The Weekly Observer: May 31-June 4

Condensed Ver.

I. News of the Week


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

1. A Week Into the Freshly Extended State of Emergency

  • Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike asked Tokyo residents on Friday to avoid unnecessary travel and outdoor activities on weekends and after 8 p.m. on weekdays. Experts say there has been a notable increase in movement outside, especially at night

  • The health ministry’s expert panel said Wednesday that although the number of cases nationwide is on a decline ever since mid-May, a rebound in cases could occur due to the increasing number of people stepping outside.

  • The panel warned that the number of young people contracting the virus in Okinawa is at an “unprecedented high,” while in Tokyo, an increase in people stepping outside can lead to another surge in cases.

  • Okinawa has experienced an upward trend in cases, reaching 300 daily cases at the end of last month. The prefecture decided Thursday that a surge in cases among those below ten years of age warranted closing down prefectural schools for two weeks between June 7-20. 

  • Health minister Norihisa Tamura stated Tuesday that current case numbers are still too high, saying the government extended the emergency to reduce cases to around the “Stage 2” level. This is less than a 20 percent hospital bed occupancy rate and twenty new cases per 100,000 citizens.

  • Many prefectures have relaxed their restrictive measures under the extended state of emergency. Tokyo and Osaka allow large-scale commercial facilities such as shopping malls, which were previously closed, to stay open until 8 p.m. on weekdays and closed on weekends. Amusement parks, galleries and other facilities will no longer be closed off completely too. [Check last week’s newsletter for more on restrictive measures]

  • Chief Cabinet Secretary Kato Katsunobu said Saturday that it is “possible” the government shifts prefectures currently under the state of emergency to pre-emergency measures (man-en bōshi-tō jūten sochi) to ensure case numbers continue to remain low.

2. New “Vietnam” Strain Identified 

  • Chief Cabinet Secretary Kato said Friday that, given heightening concerns over the spread of the Indian strain in the U.K., Japan will request those traveling from there to stay in a state-designated facility for the first six days of quarantine. The previous measures required them to remain there for three

  • The government announced Tuesday that it will begin strengthening border measures on Friday for those returning from Vietnam, Malaysia and other countries where variant cases are increasing.

  • Those returning from Vietnam and Malaysia will be required to self-isolate for six days; those from Afghanistan, who test positive at higher rates at airports, for ten; and those from Thailand, Germany and parts of the U.S. for three days.

  • Kato said Monday that no cases of the “Vietnam” strain, a hybrid of the U.K. and Indian strains, have been detected domestically.

  • The National Governors Association put together a proposal Saturday calling on the government to strengthen border measures and testing in light of the spike in cases of the Indian strain.

  • While Japan strengthens its border measures, Europe is relaxing its measures. The EU announced Friday that it has added Japan to the list of countries that are allowed unnecessary and non-urgent travel to the region. France also announced that if travelers from Japan can present a negative test, they will no longer be required to quarantine for a week. 

3. General Population to Begin Vaccination Soon

  • As of Wednesday, around 67 percent of healthcare personnel have been vaccinated twice. Around 17 percent of citizens over 65 years old and 270,000 citizens below this age group have completed their first vaccination.

  • Tokyo is scheduled to set up five mass vaccination sites of its own in July. It hopes to complete vaccinating all residents in the capital by the end of the year, months before its previously set goal at the end of March next year.

  • A government survey released Tuesday showed that 99 percent of municipalities across the country expect to complete vaccinating the elderly by the end of July. Twenty-three municipalities in Hokkaido, Tokyo, Fukushima, Akita and Saitama responded that they will not meet that deadline.

  • Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga met with the leaders of Japan’s three largest business lobbies on Thursday, asking that they cooperate in rolling out workplace vaccinations.

  • Suga said Tuesday that municipalities which complete vaccinating the elderly will begin vaccinating the general population this month.

