The Weekly Observer: May 24-28

Condensed Ver.

I. News of the Week


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

1. Government Extends State of Emergency in Nine Prefectures

  • Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga announced Friday that the government is extending the current COVID-19 state of emergency to June 20. 

  • He also said the pre-emergency measures (man-en bōshi-tō jūten sochi) in Saitama, Chiba, Kanagawa, Gifu and Mie will be extended to June 20, while measures in Gunma, Ishikawa and Kumamoto will end on June 13 as scheduled. 

  • Suga said that while there is a general decline in the number of daily cases, numbers still remain high and are overwhelming medical systems. On Wednesday, the number of individuals with severe symptoms reached a record-high of 1,294. He believes vaccinating citizens will help reduce numbers further. 

  • Japan is currently up to 40,000-50,000 doses per day, or around half of the goal Suga has set to complete vaccination of the elderly by the end of July. Starting next month, he believes some municipalities will complete vaccinating the elderly and move on to the general population

  • In Tokyo, measures restricting operating hours for eateries will remain in place, while those imposed on large-scale commercial facilities (e.g. shopping malls) and movie theaters will be slightly relaxed from closing completely to closing early. 

  • The government is considering establishing a new aid program for individuals who have maxed out on special loans aimed at households that are suffering from financial hardship due to the pandemic.

  • The plan, set to begin as early as July, is for single-person households to receive ¥60,000 per month, two-person households to receive ¥80,000 per month, and households with more than three people to receive ¥100,000 per month. Total funding for the three-month plan is expected to be ¥50 billion (≈$460 million).

2. Variant Strain Continues to Spread

  • The health ministry announced Wednesday that, as of Monday, there were 29 confirmed cases of the Indian strain across seven prefectures. This is an increase of 18 cases since the last announcement on May 21.  

  • The health ministry also announced last week that 160 individuals tested positive for the Indian strain at airport quarantine stations between March 28 and May 7. The rate at which individuals are testing positive at airports every week has increased from one percent in early April to as close as six percent in May.

  • Reports surfaced Tuesday that the health ministry failed to track individuals in quarantine following their return from India due to an issue with communication tools. Individuals are required to inform their whereabouts and health, as well as respond to video calls that may be requested by authorities.

  • The problem seems to be the use of multiple apps. Individuals using Whatsapp have been told they could be penalized despite complying with the requirements. In some cases, the authorities contact individuals through other apps, get no response, and deem that they are being non-compliant.

  • The government has found that almost one hundred individuals fail to comply with these measures every day. In an effort to increase compliance, it will penalize “malicious cases,” publicizing the names of those who fail to remain in contact over a few days.

  • The government decided that it will require individuals returning from countries with a spike in variant cases like India to reside at a designated facility for the first ten days of their 14-day quarantine period. Originally six days, individuals can leave if they test negative on the third, sixth and tenth days of their stay.

  • The government will also require those returning from Kazakhstan and Tunisia to quarantine at a designated facility for three days. These measures are effective starting Friday.

3. Vaccine Rollout

  • Health minister Norihisa Tamura said Friday that the ministry will approve lowering the age for vaccination with the Pfizer shot to twelve from sixteen as early as the end of the month. 

  • Foreign minister Toshimitsu Motegi confirmed Friday that, in the spirit of fair access to vaccines, Japan is considering providing Taiwan with AstraZeneca vaccines. Taiwan accused China on Thursday of interfering with its vaccine deals.

  • The education ministry said Thursday that in a survey asking whether universities would provide their campuses as vaccination sites, around 300 of them responded that they would be willing to sign on. The government is considering vaccinating university students and staff once vaccination of the elderly is complete. 

  • The LDP and CDP agreed Wednesday to shelve the idea of prioritizing vaccination for lawmakers ahead of the general population. On Tuesday, LDP General Council Chair Tsutomu Sato pointed out that lawmakers’ vaccination is a matter of risk management and called for early vaccination of all Diet members.

