The Weekly Observer: May 17-21

Condensed Ver.

I. News of the Week


Useful COVID-19 Resources (most are updated daily):

1. Government Declares State of Emergency in Okinawa

  • Suga announced Friday that the government is declaring a state of emergency in Okinawa between May 23-June 20. Nationwide numbers dropped to 5,818 cases from over 7,000 last week, while those with severe symptoms reached a high of 1,294 cases

  • The government will also lift the pre-emergency measures (man-en bōshi-tō jūten sochi) in Ehime following a reduction in the number of daily cases. 

  • Okinawa will shift from pre-emergency measures. The prefectural government will request eateries and shopping malls to close by 8 p.m., as well as citizens to stay at home after this time. 

  • By Saturday, it will publicize the names of fifteen eateries that do not respond to requests for shortening business hours and receive complaints from residents. Okinawa will then “order” (stronger legal measures) these establishments to comply. 

  • Regarding the nine other prefectures, Suga said the government will decide at the end of the month whether to extend the state of emergency once more. The current measures are set to be lifted on May 31

  • Members of the LDP’s Coronavirus Response Headquarters said Friday that the government should consider publicizing the names of medical institutions that refuse to accept patients in order to alleviate the burden on the healthcare system as a whole. They argue that the infectious disease law allows the government to take action if an institution does not have a valid reason to deny its request. 

  • Osaka Governor Hirofumi Yoshimura said Thursday that he would consider next week whether to request another extension to the state of emergency. 

2. Variant Strain Continues to Spread

  • The health ministry’s advisory board said Wednesday that it was taking longer for case tallies to subside most likely due to the variant strain. In Osaka, which saw a surge in cases in the week of March 28, the number of people in downtown areas began to decrease that week, but the peak passed in the week of May 1.

  • The government is considering stronger measures to monitor individuals who return from abroad. Currently, individuals are required to report their location through a smartphone app and remain in contact with the authorities for 14 days. 

  • The government said Wednesday that it was considering requiring video calls to ensure compliance with self-isolation measures. Around 30 percent of individuals fail to report their location via the app, making it difficult to track viral spreads. 

  • The Tokyo Metropolitan Government (TMG) announced Wednesday that almost 80 percent of cases between May 13-17 were of the U.K. variant.

  • The TMG also dished out a series of “orders” on Monday to 33 eateries that had ignored requests to close by 8 p.m. Global Dining, the company that owns 23 of the 33 establishments, said Tuesday it was ignoring the order on grounds that unlike previous ones, this state of emergency was a preventive measure.

  • Japan on Tuesday added Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and the Maldives to the list of countries close to India where stronger border measures will be applied. Individuals will be required to reside at a government designated facility for the first six days of their 14-day quarantine period. 

  • A Fujifilm subsidiary announced Monday that it began selling a PCR testing reagent for the Indian strain to government agencies and pharmaceutical companies. It is the third domestic company to begin selling a testing reagent for the Indian strain.  

3. Vaccine Rollout

  • The health ministry approved Friday the Moderna and AstraZeneca vaccines. The Moderna vaccine will be used at the mass vaccination sites in Tokyo and Osaka. The government is also considering using university campuses to vaccinate the elderly, and eventually university students and staff. 

  • As for the AstraZeneca vaccine, which the government has a contract for supply to vaccinate 60 million citizens, actual use will require further time due to the extremely rare case of it causing blood clots. 

  • Vaccine czar Taro Kono said Friday that municipalities should make use of leftover vaccines by inoculating individuals under the age of 65. He pointed out some municipalities had the wrong idea that those without tickets could not be vaccinated. 

  • Health minister Norihisa Tamura said Friday that in order to secure more health care staff to administer the vaccine, Japan will provide a ¥30,000 mobilization fee to “potential nurses” (senzai kangoshi) currently unemployed but willing to return. 

  • Suga met with the president of the Japan Dental Association on Tuesday, and agreed to have dentists fill the shortage in medical staff necessary to administer the vaccine. 

