Okinawa Mayor’s Election Deals a Blow to Marine Base Relocation Plan

Efforts to relocate a Marine air base that has been a longstanding irritant in ties between Japan and the United States suffered a new setback on Sunday when voters in a small Okinawan city re-elected a leftist mayor who promised to block construction of a replacement site.

The victory for the mayor of Nago, Susumu Inamine, dealt an embarrassing blow to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who has invested his political capital in efforts to restart the long-stalled relocation deal, and who seemed to achieve a breakthrough last month by gaining the support of Okinawa’s governor.

Mr. Abe, a conservative, has vowed to build closer ties with the United States at a time when both nations face growing challenges from a militarily resurgent China and a nuclear-armed North Korea.

Read the rest of the story: In a City on Okinawa, Mayor’s Re-election Deals a Blow to Marine Base Relocation Plan.

Cause of Mass Food Poisoning in Japan School Identified

The city government of Hamamatsu, Shizuoka Prefecture, central Japan, said Friday that it has identified bread served in school as the cause of mass food poisoning that has sickened more than 1,000 children in the city.

The city ordered Hofuku, a company in Higashi Ward of Hamamatsu that made the bread, to suspend operations for the time being.

As a result of the municipal authorities’ inspection Thursday night of Hofuku’s plant where the bread was made, norovirus was detected from a doorknob of a restroom for female employees, according to officials of the municipal government and the city’s board of education.

Norovirus was found in nine students and eight teachers who ate bread that was made at the factory on Monday and served in school lunch on Tuesday, the officials said.

A seven-year-old boy of an elementary school in Higashi Ward was hospitalized after complaining of stomachache Wednesday night, becoming the first person hospitalized in the food poisoning incident.

Read the rest of the story: Cause of Mass Food Poisoning in Hamamatsu Identified.

Missing Ex-JR Hokkaido President Found Dead

A man found dead at a port in the town of Yoichi, Hokkaido, northernmost Japan, on Wednesday morning has been identified as missing former Hokkaido Railway Co. President Shinichi Sakamoto, 73, local police and other sources said.

The body was discovered in the water at the port around 8:20 a.m. (11:20 p.m. Tuesday GMT). There were no major wounds on the body.

The Hokkaido police department confirmed the dead man as Sakamoto by fingerprints and other data on Wednesday afternoon. His car was found near the port.

It is highly likely that Sakamoto has committed suicide although no suicide note has been found, according to the police.

Sakamoto, currently adviser at the railway operator, better known as JR Hokkaido, had been scheduled to attend a meeting of a business organization from 10 a.m. Wednesday, according to officials of the company.

Read the rest of the story: Update Man Found Dead Identified as Missing Ex-JR Hokkaido Chief.

Japan and France to Strengthen Military Ties Amid China Spat

France and Japan vowed Thursday to strengthen their military ties, as Tokyo seeks French support in its long-running spat with Beijing over disputed islands that has raised fresh tensions.

Both China and Japan claim a set of islands in the East China Sea — Diaoyu in Chinese and Senkaku in Japanese — as their own territory, and the escalating row has raised concerns that the two countries could eventually come to blows.

“We want to put in place concrete actions… to reinforce defence technology and industry in both (our) countries,” French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said at a joint press conference with his Japanese counterpart Fumio Kishida, after they held their first so-called “2+2” meeting along with their countries’ defence ministers.

Read the rest of the story: France, Japan vow to strengthen defence ties amid China spat.

Giant Squid Found in Fishing Net – Video

A four-meter-long daio ika giant squid has been found inside a fixed net off Sadogashima island, Niigata Prefecture.

Fisherman Shigenori Goto found the squid Wednesday morning. According to Goto, it was swimming in a net for catching buri yellowtails set about 70 meters deep and about 1 kilometer off the nearest port when he hauled it up at about 7 a.m. The squid died after being brought to the surface.

It was taken to the Niigata prefectural government’s fishery and marine research institute in Niigata, where it was discovered to be male. The squid weighed about 150 kilograms.

