The Weekly Observer: June 7-11

Condensed Ver.

I. News of the Week


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

1. The Situation

  • Yasutoshi Nishimura, minister in charge of economic revitalization, said Friday that the government will consult with experts and decide next week whether to lift the state of emergency currently in place in ten prefectures. 

  • Reports on Thursday suggest the government will decide next week whether to move prefectures under the state of emergency, set to end on June 20, to pre-emergency measures (man-en bōshi-tō jūten sochi).

  • The plan is for the eight prefectures besides Okinawa and Hokkaido, which are experiencing higher case counts, to be placed under pre-emergency measures between June 21 and July 23, right before the Olympics start. 

  • The government expects to lift pre-emergency measures in Gunma, Ishikawa and Kumamoto on June 13, following a decline in daily cases. The measures will remain in place in the other five prefectures

  • The health ministry’s expert panel said Wednesday that while case numbers are declining nationwide, some regions such as Okinawa and Hokkaido still see high hospital occupancy rates, indicating a strain on the local healthcare system. The panel also warns that people’s movement in Tokyo increased for a fourth consecutive week, leading to concerns of a spike in cases. 

  • The number of new infections per 100,000 people in the last week exceeded the threshold of 25 cases indicating “Stage Four” (highest cautionary level) in Okinawa (102.89 cases/100,000 people) and Hokkaido (29.45 cases).

  • Minister Nishimura reported Tuesday that there were 993 cases of infection clusters in May. He added that workplace and school outbreaks are increasing. 

  • Experts from the health ministry’s panel said Monday that the “delta strain” (Indian) is 1.78 times more likely to spread than the traditional strain. A screening test conducted by a research institute in Tokyo during the week leading up to June 6 showed this strain accounted for more than 30 percent of cases, a record high.

2. The Response

  • Kenta Izumi, CDP policy research council chair, said Tuesday that the party will seek to extend the current Diet session to form a supplementary budget that includes cash handouts for those facing financial hardship during the pandemic.

  • The CDP is demanding a ¥33 trillion (≈$301 billion) budget that includes a ¥100,000 handout for individuals facing financial hardship, as well as restarting the subsidy program for sustaining businesses during the pandemic. 

  • The government is drawing up plans to make online healthcare a mainstay starting next year, following temporary approval during the pandemic. As a general rule, only family doctors (kakaritsuke-i) can conduct online check-ups, while other doctors may be able to if the patient’s condition is known through medical files. 

  • Health ministry data as of the end of April shows that only 6.5 percent of medical institutions are prepared for online consultation upon a patient’s first visit.

3. Vaccination Pace Accelerates as New Sites Prepare to Open

  • According to data published by the University of Oxford, as of Wednesday, 12 percent of Japan’s population has been vaccinated once. This is the same as the world average, but significantly lower than the rest of the G7 countries which have vaccinated at least 40 percent of their respective populations.

  • However, vaccination pace is accelerating rather quickly, with Vaccine Czar Taro Kono stating that Japan has reached 800,000 doses per day—200,000 shy of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s goal of a million doses a day. 

  • Kono also said Friday that vaccinations at the workplace will begin as early as next week. Japan Airlines and All Nippon Airways, for example, plan to begin vaccinating pilots and cabin crew on international flights. 

  • Japanese media reported Thursday that at least 196 Japanese citizens have died after vaccination began in the country. An expert group of the health ministry, in charge of examining side effects, said that there was no causal relationship between the vaccine and the deaths of 139 individuals the group analyzed.  

  • Given the amount of available reservation spots, the government decided Thursday it will begin accepting reservations for the SDF-led mass vaccination sites in Tokyo and Osaka from citizens across the country. It will also add phone reservations to online reservations in a bid to boost convenience. 

  • As of Thursday, there are more than 112,000 open spots out of the 140,000 available at the Tokyo venue, as well as 47,000 spots out of 70,000 available at the Osaka venue for reservations between June 14-27.

  • Yomiuri reported that pharmaceutical company Shionogi plans to produce enough domestic vaccines for 30 million people. The company also revealed it is developing a vaccine specifically for variant strains.

  • Suga said Wednesday that vaccinations were proceeding at a faster pace than he expected, and that he hopes to finish inoculating everyone who wants to get vaccinated sometime in October or November.