  • The ruling LDP submitted Tuesday a proposal to the government recommending 1) the international promotion of relaxing regulatory approval processes in times of emergency; 2) supporting the domestic biopharmacy industry to develop a domestic vaccine; and 3) stronger cross-ministerial and government-industry-academia collaboration. 

  • Data published by the University of Oxford shows that, as of Monday, Japan has vaccinated 3.74 percent of its population once. This is less than the world average of 9 percent and puts Japan around 110th in the world when it comes to speed. 

  • Research by two Japanese researchers published on May 7 showed that if the pace of vaccination continues as is, Japan will need another four COVID-19 state of emergencies by April next year. 

  • The report suggests that in order to beat the speed at which the variant strain is spreading, Japan must speed up its vaccination pace at least four times. Suga’s goal of reaching a million shots a day would exceed this calculation. 

  • A new government survey of Japan’s 1741 municipalities released this week found that 93 percent expect to complete vaccination of the elderly by the end of July. This number was 86 percent in last week’s survey. 

4. Reservations for Vaccination at Mass Sites Begin

  • Reservations for vaccination at the mass vaccination sites in Tokyo and Osaka began Monday. Osaka’s 25,000 reservations filled up within 26 minutes, while as of Tuesday, 90 percent of Tokyo’s reservations have been filled. 

  • Reservations for residents over the age of 65 in Tokyo’s 23 districts began May 17 (vaccination begins May 24); reservations for those living in the rest of Tokyo will begin May 24 (vaccination on May 31); reservations for those living in the rest of the greater Tokyo area (Kanagawa, Chiba and Saitama as well) will begin May 31 (vaccination on June 7). 

  • Reports on Wednesday state that leftover vaccines from canceled reservations will be used to inoculate SDF personnel working at the sites. 

  • Issues emerged almost immediately. Some media outlets reported that although the government said reservations were only open for those who received tickets from their respective municipalities, anyone could hop online and find a spot.

  • AERA went as far as to attempt a reservation with a bogus zip code and ticket number, and to its reporters’ surprise, got a spot for vaccination on May 29. 

  • The Ministry of Defense reacted to these reports by Asahi and Mainichi with a statement of protest. Minister Nobuo Kishi said Tuesday that reservations through “fraudulent means” would result in wasted vaccines, and urged against making such “fake” reservations. The government has also maintained that it will consider punitive measures for serious cases of “fake” reservations. 

  • The opposition criticized the ministry for its response. CDP leader Yukio Edano said Tuesday that the ministry’s response “didn’t make sense” and that it should be thanking the media for pointing out a serious flaw in the system. 

  • Kishi added that the government will update the system to ensure reservations cannot be made with a random address and ticket number. The government also announced Thursday that it was setting up a phone line to help those unfamiliar with the internet reserve a spot. 

  • Online reservation systems differ between the mass vaccination sites and local governments. This has led to concerns over “double booking” at mass sites and local sites in citizens’ respective municipalities. The government has called on citizens to avoid double booking for it would lead to a waste of vaccines. 

  • A new issue emerged in several Tokyo municipalities on Friday, in which those with the correct ticket numbers failed to reserve a spot. An expert pointed out that every municipality issues a ten-digit number separately, meaning duplicate numbers could exist nationwide. 

  • Vaccine czar Kono said Tuesday that thirty municipalities across the country indicated interest in setting up mass vaccination sites. Kono believes this will further expedite vaccinations in the country. He also added that the government is considering asking pharmacists to cover for the shortage in medical staff administering the vaccine.

  • Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike said Friday that Tokyo was preparing its own mass vaccination site. She also announced that Suga had approved a vaccination site at the former Tsukiji fish market site to vaccinate metropolitan police officers and firefighters. 

Foreign & Defense Policy

5. Two Multilateral Drills End This Week

  • Japan’s Self-Defense Force took part in the “Jeanne D’Arc 2021” exercise between May 11-16 with the U.S., France and Australia. This coincided with the Japan-U.S.-France joint exercise held between May 11-17. 

