Elderly account for 70% of victims of floods in west Japan

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People aged 60 or over accounted for about 70 percent of the victims of torrential rains that triggered massive flooding and landslides in western Japan, Kyodo News tallies showed Sunday.

Of 171 identified fatalities from Japan’s worst weather disaster in decades, those aged 60 or older totaled 118 as of Sunday evening since the downpours began on July 5, while six victims were under 10 years of age.

The 118 people include 11 in their 90s, 33 in their 80s, 43 in their 70s and 31 in their 60s. Some of these people were living alone and found it difficult to evacuate on their own to their flooded homes’ roofs to avoid drowning. Others may have not been able to obtain emergency information swiftly through mobile devices.

The death toll from the floods and landslides caused by the torrential rains has risen to 217, according to the National Police Agency. Kyodo News tallies show over 20 people are still missing.

About 5,200 people continue taking shelter in evacuation centers in 16 prefectures as of noon Sunday, according to the Fire and Disaster Management Agency.

In Okayama Prefecture, one of the prefectures hit hard by the disaster, 48 of the 56 victims were 60 years old or above. In the flood-hit Mabi district in Kurashiki of the prefecture, 90 percent of more than 40 people killed were in their 60s or above and most likely drowned.

A 67-year-old housewife in the district said the evacuation order announced through outside loudspeakers was difficult to hear.

“Elderly residents who did not have smartphones might have had difficulty understanding the situation and not been able to escape in time,” she said.

Since over 4,000 structures in the Mabi district were flooded, the city government plans to provide temporary housing by using privately owned rental housing units.

The Tokyo metropolitan government said it will offer a total of 220 homes in the capital for people in need of houses after the heavy rains.

As rescuers, recovery crews and relief volunteers continued to face sweltering heat with the temperature topping 30 C across a wide area of Japan on Sunday, an increasing number of residents and volunteers developed health problems.

Some felt pain in their throat, as mud covering roads and houses has turned into dust in the extreme heat and was spreading in the air.

The Kurashiki city government called on people to wear masks and eye protection as well as to frequently gargle.

At least 145 people were taken to hospitals for heatstroke or exhaustion in the hardest-hit prefectures of Okayama, Hiroshima and Ehime on Sunday.

© KYODO
Source :  Japan Today

Shinkansen rampage revives debate over safety and convenience

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The transport ministry called on train operators Monday to step up security measures after a man went on a deadly random attack with a cleaver on a crowded shinkansen bullet train, reviving debate on how to balance passenger convenience with safety.

Police and train operators have become more vigilant against people trying to bring hazardous items on to trains following a self-immolation on a bullet train that killed an unrelated passenger in 2015. But in the latest case, the 22-year-old suspect simply carried the cleaver in his backpack.

Checking baggage in the same way as at airports, such as by using metal detectors, is widely viewed as impractical due to the huge numbers of passengers using bullet trains.

According to Central Japan Railway Co, which operates the line on which Saturday’s crime took place, an average of 446,000 passengers used the Tokaido Shinkansen every day in fiscal 2015. The figure compares with around 170,000 domestic passengers each day at Tokyo’s Haneda airport, the busiest in Japan.

The attack occurred about 10 p.m. on Saturday in the No. 12 car of the 16-car bullet train bound for Shin-Osaka Station from Tokyo. Soon after leaving Shin-Yokohama Station and an hour or so before the next stop in Nagoya, the suspect Ichiro Kojima took out the cleaver.

According to JR Central, around 880 passengers were aboard the Nozomi 265, the day’s last train bound for Shin-Osaka.

Passengers screamed out for help as Kojima wielded what some thought was an “axe.” Kojima is believed to have assaulted two women before repeatedly slashing 38-year-old Kotaro Umeda in the chest and shoulders when he tried to protect them. Umeda died later in a hospital.

The incident exposed the limit of the safety measures JR Central has been working on — such as the installation of security cameras in train cars and increased patrolling — since a 71-year-old man set himself on fire on a Tokaido Shinkansen train in June 2015 with gasoline, killing himself and another passenger.

“A person with a strong intention of murder can do anything. Whether it is inside a shinkansen or on a street, the situation is the same,” an official of JR Central said, indicating the difficulty of coming up with measures to prevent the same kind of incident from happening again.

The latest case also poses security challenge to Japan, with Tokyo scheduled to host the 2020 Olympics and Paralympics.

A 40-year-old man heading to Kobe from Tokyo on Monday said, “We need baggage checks as similar incidents could possibly occur in the future.”

A 32-year-old man, who always uses the bullet train for business trips, said, “Unlike airplanes, there are many users of shinkansen. I don’t think it is possible to install even metal detectors.”

“It is time for not only JR but also passengers to think about whether it is better to maintain bullet train convenience, like a commuter train, or to tighten security,” Jun Umehara, a railway journalist, said, referring to railway operators.

Kojima, who was arrested after police stormed the train, was referred to prosecutors on Monday morning on a murder charge. He reportedly told investigators he slashed the three randomly with the cleaver because he was “feeling frustrated.”

