Geopolitical wags can’t help but wonder whether botched coronavirus responses constitute a “Chernobyl moment” for China or the United States. In Japan, though, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is facing a Fukushima problem.

Comparisons to Tokyo’s opaque, deer-in-the-headlights reaction to a 2011 nuclear crisis nearly 150 miles away are popping up more than Abe would like. That crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant saw a previous government play down radioactive threats to avoid public panic, deflect blame and criticize the foreign media.

Japan’s handling of the covid-19 outbreak seems eerily reminiscent. Just ask Kiyoshi Kurokawa, who headed the Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission.…  Seguir leyendo »

Tokyo’s coronavirus “state of emergency” is as surreal as they come. Though the streets are noticeably quieter than normal, subways and buses are still jammed with commuters. Stock trading goes on as normal. Many bars, restaurants and cafes are abuzz. So are barbershops, beauty salons and home improvement centers. In Shibuya and other meccas of youth culture, teenagers who should be hunkering down at home are out and about.

Leave it to Japan’s largest metropolis to morph shelter-in-place into a giant kabuki performance starring 8.3 million people.

Tokyo’s largely performative lockdown is also an apt metaphor for how Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is mismanaging an economy cratering by the day.…  Seguir leyendo »

En momentos en que la crisis global del COVID-19 se acelera grandes áreas del planeta, el Primer Ministro japonés Shinzo Abe ha tenido que aceptar la dura verdad y, con sensatez, ha tomado esta semana la iniciativa de decir a la Dieta (parlamento) que es probable que haya que reprogramar los Juegos Olímpicos de Verano, que se realizarán en Tokio. Finalmente llegó a un acuerdo con el Comité Olímpico Internacional (COI) para posponer el evento hasta 2021. (EL COI se había planteado cuatro semanas para decidir qué hacer).

Hasta hace poco, era comprensible la reticencia de Abe a retrasar los Juegos.…  Seguir leyendo »

With the coronavirus pandemic spiraling around the world, the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics are unlikely to go ahead as planned. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe all but threw in the towel at a news conference this week. He and various Olympic officials have repeatedly insisted that the Games will be held as planned in July and August, but this time he left the timing up in the air, suggesting he is resigned to a postponement. Then, on Thursday, NHK television broadcast Diet deliberations where Abe was pointedly questioned about exactly when the Games would be held, and again dodged the issue.…  Seguir leyendo »

Cancel. The. Olympics.

Despite the coronavirus pandemic, the International Olympic Committee and Tokyo 2020 Olympic organizers insist that the Tokyo 2020 Summer Games will go on. Even with widespread cancellations in European soccer, Formula One auto racing, and professional and collegiate basketball in the United States, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan vowed, “We will overcome the spread of the infection and host the Olympics without problem, as planned.”

While sports can create an escape hatch from the grit and grind of daily life, there is no escaping the fact that the coronavirus pandemic presents an extraordinary challenge that cannot be overcome with mere platitudes and prayers.…  Seguir leyendo »

Tokyo staff replace athletes during test events for the Olympics at the Aomi Urban Sports Park in early March. Christopher Jue/EPA

The World Health Organization’s decision to officially recognise the coronavirus outbreak as a global pandemic means organisers are facing difficult decisions on whether to go ahead with major sporting events. There were more than 124,000 cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, in 118 countries, and more than 4,600 documented deaths by March 12. This is a problem for sports events around the world – not least the Olympic Games, scheduled to start in Tokyo at the end of July.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the main approach to prevent the spread of coronavirus is social distancing and practising proper hand hygiene.…  Seguir leyendo »

The inadequacy of the government’s response was exposed by the unmitigated epidemiological and public relations disaster that was the saga of the Diamond Princess cruise ship, shown here in Yokohama on Feb. 21.Credit...Philip Fong/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The Japanese government’s response to the coronavirus outbreak has been staggeringly incompetent. Why, when so much is at stake for Japan, especially as the host country of the Olympics this summer?

The first infection in Japan was confirmed on Jan. 28. The World Health Organization declared the coronavirus to be “a public health emergency of international concern” on Jan. 30. But it took until Feb. 17 for the Health Ministry of Japan to even inform the public about when, where and how to contact government health care centers in case of a suspected infection. And it was only this Tuesday that the government finally adopted a “basic policy” for responding to the outbreak — which essentially boiled down to asking people to stay home.…  Seguir leyendo »

Japan’s bureaucrats are great at some things. Crisis management doesn’t seem to be one of them.