  • The ground and maritime exercises bring together the four countries amid growing Chinese assertiveness in the region. It also helps Japan promote its goal of achieving a free and open Indo-Pacific (FOIP). 

  • The ARC-21 exercise had an initial planning phase at Camp Ainoura in Sasebo, Nagasaki, field training exercise at the Kirishima Maneuver area in Kyushu, and a ship-to-shore amphibious assault to close out the exercise. 

  • French involvement in a Japan-U.S. exercise underscores Europe’s increasing engagement in the Indo-Pacific. The trilateral ground exercise was conducted to simulate regaining control of remote islands from enemy forces. 

  • The trilateral exercise was planned to take place while the French navy fleet Jeanne d’Arc is making a port call at Sasebo Port. The Ministry of Defense plans to routinize the exercise by carrying it out every time the fleet makes a port call. 

  • China criticized the exercise earlier this month, describing it as an approach that reverses the global trend of peaceful prosperity and collaboration.

  • The defense ministry’s joint staff office also said Monday that a total of three Chinese vessels, including a navy missile destroyer, were spotted on Sunday in waters around 120 kilometers northwest of Kumejima, Okinawa.

6. Japan-U.S. Developments

  • Reports on Wednesday said the U.S. had blocked a shipment of shirts from Japan’s Uniqlo chain on suspicion they were made with forced labor in China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. 

  • The move by the Customs and Border Protection highlights how serious the U.S. is taking the human rights situation regarding the Uyghurs. Japan does not recognize the situation a genocide like the U.S.

  • The defense ministry on Sunday measured the sound levels around the proposed site for a new SDF base at Mageshima, Kagoshima prefecture. The base is the relocation site for U.S. aircraft carrier-based aircraft, which will carry out takeoff and landing training.   

  • A test flight was conducted by five F15 fighter aircraft over Mageshima for about an hour. The mayor of Nishinoomote, the city where the base will be constructed, continues to oppose the relocation plan. 

7. Suga’s Actions This Week

  • Suga had a 20-minute phone call with President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines on Wednesday, in which he announced that Japan would be providing a ¥20 billion yen loan for the country’s COVID-19 response and ¥1 billion to assist in the development of a “cold chain” for vaccine storage.

  • The two also discussed coordination on promoting FOIP and the ASEAN Outlook for the Indo-Pacific, as well as strengthening cooperation in the Sulu and Celebes Seas and surrounding areas.

  • Suga raised his concerns over China’s unilateral attempts to change the status quo in the East and South China Seas. The two agreed to work together toward the maintenance of peace and stability under the rule of law such as UNCLOS. 

  • Suga had a 30-minute phone call with Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh of Vietnam on Monday, in which the two acknowledged the strong relationship between the two countries and pledged to continue developing ties ahead of the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations in 2023. 

  • The two leaders also discussed China’s maritime assertiveness, working together to improve the situation in Myanmar and cooperation to address North Korea

8. Other Foreign Policy Developments

  • Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato announced Friday that Suga will meet with European Council President Charles Michel and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen online on May 27. The leaders are expected to discuss ways of cooperation to achieve FOIP and respond to Chinese maritime assertiveness

  • Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi told Nikkei in an interview Friday that Japan is considering cutting off all official development assistance to Myanmar if the situation does not improve. Japan provided ¥189.3 billion ($1.74 billion at current rates) in FY 2019, the most out of any country that has disclosed its figures.  

  • Chief Cabinet Secretary Kato said Thursday that Myanmar had revoked the diplomatic status of two diplomats at its embassy in Tokyo after they boycotted their duties protesting the coup and ensuing violence

  • In March after the coup, the embassy sent a note to the Japanese foreign ministry that it was invalidating the diplomatic passports of the two diplomats. The junta has applied for diplomatic visas for military-appointed replacements for Aung Soe Moe, first secretary, and a 27-year-old second secretary, who wishes to remain anonymous.