  • Yomiuri reported that 60 percent of a total of 69 local governments in Tokyo’s 23 wards and cities where the prefectural offices are located have not decided when to begin sending out vaccine vouchers to citizens below the age of 65. The government is requesting municipalities to send out vouchers starting mid-June.

  • The government hopes to begin vaccinating people at their workplaces and university campuses with Moderna vaccines starting June 21. Companies will set up vaccination sites at their offices, while those without large venues can borrow rental offices for free.

  • The government is asking companies and universities to start by vaccinating the elderly, but eventually move on to employees, their families and students. This comes as Japan expects to have about 50 million extra doses by the end of June.

  • Vaccine czar Taro Kono announced Tuesday that five prefectures with the highest inoculation rates—Wakayama, Yamaguchi, Tottori, Saga and Kochi—will receive their desired vaccine supply from the approximately 18.72 million doses to be delivered in two weeks starting June 21. The plan is to distribute effectively and speed up vaccination.

  • In light of earlier struggles to acquire foreign-made vaccines, the Suga cabinet decided Tuesday to approve a long-term strategy on developing a strong domestic vaccine development and production system.

  • The plan includes forming a top-class research facility that can conduct research during peacetime, as well as expediting the approval process and buying up domestic vaccines when new viral strains are reported.

  • A study group of the health ministry approved Monday a policy to conditionally allow clinical technicians and paramedics to help administer vaccines. The group said municipalities which have trouble gathering doctors and nurses can enlist them to help as long as they complete the required training.

  • The ministry has approved extraordinary measures to allow others besides doctors and nurses to administer the vaccine due to a severe shortage in medical personnel required to vaccinate citizens. The government will also ask physicians and radiologic technologists to follow-up on vaccinated individuals.

  • Kono also revealed Saturday that the Japan Dental Association informed Suga that 6,000 dentists completed training to administer vaccines. They will help administer vaccines as Japan races to vaccinate citizens ahead of the Olympics.

Foreign & Defense Policy

4. Suga to Attend G7 Leaders’ Summit Next Week 

  • Suga will travel to the U.K. on June 10 for his first G7 summit to be held in Cornwall between June 11-13. He will stay in the U.K. for five days.

  • The leaders are expected to discuss COVID-19, climate change, economic recovery from the pandemic, free trade, and regional issues involving China.

  • Suga is expected to call for international cooperation on addressing climate change, as well as fair access to vaccines. He is also expected to gain approval from the other G7 leaders on hosting the Olympic Games in the summer.

  • Arrangements are also being made for a Japan-U.S.-South Korea trilateral meeting on the sidelines of the summit, as President Moon Jae-in has been invited as an observer.

  • Ahead of the summit, Suga met with former prime minister Shinzo Abe on Thursday, in which the latter advised the prime minister to speak up and actively voice his opinion at the summit.

5. G7 Finance Ministers’ Meeting

  • The G7 nations’ finance ministers are meeting in London on June 4-5.

  • A draft communique showed that the ministers will commit to not withdrawing policy support too soon and investing to promote growth, create high-quality jobs and address climate change and inequalities.

  • The communique will address the gradual withdrawal of stimulus to ensure long-term sustainability of public finances.

  • The G7 will also set a global minimum corporate tax level to ensure large multinational companies pay their fair share of taxes. The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) plans to reach its own deal in the summer. The U.S. has proposed a tax of at least 15 percent.

  • Finance minister Taro Aso said Tuesday that the ministers are unlikely to reach an agreement on the tax rate at the meeting in London.

  • Aso and Bank of Japan Governor Haruhiko Kuroda attended a virtual meeting of the G7 Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors last Friday, in which the leaders discussed working together to secure a green and sustainable global economic recovery.

  • The group also discussed climate-related financial disclosures and support for the development of international sustainability-related financial reporting standards. As of May 20, 2,134 companies and organizations—of which 396 companies and organizations are from Japan—support these measures.

