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This Week in Japan (08.25.17)

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 third week of August 2017.

One. Breaking with the established tradition, Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike announced her refusal to send an annual message of condolence for the Koreans massacred in Tokyo in the wake of the 1923 earthquake. According to mainstream historical accounts about 6,000-10,000 Koreans were killed after false rumors were published that they were poisoning wells and such. Governor Koike asserted her belief that no separate recognition of the Korean massacre was needed since they were adequately covered by a memorial to all of the “earthquake victims” as a whole. This fit comfortably into a pattern by which rightwing politicians were attempting to play down or deny other historical crimes against Koreans such as the Comfort Women system and the use of forced labor.

Two. Reports emerged that the Defense Ministry would be seeking a budget of more than US$48 billion for FY2018. If granted, this would set a new record about 2.5% higher than the unprecedented budget they received this year. Since his return to power at the end of 2012, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has been raising the military budget every year. With public concerns about North Korean nuclear missiles also on the rise, the Defense Ministry was emboldened to ask for a sharp increase. Part of this was said to be earmarked for upgraded missile defense systems.

Three. Susumu Inamine confirmed in a press conference that he intended to run for a third term as Mayor of Nago city in Okinawa. Although a small community of about 60,000 people, the Nago mayoral race has become a national political issue due to the fact that it includes Henoko beach, where a controversial US Marine airbase is being constructed in defiance of the will of the municipal and prefectural authorities. Just as occurred four years previously, the Abe government was expected to send senior officials to Nago in an attempt to knock the anti-base Mayor Inamine out of office. The election is set for early February 2018.

Four. A trickle of lawmakers continued to defect from the main opposition Democratic Party, including Representative Takatane Kiuchi. While not fully confirmed, the speculation was that many of these Democratic Party defectors were aiming to tie up with those loyal to Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike in a new national party to be established later in the year. With the Democratic Party leadership race going on at the same time, it was thought possible that other lawmakers might also leave the party in the near future, especially if their favored leadership candidate was defeated.

Five. William Hagerty, the Tennessee businessman tapped by President Donald Trump to become US Ambassador to Japan, arrived in country to take up his duties. Hagerty had spent his career in the private sector, but did live in Japan for several years, decades earlier. At the time of his arrival, it wasn’t clear what kind of position he would take on most US-Japan bilateral issues, especially at a time when the US administration itself was highly mercurial.

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