Tax-Free Individual Investment Accounts Launch in Japan

Monday is the launch day for tax-free individual investment accounts in Japan. Account holders will not have to pay taxes on capital gains and dividends from annual investments of up to 1 million yen, or about 9,500 dollars.

Government officials are targeting Nippon Individual Savings Accounts, or NISA, at individual investors.

The tax-free period will last 5 years after investors open their accounts.

Officials hope the system will encourage people to move their money from savings accounts into investments.

Read the rest of the story: Individual investment accounts launched.

Japan Emperor’s New Years Message

Japan’s Emperor Akihito released his New Year’s message on Wednesday. He reveals deep concern for people affected by the 2011 disaster.

The Emperor cited those who cannot return home due to radioactive contamination. He also mentions evacuees spending the severe winter in temporary housing.

The Emperor says many Japanese have faced difficulties and hardships in 2013. He hopes people will help each other. He adds that Japanese should work with others around the world to pursue peace and a better future.

The Emperor and Empress plan to work on strengthening relations between Japan and other nations this year.

Vietnam’s head of state will visit Japan in March. Arrangements are being made for US President Barack Obama to come to Japan in April.

The Emperor and Empress and other Imperial family members will make a New Years appearance before well-wishers at the Imperial Palace on Thursday.

Read the rest of the story: Emperor expresses concern about disaster victims.

Maruha Nichiro Recalls Pesticide-Tainted Frozen Foods

Major Japanese food maker Maruha Nichiro Holdings Inc. said Sunday that a pesticide, called malathion, has been found in frozen foods made at a plant run by subsidiary Aqli Foods Corp.

Maruha Nichiro has started voluntarily recalling all items made at the plant in the town of Oizumi, Gunma Prefecture, eastern Japan, regardless of their best-before dates, company officials said.

At least 6.3 million packs of frozen foods will be recalled, according to the officials. These were made between mid-November and Sunday.

The company is investigating the cause of the pesticide contamination. The Aqli Foods plant suspended operations.

“We have decided to recall all items made at the plant to fully ensure” the safety of customers, Maruha Nichiro President Toshio Kushiro said at a press conference in Tokyo.

New Visa-free entry to Japan for same-sex partners in U.S. military

Japan and the United States have agreed to allow visa-free entry to Japan for same-sex marriage partners of U.S. military personnel and civilian base workers, according to sources privy to Japan-U.S. relations.

Under the new visa exemption, which has already been put into effect, same-sex marriage partners of U.S. military personnel and civilian components working for U.S. forces stationed in Japan are recognized as “spouse,” the sources said.
As same-sex marriage has not been legalized in Japan, even if a foreign national in a same-sex marriage obtains a working visa or long-term stay visa, the visa holder’s partner, in principle, cannot obtain a visa as a family member based on the definition stipulated by the Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Law.

Article 1 of the Japan-U.S. Status of Forces Agreement also mainly defines “dependents” as “spouse, and children under 21.”

Therefore, for same-sex marriage partners of U.S. military personnel and civilian base workers to stay in Japan, they individually had to obtain a working visa. Otherwise they would have to leave and enter the country repeatedly under a short-term stay visas valid for 90 days, forcing them to shoulder a huge financial burden.

Okinawa Base Move Approved

A long-simmering dispute between the United States and Japan over the fate of a Marine base on Okinawa seemed to have been resolved on Friday when the governor of Okinawa gave his approval to move the base to a remote area.

The agreement would bolster efforts by the Pentagon to rebalance American military forces across the Asia-Pacific region and by the Japanese prime minister, Shinzo Abe, to raise his country’s strategic posture and check the growing military influence of China.

An official document approving a landfill on which much of the base would be built was stamped by the governor of Okinawa, Hirokazu Nakaima, and sent to the local branch of the Ministry of Defense, Kanako Shimada, a prefectural official, said on Friday.

Mr. Nakaima’s approval was a breakthrough after what had been longstanding opposition on Okinawa to the plan to move the Marine Corps’ Air Station Futenma, on the prefecture’s main island to the north of the island.

Read the rest of the story: Deal to Move Okinawa Base Wins Approval.