  • Vaccination for Tokyo’s police officers and firefighters began Tuesday at the former Tsukiji fish market. Tokyo announced that 3,000 people were vaccinated. It plans to raise that number to 5,000 a day and complete the vaccination of around 110,000 people by the end of the month. Fire brigade members and veterinarians are also eligible for vaccination. 

  • The government began accepting applications online on Tuesday from universities and businesses of more than 1,000 employees (to be relaxed gradually) willing to set up vaccination sites for inoculation starting June 21. As of Friday, 1,583 applications were submitted; as of Thursday, thirty-two universities have also submitted applications.

  • Kono expressed expectations that the target population for vaccination at these venues will soon be expanded to include business affiliates, partners and employees’ families. 

  • He also stressed that, in order to avoid taking resources away from vaccinating the elderly, universities and businesses should find their own venues and health care staff to administer the vaccines. 

  • Small and medium-sized businesses have found it particularly difficult to find venues and health care staff to administer vaccines. The Tokyo Medical, Dental, Pharmacist and Nursing Associations announced Tuesday that they will jointly establish a “Tokyo Vaccine Team” to dispatch health care staff to any companies or venues that lack occupational physicians to administer the vaccine. 

  • The Ministry of Defense stated that between May 24-31, 4,081 citizens who reserved a spot to get vaccinated at the SDF-run Tokyo or Osaka mass vaccination sites did not show up. The government has warned that not showing up without cancelling reservations could lead to a waste of valuable vaccine supply. 

  • The ministry also announced that around 80-90 percent of available spots for vaccination between June 14-27 are still open. Minister Nobuo Kishi believes people are starting to get vaccinated locally instead of at the mass sites.

  • Nikkei reported Monday that the government is looking to issue COVID-19 certificates this summer to vaccinated residents traveling abroad. An interagency team led by Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato is discussing a program for businesspeople and others to boost travel and other economic activities.

  • Plans call for issuing a paper certificate this summer, followed by a digital version by the end of the year. The passports will be issued by local governments and linked to a national vaccination record for accuracy. There remains concerns that this could lead to discrimination against those who are not vaccinated.

  • Yomiuri reported Sunday that over 7,000 doses have been disposed of due to errors such as leaving vaccines at room temperature and diluting the vaccine twice as much as the prescribed amount. 

Foreign & Defense Policy

4. Suga Heads to the G7 Leaders’ Summit   

  • Suga left Japan for the G7 Summit in Cornwall, U.K., on Thursday night. It is the first in-person summit in two years and Suga’s first as prime minister. The leaders will meet between Friday-Sunday. 

  • The leaders are expected to discuss China, which is strengthening hegemonic behavior, as well as measures against the new coronavirus, climate change, free trade and fair distribution of vaccines. The leaders are also likely to commit to the global minimum tax which was agreed upon last week by the finance ministers.

  • Suga also looks to gain the G7’s approval for hosting the Olympic Games. U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson backed the games at a meeting with Suga on Friday. 

  • A major point of interest is how the G7 plans to communicate its position on issues pertaining to China. These issues include China’s increasing maritime assertiveness in the East and South China Seas; Taiwan; and human rights violations against Uyghurs.

  • Nikkei reported Wednesday that the G7 plans to create guidelines to prevent leaks of sensitive research data amid growing concerns that China is siphoning cutting edge knowledge and technology. 

  • The guidelines, to be included in the joint statement, will only target projects on AI, quantum technologies and other areas that have military applications. A working group will be formed this year to finalize the guidelines. 

  • The ministry of economy, trade and industry (METI) is strengthening measures to prevent leaks from Japanese universities and researchers too. Going forward, METI will require Japanese and foreign researchers employed in Japan that have contracts with foreign governments or companies and judged to be influenced by said countries to obtain permission before sharing their research. 

  • Nikkei also reported Tuesday that the communique to be issued after the summit will likely include a statement on supporting “peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait,” as well as one opposing the situation in Hong Kong and the crackdown on human rights in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.

  • National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said Tuesday that, at the summit, President Biden will announce a new initiative to provide infrastructure financing for the developing world. He said it will be a high-standard, climate-friendly, transparent, and rules-based alternative to what China is offering.

