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Japan-Russia Negotiations Take Big Step Backwards

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

Top Headline

—Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov returns to hard line on Southern Kuriles / Northern Territories: “Sovereignty over the islands is not up for discussion. This is Russian territory.” At first glance, it appears that Shinzo Abe’s suggestion to Washington that Japan’s peace negotiations with Russia were aimed at creating an anti-China federation has backfired massively, with the Russians effectively stepping back from the peace process altogether.

Politics

—Liberal Democratic Party faction leader Shigeru Ishiba is preaching the importance of imposing a ban on commercials in the run-up to a popular referendum on revision of the Constitution. He says pro and anti viewpoints should be giving equal opportunities to prevail.

—Goshi Hosono’s betrayal of the opposition now nearly complete as he is reportedly exploring the possibility of applying to join the ruling Liberal Democratic Party. It may not happen because of how universally hated he has become in the political world. This is the wonderful thing about the rise of the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan as the main opposition party. Now all those rightwing, fake opposition politicians like Hosono, Maehara, Nagashima, etc., are either totally isolated or have been unmasked as enemies.

—In a very positive sign, rightwing lawmaker Yuichiro Hata is apparently being pressured to leave a pro-Yasukuni Shrine group if he wants to continue to be accepted as a Democratic Party For the People opposition lawmaker. The hard right is being shown the door.

—House of Representatives lawmaker Shunsuke Ito expected to soon defect from the Democratic Party For the People to join the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan. More and more people realizing that the centrist party is a sinking ship and progressives are rising.

—Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications planning measures to combat “fake news” in Japan. The first indications are that they are proceeding cautiously. The Abe government does not have a particularly good record on media freedom issues.

—Japan Communist Party calling a large meeting of all its local chairpeople to get on the same page about the upcoming elections. The party leadership seems to be feeling a special sense of urgency to perform better in local elections across the country.

—With most members of the Group of Independents having joined the caucus of the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, a left-behind group led by Yoshihiko Noda and Koichiro Gemba to create a new parliamentary caucus with five or six lawmaker members.

—With the entry of ten new members, the House of Representatives caucus of the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan has now risen to 68 lawmakers.

International

—Okinawa Governor Denny Tamaki says the February 24 referendum on Henoko base construction will go forward even if some conservative-controlled local governments refuse to participate. Tamaki points out that these municipalities are breaking the local autonomy law.

—Due to conservative local government sabotage encouraged by the Abe government, it appears that only about 70% of the population of Okinawa Prefecture will be given the opportunity to express their views in the February 24 Henoko base construction referendum.

—Hunger For The Vote! Local citizens angry about conservative sabotage of the February 24 Okinawa referendum on Henoko base construction have begun a hunger strike, demanding that the voice of the people be fairly recorded.

—Shipbuilder Hitachi Zosen the latest Japanese firm to lose a case in South Korea and be ordered to pay compensation for using forced laborers during the Pacific War. Tensions between the Abe government and South Korea expected to rise, if that is still possible.

—North Korea has reportedly warned the Abe government that if they keep getting pressured over the issue of Japanese abductees, then they will insist on raising the issue of forced labor during the Pacific War, joining South Korea in highlighting the matter.

—Defense Ministry officials of Japan and South Korea hold working level talks in Singapore. They reportedly continue to disagree over the December 20 maritime incident, but at least they are talking face-to-face about it.

—South Korea, predictably annoyed by the Abe government’s arbitrary demand that they must respond to Japan’s diplomatic overtures for bilateral talks within thirty days, makes clear that they will accept no ultimatums nor deadlines for responding.

—Japanese media reports making clear that some members of the Abe government are indeed interpreting the indictment of Japanese Olympic Committee President Tsunekazu Takeda as France’s retaliation over the Carlos Ghosn case.

—Reuters reports that the wife of Carlos Ghosn is appealing to Human Rights Watch to get involved in her husband’s case. The problems of Japan’s hostage justice system have been pointed out for years, but Ghosn’s arrest is focusing attention like never before.

—Tokyo court once again rejects Carlos Ghosn’s request for bail. It now looks likely that prosecutors will continue to hold him for months, perhaps until mid-2019. Renault will likely now be forced as a practical matter to follow Nissan and replace Ghosn as chairman.

—The French indictment of Japanese Olympic Committee President Tsunekazu Takeda hits Japan hard, throwing uncertainty over a mostly smooth process of preparing for the 2020 Olympics. Takeda might get suspended during the investigation.

—In an eight-minute press conference with no questions allowed, Japanese Olympic Committee President Tsunekazu Takeda denied that he had engaged in corruption and will cooperate with investigators. He largely just wasted many journalists’ time with a total nothingburger.

—Democratic Party For the People leader Yuichiro Tamaki declares that Japanese Olympic Committee President Tsunekazu Takeda should be called to testify in the National Diet over the possibility of corruption in Japan’s Tokyo 2020 Olympic bid.

—METI Minister Hiroshige Seko: “We think stability in Saudi Arabia and the surrounding area is meaningful to Japan as the country depends highly on energy from this region. Japan will continue supporting Saudi Arabia’s reforms.”

Economy

—With losses piling up into the billions of dollars, reports say that Hitachi has already decided to pull the plug on its involvement in building the Wylfa Newydd Nuclear Power Plant in the United Kingdom, though some leaders continue to deny this is so.

—The exodus of senior foreign executives from Nissan seems to have begun, with Chief Performance Officer Jose Munoz and others heading for the door. The Hiroto Saikawa-led Nissan appears to want to make Nissan fully Japanese again, and foreigners feeling less welcome.

—Norinchukin Bank explicitly cites Brexit for its decision to move more of its business from London to Amsterdam. Japanese companies making clear that they are ready to leave Britain if access to the larger European Union market is jeopardized by Brexit.

—Tokyo Regional Taxation Bureau believes Google Japan failed to declare 3.5 billion yen (about US$32 million) in income for 2015 by shifting Japan payments to Singapore, where tax rates are lower. The accounting may have been corrected after 2015.

Technology

—Climate change and overfishing may be behind the fact the squid catches are plummeting. Many of Japan’s squid fishermen have been sinking economically, with many squid fishing vessels just remaining in port.

Society

—A fire at a high-rise building under construction near JR Shinbashi Station in Tokyo injured four workers and alarmed much of the city.

—Transport Ministry moving towards requesting all local governments to pass ordinances requiring bicycle riders in Japan to obtain liability insurance. Courts are beginning to award large settlements over cases where cyclists injure or kill pedestrians.

—Dentsu survey finds that about 8.9% of Japanese adults now identify as being LGBT, the number growing as more people feel able to go public about their sexual orientation.

—Brad Adams, Asia Director, Human Rights Watch: “If Japan wants to live up to its reputation as one of the world’s most advanced democracies, it needs to modernize its criminal justice system.”

—Central Tokyo has recorded its first snowfall of the season, coming about nine days later than an average year.

—Mainichi Shinbun: Cabinet Office investigating non-profit organizations that are dormant, which either have not been filing any reports or whose annual reports indicate no financial transactions or activities. In some cases, abuses of the NPO law are suspected.

—It’s feeling a bit chilly in Tokyo today, but nowhere near the -29.7 degrees celsius recorded in Asahikawa, Hokkaido. Brrrr!

—The company AKS starting to lose advertisers due to the massive public backlash over their inept handling of a physical attack on Maho Yamaguchi, a 23-year-old member of the idol group NGT48. The victim, not the attackers, was forced to apologize, outraging many.

Note: There were no separate “Today in Japan” reports issued between January 12 and January 14.

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