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Journalist Junpei Yasuda Released from Syria Captivity

SNA (Tokyo) — The following stories were reported recently by the Shingetsu News Agency.

Top Headline

—Brave freelance journalist Junpei Yasuda released after three years of captivity in Syria. He is said to be in good health and currently in Turkish custody near the Syrian border. It’s not clear why he was released at this time. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe publicly thanks Qatar and Turkey for freelance journalist Junpei Yasuda’s release. Turkey’s role is clear as they are Syria’s neighbor, but Qatar? We may safely surmise that Qatar played a key role in negotiating the release. Abe government also says credit for Junpei Yasuda’s release goes to its new International Counter-Terrorism Intelligence Collection Unit.


—For the first time since its founding one year ago, the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan is now the largest opposition force in both the House of Representatives and the House of Councillors.

—Cabinet Minister Satsuki Katayama carries out her threat and sues Shukan Bunshun for defamation over its recent article accusing her of financial corruption. Katayama is seeking 11 million yen (about US$100,000) in damages.

—Yuko Mori becomes Secretary-General of the Liberal Party, replacing Denny Tamaki, who is now the Governor of Okinawa.

—The 48-day Extraordinary Diet Session opens, the first since Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was selected by the ruling party to serve a third consecutive term as their party president.

—Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Taro Aso declares that the problem with Foreign Minister Taro Kono is that he needs “to gain some common sense.” Ahem.

—Katsuya Okada reveals that the Group of Independents caucus, who have 13 lawmakers in the House of Representatives, may become a new political party in the coming months.


—Konosuke Kokuba resigns as head of the LDP Okinawa Chapter to take responsibility for the three consecutive ruling party electoral defeats (Governor, Tomigusuku, Naha) at the hands of the All-Okinawa movement.

—The Naha mayoral election was a landslide: All-Okinawa incumbent Mikiko Shiroma won 79,677 votes (68%) to conservative challenger Masatoshi Onaga’s 37,231 votes (32%). Voter turnout was low at 48.2%.

—Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga says he takes the three consecutive electoral defeats in Okinawa seriously. Then he repeats that “Henoko is the Only Solution” and that Abe government policy will not be altered in any way by the democratic will of the Okinawans.

—MUFG Bank CEO Kanetsugu Mike cancels his plan to attend Saudi Arabia’s “Davos in the Desert” conference. This seems to be more about avoiding criticism than making a statement, since a lower level MUFG executive will take his place and no public explanation is provided.

—Neither the Abe government nor any major Japanese business executive has yet breathed a word of public criticism about Saudi Arabia torturing and murdering a Washington Post columnist. Heaven help anyone in the world that needs Japan to stand up for their human rights.

—Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga on Saudi Arabia’s torture and murder of Washington Post contributor Jamal Khashoggi: “It’s extremely regrettable.” Is the Abe government doing anything or even offering any public criticism? Nope.

—By no means for the first time, it falls to the Japan Communist Party to demonstrate that some Japanese indeed have a moral conscience about global affairs. Here is Akira Koike on the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi.

—SoftBank CEO Masayoshi Son wants it both ways. He cancels his speech at Saudi Arabia’s “Davos in the Desert” but is reportedly still thinking about attending. Apparently, that’s the balance you get between murdering a prominent journalist and the Saudi money in your pockets.

—Now that Donald Trump has publicly criticized Saudi Arabia over the Khashoggi murder, the Abe government finally speaks up. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga states, “We strongly condemn this killing, which is related to freedom of expression and press freedom.”

—SoftBank CEO Masayoshi Son met Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Riyadh earlier this week. The content of the discussion is not known. Many people are watching to see if Son sticks by MBS because of his financial interest or walks away from a murderous regime.

—More signs of a Japan-China diplomatic thaw, mainly motivated by their shared interest in coordinating a response to the Trump administration’s aggressive trade protectionism. Mutual warship visits to resume for the first time in the post-2012 Abe era.

—Government moving to end all Overseas Development Assistance (ODA) to China, mainly because it is now the No. 2 economic power in the world and should take care of its own development projects. The first Japanese ODA to China was provided in 1979 and had continued until now.

—Prime Minister Shinzo Abe flies out of Haneda Airport bound for China. He is making his first visit to the country since he returned to power in 2012. Abe diplomacy has left Japan isolated in East Asia, and the implications of that reality have at last begun to dawn on him.

—Japanese Consulate in Vancouver threatens Japanese nationals with possible prosecution at home if they smoke marijuana, which is now entirely legal in Canada.

—South Korea declares more openly and directly than Japan that it is prepared to prosecute any of its citizens who smoke marijuana, even if it is done in Canada where it is now legal.

—The Abe administration was blindsided and is unhappy with the Trump government’s sudden decision to withdraw from the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty with Russia. As usual, however, they cannot bring themselves to make any public criticism of US policy.

—South Korea’s Minister of Gender Equality and Family Jin Sun-Mee says that a decision will be made in early November what to do with the 1 billion yen (about US$8.9 million) that the Japanese government provided in 2016 as part of the misfired Comfort Women settlement.


—Kyushu Electric Power Company again cut solar power producers off of the grid on Sunday, claiming that it cannot handle the energy input. They apparently have no problem with the energy they receive from their restarted nuclear reactors or thermal plants, however.

—Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga again warns the three major mobile phone companies to lower their fees to customers and engage in real competition. He suggests that real results are needed within a year.

—Tokyo District Court orders two of the four construction companies involved in Nagoya maglev project bid-rigging to pay a combined 380 million yen (US$3.4 million) penalty. The other two companies are still fighting the charges.

—Kawakin Holdings follows the KYB Corporation and admits that it has been falsifying data regarding its equipment to protect buildings from major earthquakes. Clear admission that lives have been put at risk to ensure corporate profits.

—Government survey shows that Japanese workers use only about half of their paid holidays each year. Even when officially given time off, many Japanese seem to understand that their bosses and coworkers actually want them to keep working.

—Third-party panel finds that Hokkaido Electric was not responsible for the massive blackouts caused by the September 6 Hokkaido Earthquake. They find that no human error was involved, it’s just that the power of the quake overwhelmed the system.


—For the first time the Japanese government will hand down an administrative order to Facebook to upgrade its protection of the personal privacy of its users.

—Apple CEO Tim Cook on the increasing threat to personal privacy that new technologies are posing: “Our own information, from the everyday to the deeply personal, is being weaponized against us with military efficiency.”


—Ministry of Education report suggests that the systemic lowering of entrance exam scores to keep many women out of medical schools was not a practice limited to Tokyo Medical University. It has been widespread at other unnamed schools too.

—Third party panel finds that Tokyo Medical University rejected a total of 55 young women in 2016 and 2017 who had actually passed their entrance exams. This was part of the university’s systematic policy to reduce the number of women who entered the school.

—Women who were discriminated against in Tokyo Medical University’s falsified exams demand reasonable compensation for the money they spent traveling to exam locations, paying exam fees, etc. They also demand the university release their real exam scores.

—Japan Electrical Manufacturer’s Association reports that, not surprisingly, this record hot summer also produced record-high sales of air conditioning units.

Note: There were no separate “Today in Japan” reports issued between October 22 and October 24.

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