  • The health ministry said Tuesday it plans to have companies run their own vaccination sites for employees using the Moderna vaccine. While a date has not been set, the government looks to expedite vaccinations by having occupational physicians and/or health care staff administer vaccines.

  • The government said Tuesday it plans to have up to 64,000 paramedics and about 200,000 clinical technicians help administer the vaccine. It also wants physicians and radiologic technologists to follow-up on vaccinated individuals.

  • The government has also drawn up new financial assistance to medical institutions in a bid to get more of them to administer vaccines. In addition to the current payments for administering vaccines, it will give ¥2,000 more to clinics that administer more than 100 doses a week for over four weeks, and ¥3,000 for those that administer more than 150 doses a week.

  • In order to increase the number of medical institutions that administer vaccines, the government will also provide a ¥100,000 handout to institutions that administer more than fifty doses a day. If these institutions continue this for a certain number of days until the end of July, they will receive ¥7,500 for every doctor and ¥2,760 for every nurse on an hourly basis.

  • A government official said Monday that Japan is considering sending AstraZeneca vaccines to developing countries through COVAX. Some are reluctant to do this as the vaccine is known to cause blood clots in rare cases. The health ministry approved it last week but also said it would not be used for the time being.

  • LDP Policy Research Council Chair Hakubun Shimomura met with Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato on Monday, and submitted a proposal on expediting vaccinations. The proposal calls on the government to clarify that anybody can administer leftover vaccines, not just those above 65 years old. It also asks the government to allow local leaders priority access to the vaccines.

  • Yomiuri reported Saturday that the government is planning to establish a fund for the purpose of developing a domestic vaccine. The fund is likely to be set up under the Japan Agency for Medical Research and Development, which allocates funding for medical research. Japan’s budget for infectious diseases is ¥7 billion annually, or around one percent of America’s funding for R&D in this field.

4. A Week Into Mass Vaccinations at State-Run Sites

  • Vaccine czar Taro Kono said last week that thirty municipalities across the country indicated interest in setting up mass vaccination sites. On Thursday, Gunma’s governor told Suga he was setting up the second site in his prefecture to begin vaccinations in June. 

  • Reservations for residents over the age of 65 in the rest of Tokyo (besides 23 districts) began 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). 

  • NHK reported Wednesday that in Setagaya ward, one of the most populated areas of Tokyo, around 20 percent of elderly citizens have “double booked” at both the state-run mass vaccination site and local sites. The government warns this could waste valuable vaccine supply.

  • The defense ministry announced Tuesday that of the 70,000 doses available for reservation at the Tokyo site between May 31 and June 6, around 37,000 spots have been filled. In Osaka, the 35,000 doses available for reservation have already been filled.

  • Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi said Tuesday that 38 SDF personnel and other staff administering or helping run the Tokyo and Osaka sites were vaccinated on Monday using leftover doses. A total of 7,348 elderly citizens were vaccinated on the opening day of the mass vaccination sites.

  • Over the weekend, Suga met with Toshikazu Yamaguchi, owner of professional baseball team Yomiuri Giants, in which the latter explained that he was considering providing Tokyo Dome, the team’s home stadium, to Bunkyo and Shinjuku wards for free as a vaccination venue.

Foreign & Defense Policy

5. Suga Holds Talks with EU Leaders

  • Suga held a virtual conference with European Union leaders on Thursday to discuss a range of issues from climate to vaccines to efforts to realize a free and open Indo-Pacific.

  • The joint statement issued after the meeting touched on recovery from the pandemic, tackling climate change, trade and infrastructure, achieving FOIP, as well as various regional issues such as China and North Korea. It also mentions for the first time that Japan and the EU “underscore the importance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait.”

  • A key deliverable from the meeting is the “Green Alliance.” The two sides agreed to lead the world in addressing climate change by accelerating Japan-EU commitments, notably through cooperation in various fields such as energy transition, innovation and support for decarbonization in developing countries.

  • EU President Ursula von der Leyen said after the conference that so far, the EU has authorized more than 100 million doses, enough to vaccinate 40 percent of the population, to be exported to Japan.

