sunglasses and a mask covering her face set fans abuzz.

The nearly four-minute confession that followed began with a deep bow but ended with Minegishi sobbing and pleading to stay in the band.

“I was supposed to set an example for younger members, but my actions were extremely careless and senseless,” she said.  “My mind has gone completely blank.  I don’t know what I can do or what I should do, but I couldn’t bear to do nothing.”

AKB48, made up of girls ranging in age from early teens to mid-20s, has developed a cult following in Japan with its bubblegum pop sound and a projected image of innocence, though their suggestive lyrics and Lolita-like outfits suggest otherwise.  Members cater to a predominantly male fan base, with a heavy emphasis on access and participation.  They regularly hold “handshake” events, and their CDs come with ballots that enable fans to vote in an annual all member election, where top vote-getters are rewarded with more prominent roles in group singles and music videos.

The implied availability means the girls must adhere to strict rules of behavior, which includes no dating.

Minegishi claimed the decision to shave her head was her own, but online skeptics have questioned whether the clip was actually a publicity ploy orchestrated by Yasushi Akimoto, the producer behind AKB48.  The apology amassed more than four million hits in one day.

For now, Minegishi has been relegated to a trainee group, where she has vowed to start from scratch.

“I don’t expect you to forgive me, just because (I shaved my head),” she said in the YouTube clip.  “This is all entirely my fault.  I apologize from the bottom of my heart.”

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Investigation into Boeing's Dreamliner Shifts to Monitoring System

Duncan Chard/Bloomberg via Getty Images(TOKYO) -- The investigation into Boeing's 787 Dreamliner is now shifting from the battery maker to the company that manufactures its monitoring system.

On Monday, Japan's Transport Ministry said its inspectors and the Federal Aviation Administration found no problems with production at GS Yuasa.  The company's lithium-ion batteries have been at the center of an investigation into one of Boeing's grounded Dreamliners, until now.

Now, inspectors are checking the system that monitors the battery's voltage and temperature.

Thousands of Dreamliners remain grounded indefinitely.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

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