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Japanese Prime Minister’s Resignation: A Walkthrough of Shinzo Abe’s Legacy

Japan’s longest serving prime minister, Shinzo Abe, announced his departure from office last Friday, citing his health as the main problem. His abrupt resignation sent shock waves throughout the world, especially Japan as they ponder about the great strides Japan has taken since Abe’s presidency. Throughout the 8 years in power, this premier has rendered a paradigm shift in the Japanese society through its economic, political and social reforms.

Commentators have noted that his loss of popularity as a prime minister in recent months was also the prime reason he is deciding to leave after serving Japan for many years. Despite having steady support from its citizens for seven years, Abe saw a steady decrease in support for his cabinet in 2020.

When the pandemic swept in, Abe was criticised for the way he handled the whole situation.

Who is Shinzo Abe?

Abe, 65 was initially elected to Parliament in 1993 after the death of his father, who was a foreign minister. However, he only started serving as a prime minister in 2006, but stepped down the following year after a scandal broke out.

In 2012, Abe became the country’s leader once again where he made key promises such as fixing the besieged Japanese economy and also amending Japan’s pacifist constitution, which will allow for a full-fledged military.

Abe first exited the office in 2007, after nearly serving for eight years due to his ailing health — a relapse of a bowel disease.

Throughout his time at office, Abe’s presence has definitely left an indelible mark on Japan’s defence policies and economy. Not only that, he also managed to maintain high profile relationships with foreign allies from all over the world.

However, Abe has said that he will continue to serve as a prime minster until his successor is chosen.

Here is a walk-through of Shinzo Abe’s prominent legacy.

International Policy

Since coming into power for the second time, Abe has changed its international affairs approach. The highly contested Yasukuni Shrine which was dedicated towards war casualties ruffled the feathers of regional countries like China and South Korea. Although Abe visited the shrine in 2013, which created much public outcry, he has thoroughly refrained from visiting the shrine, knowing all too well that it will sour the relationship with South Korea — a huge departure from his predecessors. Similarly, Abe has radically changed the interpretation of Article 9 constitution, which originally renounced the right to go to war. Instead, the reinterpretation of Article 9 allowed Japanese forces to fight alongside overseas allies, drawing condemnation from China and South Korea while simultaneously receives blessings from U.S. This move has allowed U.S. to continue developing good relationships with Japan.

While regional countries like China continue to drive a wedge with the hegemon U.S., Japan under Abe has made great investments in forging closer relationship with President Donald Trump to benefit from economic investments such as trade. For example, Abe has hosted President Donald trump in high-profile summits in Japan. Their intimate relationship, as seen in their close interactions through 32 phone calls and 5 rounds of golf, has allowed Abe to pursue Japan’s interests such as keeping the Trans-Pacific Partnership alive even after America’s withdrawal.

Domestic Policy

Aside from international or political affairs, Abe has also managed to move Japan’s society towards an inclusive and diverse one with an open market that embraces migration into Japan. He has reformed unproductive corporate culture by creating a new form of corporate governance code and investor stewardship code that aims to increase shareholder control and profitability. Meanwhile, the power of the traditionalist managers weakens. Additionally, Abe has also sought to punish the toxic corporate culture where workers had to endure unproductive overtime hours. Of particular importance, while his party had long resisted Japan’s movement towards gender equality and immigration, Abe has nudged companies to hire more women and minimise gender inequality through the provision of funded daycare centers, encouraging more men to take paternity leave as well as provide companies incentives if they hire women.

Economic policy

Abe will leave behind his biggest legacy, Abenomics, which was aimed to curb the threats of deflation and an aging work force through fiscal spending, corporate deregulation, and cheap cash.

Abenomics delivered great results in the early years of Abe’s term which lifted Japan’s economy immensely and at the same time, lifting Abe’s profile as a prime minister. However, in 2019, the steady growth suffered due to the trade war between United States and China. It then took a further downfall when the pandemic hit Japan, causing its economy to hit a slump.

Who will take over Abe? 