The two women, aged 26 and 27, were also taken to hospital with injuries to their head and shoulders, the police said.

Kojima has told the police that he had spent the last few months sleeping outdoors in Nagano Prefecture in central Japan. “I bought a cleaver and a fruit knife just before the incident,” the suspect was quoted as saying.

His family said his whereabouts had been unknown since he left his grandmother’s home in Aichi Prefecture, also in central Japan, about six months before. He was not on good terms with his parents and was adopted by his grandmother more than a year before.

He is also known to have told his family, “I am different from others. My life is not worth living.”

On the day he carried out the attack, Kojima went to Tokyo Station from Nagano Prefecture by train and got on the shinkansen, the police said, quoting the suspect.

“I never thought that he would commit such a crime,” Kojima’s mother said in a statement, while also expressing her deep sorrow.

“I now regret that I did not take him back (home) even if he did not want to,” the mother said.

Meanwhile, Umeda’s family issued a statement through a lawyer, saying, “We do not have words to express the sorrow of suddenly losing a loved one.”

Umeda’s employer Hiroki Ishida, president of BASF Japan Ltd., also issued a statement and expressed his deep disgust at the perpetrator. “We heard he tried to help the women. We are proud of his bravery,” he said.

© KYODO

Source :  Japan Today

7 injured as car rams into pedestrians in Tokyo

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A car rammed through a group of pedestrians in Tokyo and injured seven people on Tuesday, with the driver arrested on the spot, police and rescue workers said.

The incident occurred around 8:35 a.m. at an intersection about 500 meters south of JR Takadanobaba Station in Shinjuku Ward, near the campuses of Waseda University and Gakushuin Women’s College.

Police arrested Junichi Ono, 52, on suspicion of negligent driving resulting in injuries. He slightly injured his forehead in the accident and was quoted by police as saying that he stepped on the wrong pedal.

The car ignored a red light and crashed into the people at a crossing before running on the sidewalk. The seven people — six men and a woman ranging in age from 26 to 56 — are conscious, including three men who sustained severe injuries.

“The traffic light for the pedestrians was green at the time, but the car didn’t slow down in front of the crossing and hit people one after another, leaving the driver staring vacantly for a while,” said a 25-year-old woman who witnessed the scene.

© KYODO

Source :  Japan Today

Japan launches H-2A rocket carrying intelligence-gathering satellite

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Japan on Tuesday launched an H-2A rocket carrying a government radar-type intelligence-gathering satellite from the Tanegashima Space Center in southwestern Japan.

The reconnaissance satellites will be used for such purposes as monitoring military facilities in North Korea and taking images of affected areas at a time of natural disasters.

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd launched the H-2A F39 rocket from JAXA’s launch site in Kagoshima Prefecture.

There are two types of reconnaissance satellites — radar satellites capturing radio waves reflected from the ground and optical satellites taking photos of the ground using a device similar to a digital camera.

The government currently operates 4 radar satellites and 2 optical ones. It aims to operate 10 satellites in total including the two types and relay satellites.

The government classifies the images as specially designated secrets and does not reveal them, except for those taken at a time of natural disaster. When it does, the government downgrades the image quality so as not to reveal the image-capturing capacity of the satellites.

© KYODO

Source :  Japan Today

Riken develops new method for culturing hair follicles

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The government-backed research institute Riken and regenerative medicine firm Organ Technologies Inc said Monday they will soon start animal testing of a newly developed method to culture hair follicles for transplantation.

Some 5,000 to 10,000 strands of hair can be grown from a small amount of follicle tissue created using three types of stem cells found in the scalp, according to Riken’s Takashi Tsuji who leads the study.

His team has also developed equipment with Kyocera Corp to stably culture the tissues.

About 25 million people in Japan suffer from hair loss caused by such reasons as medication side effects and male pattern baldness. The method could be an alternative to such currently available treatments as hair loss medicines and hair transplants.

The team aims for commercialization of the technique as soon as 2020.

© KYODO

Source :  Japan Today

As party vote inches closer, Abe seeks to turn page on scandal

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By Linda Sieg

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government sought on Monday to put behind it the worst of a suspected cronyism scandal that has clouded Abe’s chances for re-election, as his finance minister said he’d give back a year’s salary but would not quit.

Abe’s ratings have been on a roller coaster since last year, when the public learned of the heavily discounted sale of state-owned land to a school operator with ties to his wife. Questions also arose over government approval for a new veterinary school by another educational body run by a friend of Abe.

The prime minister has denied any wrongdoing by himself or his wife, Akie.

Finance Minister Taro Aso, a close Abe ally, told reporters on Monday he would voluntarily return his salary and apologised for his ministry’s handling of documents related to the land sale to school operator Moritomo Gakuen. But he said he planned to stay in his job.

Opposition leaders were not impressed.

“This has confirmed that Prime Minister Abe bears grave responsibility,” Democratic Party for the People leader Yuichiro Tamaki was quoted by Kyodo news agency as telling a news conference.

Abe’s allies, however, hope he can now draw a line under the controversies that have weighed on his aspirations and agenda.

