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This Week in Japan (08.16.17)

SNA (Tokyo) — This Week in Japan is your source for news and information about politics and other happenings in this East Asian island country. This episode covers the Top Five stories of the second week of August 2017.

One. The US government reported that its analysts have concluded that North Korea now has the capability to miniaturize nuclear weapons and place them on the tips of their missiles. This analysis makes plausible the fear that places like Tokyo, or even Seattle and Los Angeles, could suffer a North Korean nuclear attack. This, in turn, prompted US President Donald Trump to make his own thinly-veiled threats of a nuclear war, speaking of “fire and fury” if Pyongyang didn’t reverse course. The Abe government kept a reasonably low public profile in this back-and-forth, although they condemned North Korean missile tests, as usual, and promised they would provide security to the Japanese nation.

Two. The Japanese government had a very embarrassing week regarding the US Marines’ Osprey aircraft, though they were given some political cover by the North Korea fears. After several days of demanding Osprey flights be grounded for the time being and meeting a stone cold rejection of the demand from the US military, the Japanese government meekly withdrew their demand and accepted verbal assurances that Osprey accidents would be prevented. Meanwhile, an estimated 45,000 people in Okinawa protested against the US bases and the Osprey flights. Governor Takeshi Onaga stated before the crowd that the Osprey affair demonstrated that Japan was not really an independent country vis-a-vis the United States. The Governor’s comment went largely unreported in the Japanese news media.

Three. During the August 9 memorial for the atomic bombing of the city of Nagasaki in 1945, Mayor Tomihisa Taue called for Japan to join the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, which was signed by 122 nations the previous month. This was criticism aimed directly at rightwing Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who also spoke at the ceremony. Mayor Taue said it was, in his words, “incomprehensible” that Japan, still the world’s only victim of a nuclear attack, should refuse to even join the negotiations toward the adoption of the treaty. Prime Minister Abe did not respond to the criticism, and analysts do not expect he will change his policy stance.

Four. August 15 was the 72nd anniversary of Japan’s surrender in the Pacific War. Many lawmakers used the occasion to worship at Yasukuni Shrine, which honors the spirits of Japan’s war dead, including, controversially, some convicted of Class A War Crimes. Unlike most former years, no Cabinet minister visited the shrine that day, although Vice-Foreign Minister Masahisa Sato did. Prime Minister Abe sent a ritual offering instead of visiting in person.

Five. Reports emerged that national anti-smoking legislation was not dead after all. Many lawmakers of the ruling party have been set against effective measures to protect non-smokers, but the Abe government seemed to have judged that it cannot entirely ignore demands from the World Health Organization and the International Olympic Committee that public smoking be restricted. The bill, which is unlikely to be a full ban on public smoking, is now expected to be submitted to the Diet in the autumn. According to Japan’s Health Ministry, tobacco smoking kills an estimated 130,000 Japanese every year, including 15,000 non-smokers who die from the effects of second-hand smoke.

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