5. G7 Finance Ministers’ Meeting

  • The finance ministers and central bank governors of the G7 nations issued a communique on Saturday, discussing a range of issues from a sustainable economic recovery to tackling climate change.

  • The ministers reaffirmed the developed country’s goal to mobilize $100 billion annually for developing countries in the context of climate finance, as well as supporting mandatory climate-related financial disclosures on sustainability.

  • The ministers committed to continuing monetary policy as long as necessary and investing to promote growth, create high-quality jobs and address climate change and inequalities.

  • The ministers committed to reaching a solution on the allocation of taxing rights, with market countries awarded rights on at least 20 percent of profit exceeding a 10 percent margin for the largest and most profitable multinational enterprises.

  • The ministers also agreed to a global minimum tax of at least 15 percent on a country by country basis. Finance Minister Taro Aso, who said last week the G7 was unlikely to reach an agreement, praised the “historic” deal.

  • There are some concerns that a minimum tax will hurt Japanese companies with business dealings in Southeast Asia, where tax rates are significantly lower. A formal agreement at the G20 meeting in July is expected to end the “race to the bottom” on corporate tax rates. 

6. Japan-U.S. Developments

  • The Ministry of Defense announced Thursday that about 26,000 Japanese employees working at U.S. bases can choose to get vaccinated by U.S. military medical personnel at hospitals and other locations on site.

  • Biden’s Indo-Pacific Coordinator Kurt Campbell said Tuesday that the U.S. aims to host the first in-person Quad summit between leaders of the U.S., Japan, Australia and India in the fall in Washington. He noted that the distribution of vaccines and further cooperation in infrastructure building will be on the agenda.

  • The Biden administration published a fact sheet Tuesday on addressing short-term supply chain disruptions. The document encourages the U.S. to partner with allies like Japan to promote fair semiconductor chip allocation as well as increased investment and production

  • It also recommends the U.S. expand multilateral diplomatic engagement on supply chain vulnerabilities, particularly through groupings of like-minded partners such as the G7 and the Quad

  • The Blue Dot Network, an infrastructure initiative first announced in 2019 by the U.S., Japan and Australia to provide emerging markets an alternative to China’s BRI, held a meeting on Monday in Paris. 

  • This initiative, which would certify projects that meet standards such as transparency and sustainability, is meant to spur private sector investment for infrastructure development in emerging markets.

  • While certainly promising, with over 150 executives from 96 countries responsible for some $12 trillion of assets under management participating in Monday’s meeting, there are concerns that it falls short of the BRI in terms of funding. Others suggest that it would take advantage of untouched funds such as pension and insurance funds and crowd out corrupt approaches to investment

  • State Minister for Foreign Affairs Takashi Uto received a courtesy call (hyōkei) from Admiral Samuel Paparo, Commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet on Monday. The two discussed the importance of peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific, improving deterrence amid increasing Chinese assertiveness, and the reorganization of U.S. Forces Japan. 

7. Foreign Policy Developments

  • Chief Cabinet Secretary Kato said Friday that Suga misspoke during Wednesday’s debate by naming Taiwan as a country with strong restrictions on individual rights to respond to COVID-19. He reiterated the government’s position since the 1972 Japan-China communique that it recognizes the PRC as the sole legitimate government of China. 

  • Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi spoke with Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi of Indonesia on Thursday. The two discussed the situation in Myanmar, with Motegi stating that Japan will continue to support ASEAN initiatives to improve the situation.

  • Motegi also spoke with Brunei’s foreign minister on Wednesday, in which the minister expressed his support for ASEAN’s “Five Point Consensus,” including dispatching a special envoy and achieving constructive dialogue with the involved parties. Brunei is the chair of ASEAN this year.

  • Motegi and Defense Minister Kishi took part in the Ninth Japan-Australia Foreign and Defence Ministerial Consultations (2+2) on Wednesday. They agreed to deepen cooperation between the “Special Strategic Partners,” which share fundamental values and strategic interests, to realize a free and open Indo-Pacific amid the increasingly challenging security environment in the region. 

  • The ministers also agreed to conduct more complex and sophisticated bilateral exercises and sign the reciprocal access agreement at the earliest possible time. The joint statement mentions the importance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait and shared concerns about human rights abuses by China

  • Japan will also provide protection for Australian ships through the national security legislation that says the NSC will decide whether or not to grant such protection when requested. Australia is the second country after the U.S. to be provided this protection from Japan.