As it attempts to manage the fallout of the covid-19 coronavirus — which has taken the lives of more than 2,000 people worldwide, including a Japanese man and woman on board the Diamond Princess cruise ship — Japan is reliving the bureaucratic red-tape nightmares that hampered emergency efforts in Kobe in 1995 and Fukushima in 2011.

After a major quake devastated Kobe in 1995, volunteers who came to offer help to the displaced were turned away by officials, as were Swiss search-and-rescue dogs because authorities refused to relax quarantine regulations.…  Seguir leyendo »

Carlos Ghosn, the French-Lebanese-Brazilian former C.E.O. of the Nissan and Renault motor companies, spent millions of dollars to avoid being tried in Japan for financial malfeasance. He jumped bail by paying a crack team of security experts to smuggle him out of the country in a private jet.

Mr. Ghosn justified his escape from Japanese justice by depicting himself as the victim of “naked bias.” The Japanese legal system is “rigged,” he has said, and as a foreigner he was subjected to “double standards.” His Japanese colleagues at Nissan had colluded with the prosecutors to oust him, he says, because they were afraid that Renault, a French company, would swallow up its Japanese counterpart.…  Seguir leyendo »

‘Shinzo Abe is taking a big political risk, which has grown with Suleimani’s assassination.’ Protesters in Tokyo with placards reading: ‘Do not send Japan’s self-defence forces to the Middle East.’ Photograph: Hiroki Yamauchi/AP

Since the end of the second world war and the enactment of its pacifist constitution, Japan has deployed its forces overseas mostly on peacekeeping operations under UN auspices – and almost never to places where its troops are in harm’s way. But next month, the country will send a naval destroyer to the Middle East. On what is being described as an intelligence-gathering mission, the warship will patrol the Gulf of Oman, the northern part of the Arabian sea and a portion of the Bab el-Mandeb strait, following a series of attacks on oil tankers in the region – including one that was Japanese-operated.…  Seguir leyendo »

A community health worker administers an oral polio vaccine to a child, during a mass vaccination campaign in Manilla, Philippines, on Oct. 13. (Ezra Acayan/Getty Images)

In the aftermath of the Second World War, Japan knew that the task of rebuilding a nation would require investments not only in new infrastructure but also in human capital.

Japan made a political choice: a choice to invest in the health of its population through a universal health insurance scheme that ensured everyone was covered.

Today, Japan has the world’s longest life expectancy and the world’s third-largest economy.

In 2021, Japan will celebrate the 60th anniversary of its universal health insurance scheme. Japan’s health-care system is considered one of the best in the world — accessible, effective, efficient, available to all citizens and affordable.…  Seguir leyendo »

Geografía aparte, Japón y la Unión Europea nunca estuvieron tan cerca. Con los antiguos vínculos transatlánticos europeos bajo presión y China, que plantea tanto un desafío como una oportunidad, la UE ha buscado aliados con ideas afines en el Pacífico. No hay ninguno mejor que Japón.

El vínculo entre la UE y Japón trasciende el mero interés: es una relación basada en valores compartidos de libertad, democracia y libre mercado. Hoy, esos valores están bajo amenaza. Estados Unidos ha decidido hacer negocios con el mundo en vez de liderarlo, mientras China desafía a la democracia en su entorno y reescribe las normas internacionales diseñadas para mantener la paz y la estabilidad mundial.…  Seguir leyendo »

‘It causes intentional harm to those who suffered.’ South Korean protesters tear Japanese rising sun flags at a protest in Seoul, South Korea, September 2019. Photograph: Lee Jin-man/AP

Imagine if, at the opening ceremony of the 2028 Los Angeles Olympics, the stadium were filled to capacity with fans waving the American Confederate flag. A similarly hurtful scene could become reality at the Tokyo Games next summer, if the Japanese “rising sun” flag is on display.