  • President von der Leyen will also participate in the Gavi COVAX Advance Market Commitment Summit to be co-hosted by Japan on June 2.

6. Japan-U.S. Developments

  • Chief Cabinet Secretary Kato said Thursday that Japan will cooperate with the U.S. in its investigations into the origins of the coronavirus. President Joe Biden asked the Intelligence Community on Wednesday to prepare a report on the origins of the virus. 

  • Biden’s Indo-Pacific Coordinator Kurt Campbell said Wednesday that the U.S. is looking to convene an in-person Quad meeting in the fall with a focus on infrastructure in the face of the challenge from China. Biden had said in March that he suggested to U.K Prime Minister Boris Johnson that democratic countries should have an infrastructure plan to rival China’s Belt and Road Initiative.

  • Takehiro Funakoshi, director general of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau, spoke with Sung Kim, U.S. special envoy to North Korea, on the phone Monday. Funakoshi congratulated Kim on his appointment before the two discussed close bilateral and trilateral cooperation with South Korea on North Korea policy.

  • The State Department on Monday advised citizens against traveling to Japan due to a sharp increase in COVID-19 cases. Level Four is the highest cautionary level; approximately 80 percent of all countries are in this category.

  • The Center for Disease Control and Prevention warns that even fully vaccinated people are at risk of contracting or spreading some COVID-19 variants.

  • White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Tuesday that the U.S.’s position regarding the Olympic Games will not change because of the travel advisory. She maintained the government supports hosting the games in two months time.

  • Chief Cabinet Secretary Kato and Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee President Seiko Hashimoto both downplayed the effect of the advisory on the Olympics.

7. Foreign Policy Developments 

  • Suga had a phone call with Prime Minister Johnson of the U.K. on Friday, in which the two agreed to closely cooperate to achieve decarbonization in the world, fair access to vaccines for developing countries, and FOIP. 

  • On Friday, Foreign Minister Motegi had an in-person meeting with Christine Burgener, UN special envoy on Myanmar, in which the two discussed the situation in Myanmar and agreed to closely cooperate with ASEAN to improve the situation. 

  • Motegi also announced that Japan is providing up to $10 million in aid to send medical supplies and food to residents in the Gaza Strip, which has been damaged by the exchange of violent attacks between Israeli and Palestinian forces. He added that Japan is providing 1,000 ventilators and 2,000 oxygen concentrators to India as part of its ¥5.5 billion ($50 million) grant aid.

  • Foreign Minister Motegi and Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Hiroshi Kajiyama attended the Second G7 Trade Ministers’ Meeting held online on May 27-28.

  • The joint statement mentions WTO reform, trade and health, digital trade, fair access and reducing barriers to vaccines, as well as trade and climate policy. Although it did not refer to China by name, the statement points out concern over market distorting practices such as harmful industrial subsidies.

  • Senior Deputy Foreign Minister Mori Takeo co-chaired the 36th Japan-ASEAN Forum held on Thursday. At the deputy-level meeting, participants exchanged opinions on cooperation to achieve FOIP and establishing the ASEAN Infectious Disease Center, as well as the regional situation including in the East and South China Seas, North Korea and Myanmar.

  • On Thursday, Foreign Minister Motegi had a phone call with Palestine’s foreign minister. He also had phone calls with his counterparts from Jordan, Israel and Brunei on Wednesday. Motegi discussed the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with Palestine, Jordan and Israel’s foreign ministers. With Brunei, he discussed Myanmar and stated Japan’s intent to provide $800,000 in aid to improve its cold chain for vaccines.

  • Foreign Minister Motegi also had a phone call with Elizabeth Truss, U.K. secretary of state for international trade, on Tuesday. The two discussed the upcoming G7 Trade Ministers’ Meeting and exchanged views on other issues such as the U.K.’s accession request to the CPTPP.

  • The de-facto embassies of the U.S., Australia and Japan in Taiwan issued a joint statement on Tuesday, calling for the country’s participation as an observer in the World Health Assembly (WHA).