Certainly, Abe has done pretty well in his political and public policy approach during his 8-year long term. However, Abe has not groomed a successor during this time, and this creates anxiety for Japan; some scholars have argued that with Abe stepping down, Abe’s rival, Shigeru Ishiba who is the most popular politician will take over. What lays ahead for Japan and its society? It would be tough for the next prime minister to match Abe’s legacy on economic, political, and social policies where he brought the country out of recession and diversified Japan’s labour force.

Ishiba will have a tough challenge ahead as it tries to win the support of its party members as well as Abe’s party who regards him as a political foe. With this tussle ahead of him, one wonders his plans for the future and if he is able to charismatically deliver policies despite the constant tension within the cabinet.

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International Japan News

Japan’s Revolutionary Transparent Toilets Reveal Deep-Seated Problems

Social and cultural issues drive the need for transparency.

On the ground, sentiments regarding Japan’s new transparent toilets have been a mix of privacy concerns and praises for safety; on Twitter, most Japanese netizens have felt that they were impractical due to fears of malfunction.

But what exactly are these transparent toilets?

THE TOKYO TOILET Project

These transparent toilets are part of a new project unveiled by The Nippon Foundation in early August. As part of this project, three conjoined transparent toilet cubicles were installed in Yoyogi Fukamachi Mini Park and three other in Haru-no-Ogawa Community Park.

The main aim of these installations is to address two main concerns surrounding public toilets, especially those located in parks: cleanliness and safety. They come amidst stereotypes among the Japanese public that public toilets are “dark, dirty, smelly, and scary”.

These stereotypes could be caused by mysophobia and sexual harassment.

Mysophobia

A cultural phenomenon in Japan, ‘keppekishō’, could be one possible cause of the nation’s fear of using public toilets. Roughly translated, the term means “fastidiousness” or “phobia of dirt”.

From antibacterial products to squat toilets, Japan’s obsession with cleanliness has always been fascinating.

Yet, it has also been a sign of a serious mental epidemic. According to an anonymous 52-year-old Japanese reporter, his fear of contamination by germs in toilets became so extreme that he would avoid public toilets in train stations altogether.

Of course, he isn’t the only one suffering from obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and there are many more like him.

Sexual harassment and perverts

The Japanese social phenomenon of ‘sekuhara’ could be another possible cause of the fear of using public toilets. The term is an abbreviation of ‘sexual harassment’. In a country where sexual harassment and public indecency are grossly under-reported and under-criminalised, public toilets are hotspots for sexual predators to lurk in.

In 2018, two men were arrested on the same night for willfully entering a Sapporo supermarket’s women’s toilet. One of them was caught secretly filming a female supermarket employee from a neighbouring stall while the other was wearing women’s clothing and occupying a stall. Both of them were middle-aged men.

Public harassment faced by Japanese women has been reported to be much more common than that faced by Japanese men. 47.9% of Japanese women surveyed in 2019 claimed that they had been touched inappropriately before, while 41.9% of them claimed that they had experienced close physical contact (presumably unwarranted).

Similar campaigns in other countries

In a bid to weed out voyeurism, Seoul’s government dispatched 8,000 workers in 2018 to inspect “more than 20,000 public restrooms, in subways, parks, community centres, public gyms and underground commercial arcades”.

In the West, the British Toilet Association (BTA) had implemented the “‘Use Our Loos’” campaign in the same year to have more toilets in businesses open to non-customers, following a 39% decrease in the number of public toilets. The aim of this campaign was to make public toilets more accessible to the general public.

Would Japan’s transparent toilets campaign work in Singapore?

Unfortunately, no. This is simply because the Singaporean government’s focus has always been on keeping local toilets clean and improving mass awareness of good toilet etiquette since 1982, when the first “Keep Public Toilets Clean” campaign was launched. Therefore, a campaign like THE TOKYO TOILET would be highly irrelevant to the imperative needs of our nation in its current stage of development and would not soothe Singaporeans’ fears of public toilets being dirty.