6. Japan-U.S. Developments

  • Adm. John Aquilino made his first overseas trip as commander of the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command to Japan, meeting with Suga, Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi and Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi on Tuesday.

  • Adm. Aquilino was accompanied by Lt. Gen. Kevin Schneider, the commander of U.S. Forces Japan, in his meeting with Suga. They confirmed that the two countries will further strengthen the alliance to maintain peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific region.

  • The two sides expressed their strong opinion against China’s unilateral attempts to change the status quo in the East China Sea. The two also discussed realignment of the U.S. Forces Japan while maintaining deterrence capabilities.

  • Adm. Aquilino and Kishi reaffirmed that cooperation between the SDF and the Indo-Pacific Command is important for maintaining and strengthening the free and open Indo-Pacific. They agreed to continue close cooperation to further strengthen the alliance’s capabilities amid the deteriorating security environment.

  • Nikkei reports that Adm. Aquilino and Kishi also reaffirmed the importance of peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait.

  • In the meeting with Motegi, the two sides reaffirmed that the realignment of U.S. Forces Japan will move steadily ahead. Motegi requested that, in order to get local support for U.S. presence in Okinawa, U.S. military activity in Japan be conducted in a safe manner; he also said Japan would like to cooperate closely with the U.S. to respond to any incidents or accidents smoothly.

  • The JMSDF announced the same day that Adm. Hiroshi Yamamura, chief of staff, was conferred with the Legion of Merit by Adm. Aquilino for his contributions to the Japan-U.S. alliance.

7. LDP Project Team Submits Proposal on Furthering Japan-Taiwan Relations

  • The LDP Foreign Affairs Division’s Taiwan project team submitted Thursday its first proposal to the government regarding Japan-Taiwan relations.

  • The proposal states that “peace in the waters around Taiwan is directly linked to Japan’s security.” It also notes that China’s unilateral attempts to change the status quo with Taiwan are becoming intense.

  • On diplomacy, the proposal recommends establishing lines of communication between Japan, the U.S. and Taiwan through forums and dialogue between lawmakers.

  • On economic security, it calls on Japan to strengthen cooperation with Taiwan in developing a supply chain that relies less on China. The proposal praises recent moves by the government to push for joint development of semiconductors

  • On trade and infrastructure, it urges Japan to push for Taiwan’s inclusion in the CPTPP and consider crafting a Japan-Taiwan FTA or EPA.

  • On national security, it states that a Chinese attack on Taiwan directly affects the southwestern islands and Japan’s national security as a whole. It suggests uniting allies in the Indo-Pacific to strengthen deterrence, as well as conducting simulations to prepare for situations such as evacuating Japanese citizens. 

8. Foreign Policy Developments

  • Japan announced Friday that it will hold a 2+2 meeting of foreign and defense ministers with Australia next Wednesday online. 

  • Defense Minister Kishi expressed his willingness to take the cooperative relationship between the two countries to a new level in order to maintain and strengthen FOIP in light of China’s recent maritime assertiveness.

  • Foreign Minister Motegi announced that Japan sent 1.24 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine to Taiwan. He said Japan was providing vaccines for free in consideration of its friendship with Taiwan.

  • The vaccines will arrive on Friday afternoon. This comes a week after Taiwan accused China of interfering with its vaccine deals. China criticized Taiwan and President Tsai Ing-wen for thanking Japan, stating that it too had offered its vaccines to Taiwan on numerous occasions.

  • Foreign Minister Joseph Wu of Taiwan said Thursday at a Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan’s online press conference that he hopes to further strengthen relations with Japan, a country with which it shares values such as freedom and democracy.

  • On Thursday, Takehiro Funakoshi, director general of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau, participated in the twelfth Japan-China High-Level Consultation on Maritime Affairs. Funakoshi voiced his concerns over Chinese intrusions into waters around the Senkaku Islands and requested that these acts stop.