  • The LDP’s project team on human rights diplomacy put together Thursday a proposal to be sent to the government. The document stresses that demanding improvements to human rights situations in other countries is not “interfering in internal matters.” It plans to submit the proposal to the government by early June. 

  • The proposal calls on Japan to craft legislation that fosters a legal environment for the ratification the Genocide Convention, as well as make use of the Foreign Exchange and Trade Law which gives the government authority to freeze foreign officials’ assets

  • Chief Cabinet Secretary Kato announced Wednesday that he will be the keynote speaker at an online international symposium on the abduction issue to be held on June 29. The event is usually held at the UN headquarters in New York. 

9. Other Defense-Related Developments

  • An Asahi Shimbun report published Friday said the government’s alternative for the Aegis Ashore missile defense system—two Aegis-equipped destroyers—will cost at least ¥900 billion (≈$8.3 billion), double the original price tag. 

  • The International Institute for Strategic Studies announced Thursday that the Shangri-La Dialogue scheduled for June 4-5 had been cancelled due to pandemic. Suga had been slated to be the keynote speaker at the event in Singapore.

  • Defense Minister Kishi told Nikkei in an interview on Wednesday that Japan will scrap its one percent GDP cap on defense spending. Kishi said Japan has to increase its capabilities at a radically different pace considering China’s increased capabilities and new areas of warfare such as space and cyber. 

  • Experts suggest the development is not as radical as one may find it to be. The focus on the spending cap (which depends on how it’s calculated too) diverts attention from a debate on how that budget is being spent. Others suggest the cap is “informal” and has been broken before; there is little indication that Japan will suddenly raise its defense spending given existing constraints. 

  • Kishi spoke to Australian Defense Minister Peter Dutton on Wednesday, in which the two voiced shared concerns over Chinese maritime assertiveness and agreed to work closely with the U.S. and other regional partners to achieve FOIP. 

  • Yomiuri reported Saturday that the government is planning to introduce a low-interest loan through the Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC) to promote exports of defense products. 

  • While the ban on arms exports was lifted in 2014, sales have been low. The government believes the high price tag has contributed to this, and has proposed introducing a low-interest loan to help countries purchase its defense products. 

  • The government is also enticing exporting companies to use Nippon Export and Investment Insurance (NEXI). Using the state-backed insurer will allow companies to be more lenient with countries that delay payments. 

10. Economic Security

  • The LDP’s Economic Strategy Headquarters presented Thursday the outline of its new growth strategy. The strategy includes policies in 13 areas ranging from decarbonization to digitization to “economic security”. 

  • For semiconductors, the strategy suggests supporting domestic production and joint development with foreign companies from countries such as the U.S. and Taiwan. The strategy will be reflected in the Suga cabinet’s first growth strategy set to be unveiled in June

  • Japan currently has a ¥200 billion ($1.8 billion) fund to support the domestic industry. The plan is to expand support programs so that funding goes to manufacturing technologies for advanced semiconductors and batteries

  • Nikkei reported Tuesday that the government will introduce new regulations for 14 critical infrastructure sectors such as telecommunications and electricity to bolster cyber defense. It hopes to mitigate risks posed by compromised equipment and connections, especially amid concerns of data leaks from Chinese equipment.

  • Reports on Monday said the LDP is forming a new parliamentary federation which will discuss mid- to long-term strategies for strengthening the domestic semiconductor industry. The group positions semiconductors as indispensable to economic security and plans to submit recommendations as early as this fall.

  • The group will be chaired by former economic policy minister Akira Amari, and welcome Shinzo Abe and Finance Minister Taro Aso as senior advisers. The group held its first meeting on Friday. 

  • The global shortage in semiconductors impacts Japan’s top automakers. Toyota announced Tuesday that it was forced to close down two factories in Iwate and Miyagi, impacting the production of around 20,000 automobiles

Domestic Politics

11. Diet Proceedings

  • The government and ruling coalition decided this week to shelve a FY 2021 supplementary budget bill due to a lack of time until the end of the Diet session. It will use the rest of the ¥5 trillion reserve funds for its coronavirus response. 