A step forward in the right direction

While these newly-sprung toilets continue to garner attention from both Japanese and international news media, unwelcome fundamental issues have also been brought to light. Thankfully, The Nippon Foundation has acknowledged the presence of said fundamental issues.

Still, the country lacks legislative safety nets for sexual abuse as well as public awareness of and treatment for mysophobia.

On the governmental level, women’s sexual rights protection is nonexistent. In fact, Japan is the only high-income country in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) without a law prohibiting sexual harassment.

On the social level, sufferers of mysophobia (and OCD in general) normally delay seeking treatment until their conditions become severe. Moreover, the lack of trained therapists has prevented diagnosed patients from receiving the proper treatment they need.

The transparent toilets are a step forward in the right direction. Thereafter, the real work begins.

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Destinations Japan Lifestyle Relaxation

Rugged Tohoku with Hot Springs and Snow: The Vacation You Never Knew You Needed

When you’re stuck working from home during COVID-19, time is truly an illusion. The hours begin to meld into one another as you forget what it means to have office hours. When your space of solitary retreat is snatched from you, and then becomes the same place that you’re getting overworked at daily, you know there’s nothing you deserve more than an ideal vacation. A post-pandemic vacation demands nothing less the vacation of all vacations.

The vacation of all vacations, you say? Does that begin with ruggedly beautiful snow-capped mountains… or with a misty heat that dances in the light as you hike through abundant forested nature? And how could you forget, the breathtaking scenery overlooking cityscapes that live in concert with culture and the environment? Walk Japan’s Tohoku Hot Spring Snow Tour is all of those things and more.

In North Honshu, Tohoku, a relaxing snowshoe tour awaits. Walk Japan’s eight-day escapade is a fully-guided tour that takes travellers through the mysterious land of rural Tohoku, beginning in Tokyo and ending in Sakata. The experience is so intimate that it has no minimum group size and a maximum group size of 12 persons. Bound by prodigious snow, the tour is only available for limited durations that you would be lucky to partake in.

The Tohoku Hot Spring Tour is a warm welcome into Tohoku’s peaceful communities. Enter a world of age-old tradition and cultural practices bound by millennia, tested only by one of nature’s greatest challenges: winter.

And it is from winter that you’ll get to experience one of Tohoku’s best-kept secrets. It’s a luxurious, simple pairing of delightful winter and onsen baths. Accommodation for the tour is in Japanese inns, almost all of which have onsen thermal hot spring baths that will send all of your stress melting away.

The tour begins with a meeting at 09:15 am at Tokyo Station, where an expert Walk Japan tour leader will greet you. After an exhilarating but comfortable bullet train ride to Yonezawa, the tour’s pace will slow as you travel further into the deep north, boarding local trains and vehicles to visit rustic hot spring villages and charming farm hamlets. With snowshoes on, you’ll venture toward glistening countrysides that fade into the stunning monochrome snow sky.

Right when your adrenaline is begging you for more and you need to pick up the pace, you’ll embark on a long descent with stunning juhyo snow monsters enveloping you.

The juhyo frost-covered trees are a rare sight known for emulating the shapes of snow monsters and kaijus that are iconically Japanese.

Fans of literature can indulge in the poetic narrative of Matsuo Basho, a renowned 17th century Japan haiku master. The tour coincides with the poet’s travels, narrated in his poem Narrow Road to the Deep North. The poet’s footsteps are well worth following and will reward you with a temple that sits on a steep cliff, perched in the sky. The view that awaits will steal your breath, offering a spectacular view of valleys below and creating the illusion of floating in the sky.

At the end of every day, come back to traditional Japanese inns and reinvigorate yourself with the earth’s own mineral waters in onsen baths. Meals will stimulate your palate, boasting the fresh produce that Japan is so well known for. The produce in Tohoku is from its seas, fields, rivers, and mountains.

And with every stone that you turn at Tohoku, you’ll inch a little closer to Sakata, an elegant port town on the coast of the Sea of Japan where you’ll end one of the most relaxing weeks of your life. Known for its charmingly imperfect landscapes and its onsen thermal hot springs, a walk through Tohoku is an experience unlike any other.