  • Suga announced Wednesday after the COVAX summit that, in addition to the $200 million already disbursed, Japan will commit another $800 million to the COVAX facility. Overall, countries raised $8.3 billion to provide vaccines to developing countries.  

  • The eleven countries participating in the CPTPP began negotiations Wednesday with the U.K. regarding its accession to the trade agreement. With the U.K., the deal will cover 16 percent of world GDP. Nikkei reports that China has reached out unofficially to New Zealand and Singapore about its potential accession to the trade pact. 

  • The South Korean Foreign Ministry summoned Hirohisa Soma, a deputy chief of mission at the Japanese Embassy in Seoul, on Tuesday to protest Foreign Minister Motegi’s remark that the Moon government keeps “shifting the goalposts” regarding issues such as the 2015 “comfort women” agreement; it also protested the map on the Olympics website which includes Takeshima (Dokdo) as part of Japan. 

9. Defense-Related Developments

  • On Thursday, four Chinese Coast Guard vessels were confirmed navigating the contiguous zone around the Senkaku Islands, marking a record-high 112th consecutive day that a Chinese vessel has navigated this zone. 

  • Chinese provocations have intensified recently, with an increasing number of cases where Chinese vessels follow the movement of Japanese fishing boats and enter the contiguous zone (24 nautical miles out from territory that must be declared by coastal state). 

  • Defense Minister Kishi and General Phan Van Giang, defense minister of Vietnam, spoke online Thursday to discuss strengthening bilateral defense cooperation and exchanges. 

  • The two ministers also discussed regional issues such as Chinese maritime assertiveness in the East and South China Seas, and the importance of observing international law and upholding FOIP. 

  • Defense Minister Kishi and the Philippines’ Secretary of National Defense Delfin N. Lorenzana spoke online Wednesday to discuss the importance of observing international law, including UNCLOS, and upholding FOIP. 

  • The two ministers also discussed Chinese maritime activities, North Korea and Myanmar. The two agreed to bolster defense cooperation through activities such as the Defense-to-Defense dialogue at an early date. 

  • The Ministry of Defense began transporting ammunition to the Bora training ground in Miyakojima, Okinawa, where the JSDF has its ammunition storage. Surface-to-ship and surface-to-air missiles are set to be delivered sequentially. 

  • The training ground was established in March 2019 as part of strengthening defense of the southwestern islands following heightened Chinese presence in the region. The missile unit using these weapons was deployed in March 2020.

  • The ministry has also decided to deploy a “mobile surveillance squadron” (idō keikai-tai) equipped with a mobile radar to monitor violations of airspace around the Ogasawara Islands in the Pacific Ocean. This is viewed as a response to increasing Chinese activities in the Pacific, and to plug the gap in what has been regarded as an “open space in air defense surveillance.” 

10. Economic Security

  • The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry unveiled Friday its “semiconductor/digital industry strategy,” which outlines the importance of supporting these industries critical to Japan’s economic security.

  • Among other things, the strategy indicates Japan will look to establish semiconductor factories jointly operated by domestic and foreign companies, as well as create a data center to centralize and bolster data collection and transmission.

  • Minister Hiroshi Kajiyama said Tuesday that Japan is willing to host manufacturing centers for semiconductors in the future, saying it will help vitalize the domestic industry.

  • The ministry announced Monday that it will provide ¥19 billion (≈$172 million) over five years for Taiwanese semiconductor producer TSMC’s project in Japan to jointly develop semiconductors with twenty Japanese companies

  • Construction of a trial facility will begin as early as this summer at the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology, in Tsukuba, Ibaraki. Full-blown research and development work will begin as early as 2022.

  • The LDP’s Strategic HQ on the Creation of a New International Order submitted last week its interim report on economic and fiscal management reform. The report includes sections on protecting domestic technology, shoring up foreign investment rules and identifying critical sectors to Japan’s economy. 