  • Motegi and Minister of Foreign Affairs Marise Payne spoke before the 2+2 meeting too, agreeing to support ASEAN’s efforts to improve the situation in Myanmar as well as collaborate to ensure equitable access to vaccines.  

  • Motegi spoke with Minister of Foreign Affairs Sameh Shoukry of Egypt on Monday, exchanging views on the Israel-Palestine conflict and stating his determination to play an active role in assisting people in the Gaza Strip

  • The Seoul Central District Court surprisingly dismissed Monday a compensation lawsuit filed by eighty-five Korean laborers forced to work for sixteen Japanese companies during WWII. The court ruled that the 1965 treaty, signed to resolve the issue, limits the rights of Koreans to appeal against Japan or its companies. 

  • Chief Cabinet Secretary Kato said Monday that Japan will continue to negotiate persistently to resolve its territorial dispute with Russia over the Northern Territories and conclude a peace treaty. This comes after President Putin said last Friday that he does not think negotiations should be interrupted despite the constitutional ban on ceding territory. 

  • Hiroshi Kajiyama, minister of economy, trade and industry participated in the APEC Trade Ministers’ Meeting over the weekend. The joint statement mentions the need for WTO reform, establishing a rules-based multilateral trade system, and ensuring equitable access to vaccines by reducing barriers to trade

  • The G7 health ministers’ issued a communique following their virtual meeting on June 3-4, which commits the countries to take strategic actions in global health security, antimicrobial resistance, clinical trials and digital health. 

  • Among other things, the statement emphasizes the importance of equitable access to vaccines and strengthening international cooperation to conduct clinical trials that ensures fast access to safe and effective treatments and vaccines.

  • Yomiuri reported Saturday that the government is arranging to send AstraZeneca vaccines to Vietnam and Malaysia, which are experiencing a surge in cases, by the end of the month. Like Taiwan, the two countries have approved the vaccine’s use.

8. Defense-Related Developments

  • Nikkei reported Wednesday that the SDF has carried out thirty-eight joint exercises with foreign militaries between January and May, averaging two drills a week

  • The MSDF has held sixty-nine naval exercises, the ASDF has participated in twenty-eight, and the GSDF in nine since January 2020. In recent years, Japan has increased multilateral exercises with European countries as well as India and Australia

  • After his meeting with Biden on Monday, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg indicated that NATO needs to build closer ties with countries that share common values, such as Japan, to counter China

  • Sankei reported Sunday that the SDF, Japan Coast Guard and police have held multiple war games simulating the smooth transition from peacetime to a crisis in the event of a conflict with China over the Senkaku Islands. In a state of crisis, the SDF will take over, while the JCG and police will retreat from the combat zone. 

  • On Thursday, Chinese vessels entered the contiguous zone (24 nautical miles out from territory that must be declared by coastal state) around the Senkaku Islands for the 118th consecutive day, a record high since Japan nationalized the islands in September 2012. 

9. Economic Security

  • Nikkei reported Thursday that Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. (TSMC), the world’s largest chipmaker, is evaluating plans to build its first plant in Japan in Kumamoto prefecture. 

  • If built, the facility would be near a plant owned by Sony, a major buyer of TSMC’s chips, and help meet growing demand for image sensors, automotive microcontrollers and other chips.

  • This potential development comes a week after METI announced that it will provide ¥19 billion (≈$172 million) over five years for TSMC’s project to jointly develop semiconductors with twenty Japanese companies

  • Akira Amari, former economy minister, said in an interview with Bloomberg published Tuesday that Japan must cooperate with TSMC to build its own manufacturing base. Japan’s share of global semiconductor sales dwindled to just 10 percent in 2019, down from 50 percent in 1988. 

  • Amari’s interview comes a week after METI issued a report saying Japan would develop its chip making industry as a “national project.”  

Domestic Politics

10. Draft of 2021-2022 Economic and Fiscal Policy Formed

  • The government’s Council on Economic and Fiscal Policy presented Wednesday the draft of the basic guideline for economic and fiscal management (honebuto no hōshin). Started in 2001, this document shows the core policies of the cabinet and the direction of budgeting for the next fiscal year.