  • The Diet approved Friday the revised Juvenile Law, which aims to punish 18- and 19-year-olds who commit crimes. The bill allows the family court to expand the range of crimes to be sent to prosecutors, and the ban on reporting juvenile criminals’ names after indictment to be lifted. It will come into effect in April next year when adolescent age under the Civil Code is lowered to eighteen.

  • On Thursday, State Minister of Defense Yasuhide Nakayama arrived late to a session of the Upper House Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defense, resulting in the session being called off. Nakayama is the second state minister this month to arrive late to a Diet committee meeting. 

  • The LDP decided Thursday to establish a law that allows those recovering from COVID-19 at home or those who have come into contact with someone who has contracted the virus to vote by mail. If passed by the end of this Diet session on June 16, it could come into effect before the Tokyo Assembly elections in July. 

  • An LDP special committee reviewing the legislation promoting understanding of LGBT and other sexual minorities postponed approval of the bill after some lawmakers voiced concern over the addition of the phrase, “discrimination toward LGBT people is unacceptable,” proposed by the opposition. Lower House lawmaker Kazuo Yana made the news for apparently referring to LGBT people as “contrary [beings] to the preservation of biological species.” 

  • The main opposition CDP put together Thursday its revised draft of the legislation which restricts buying, selling and using of land near facilities critical to national security (jūyō tochi-tō chōsa hōan). The CDP has concerns that the bill will allow the government to restrict individual freedoms and rights

  • Conversely, a conservative group of LDP lawmakers (The Conference to Japan’s Dignity and National Interest) on Thursday met with Diet Affairs Chairman Hiroshi Moriyama and requested the bill be enacted as is, without the amendments the opposition is demanding. 

  • The Diet approved Wednesday the Acquisition and Cross Servicing Agreement (ACSA) between the SDF and Indian military. The agreement allows for the exchange of goods such as food and fuel, and services such as communication and transportation. India is the sixth country to sign an ACSA with Japan. 

  • The Diet also approved this week the amended anti-stalker bill, which will now regulate use of GPS devices to obtain the location information of a person without their consent, and a bill providing financial assistance to regional financial institutions looking to merge or integrate during this time of financial hardship. 

12. Ruling Coalition Gives Up on Passing Immigration Control Act

  • LDP Secretary-General Toshihiro Nikai on Tuesday informed the opposition that the party had given up on passing the revised Immigration Control Act during this Diet session.  

  • The LDP believes that forcing the bill through will only hurt its already low approval rating under Suga ahead of the snap election. In response, the opposition withdrew its censure motion against Hiroyuki Yoshiie, chairman of the Lower House Judicial Affairs Committee. 

  • The two sides disagree over the disclosure of the video footage of the Sri Lankan woman who died while being held in an immigration facility. The opposition maintains an investigation into her death is the priority. 

  • Minister of Justice Yōko Kamikawa on Tuesday met with Wishma Rathnayake’s family, expressing her condolences but not explicitly apologizing for the incident. 

  • The incident has uncovered some ugly truths behind Japan’s immigration policies, namely the fact that decisions are made in secret, offering migrants little recourse to the courts. If passed, the revised bill would have allowed for deportation as an alternative to indefinite detention in immigration facilities. 

13. Movement to Return Lawmakers’ Salaries After Resignation

  • Kawai and her husband, ex-Lower House lawmaker Katsuyuki Kawai, were indicted for bribing local politicians in Hiroshima for their votes. Kawai’s election victory was later invalidated, meaning on record, she never won the election

  • She was criticized for continuing to receive annual expenses after her indictment and the invalidation of the election. According to a group of lawyers demanding she refund the expenses, Kawai received around ¥49 million after her indictment.