Walk Japan’s Tohoku Hot Spring Snow Tour is available on a limited basis. Dates for the tour are between 31st Jan 2021 – 7th Feb 2021. A place in the tour costs ¥438,000, approximately SGD$5,600.

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Asia International Japan News Sports Tokyo

2020 Tokyo Olympics Postponed to 2021, But Will It Be Enough?

Of the major sporting events around the world that have been struggling for a semblance of return to normalcy, a considerable mountain looms — the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games.

Initially scheduled to begin in July, the event has been tabled altogether for an unknown date, with officials announcing a return “by the summer of 2021”.

But medical experts say that the Games, which involve over 200 countries, would pose a major health risk to not just the Japanese public, but to participants and officials all over the globe, with antibodies and vaccines predicted to be insufficient even if available.

“With events like the Olympics, the virus will come in for sure and the number of infections will shoot up inevitably,” Daiichi Morii, one of the doctor’s from Osaka University Hospital’s infection control team, told Reuters.

“The virus is barely under control as we are putting a halt on the inflow of people from overseas. With the Olympics, the number of infections will inevitably rise.”

Experts also believe that, despite hundreds of potential vaccines in trial, none will be ready in time for the Olympics, a sentiment that is echoed by professor Atsuo Hamada of the Tokyo Medical University Hospital.

“Even if a vaccine has been developed by then, it’s near impossible for it to go around the world.”

With a population of 14 million in Tokyo alone, Japan’s relative success in containing the virus effectively means very few antibodies among the population. According to a government survey, only 0.1% of Tokyo residents have coronavirus antibodies, as compared to 14% in New York and 7% in Stockholm.

Tokyo, as well as some of its bordering areas like the western region of Kansai, have also seen new single-day records for the number of infections ever since the government lifted its nationwide state of emergency in May 2020.

Yet despite seeing a spike in new infections over July, the country has marginally skirted the destructive effects in comparison to other countries around the world, which has led authorities and the government to rule out the abolishing of the Olympics altogether.

President of the Olympics organising committee Yoshiro Mori has reiterated his hopes for the Games, stating that a watered down, simplified version will provide a safer environment, as well as cut costs, although no concrete plan of action has since been announced.

Yet, concerns are aplenty throughout the city. In a Tokyo voter survey conducted by one of Japan’s most substantial newspapers, the Asahi Shimbun, almost 60% of citizens polled have reiterated that the Games should be postponed further or better yet, cancelled altogether.

Mori, together with recently re-elected official Yuriko Koike, have set up plans for a dedicated task force with the authorities to be enacted by September to address the growing public concern.

The current re-elected governor of Tokyo, Koike has stated on multiple occasions her insistence on going ahead with the Games. However, no concrete point of action, or plan, has been set out by the government nor the Olympics production team yet.

The delay has cost Japan between $2 billion to $6 billion, having already spent roughly $12 billion in preparation; and while the host country disputes the Games’ possibility, all around the globe the pandemic’s effects are further compounded.

In the United States, television broadcaster NBC, having already pledged about $8 billion for media rights to the Olympic Games’ franchise, are scrambling to find solutions for the circumstances amidst the possibility of a compressed competition.

The US, usually boasting the largest population of participants in the Olympics, now finds itself in the middle of discussions to reduce the participating contingent, or pull certain athletes out of the games entirely.

“It’s impossible to predict what the circumstances will be a year from now,” said Molly Solomon, executive producer at NBC for the Games. “This has a chance to be the most memorable Games in History.”

To date, the US has recorded 4.75 million cases of the virus, with 157,000 deaths. Worldwide, there have been 18 million cases, with 689,000 deaths.

The Olympics have only been abolished during the two World Wars, with one also being Tokyo, in 1940.

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Adventure Asia Destinations Japan Lifestyle

5 Places in Japan with Free-Roaming Wildlife

Ah, kawaii!