  • Renesas Electronics, one of Japan’s largest chipmakers, announced this week that it will resume production to pre-fire levels in mid-June. In April, Renesas was forced to halt production after a fire broke out at its Ibaraki factory. 

Domestic Politics

11. Diet Proceedings

  • Suga met with Komeito leader Natsuo Yamaguchi on Wednesday, confirming the Diet session would end as scheduled on June 16. Last Friday, main opposition CDP leader Yukio Edano called for an extension to continue implementing coronavirus countermeasures and form a FY 2021 supplementary budget. 

  • The Diet approved Friday a bill doubling out-of-pocket medical expenses for those above 75 years of age and an income of over ¥2 million (¥3.2 million if both husband and wife are over 75). It will cut ¥72 billion in annual government support and ¥98 billion in public expenses. The bill will be enforced sometime between October 2022 and March 2023

  • The Diet also approved an amendment to the law extending the retirement age of public officials to 65. The law raises retirement age by a year every two years beginning 2023, introduces a “retirement system” that excludes employees who have turned 60 from managerial positions, and reduces the salary of those above 60 years old to about 70 percent of what they are receiving. 

  • The Diet approved Thursday an amendment to the law promoting paternity leave, which introduces leave of up to four weeks within eight weeks of a child’s birth. People can also request leave two weeks in advance, instead of a month. 

  • The LDP, Komeito and Japan Innovation Party submitted Thursday a bill that allows COVID-19 patients recovering at home or those who have come into contact, and those who return from abroad and in quarantine to vote by mail. A special committee of the Lower House will begin deliberations on June 7

  • The Lower House passed a bill which establishes that the government will pay up to ¥13 million depending on symptoms deriving from exposure to asbestos at construction sites and a separate fee in consideration of the burden of long-term court proceedings. 

  • It also establishes a fund to assist other victims, including those who have yet to file a lawsuit or who may develop symptoms in the future. It is expected to be approved by the Upper House by the end of the session on June 16.

  • The Japan Innovation Party and Democratic People’s Party submitted Wednesday a bill that amends the Self-Defense Forces Act, which stipulates the standards for surveillance activities by the SDF and its use of weapons. The bill was submitted as a response to China’s increasing activities in the East China Sea, as well as an appeal to conservative voters ahead of the snap election. 

  • At a meeting of the Upper House Commission on the Constitution, the ruling coalition proposed putting the amended National Referendum Law up for a vote on June 9. The opposition will deliberate whether to agree to this schedule. 

  • The law stipulates how to conduct the citizen vote, the final step to amending the Constitution. The revised law includes provisions such as setting up “common voting booths” that allows voters to cast their votes at places like train stations or shopping malls, rather than predetermined locations. 

  • The Lower House passed Tuesday a bill which restricts buying, selling and using of land near facilities critical to national security (jūyō tochi-tō chōsa hōan). It will be a race against time to pass it through the Upper House before June 16. 

12. State of the Economy

  • The ministry of health, labor and welfare announced Friday that the total fertility rate in Japan last year declined for a fifth consecutive year to 1.34. The number of births was the lowest since data became available in 1899.  

  • The Japan Innovation Party put together a proposal Thursday that calls for the consumption tax to be reduced to five percent for a limited time, and a supplementary budget of ¥30 trillion for this fiscal year. The party says such measures are necessary to support households and businesses who have been impacted by the coronavirus. 

  • Kyodo reported Thursday that the government has deleted language in its economic growth strategy which confirmed the continued use of nuclear power. This could have an impact on the basic energy plan, which establishes Japan’s energy mix, set to be finalized in the summer

  • The ministry of health, labor and welfare announced Wednesday that the number of applicants requesting public assistance (seikatsu hogo) last year was up 2.3 percent from 2019 at 228,000, the first increase since the 2008 financial crisis

  • The government put together a growth plan which heavily features decarbonization. A ¥2 trillion fund has been established for green-related projects. Plans include increasing the number of EV charging stations fivefold to 150,000, as well as hydrogen stations for fuel cell vehicles sixfold to around 1,000.  