  • Suga reiterated at the meeting that 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 document states that the pandemic has highlighted a need for a stronger centralized system in times of crisis. As a response, the government is considering legal measures to expedite the commercialization of therapeutic drugs and vaccines as well as to organize a vaccination system. 

  • In addition, the government plans to establish an administrative organization, likely to be named the “Children’s Agency,” that can respond to various issues related to children. It will also promote the implementation of a “selective three-day work week” to realize a society with a flexible set of work styles. 

  • The draft also recommits to the goal of achieving a primary balance surplus (revenue – expenditure) by FY 2025. However, a Cabinet Office calculation in January projected that COVID-19 spending and decreasing tax revenue will push back achieving primary balance surplus to FY 2029

11. Diet Enters Final Days of 204th Session

  • The LDP’s top officials decided Thursday that the party will consider whether to extend the current Diet session, set to end on Wednesday, after Suga returns from the G7 summit in the U.K. 

  • This comes after the opposition parties demanded a three month extension to continue implementing coronavirus countermeasures and form a FY 2021 supplementary budget. The opposition will consider submitting a no-confidence resolution (fushin-nin ketsugi) if the ruling coalition rejects its demand. 

  • After three years of deliberation and delay, the amended National Referendum Law was passed by the Upper House and approved by the Diet. The law stipulates how to conduct the citizen vote, the final step to amending the Constitution. It also stipulates that lawmakers will examine measures to regulate ads and spending during a referendum within three years of the law’s enforcement. 

  • 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. 

  • Experts suggest that the amendment was long overdue. On ad regulations, many voice the need for fair distribution to avoid large money interests from dominating the conversation. Others also welcome the debate over introducing minimum voter turnout, which could help pass some amendments easier but also stifle the opinion of those who do not or cannot vote. 

  • The Upper House on Friday passed a resolution criticizing the coup in Myanmar and calling on the government to use every diplomatic resource at its disposal for the early recovery of a democratic political system, emergency assistance to displaced citizens and banning arms exports to the junta. The Lower House will vote on a Myanmar resolution as well. 

  • The Upper House also passed a resolution calling on the WHO to allow Taiwan’s participation in its next general assembly. The resolution says Taiwan’s success in keeping case numbers low will help the world deal with the pandemic. 

  • The Lower House Steering Committee (un-ei iinkai) decided Thursday that the occupational vaccination of lawmakers and Diet staff will start by the end of July

  • The Lower House passed on Thursday a bill that allows COVID-19 patients recovering at home or those who have come into contact with patients, and those who return from abroad and in quarantine to vote by mail. If passed by the end of the session, it will come into effect before the Tokyo Assembly election on July 4

  • On Wednesday, the Diet approved amendments to bills such as the Act on Strengthening Industrial Competitiveness, which aim to restructure the industrial base by reducing corporate tax to boost corporate investment in decarbonization and digitization efforts, as well as hosting shareholder meetings only online.

  • The Diet also approved a bill which establishes that the government will compensate up to ¥13 million (≈$119,000) for individuals who were exposed to asbestos at construction sites between the 1970s and early 2000s. The ministry of health, labor and welfare expects to pay up to ¥400 billion to 31,000 individuals

  • The Upper House Cabinet Committee began deliberating on a bill which restricts buying, selling and using land near facilities critical to national security (jūyō tochi-tō chōsa hōan). Hachiro Okonogi, chair of the National Public Safety Commission, said Tuesday that the bill should be used sparingly given the impact it would have on socioeconomic activities.

  • The government can designate areas around 1 km from important facilities such as SDF bases, nuclear power plants and remote islands near the border as “monitored areas” (chūshi kuiki), and investigate the name and citizenship of landowners.

  • It can also designate “specially monitored areas” (tokubetsu chūshi kuiki), or areas of particular importance such as SDF headquarters or uninhabited islands near territorial boundaries, where buying and selling land of a specified size will require the landowner to disclose their name and citizenship.

  • There are concerns that people who own land near such critical facilities will have to disclose their identities whether they’d like to or not. There are other concerns that real estate prices will fall. Another concern is that the government can penalize individuals who “impede the function” of state-designated facilities, most likely referring to those who protest U.S. bases and nuclear power plants

12. State of the Economy

  • The Nikkei Stock Average fell to 28,923.30 on Friday, despite a surge in the U.S. consumer price index pushing the CPI inflation rate up and initially raising the Nikkei index. Individual stocks such as those in the chip making industry and marine transportation performed well. 