Visit any islands with free-roaming wildlife in Japan and you’d hear incessant shrieks of this resonating through the air. ‘Kawaii’ translates to mean ‘cute’ in English, which adequately sums up any experience on these islands. The animals have free reign of the place and roam around freely — inadvertently creating multiple tourist attractions that allow travellers to observe (and interact!) with these creatures in their natural habitat. 

If you’re an animal lover, a visit to these places might be just up your alley:

1. Feed the deer at Nara or Miyajima

travelynns/Instagram

Yes, you read that right — you can actually frolic amongst free-roaming deer at Nara or Miyajima. Nara Park, in particular, is home to around 1,200 of these curious creatures. These deer are regarded as sacred creatures and enjoy continued protection as National Treasures. 

You’ll find the deer everywhere — along the sidewalks, in front of the shops (some of which even put out water for the animals), in front of the temples and lounging on the grass. If you’d like, you can purchase a packet of deer biscuits to feed the deer and if you bow to them, they’d bow right back! You’ll be able to find free-roaming deer at Miyajima Island as well, which is famous for its floating torii gate.

2. Cuddle with bunnies at Okunoshima

travelynns/Instagram

Credit: @travelynns, Instagram

It’s rabbits galore at Okunoshima, an island accessible via train and ferry from Hiroshima. The island is inhabited by hundreds of sniffly bunnies, all of which will come clamouring once you step off the ferry — especially if you arrive with a head of cabbage and a couple of carrots in hand. 

The rabbits usually congregate around the ferry terminal, hotel, shrine, observation platform, and the visitor’s centre, so do be sure to hit those spots if you want to be surrounded by all that bouncy cuteness! However, the island isn’t without a dark history; Okunoshima was previously used to manufacture poison gas for the war. No one knows how these rabbits came to be on the island; however, one theory is that they were brought to the island to be used as guinea pigs for the poison gas factories, and abandoned when the operations shut down.

3. Walk with foxes at Zao Fox Village

travelynns/Instagram

Now, this is something that most travellers normally wouldn’t expect to do in Japan. Get up close and personal with 6 different fox species at the Zao Fox Village, a sanctuary that’s home to over 100 foxes. Till this day, wild foxes still approach the village in search of water and food — in turn finding a forever home where they’ll have a safe space to roam and play.

Take a stroll through the free-roaming area, where you’ll be wandering among multiple foxes! Watch as they play in the shade, stretch out on rocks, or take a nap on the grass. If you’d like, you can purchase some food to feed them from an elevated platform. If you’re lucky, you might even have the chance to hold a baby fox in your arms — at an additional cost, of course. 

4. Check out the monkeys at Jigokudani Monkey Park

Andrew Tan/Pixabay

Every winter, the snow monkeys of Jigokudani Monkey Park make a prized appearance. These monkeys are of the Japanese Macaque variety, all of which normally reside in the Jigokudani Valley. The monkey park is home to one giant natural hot spring, which the monkeys flock to in search of some respite from the cold. Indeed, it’s quite a sight to watch these monkeys soaking in the waters of the hot spring!

Granted that you won’t be able to interact with the monkeys but they’re mostly accustomed to the presence of humans, so you’ll be able to observe them from up-close. Sightings of these monkeys are common all year round but the best time to visit is during winter, where the contrast of the monkeys in the steaming pools amidst the surrounding snow makes for an utterly unique scene.

5. Hang out with cats at Ainoshima Island

Kanon Serizawa, Flickr Creative Commons

Both aloof and affectionate, cats make for some of the world’s most beloved pets. However, for those that don’t have the privilege of having a pet of your own, you can head to Ainoshima Island to get your fill of all things furry and cute! Ainoshima Island can be easily visited from Hakata Station in Fukuoka and has a small area of just 1.25 square kilometres. The island is home to around 500 fishermen and, you guessed it, plenty of cats.

There are about 150 to 200 cats on the island, most of which usually congregate around the port, around the warehouses and at the shrine. Ainoshima may be the most famous cat island in Japan, but the cat islands of Aoshima and Tashirojima are well worth a visit as well — especially if you can’t get enough!