  • The finance ministry announced Tuesday that recurring revenue for domestic companies in the January-March period was ¥20.75 trillion, a 26 percent increase from the same period last year. It is the first increase in eight quarters, largely brought about by strong domestic and foreign auto sales

  • The OECD released a report on Monday which showed world GDP is projected to grow by 5.8 percent, up 0.2 percent from its March projections. Japan’s projections were lowered from 2.7 to 2.6 percent due to the state of emergency and slow vaccine rollout. 

  • Reports on Monday said the Bank of Japan did not purchase exchange-traded funds (ETFs) in May, the first time since Governor Kuroda began monetary easing in 2013

  • The Tokyo Metropolitan Government’s (TMG) Public Finance Adjustment Reserve Funds (funds pooled in surplus years to compensate deficits in other years) at the end of FY 2021 was ¥2.1 billion, a 99 percent decrease from the end of last fiscal year. Tokyo has cut down its reserve funds to financially assist businesses and individuals during the extended state of emergency.

  • Nikkei reported Sunday that the government is preparing to allow start-ups to offer their shares through a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC). The government will include the issue in its growth strategy plan in June and begin discussions with the Tokyo Stock Exchange in the summer. Listings by these blank-check companies may become possible as early as next year

13. Government Expert Contradicts Government Position on Olympic Games

  • Suga stressed Friday that he believes hosting the games safely and securely will bring “hope and courage” to the world. He also said earlier in the week that he has never prioritized the games over citizen’s lives.

  • Transport minister Kazuyoshi Akaba also stressed the government would take every measure necessary to thoroughly implement coronavirus countermeasures. He added that the government is considering the implementation of digital certificates for travelers to prove vaccination or a negative test. 

  • Economic revitalization minister Yasutoshi Nishimura said Thursday that there was low risk of a viral spread at stadiums, pointing out that baseball and soccer games are being played during the state of emergency with no reported outbreaks.

  • Seiko Hashimoto, organizing committee chair, said in an interview with the BBC that the games will 100 percent go ahead as planned. She did, however, say the government is prepared to host the games with no spectators in attendance. 

  • The government announced Friday that it will allow up to forty individuals to accompany leadership-level personnel from abroad. The original plan was twelve, but concerns over inadequate security for leaders led to the shift in policy. Japan will also expect individuals to be vaccinated and return home after five days

  • The government is also considering strict rules for spectators. A draft obtained by Yomiuri includes requiring spectators to present a negative test obtained within a week of attending an event. Vaccinated individuals will not be required to present a negative test if they can provide a vaccination certificate. 

  • All participants from overseas must obtain two negative tests within ninety-six hours before departure, and must be tested daily upon arrival in Japan as well as for the next three days. As a general rule, athletes will be inspected every day, and tournament officials will also be inspected regularly according to the frequency of contact with athletes.

  • The IOC will require participants to sign a waiver that indicates they may face health risks or death caused by coronavirus infections and Japan’s heat if they compete in the games. 

  • Meanwhile, Shigeru Omi, head of the government’s expert panel, said Wednesday that “it’s not normal to have the Olympics in a situation like this.” He added that if the government is going forward with the games, it must show strong resolve and clarify its reasons for proceeding to the public. 

  • Omi told lawmakers that he plans to publish experts’ thoughts regarding the risks of hosting the Olympics. Health minister Tamura responded on Friday that the government will accept it as unofficial, “independent research.”

  • Concerns do exist among the public. NHK reported Thursday that 10,000 volunteers out of the 80,000 who signed up have withdrawn from the games. Other reports claim that visiting medical officers, or those who supervise medical staff at venues, are also withdrawing. 