  • In the statement, the American Institute in Taiwan, the Japan-Taiwan Exchange Association, and the Australian Office in Taipei said Taiwan’s meaningful participation in WHO forums and technical committees would benefit Taiwan and the world. They argue the pandemic has highlighted Taiwan’s unique capabilities to help others who need help responding to COVID-19.

  • This comes a day after the annual meeting of the WHA, the decision-making body of the WHO, began without Taiwan for a fifth consecutive year.

  • Suga had a phone call Tuesday with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong of Singapore, in which the former said he would do everything to ensure fair access to vaccines. Lee also stated Singapore will abolish ongoing import restrictions imposed on Japanese food products following the Fukushima nuclear accident.

8. Defense-Related Developments

  • On Wednesday, a Maritime Self-Defense Force officer aboard JS Hyūga went missing around 120 kilometers off the Shioyazaki Lighthouse in Iwaki, Fukushima prefecture. The officer may have fallen into the sea and is currently being searched for by JS Hyūga and the coast guard’s patrol boats.

  • On Tuesday, Defense Minister Kishi held a video conference with General Prayut Chan-o-cha, Thailand’s prime minister and minister of defence. The two discussed regional issues, including the East and South China Seas and the importance of freedom of navigation and overflight. The two also agreed to continue promoting defense cooperation between the two countries. 

  • The British Royal Navy’s Carrier Strike Group, led by HMS Queen Elizabeth, set sail on Saturday for its world tour across the Mediterranean to the Indian Ocean to the Philippine Sea. HMS Queen Elizabeth is scheduled to make a port stop in a number of countries including Japan.

  • The U.K. is responding to China’s rise by conducting military exercises with partners such as Japan, Australia and the U.S. It also signals Britain’s engagement in the Indo-Pacific and building partnerships based on common ideas and values such as the free and open Indo-Pacific.

  • The 63rd iteration of the annual “Fuji Firepower Review” was held Saturday at the GSDF East Fuji Maneuver Area. The largest live ammunition exercise saw around 2,300 SDF officers use around 43 tons of ammunition (≈¥780 million) in about two hours. New technology such as UAVs were introduced for the first time.

  • The objective of this year’s exercise was preventing as well as eventually destroying an enemy attempt to land and invade Japanese territory. The three services also practiced coordinating on intel gathering.

Domestic Politics

9. Diet Proceedings

  • CDP leader Yukio Edano said Friday that the Diet must remain open beyond the end of this session to swiftly take coronavirus countermeasures and form a budget for the new fiscal year. 

  • At a Lower House Cabinet Committee session on Friday, the ruling coalition and two opposition parties forced through the bill which restricts buying, selling and using of land near facilities critical to national security (jūyō tochi-tō chōsa hōan).

  • The ruling coalition plans to pass the bill through the Lower House on June 1 and have it approved by the Diet before the end of the Diet session on June 16. The main opposition CDP argues that the legislation excessively restricts individual rights and has been calling on the LDP to continue deliberations.

  • All parties beside the Communist Party agreed Thursday to submit a bill during the current session to expand the scope of mail-in voting. The LDP decided last week to craft a bill that allows COVID-19 patients recovering at home or those who have come into contact with patients to vote by mail.

  • Currently, only those with disabilities can vote by mail. The LDP also proposes allowing voters who return from abroad and in quarantine to vote by mail.

  • The Diet approved Wednesday an amended bill which enshrines Suga’s goal of reaching carbon neutrality by 2050, and lays out measures to expand the rollout of renewable energy generation. The bill will be enacted in April next year.

  • The legislation gives a clearer sense of direction for public and private sectors on the government’s climate policy and promotes investment. Among other things, the revised law gives local governments the power to designate districts to promote renewable energy projects and requires businesses to submit project plans as well as emissions statistics down to the local level.

  • A bill to eliminate obscene acts against children and students by teachers passed the Lower House on Tuesday. The bill is expected to be passed by the Upper House and approved by the end of the month.

  • The bill includes measures that allows each prefecture’s board of education to decide whether or not to provide a license to a person who has been dismissed before due to obscene acts, and establishes a national database of teachers whose licenses have expired.