Ruling party members support him for stability’s sake, business leaders like his “Abenomics” policies, and rivals have so far failed to catch the imagination of the public.

That may allow Abe to win a Liberal Democratic Party leadership race planned for September, despite persistent voter doubts about the scandals, analysts and several political sources said.

“The view that Abe and his wife have lied has spread quite a bit,” said one governing coalition source, speaking on condition of anonymity. “But if one thinks about replacing Abe, there is the question, who else could run a stable government?”

Just what Abe will achieve if he wins another term remains unclear, including whether he can change Japan’s post-war, pacifist constitution.

“His true goal is to revise the constitution, but his coalition partner is not keen and with local and upper house elections next year, it will be difficult,” the coalition source said. “He’ll focus on the economy and foreign policy.”

Allies are betting that Abe’s ratings have bottomed out.

In the most recent Nikkei business daily survey, published last Monday, 42 percent of respondents supported Abe. The Mainichi newspaper put Abe’s support rate at 31 percent.

Both ratings were about the same as a month earlier, though both also showed a hefty majority of voters had doubts over the scandals. For now, his backing inside his party matters most.

“Almost all the stakeholders in the Abe administration want him to stay. It’s up to the LDP, not the public,” said Tomowaki Iwai, a political science professor at Nihon University. “If his ratings fell to 20 percent or lower, then there could be moves but for now, his support inside the LDP is high.”

Abe’s challengers have so far failed to benefit from his lacklustre public support.

Lawmaker Shinjiro Koizumi – who at 37 most view as too young to run – topped general voters’ list of politicians favored to be the next premier with 28 percent versus Abe’s 24 percent in the Nikkei survey, but Abe came in first among LDP supporters with 45 percent versus 21 percent for rival Shigeru Ishiba, a former defense minister.

Abe and ally Aso cleared a key hurdle when prosecutors decided last week not to charge former finance ministry official Nobuhisa Sagawa with breach of trust. He was in charge of the ministry division that altered documents involving the land sale to Moritomo Gakuen. A civil group plans to appeal that decision.

Sagawa resigned as head of the National Tax Agency in March. Opposition parties are still calling for the resignation of Aso, whose support Abe needs to win another term. However, the 77-year-old Aso, who also is deputy prime minister, is unlikely to bow to pressure, analysts and political sources said.

On Monday, the finance ministry said it would reduce Sagawa’s retirement pay and punished other officials involved.

Some analysts, however, said the scandals would keep dogging the government.

“It’s like a slow death,” said Sophia University professor Koichi Nakano. “Turning a new page, hitting bottom – I’m not so sure.”

© (c) Copyright Thomson Reuters 2018.

Source :  Japan Today

Aso returns year’s salary over scandal; 20 other finance ministry officials punished

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By Kazuhiro Nogi

Japanese Finance Minister Taro Aso said Monday he was returning a year’s salary after his ministry scrubbed public documents related to a cronyism scandal that has dogged Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

But he ruled out resigning after it emerged ministry officials had removed hundreds of references to Abe, his wife, and Aso from documents related to the sale of state land at below-market prices.

“I am voluntarily returning 12 months of my salary as a cabinet minister, as this problem has hurt public confidence in the finance ministry and the administration as a whole,” Taro Aso told reporters.

But he added, “I am not thinking about stepping down”, as he announced the findings of the ministry’s in-house probe.

Aso is the richest minister in Abe’s cabinet because of his family’s massive fortune made in the mining business. He also earns some 30 million yen a year as a cabinet minister.

Aso said the ministry had penalised around 20 officials, imposing pay cuts in some cases and issuing verbal reprimands to others. “Officially approved administrative documents should never have been altered and submitted to parliament. I find this extremely regrettable,” he said.

Abe told reporters he wanted Aso to stay on to ensure lessons were learned from the scandal.

“We should conduct a through review of how to keep public documents and take measures to prevent a recurrence,” he said, adding that he wanted Aso “to take leadership in this and fulfil his responsibility.”

The scandal revolves around the 2016 cut-price sale of state-owned land to a nationalist school operator who claims ties to Abe and his wife Akie.

The penalised officials include Nobuhisa Sagawa, whose office helped alter key documents related to the controversial land sale. He has since resigned and will have his retirement pay cut for three months.

Giving sworn testimony in parliament soon after he quit the ministry in March, Sagawa denied any involvement by Abe or the prime minister’s office in falsifying the documents. But the senior bureaucrat declined to answer detailed questioning about how and when documents were altered, saying he was under criminal investigation.

Prosecutors last week decided not to press charges against him.

Abe also faces a second cronyism scandal in which the opposition alleges he used his influence to help an old friend open a school in a special economic zone, bypassing cumbersome government regulations.

Abe, in power since late 2012, is in no imminent danger of losing his job, but the scandals have affected his popularity.

A new opinion poll released Monday showed voter support for his cabinet down 1.6 percentage points over the past month to 39 percent, the lowest level since he took office.

The finance ministry, considered the most powerful in Japan’s bureaucracy, has also been rocked by a sexual abuse scandal that forced the resignation of a senior official.

© 2018 AFP 

Source :  Japan Today