  • The Hiroshima High Court ruled Friday that Kawai will be barred from running for the Upper House Hiroshima district for the next five years. She has also lost her civil rights, including the right to run for elected office for five years, meaning she might be barred from running for elected office for up to ten years. 

  • Lawmakers within both ruling and opposition parties support revising the legislation during this Diet session. Both sides want to appeal to voters that they are working to tackle the issue of “money in politics” (seiji to kane). 

14. State of the Economy

  • The government’s Fiscal System Council put together a recommendation maintaining its goal of achieving fiscal primary balance by FY 2025. On the other hand, the LDP’s Headquarters for the Promotion of Fiscal Reconstruction on Tuesday failed to put together its own proposal as several lawmakers called for aggressive fiscal mobilization to cover for losses caused by the pandemic. 

  • The finance ministry released Thursday Japan’s April trade statistics. It showed a trade surplus of ¥255.3 billion, up 38 percent from the same month last year. Shipments of car and auto parts to the U.S. and semiconductor equipment to China increased remarkably.

  • Nikkei reported that the state-backed Development Bank of Japan (DPJ) plans to increase funding based on environmental, social and corporate governance factors to ¥5.5 trillion ($50.4 billion) over the next five years. It will support the spread of hydrogen-based energy, electric vehicles and other emissions-cutting technology. 

  • The Cabinet Office released Tuesday preliminary GDP figures for the January-March period, which decreased 5.1 percent on an annual basis. Last year’s annual GDP, excluding price fluctuations, was also down 4.6 percent compared to the previous year.

  • Yomiuri reported Saturday that the government is planning for renewable energy to make up 36-38 percent of the nation’s energy mix in 2030. The original plan was to have renewables make up 22-24 percent of the energy mix. The government’s basic energy plan will be finalized in the summer

15. Government “Rules Out” Canceling Olympic Games

  • Olympics Minister Tamayo Marukawa said Friday that the TMG will be responsible for covering losses in the event the games are canceled and the organizing committee has insufficient funds. 

  • The organizing committee’s budget breaks even when including a ¥90 billion profit from ticket sales. If the games are canceled, it would fall into a deficit

  • Tokyo Governor Koike seemingly disagreed with Marukawa, saying the TMG will discuss the matter with the government, IOC and organizing committee.  

  • The organizing committee said Friday it expects to reduce the number of medical staff at the venues from 10,000 to 7,000. President Seiko Hashimoto revealed that the committee plans to have at most 230 doctors and 310 nurses working a day.

  • The Osaka Medical Association’s president said Thursday he believes hosting the Olympics will be “difficult” and put a strain on the healthcare system. 

  • Yomiuri reported that the government expects to welcome 15,000 Olympic athletes, around 10,000 coaches and staff, and around 43,000 IOC and media personnel; as well as 25,000 athletes, coaches and personnel for the Paralympics. 

  • IOC President Thomas Bach said Wednesday that the organization is prepared to dispatch additional medical staff to assist at the venues. He also expects that over 80 percent of residents at the athletes’ village will be vaccinated. 

  • The IOC’s Dick Pound said Wednesday that a decision to hold the games must be made by the end of June. He said the games cannot be postponed again. A government official also said Monday a second postponement is off the table. 

  • The foreign ministry announced Wednesday the measures that foreign dignitaries must follow when they visit for the games. The 14-day isolation period will be waived if necessary measures, such as avoiding contact with athletes and narrowing down accompanying staff, are taken.  

  • Chief Cabinet Secretary Kato said Monday at a press conference that the government is planning to ask foreign media personnel to sign a pledge stating compliance with strict restrictions on movement. 

  • LDP Policy Research Council Chair Hakubun Shimomura said Sunday on a TV program that the government must indicate how the games will be held early next month, when IOC President Bach is expected to visit Japan. 

  • Rakuten’s CEO Hiroshi Mikitani said last Friday that it is a “suicide mission” to be hosting the games in the summer. 