  • The average finished higher on Thursday after Suga’s remarks about the government’s coronavirus vaccine rollout plans bolstered hopes for progress in reopening the economy

  • The government put together a roadmap to a “carbon-free society” on Wednesday, which states Japan will establish around 100 “leading areas in decarbonization” across the country that will achieve close to zero emissions by 2030. 

  • The government also positions the nationwide implementation of solar panels as a priority policy, setting the goal of increasing the ratio of public facilities using solar energy to 50 percent in 2030 and 100 percent in 2040. 

  • Nikkei reported Tuesday that a Japanese consortium will sign an agreement soon with a Finnish group led by the University of Oulu to conduct joint research and development of sixth-generation communications technology (6G)

  • The Japanese consortium, which aims to commercialize 6G technology in the 2030s, includes the University of Tokyo along with major Japanese telecom players such as NTT, KDDI, SoftBank Corp. and Rakuten Mobile. Finnish telecom supplier Nokia will also join the project. Japan aims for at least a 10 percent share in 6G patents and 30 percent or more in equipment and software.

  • A Nikkei survey released Monday showed that a third of Japan’s listed companies plan to increase dividend payouts (distribution of company earnings to shareholders) this fiscal year.

  • Due to an improving business environment, the 1,476 listed companies that have announced earnings forecasts are expected to post on average a 30 percent increase in net profit from the previous year, marking a second consecutive year of double-digit rises.

13. Less Than Two Months Until the Olympic Games 

  • Japan’s official position, as stated by Suga on Monday, is to host the games safely and securely only if it can uphold the promise that Japanese citizens will be protected. Suga has not given any indication that the games could be cancelled. 

  • Health minister Norihisa Tamura said Friday that the prefectures which canceled setting up public viewing (PV) venues made the “appropriate” decision. Since Tokyo announced last week that it was using Yoyogi Park as a vaccination site instead of a PV venue, several other prefectures have also cancelled such plans. 

  • Shigeru Omi, head of the government’s coronavirus expert panel, suggested Wednesday that the government cancel PV events and focus on promoting new ways to cheer athletes on, such as watching at home

  • Omi, who drew ire from the government last week for repeatedly warning of the risks of hosting the games, also said the government must ensure the healthcare system is not burdened further by COVID-19 cases related to the games. 

  • Organizing Committee President Seiko Hashimoto said Friday that organizers will start vaccinating 18,000 referees, Olympic Village staff, airport staff, doping testers and some volunteers who work closely with athletes on June 18. 

  • The organizing committee announced Thursday that the IOC’s John Coates, head of the Coordination Commission, and Christophe Dubi, executive director, will arrive in Japan ahead of the games on June 15. President Thomas Bach is scheduled to arrive sometime in July.

  • The IOC announced Wednesday that the decision on spectators will be made by the end of the month. The organizing committee has previously stated a decision will be made after the state of emergency is lifted on June 20

  • Olympics Minister Tamayo Marukawa said Tuesday that it would be difficult to postpone the games since rescheduling and restarting preparations later would prove a difficult task.

  • Chairman Haruo Ozaki of the Japan Medical Association said that the only way the games could go forward is without spectators. He added that depending on the COVID-19 situation, the government should consider canceling the games.

  • Organizing Committee President Hashimoto said that foreign journalists will be required to self-isolate for fourteen days, undergo daily tests and be monitored via smartphone GPS. Journalists and other foreign individuals can travel during quarantine as long as they do not use public transportation. 

  • The government said that approximately ¥4.36 billion (≈$40 million) has been allocated in the FY 2021 budget as hospitality expenses for overseas VIPs (leader-level). 

  • Nippon Television reported Monday that an individual working at the Japanese Olympic Committee’s accounting department jumped in front of a train and died. Police are treating it as a suspected suicide, while JOC President Yasuhiro Yamashita contends that the man’s family does not believe it to be a suicide. 

  • On Monday, the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly voted on and rejected a petition requesting the games be cancelled. The Assembly also passed a supplementary budget allocating ¥455.2 billion to establish five mass vaccination sites and compensate local clinics that vaccinate the elderly.   