  • CDP Secretary-General Tetsuro Fukuyama said Monday that his party plans to continue questioning the involvement of Suga’s son in the communication ministry’s dining scandal. Tohoku Shinsha, the broadcasting-related company Suga’s son works for, published a report that confirmed 54 dinners between the company and ministry officials. 

  • The CDP plans to submit two bills during this Diet session that aim to strengthen the Japan Coast Guard’s ability to defend territorial waters. This comes in the face of increased Chinese maritime assertiveness near the Senkaku Islands, as well as the coast guard law which allows its coast guard to fire at foreign vessels.

  • One bill will require the government to publish a five-year equipment plan to ensure ships and other equipment are readily available. The other will establish the concept of “security preparation action,” which allows the SDF to stand-by ahead of deployment around the coast guard’s ships. 

  • This week, the Diet approved an amended bill that corrects errors in the text of the revised Public Offices Election Act which was approved three years ago. Last month, reports surfaced that the Upper House Legislative Bureau had left the law unattended despite an error in the description of penalties for requesting votes by email.

  • The Diet also approved the revised copyright law which streamlines the process required to air programs on both the TV and the internet

10. State of the Economy

  • Data released by Teikoku Databank on Friday showed that 1,513 companies have gone bankrupt due to COVID-19. By industry, eateries, construction, and hotels recorded the most bankruptcies.

  • Data released by the ministry of internal affairs and communication on Friday showed that the national unemployment rate in April was 2.8 percent, up 0.2 percent from last month, above two percent for the fourth consecutive month.

  • The government’s Council on Economic and Fiscal Policy presented Tuesday the outline of the basic guideline for economic and fiscal management (honebuto no hōshin) which will be finalized in June. The four key pillars for economic growth are realizing a green society, accelerating digitization, creating vibrant regional economies and achieving a society accommodating to families with children.

  • The finance ministry released data on Tuesday which showed net external assets (assets owned by Japanese abroad – assets owned by foreigners in Japan) amounted to ¥356.97 trillion, down ¥46 billion from 2019, at the end of last year.

  • Data released by Nomura Research Institute on Tuesday showed that economic losses from a COVID-19 state of emergency dwarfs losses incurred from canceling the Olympic Games. Losses from the past three state of emergencies range between approximately ¥2 trillion and ¥6 trillion, while losses from the Olympics are projected to be ¥1.8 trillion.

11. Energy Policy

  • Komeito put together a proposal Thursday that recommends positioning hydrogen and solar power as main power sources and aiming for a society that does not rely on nuclear power in the future.

  • Earlier in the week, the LDP Research Commission on Comprehensive Energy Strategy compiled a proposal calling on the government to include promotion of replacement and construction of nuclear power plants in the basic energy plan to be finalized in the summer. A separate group within the party issued an emergency resolution calling for the early restart and construction of new power plants. 

  • METI asked power companies on Tuesday to cooperate with its plans to develop technology by the late 2030s for processing and reusing special nuclear fuel called “MOX fuel” originally produced by plutonium extracted from used nuclear fuel.

  • METI said Tuesday that electricity supply this summer is expected to be the toughest in the last few years in many areas such as Tokyo and Osaka due to a decrease in supply capacity from the suspension or decommissioning of aging thermal power plants. Minimum reserve ratios across the country are projected to barely exceed the three percent rate required for stable supply.

  • The G7 ministers responsible for climate and environment met virtually on May 20-21 and agreed that they will deliver climate targets in line with limiting the rise in global temperatures to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

  • The joint statement mentions the countries will phase out “new direct government support for carbon intensive international fossil fuel energy.” There is no date of enactment, just a loose goal by the end of 2021, due to Japan’s opposition to strong restrictions.

  • Japan justifies funding for coal plants abroad, arguing that developing countries need coal power to transition to renewables, and that equipment it exports are of the highest standard in terms of environmental performance.

12. Despite Lingering Concerns, Government Pushes Forth with Olympic Games

  • Suga said Friday that he intends to hold the games with domestic spectators in attendance, pointing out that baseball and soccer games are being played during the state of emergency with a certain amount of spectators.