16. Endorsement Battle Between LDP Headquarters and Prefectural Chapters 

  • The LDP will have several intra-party battles in the upcoming snap election. The Tokushima prefectural chapter informed the party headquarters on Monday that it will not endorse first district incumbent Masazumi Gotoda. 

  • It is a rare turn of events that a prefectural chapter does not endorse an incumbent. The chapter said it decided against endorsing Gotoda because he did not back a candidate the chapter had backed for the 2019 Tokushima gubernatorial race. 

  • The party is likely to face trouble uniting behind one candidate. In Kochi’s 2nd district, the prefectural chapter will back a former governor, while former agriculture minister Yuji Yamamoto, who lost the last election but was revived under the proportional representation block, is looking to run for the seat again. 

  • In Fukuoka’s 5th district, former environment minister Yoshiaki Harada is expected to run, while Wataru Kurihara, an LDP prefectural assemblyman, is also contemplating a run for the seat.

17. Preparations for Snap Election Continues 

  • CDP leader Edano hinted Wednesday that his party could submit a no-confidence resolution once the COVID-19 state of emergency comes to an end. Edano had ruled it out earlier saying the coronavirus response was the priority. 

  • The Japan Innovation Party announced on Monday its priority policies ahead of the election, entitled “Grand Plan to Reform Japan.” 

  • The pillar of its plan is introducing a basic income between ¥60,000-100,000 per month to increase disposable income, as well as foster economic growth and redress inequality. The plan also includes reducing consumption, income and corporate taxes to stimulate demand. 

  • JCP secretariat head Akira Koike said Monday that continuing the Suga cabinet and its lackluster coronavirus policies leaves a “political void” that could be filled by submitting a motion of no-confidence. 

  • At a meeting of the party’s prefectural chapter on Saturday, CDP leader Edano stressed that the opposition must come together and oust the LDP in order for the nation to survive the COVID-19 crisis. He called on the parties to prepare for an election as early as next month, at the end of this Diet session. 

Other Noteworthy News

  • Top LDP Officials Deny Involvement in Vote-Buying Scandal: A finger-pointing game has ensued within the LDP over the 2019 vote-buying scandal. Anri Kawai was found guilty of vote-buying through cash payments given to local politicians before she won an Upper House seat. She resigned as a lawmaker in early February. The party provided ¥150 million ($1.38 million), an obscene amount, to the Kawai campaign. There are questions as to whether the party’s funds were used to bribe local politicians, which could mean the party can be held accountable for the scandal. This week, Secretary-General Nikai pointed out that then-election bureau chief, Akira Amari, was in charge of the Hiroshima election, while Amari denied any involvement in disbursing the money. There are reports this is the start of a factional conflict between Nikai and Aso (Amari is a member), and that Nikai fears this is a plot by others to drag him down from the powerful secretary-general (in charge of elections) position. 

  • Arrests Made Over Aichi Governor Recall Petition: Police arrested four individuals on Wednesday in connection to the mass-forgery scandal involving a petition to recall Aichi Governor Hideaki Omura. Takahiro Tanaka and three others were arrested on suspicion of violating the Local Autonomy Law by forging names of residents in a campaign to oust the governor. Reports suggest that out of the 435,000 signatures, 83 percent were forged. The law forbids signing petitions on behalf of family members who may be temporarily away. The recall attempt started in August 2020 by Katsuya Takasu, a cosmetic surgeon well known for denying the Holocaust and the Nanking Massacre, and others upset at Omura’s handling of a comfort women sculpture at the Aichi Triennale 2019 international art festival. Takasu has since denied involvement in the forgery. Governor Omura on Wednesday accused Nagoya Mayor Takashi Kawamura, who had publicly supported the movement, for masterminding the scandal, though the latter denies any involvement. One caveat would be that Omura and Kawamura are known to dislike each other.