  • The TMG announced Tuesday that it was canceling plans to set up a public viewing venue at Yoyogi Park. It will instead use the park as a mass vaccination site. There has been criticism over the TMG’s decision to cut trees in the park to make space for the public viewing site.

  • The opposition requested on Monday that the government review its decision to allow athletes to drink and bring alcohol into Olympic Village. They argue that treating athletes differently from citizens, who are being told to refrain from many activities, will make it harder to gain the understanding of the people.

14. Other Developments

  • A third-party panel reviewing scandals involving the communications ministry said Friday that officials entertained by Tohokushinsha may have been aware that the satellite broadcasting firm was violating a law on foreign ownership.

  • The case made headlines as Suga’s son worked for Tohokushinsha. The panel’s report said that the ministry likely knew about the violation but did not revoke the company’s license. It argues that the ministry cannot escape criticism that being treated to lavish dinners distorted its work.

  • The ministry said it punished 32 officials for ethics code violations in relation to a series of wining and dining incidents. A ministry probe found that there had been a total of 78 illegal cases of wining and dining involving Tohokushinsha, telecom giant NTT and its mobile unit NTT Docomo Inc.

  • An LDP group examining the ideal administrative structure to roll out policies related to children put together an emergency resolution on Thursday, calling on the government to allocate more funds and establish a “child agency” with a new minister in charge of it. Komeito made a similar proposal on Monday but with the prime minister in charge of the “child and families agency.”

  • Chief Cabinet Secretary Kato said Wednesday that it is constitutionally possible for a woman whose mother is of the emperor’s lineage to become emperor. At the same time, he explained that the Imperial Household Law limits heirs to males. 

  • The government set up an expert panel in April to discuss how to stabilize the succession of emperors. Kato added that current practices must be examined carefully in consideration of the long history it has regarding male heirs. 

  • The government said Monday that it will conduct a national survey of about 20,000 people in December to understand the realities of “loneliness and isolation” (kodoku and koritsu). It appointed a minister of loneliness in February after suicides increased in 2020 for the first time in eleven years.  


15. Preparations for Snap Election 

  • The LDP announced Thursday that it made an informal decision to endorse all nine Komeito candidates running for office in the upcoming snap election. 

  • LDP Secretary-General Toshihiro Nikai stressed Tuesday that the party is determined to call the snap election if the opposition submits a no-confidence resolution before the end of the Diet session on June 16. 

  • CDP Diet Affairs Committee Chair Jun Azumi said the same day that the party has left the decision to submit a no-confidence resolution to Edano, its leader. The party will make its final decision after the leaders’ debate on June 9

  • The debate will be held between Suga, Edano, Japan Innovation Party co-President Toranosuke Katayama, Democratic People’s Party leader Yuichiro Tamaki and Japan Communist Party Chairman Kazuo Shii. Edano will be given thirty minutes, while the others will each get five minutes to debate Suga. 

Other Noteworthy News

  • Ex-Trade Minister Sugawara Resigns as Lawmaker: The Lower House approved Thursday ex-trade minister and LDP lawmaker Isshu Sugawara’s resignation following reports that he is set to be indicted for violating the elections law. Sugawara submitted his request to leave the LDP on Tuesday before submitting his resignation request. Prosecutors originally dropped Sugawara’s prosecution last June over allegations he had given money and gifts to twenty-seven voters in his district. However, amid a re-investigation in February into the previous allegations, new allegations emerged that he had gifted event organizers in his district with ¥50,000 in cash. Sugawara took responsibility and quit, but the issue is unlikely to end there. The opposition criticized him for receiving a summer bonus of ¥3.1 million by resigning a day after he fulfilled eligibility requirements to receive it. They also demanded Wednesday that he appear before the Diet Political Ethics Committee to explain the scandal before his resignation. Suga apologized that night for his fellow party lawmaker’s actions. Given Suga pushed for Sugawara to be appointed trade minister in 2019, some believe this scandal will hurt the prime minister and his reputation.

