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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Navy sailor Lindsay Cooper knew something was wrong when billows of metallic-tasting snow began drifting over USS Ronald Reagan.
“I was standing on the flight deck, and we felt this warm gust of air, and, suddenly, it was snowing,” Cooper recalled of the day in March 2011 when she and scores of crewmates watched a sudden storm blow toward them from the tsunami-torn coast of Fukushima, Japan.
The tall 24-year-old with a winning smile didn’t know it then, but the snow was caused by the freezing Pacific air mixing with a plume of radioactive steam from the city’s shattered nuclear reactor.
Now, nearly three years after their deployment on a humanitarian mission to Japan’s ravaged coast, Cooper and scores of her fellow crew members on the aircraft carrier and a half-dozen other support ships are battling cancers, thyroid disease, uterine bleeding and other ailments.
“We joked about it: ‘Hey, it’s radioactive snow!’ ” Cooper recalled. “I took pictures and video.”
But now “my thyroid is so out of whack that I can lose 60 to 70 pounds in one month and then gain it back the next,” said Cooper, fighting tears. “My menstrual cycle lasts for six months at a time, and I cannot get pregnant. It’s ruined me.”
Japan’s Emperor Akihito, marking his 80th birthday Monday, expressed gratitude to people working hard on the country’s development.
Speaking at a press conference, the Emperor said he is “happy to spend every day with a sense of gratitude” to those who have been so far supporting Japan and are now working in various ways for the country’s improvement and development.
He said what strikes him most over the past 80 years is World War II. The tremendous loss of lives is “very painful,” he said, while expressing gratitude to those who worked hard for postwar reconstruction.
The contestants roll their shoulders and lick their lips. The audience holds its breath. At the center of attention on stage at an expansive convention hall: a single telephone.
It rings. The annual All-Japan Phone-Answering Competition for office workers has begun.“How may I help you today?” a young contestant in a checked vest and skirt uniform says in Japanese after she picks up the phone, her hand visibly shaking. She chirps through the salutations in the high-pitched voice preferred by Japanese bosses for decades. She nods and bows, smiles and then grimaces in what appears to be nervousness and sheer effort. “I’m always at your service,” she says.
For over a half-century, office workers from companies across Japan have gathered each year to battle it out for the title of Japan’s best phone answerer.