  • Government Settles Asbestos Case: The government settled lawsuits Tuesday filed for damages from exposure to asbestos at construction sites. The government will pay up to ¥13 million depending on the symptoms and a separate fee in consideration of the burden of long-term court proceedings. Suga apologized to plaintiffs of four asbestos lawsuits a day after the Supreme Court ruled that the government is responsible for failing to protect construction workers from asbestos-linked illnesses such as lung cancer. Under the agreement, a fund will be established to assist other victims, including those who have yet to file a lawsuit or who may develop symptoms in the future. 

II. Public Opinion Polls

  • An Asahi Shimbun poll released Monday showed a 33 percent approval rating for the Suga cabinet, down 7 percent from April, and a disapproval rating of 47 percent, up 8 percent from April.
    • 60 percent of respondents cited policies for not supporting the cabinet; 18 percent cited their dislike for the LDP-led government; and 9 percent said they didn’t want Suga as prime minister. 
    • 35 percent of respondents said they would vote for the LDP in the proportional representation vote for the upcoming snap election; 17 percent said the CDP; 9 percent said the Japan Innovation Party; 5 percent each said Komeito and the JCP
    • 23 percent of respondents approved of the government’s coronavirus response, down 6 percent from April, while 67 percent said they disapproved, up 6 percent.
    • 27 percent of respondents said they trust Prime Minister Suga’s attitude toward tackling the coronavirus situation, while 61 percent said they did not.
    • 41 percent of respondents said the COVID-19 state of emergency is “somewhat” or “very” effective in mitigating the spread of the virus, while 59 percent said it will have “little” to “no” effect in mitigating the spread.
    • 54 percent of respondents approve of the government’s measures requesting eateries serving alcohol to remain closed, while 36 percent said they did not approve of such measures.
    • 47 percent of respondents said they “somewhat” or “strongly” approve of the government’s vaccination approach, while 52 percent disapprove. 
    • 47 percent of respondents said they want to get vaccinated now; 40 percent said they will wait and see; 6 percent said they don’t want to get vaccinated; and 5 percent said they had already been vaccinated.
    • 66 percent of respondents said the government is largely responsible for the slow pace of vaccinations, while 28 percent said it is not. 
    • 43 percent of respondents said the Olympic Games should be cancelled; 40 percent said it should be postponed again; and 14 percent said it should be held as scheduled.
    • 59 percent of respondents said the Olympics should be held with no spectators; 33 percent said with limited attendance; and 3 percent said as scheduled.
    • 44 percent of respondents approved of the government’s decision to release treated wastewater from Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, while 43 percent disapproved of the decision.
  • The survey also collected data on the latest approval ratings of political parties.
Party NameApproval Rate (%)
Liberal Democratic Party (LDP)30 (-5)
Komeito (coalition partner of the LDP)3 (+1)
Constitutional Democratic Party (CDP)7 (+1)
Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Innovation Party)2 (±0)
Democratic Party for the People (DPP)1 (±0)
Japanese Communist Party (JCP)2 (-1)
Social Democratic Party (SDP)0 (±0)
The NHK Party0 (±0)
Reiwa Shinsengumi 0 (±0)
Independents47 (+4)
Number in parenthesis shows net change from April survey
  • A Kyodo poll released Sunday showed a 41 percent approval rating for the Suga cabinet, down 3 percent from April, and a disapproval rating of 47 percent, up 11 percent from April.
    • 25 percent of respondents said they approved of the government’s coronavirus response, down 11 percent from April, while 72 percent said they did not approve of its response, up 15 percent from April.
    • 85 percent of respondents said the speed of the government’s vaccination program was slow, while 13 percent said it was going as scheduled.
    • 90 percent of respondents said they “somewhat” or “greatly” fear the spread of the variant strain, while 10 percent said they do not.
    • 50 percent of respondents said the state of emergency in nine prefectures will have an effect on mitigating the spread of the virus, while 47 percent said it would have no effect.
    • 60 percent of respondents said the Olympic Games should be cancelled; 25 percent said it should be held without spectators; and 13 percent said it should be held with a limited number of spectators.

Image: Captain76 (CC BY-SA 3.0)


3 thoughts on “The Weekly Observer: May 17-21

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