  • LDP Leaning Against Submitting LGBT Bill: LDP Policy Research Council Chair Hakubun Shimomura apologized Thursday for inaccurately claiming the previous day that the LDP and CDP had agreed to shelve the bill promoting understanding of LGBT and other sexual minorities. The party’s General Council Chair Tsutomu Sato had said last Friday that the party decided to shelve the bill after conservative lawmakers expressed reservations and prevented the approval process from moving forward. Lawmakers from a cross-party parliamentary group unhappy with this decision met with Secretary-General Nikai on Tuesday to request the submission of the bill during this Diet session. LDP Diet Affairs Committee Chair Hiroshi Moriyama acknowledged the importance of the bill but said there isn’t enough time to deliberate and pass the bill by June 16. There has been public outrage regarding the LDP’s decision to at least temporarily hold off on submitting the bill. A group representing LGBT people visited the LDP headquarters on Friday to hand over a written request asking that the bill be submitted during this Diet session. A protest was organized last Sunday in front of the headquarters, urging the LDP to submit the bill and promote a society without discrimination based on sexual orientation and sexual identity. With regards to promoting understanding of sexual minorities, Tokyo’s Governor Koike said Wednesday the TMG is considering a same-sex partnership certificate that provides some civil benefits but is not a legally recognized marriage certificate.

II. Public Opinion Polls

  • The Suga cabinet’s approval has taken a significant dip across several newspapers—Yomiuri, Kyodo, Nikkei, NHK and Asahi—in May, most likely due to frustration with the slow rollout of the government’s vaccine program. How fast it can complete vaccinating its citizens may impact its performance at the polls.
  • A Nihon Keizai Shimbun/TV Tokyo poll released Monday showed a 40 percent approval rating for the Suga cabinet, down 7 percent from April, and a disapproval rating of 50 percent, matching the record high logged in January.
    • 55 percent of respondents said they disapproved because of Suga’s lack of leadership, while 37 percent cited bad policies.
    • 31 percent of respondents approved of the government’s coronavirus response, while 64 percent said they disapproved, down 1 percent.
    • 77 percent of respondents said the recent decision to extend the COVID-19 state of emergency in nine prefectures was appropriate, while 17 percent said it was not.
    • 62 percent of respondents said the Olympic Games should be postponed or cancelled; 33 percent said it should be held with limited or no spectators; and 1 percent said it should be held as originally scheduled.
    • 22 percent of respondents said the games should be delayed again unless the viral spread slows down, while 40 percent said it may need to be cancelled altogether.
    • 77 percent (most since 2019) of respondents said political parties should enter into concrete discussion over constitutional revision, most likely due to the mishandling of the pandemic, while 14 percent saw no need.
    • 42 percent of respondents support Suga’s Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), down 5 percent from April; 8 percent of respondents support the Constitutional Democratic Party (CDP), the main opposition; and 33 percent of respondents support no party, up 4 percent.
    • 23 percent of respondents said Taro Kono should be the next prime minister; 14 percent said Shigeru Ishiba; and 11 percent said Shinjiro Koizumi.
  • A Yomiuri Shimbun poll released Monday showed that 30 percent of respondents from Tokyo will vote for the LDP in the upcoming Tokyo Assembly election (up 5 percent from 2017), while 11 percent will vote for the Tomin First no Kai, the local party with the most seats in the assembly (down 11 percent). 
    • 8 percent of respondents will vote for the CDP, 7 percent for Komeito, and 6 percent for the Japan Communist Party
    • 45 percent of respondents approved of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government’s coronavirus response, while 48 percent said they disapproved.
    • 48 percent of respondents said the Olympic Games should be cancelled; 25 percent said it should be held with limited spectator attendance; and 24 percent said it should be held with no spectators.

Image: Captain76 (CC BY-SA 3.0)


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