Arm yourself with some bribes in the form of food — yes, animals can be rather superficial creatures — and you’ll be well on your way to becoming an animal whisperer at any of the above locations. Are you ready for all that cuteness?

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Asia Culture International Japan People Tokyo

Daigo Umehara, The Greatest Fighting Game Player of All Time

Daigo ‘The Beast’ Umehara is a 39-year-old Japanese gamer who specialises in 2D arcade fighting games. He has won six Evolution Championship Series and $175,659.82 in prize money so far. Daigo Umehara is one of the most famous Street Fighter players across the globe, considered the best player globally. Daigo is also currently the holder of a world record for being “the most successful player in major tournaments of Street Fighter” in the Guinness World Records. Daigo’s recent win at the Street Fighter V tournament has traction in the media, but his age has caught the most attention. 

Being 39 and winning a championship might seem impressive, but winning at street fighting games for someone of Daigo’s calibre isn’t all that unexpected. Daigo has been in the fighting-gaming scene for 20 years. 

Daigo was endearingly referred to in the Japanese media as “the god of 2D fighting games” before singing on a sponsorship deal with Mad Catz. This American company produces entertainment products marketed under Mad Catz, Game Shark, and TRITTON. His love for fighting games grew since he was a mere ten-year-old boy, with his first two games being Street Fighter 2 and Fatal Fury: King of Fighters. Through challenging other players in Street Fighter 2 (Champion Edition), Daigo discovered his preference for competing with other players. 

Daigo’s recent win in the latest Capcom Cup East Asia has brought him more spotlight in the media. In the match, Daigo competed with several talented Street Fighter V players, including the revered Street Fighter legend Hajime ‘ Tokido’ Taniguchi and Korean Hyung-suk ‘Verloren’ Gong. Daigo beat them both in his journey to the Capcom Cup qualifying match and did not suffer a single loss, until his last opponent, Keita’ Fuudo’ Ai, fought his way to a second set in the grand finals. Ultimately, The Beast won an incredibly intense competition with some of the best FGC pros in Asia. 

The focus on Daigo’s win was distracted by his age, with a lot of fixation on him being 39 years old, yet winning a Street Fighter tournament in 2020. For someone of Daigo’s calibre, however his win shouldn’t be much of a shock but more so something to expect of him. His earliest tournament win was during the 1997 Vampire Savior event hosted by Japanese video game magazine Gamest. Daigo’s successive wins included Super Street Fighter 2 Turbo, Street Fighter 3: 3rd Strike, Street Fighter Alpha 3, Capcom vs SNK 2, Guilty Gear XX, Street Fighter IV, and the most recent Street Fighter V

Coming in second next to Justin Wong in the Evolution Championship Series titles; he has won six EVO championships with his legendary performances in the biggest tournaments globally. More impressively, Daigo cinched two victories at Super Battle Opera, which is now defunct but once highly regarded as the most prestigious fighting game competition in the world at its inception.

His skillset, coupled with his 23 years of experience, would set him up for success. Daigo implemented a few tactical methods to help him secure his win during the tournament. For instance, he would opt for maximum damage combos that would provide him with the life lead, and force his opponents into playing against his defence. His ability to read his opponents well also plays to his advantage, along with his fluid conditions: he never stays in one position for long, often toggling between offence and defence, confusing his opponents. 

Daigo’s impeccable performances throughout his gaming career have brought him regular participation in tournaments, having been in at least one each year since the start of his gaming career in 1997. His success in his Street Fighter career has also earned him entry into every Camcom Cup since the game’s release in 2016. 

The esports industry’s strong fixation on youth and how to exploit it might have made Daigo’s win come as a surprise. After all, what’s a 39-year-old doing, winning video games designed for young ones? But Daigo is a living example of how age does not define anything. His past experiences in fighting games and current win in the recent tournament showcases and represents what esports truly is about at heart: a foundational passion for gaming that isn’t found in other competitive sports. Daigo Umehara might have shocked the world recently with his stellar performance in the Street Fighter tournament, but he has been and will continue to be, a legend in 2D fighting games.