  • Organizing Committee President Hashimoto said Friday that the committee will delay its decision on spectators until the end of the extended state of emergency. The original plan was to decide on a cap in early June.

  • Olympics Minister Tamayo Marukawa said Friday that an article published in a U.S. medical journal regarding the games’ inadequate coronavirus countermeasures was grounded in factual misunderstandings. The article states that urgent action is needed for the games to proceed.

  • Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike said Friday that postponing the games again would be difficult considering the impact it has on athletes. The IOC’s Dick Pound said the same thing last week.

  • Pound also said Tuesday that the games will go ahead even if Suga asks for it to be cancelled. IOC President Thomas Bach reiterated the same day that the number one priority is to hold a safe tournament. IOC Vice President John Coates backed Bach’s commitment to the games, stating last week that the games will proceed even during a COVID-19 state of emergency.

  • On the other hand, there are some who oppose hosting the games. Olympics sponsor Asahi Shimbun published Wednesday a scathing commentary demanding the games be cancelled. A Tokyo Shimbun poll released Tuesday also showed 60 percent of respondents in Tokyo want the games cancelled.

  • CDP leader Edano also said Sunday that the Olympics should be cancelled if the medical system cannot be maintained because of the games. In addition, Edano mentioned the games should not be held at the expense of citizens’ lives. This was in response to Bach stating earlier that everyone has to make sacrifices in order to adapt to this unprecedented situation.

  • JCP Chairman Kazuo Shii slammed the series of statements by IOC officials expressing intent to push forward with the games, saying they are “treating Japan like a colony of the IOC empire.”

  • Shigeru Omi, head of the government’s coronavirus expert panel, said Wednesday that there are concerns Olympic-related events such as public viewing will lead to a rapid increase in the flow of people.

  • A University of Tokyo research team projects that a six percent increase in the flow of people during the games will result in 1,601 new cases in the second week of October. This is an increase of 781 cases compared to if the Olympics were cancelled.

  • Omi also said Friday that the country should limit the number of foreigners entering the country to avoid a further spread of variant strains. So far, the organizing committee has reduced the number of athletes, staff and IOC affiliates, but not IOC/IPC officials and regional committee members.

  • Meanwhile, the first set of athletes are scheduled to arrive from Australia on June 1. The Japan Olympic Committee hopes to begin vaccinating Japanese athletes that day and complete the vaccination of 1,600 athletes, coaches and staff by July 23.

  • On vaccines, Minister Marukawa said Tuesday that Pfizer is providing 20,000 doses for free to inoculate Japanese athletes and tournament officials, with the government considering adding referees to this group. Defense Minister Kishi also said that the ministry is currently arranging to dispatch SDF doctors and nurses to the games without taking away personnel from the mass vaccination sites.

13. Other Developments 

  • LDP General Council Chair Sato said Friday that the party is shelving the legislation promoting understanding of LGBT and other sexual minorities. This comes after conservative members of the party expressed reservations about the bill and prevented the approval process from moving forward.

  • Communications Minister Ryota Takeda revealed Friday he had requested Fujitsu implement security measures following a hacking incident on Wednesday. The land, infrastructure and transport ministry reported that at least 76,000 email addresses of its employees and business partners were leaked. Fujitsu’s ProjectWEB software is widely used by both the public and private sector.

  • The labor ministry submitted its final draft of the “Karoshi Prevention Charter,” which summarizes measures to prevent death from overwork, for review on Tuesday. The draft raises the goal of companies implementing working intervals, whereby a specific number of hours must have passed in between employees’ scheduled shifts, to higher than 15 percent by 2025. As of January 2020, only 4 percent of companies have implemented the interval system.

  • The communications ministry announced Tuesday that as of March, compared to five other major cities, Tokyo’s monthly phone bills were the second cheapest behind London at ¥2,973 for a 20GB plan. It is a significant reduction in price from March 2020, when Tokyo’s monthly bill cost ¥8,175.