Japanese athletes and fans regularly sport their national flag – a red ball centred on white. The rising sun symbol is different, however. A red ball with 16 red rays, it is sometimes used by companies in advertisements, yet it is technically a military flag: from 1870 until the end of the second world war, it was imperial Japan’s war flag.…  Seguir leyendo »

For several months, Japan and South Korea, America’s main allies in East Asia, have been going at each other. Japan stripped South Korea of trading privileges; then South Korea removed Japan from a list of favored trade partners. In late August, Seoul announced that it would cancel an agreement with Tokyo over the sharing of sensitive military intelligence, including about North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs. The tiff, some observers argue, marks a low in relations since the two countries normalized ties in 1965 after decades of friction over conflicting interpretations of Japan’s record during its occupation of the Korean Peninsula from 1910 to 1945 — forced labor, territorial claims, sexual slavery.…  Seguir leyendo »

Where the Cold War Never Ended

In a rational world, South Korea and Japan ought to be the best of friends. Their cultures and languages are closely linked. Their economies are deeply entangled. And as the only liberal democracies in East Asia (along with Taiwan), they have to contend with the threat of North Korean belligerence and Chinese domination.

But the world is not so rational, and so the two American allies have recently become engaged in a flaming economic row, ostensibly sparked by historical wrongs. Late last year, the South Korean Supreme Court ruled that Japanese companies should compensate Koreans who were forced to work in Japanese factories and mines during World War II.…  Seguir leyendo »

On Friday, Japan announced that it was revoking South Korea’s trusted status, which means that South Korean firms will have a far harder time importing goods with potential military uses. In particular, this is likely to affect the export of key chemicals to South Korea. This, in turn, has huge potential consequences for South Korea’s electronics industry, which relies on these chemicals to produce semiconductors and flat-panel screens. As the Nikkei Asian Review reports, Japan’s actions are leading to a widespread boycott of Japanese goods in South Korea. South Korea has also revoked Japan’s trusted status in retaliation.

This is just one especially clear example of a broader phenomenon that we describe in our new article for International Security, Weaponized Interdependence: How Global Economic Networks Shape State Coercion.…  Seguir leyendo »

Japan’s Leader Wants to Empower Women

The main issue at stake in last Sunday’s election of the upper house of Parliament was whether the ruling coalition and its allies would win the super majority they needed to amend Japan’s pacifist Constitution. They didn’t. Less noted was another failure of the prime minister’s camp: The small number of female candidates it presented.

An old-guard male-dominant culture continues to drive the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (L.D.P.) and its partners even as a new generation of female politicians emerges.

Women won 28 of the 124 seats in contest on Sunday (the upper house has 245 seats in all), matching the record set three years ago.…  Seguir leyendo »

On July 1, Japan placed export restrictions on three chemicals critical to South Korea’s tech industry. Exporters must apply for a license each time they make a shipment, which can take up to 90 days. The Japanese government is also considering removing South Korea from its “white list” of trustworthy countries that receive preferential trade treatment.

The issue, the Japanese government claims, is that South Korea failed to control hydrogen fluoride — which can be used in weapons development — from being shipped to North Korea. South Korea has denied the accusation.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in called this a “grave challenge,” and promised to wean South Korea’s high-tech sector off its dependence on Japanese supplies.…  Seguir leyendo »

Tensions are flaring up again between South Korea and Japan. Earlier this month, Japan restricted exports of three chemicals vital to South Korea’s electronics industry, citing national security concerns. Seoul called the move “economic retaliation” and filed a complaint with the WTO. Tokyo has also threatened to remove South Korea from its “white list” of trustworthy countries for trade in sensitive materials by July 24.

To outside observers, the trade spat may seem sudden. However, the relationship has been deteriorating since last fall, when long-existing disagreements over Japan’s history with the Korean Peninsula were reignited.

South Korean court rulings precipitated the current spat.…  Seguir leyendo »

Nissan cancelled of plans to build its X-Trail SUV in its Sunderland factory. Photo: Getty Images.

Speaking to the BBC in Tokyo on 27 June, Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono warned that if Britain were to embrace a ‘hard Brexit’ by leaving the European Union without a deal, many of the 1,000 or so Japanese companies based in Britain, employing some 160,000 British workers, might feel compelled to relocate their operations to other parts of Europe.

This is not an idle threat and is particularly acute in the automobile sector where Japanese companies produce some half of the 800,000 vehicles produced annually in Britain. Already, following Honda’s decision to close its British factory by 2021, and Nissan’s cancellation of plans to build its X-Trail SUV in its Sunderland factory, the shock impact of Brexit on British jobs and manufacturing strength is being keenly felt.…  Seguir leyendo »