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This Week in Japan (08.31.17)

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 final week of August 2017.

One. Residents of Japan in the northernmost twelve prefectures were startled awake one morning this week by the J-Alert system, which involved public sirens and text messages by mobile phones, warning people that a North Korean missile was heading for Japan. In fact, the missile was shot over Hokkaido and landed in three pieces in the Pacific Ocean. It was the first time that Pyongyang had fired a military missile over the Japanese islands, and it was done without warning. The Abe government offered its usual round of verbal denunciations and pledged to take unspecified actions to ensure the security of the Japanese people.

Two. Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso committed another major verbal gaffe, this time returning to the theme of Naziism, which has tripped him up in the past. Speaking to a group of ruling party lawmakers on the theme of how a politician should behave, Aso suggested that Adolf Hitler had what he called “correct motives,” but should still be condemned because he failed to achieve positive results for the world. The deputy prime minister did not specify which “correct motives” he perceives in the Nazi dictator, but rather he withdrew the comment after it was widely condemned in the media.

Three. The Okinawa Prefectural Assembly passed an official resolution calling for the MV-22 Osprey aircraft, as well as all of the US Marines in the prefecture, to be withdrawn to another location. The resolution was supported by the parties backing Governor Takeshi Onaga as well as the local chapter of the Komeito party. It was opposed by the minority Liberal Democratic Party. Such a resolution passed in any of the other 46 prefectures of Japan would be received as an earthshaking political event, but since it comes from Okinawa, traditionally marginalized and discriminated against within the Japanese polity, it was hardly even reported in the mainstream media.

Four. Rengo Chairman Rikio Kozu made clear his organization’s hostility to any electoral cooperation with Japan Communist Party. Rengo, whose English name is the Japanese Trade Union Confederation, is the most significant institutional backer of the struggling Democratic Party. By loudly declaring against cooperation with the Communist Party, Kozu in effect was calling for Rengo loyalists to support the candidacy of Seiji Maehara in the ongoing Democratic Party leadership race. Maehara had largely built his candidacy on ending electoral cooperation with the Communist Party, while his rival, Yukio Edano, wished to continue cooperation.

Five. Tsutomu Hata, who served briefly as Prime Minister of Japan for a nine-week period in 1994, passed away of old age this week. Hata was one of the few non-Liberal Democratic Party politicians to become prime minister. He was a close ally of Ichiro Ozawa, and his premiership came during the brief 1993-1994 period when Ozawa was able to shut the Liberal Democratic Party out of power. Although he began to embark on several progressive reforms, Hata and Ozawa quickly fell from power when the Japan Socialist Party unexpectedly embraced a partnership with their traditional conservative enemies, the Liberal Democratic Party.

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