  • LDP Acting Secretary-General Mikio Hayashi said Monday that the party, not a particular person, was responsible for providing ¥150 million ($1.38 million) to the Kawai campaign during the 2019 Upper House election. This follows his faction boss Secretary-General Nikai’s statement that he and then-president Shinzo Abe were responsible for the controversy. Kawai was later found guilty of vote-buying, and rumors are that party funds were used to bribe local politicians.

  • Yoichi Takahashi, economic advisor to the cabinet, stepped down on Monday after his recent tweets drew fire for downplaying the COVID-19 situation in Japan and ridiculing calls for the cancellation of the Olympic Games.

  • Yomiuri reported Saturday that ex-trade minister Isshu Sugawara is set to be indicted for violating the elections law by offering cash, expensive goods and condolence money to event organizers and people in his district. Prosecutors will charge him for new allegations regarding ¥50,000 cash handouts to event organizers in his district, as well as the once dropped case of giving gifts to voters. If sentenced to more than a fine, he will lose his job as a lawmaker.


14. Preparations for Snap Election 

  • The LDP and CDP agreed Wednesday to organize a debate among party leaders for June 9. It will be the first debate in two years and under Suga’s leadership. The agenda is likely to include the coronavirus response and the Olympic Games.

  • Former prime minister Abe said in an interview published Wednesday that Foreign Minister Motegi, Chief Cabinet Secretary Kato, LDP Policy Research Council Chair Shimomura, and former chair Fumio Kishida are potential successors to Suga.

  • Recent reports point out that former prime minister Abe has resumed political activities and is poised to gain influence over the party. While some in conservative circles hope he runs for LDP president again, others believe he will settle in the role of “kingmaker”

  • A group of LDP lawmakers held a meeting Tuesday to discuss the introduction of school buses to public elementary schools across the country. The party aims to use policies related to children, usually of high public interest, to draw in voters

  • Jiji reported Monday that the new LDP group on semiconductors established last week could become a source of tension between the Aso and Nikai factions. The group is chaired by Akira Amari (Aso faction), with former prime minister Abe and Finance Minister Taro Aso acting as senior advisors.

  • Notably absent from the group are members of the Nikai faction. Some believe the Aso side wanted to stress strong relations with Abe to counter Secretary-General Nikai’s strong ties with Suga. Others believe some lawmakers may begin to voice support for replacing Nikai as secretary-general in the fall.

  • CDP leader Edano said on a TV program aired Sunday that he hopes the opposition can unite behind one candidate in as many races in the upcoming snap election. He said he will aim to form a coalition government with the Democratic People’s Party, which has rejected joining if the Communist Party is included.

15. Preparations for Local Elections 

  • The Tokyo Assembly election is one month away (July 4). Governor Koike’s Tomin First Party will square off with the LDP and Komeito in a race that will likely impact the nationwide snap election. The campaign is expected to revolve around the coronavirus situation and the Olympic Games.

  • Koike’s party looks to maintain its position as the largest group in the assembly, while the LDP will attempt to win back the majority. Komeito, which joined forces with Tomin First in the last election, will cooperate with the LDP this time. 

  • In Shizuoka, incumbent Governor Heita Kawakatsu unveiled Monday his policy manifesto a month ahead of the election slated for June 20. Kawakatsu faces off with Shigeki Iwai, an LDP-backed former Upper House lawmaker, in a prefecture preparing to begin a massive tunnel construction project for a high-speed rail line.

  • Central Japan Railway Co. (JR Tokai) hopes to begin operating the high-speed Linear Chuo Shinkansen line in 2027. However, Governor Kawakatsu said he could not allow work to begin without first reaching agreement with JR Tokai on the environmental impact of the project.

  • There are concerns tunneling through the Southern Japan Alps could affect water flow along the Oigawa river system which supplies local households and nourishes the prefecture’s famous tea fields.

  • In 2014, the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism instructed JR Tokai to construct the Linear Chuo Shinkansen line. Two years later, the Abe cabinet approved a ¥3 trillion ($28 billion) loan to JR Tokai, which expects the cost of the project to be ¥9 trillion.

Other Noteworthy News

  • Three Missing After Ship Collision off Ehime: Authorities received a report on Thursday that the 11,000-ton cargo ship, Byakko, and the 2,700-ton chemical tanker, Ulsan Pioneer, had collided off the coast of Imabari City, Ehime Prefecture. The Coast Guard says that the Japanese vessel sank, while local fire department officials say nine of the twelve on board were rescued, but three are still missing. The thirteen South Korean and Burmese on board the South Korean vessel were not injured. The Coast Guard is still searching for the missing people. 

  • New Developments in Aichi Governor Recall Incident: A week has passed since police arrested four individuals in connection to the mass-forgery scandal involving a petition to recall Aichi Governor Hideaki Omura. As time passes, new information has come to light that uncovers how the individuals planned to pull off this scam. According to those with knowledge on the issue, Takahiro Tanaka, the main suspect behind the forgery, asked an advertising company last October to gather part-time workers from China and South Korea. The company refused, and ended up finding workers in Saga city where it found a venue for the mass forgery. It was around this time that the group placed an additional order of blank petition booklets. Police believe Tanaka’s son directly instructed the part-time workers to forge signatures for the petition. Reports suggest that out of the 435,000 signatures, 83 percent were forged. Some point out that the forged names and addresses could have been taken from voter registries. Prefectural police also searched one of the offices owned by Katsuya Takasu, a cosmetic surgeon who initiated the petition, on grounds that he had violated the Local Autonomy Law.

II. Public Opinion Polls

  • A Mainichi Shimbun/Social Survey Research Center poll released Saturday showed a 31 percent approval rating for the Suga cabinet, down 9 percent from April, and a disapproval rating of 59 percent, up 8 percent from April. 
    • 47 percent of respondents said they want Suga to remain prime minister until the end of his term as LDP president at the end of September; 40 percent said they want him to quit as soon as possible; 13 percent said they want him to continue as long as possible.
    • 13 percent of respondents approved of the government’s coronavirus response, down 6 percent from April, while 69 percent said they disapproved, up 6 percent.
    • 31 percent of respondents approved of their local municipalities’ coronavirus response, while 36 percent said they disapproved.
    • 45 percent of respondents said they were concerned their local medical systems could collapse, while 32 percent said they had no such concern.
    • 20 percent of respondents said the current COVID-19 state of emergency is an appropriate measure; 59 percent said the government should prevent the spread of the virus by declaring a nationwide emergency; 12 percent said it should be lifted immediately to prioritize economic recovery
    • 63 percent of respondents said they want to get vaccinated now; 28 percent said they will wait and see; 6 percent said they don’t want to get vaccinated; and 3 percent said they had already been vaccinated
    • 51 percent of respondents said the government is largely responsible for the poorly designed vaccine reservation system, while 13 percent said local municipalities are responsible.
    • 40 percent of respondents said the Olympic Games should be cancelled (up 11 percent from April); 23 percent said it should be postponed again (up 4 percent from April); 20 percent said it should be held without foreign spectators (down 14 percent from April); and 13 percent said it should be held without spectators (down 1 percent from April).
    • 21 percent of respondents believe Japan can balance hosting the Olympic Games and implement coronavirus measures, while 71 percent believe the government should prioritize the coronavirus response.
  • The survey also collected data on the latest approval ratings of political parties.
Party NameApproval Rate (%)
Liberal Democratic Party (LDP)29 (-2)
Komeito (coalition partner of the LDP)4 (±0)
Constitutional Democratic Party (CDP)10 (-1)
Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Innovation Party)6 (-2)
Democratic Party for the People (DPP)1 (±0)
Japanese Communist Party (JCP)5 (+1)
Social Democratic Party (SDP)0 (±0)
Party to Protect the People from Old Parties
(formerly NHK Party)
0 (-1)
Reiwa Shinsengumi 2 (±0)
Independents41 (+5)
Number in parenthesis shows net change from April survey

Image: Captain76 (CC BY-SA 3.0)


6 thoughts on “The Weekly Observer: May 24-28

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