  • LDP Policy Research Council Chair Hakubun Shimomura said Saturday that the government must indicate a standard for which to decide whether to host the games and whether to allow spectators into venues. 

14. Other Developments

  • In a video message for a meeting of the Parliamentary League to Enact a New Constitution (Shin Kenpō Seitei Giin Dōmei) on Thursday, Suga doubled down on his commitment to amend the Constitution, saying the discussion must transcend party lines to get citizens on board. The parliamentary league was headed by the late Yasuhiro Nakasone who passed away two years ago.

  • The government decided Tuesday that it will establish a team headed by Chief Cabinet Secretary Kato to consider the role a new “Child Agency” would play. This comes a week after an LDP group put together an emergency resolution calling on the government to establish the agency to better roll out policies related to children. 

  • The team will include bureaucrats from the cabinet office, education ministry, and the ministry of health, labor and welfare, all of which have a say in policies related to children. The agency is likely to be housed in one of these ministries. 

  • Tsukasa Akimoto, the former LDP lawmaker arrested in 2019 for accepting bribes from a Chinese company in connection with an integrated resort project he was in charge of as deputy minister of the Cabinet Office, was released Tuesday on bail

  • Akimoto was also indicted last August for attempting to bribe a witness during the trial. His impending release was postponed until Tuesday. 

  • Akimoto continues to maintain his innocence and indicates he will resume political activities. He added that he will prepare for the snap election while the court proceeds with the case. A verdict is expected before the election.

  • Suga emphasized Monday during a Diet session that the party will fulfill its promise with citizens to pass a bill promoting understanding of LGBT and other sexual minorities. The bill was shelved last week after conservative lawmakers expressed reservations and prevented the approval process from moving forward.


15. Aftermath of Wednesday’s Debate 

  • Wednesday’s debate between the leaders of five political parties was a taste of what to expect once election season comes around. 

  • During the debate, Suga defended the government’s coronavirus response, arguing that it had allocated enough funds for countermeasures and sped up the rollout of the vaccination program. Suga also defended his position on the Olympics, stating the games would serve as a symbol that the world is overcoming the pandemic

  • Following the debate, CDP leader Yukio Edano criticized Suga’s attitude during the debate, claiming he circled around many of the questions that were asked. The CDP decided that this warranted considering the submission of a no-confidence resolution

  • After Edano said the government should not lift the state of emergency in Tokyo until daily case numbers are below fifty, LDP lawmakers hit back that this was unrealistic, and that drawing the line by daily case numbers instead of hospital occupancy rates lacks justification.

  • Yuuichiro Tamaki, leader of the Democratic People’s Party, said after the debate that Suga lacked awareness of the current situation and did not share his sense of crisis regarding the pandemic.  

  • Kazuo Shii, leader of the Communist Party, said that Suga’s responses to his questions were “terrible,” saying the prime minister dodged his question asking why the Olympics had to be held at the risk of the lives of Japanese citizens. 

16. Preparations for Snap Election 

  • Edano spoke at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan on Friday and discussed his new book “Edano Vision,” Japan’s COVID-19 response and the Olympic Games. 

  • He said that Japan must keep up with the rapidly changing world and proposes a society that redistributes income and enriches what he calls “essential work.” He also criticized the government’s vaccination program and proposed that it negotiate postponing or canceling the Olympics with the IOC.  

  • At a meeting of the LDP factions on Thursday, lawmakers pointed out that the party must begin preparing for the snap election after the Diet session comes to an end next week. The political schedule is full, with the Tokyo Assembly election in July, the Olympics in July-August, and the snap election likely in the fall

  • The LDP will also hold its presidential election in September. Party heavyweights are beginning to prepare for this election too, with several of them establishing new parliamentary groups to control the direction of the party’s policies. 

  • Secretary-General Toshihiro Nikai is preparing to establish a new group promoting the free and open Indo-Pacific next week, with former prime minister Shinzo Abe as its senior advisor. 

  • This is viewed as a counter to recent actions by Aso and his fellow faction member Akira Amari to pull Abe into their orbit. Abe and Aso joined Friday a group headed by former policy research council chair Fumio Kishida which will discuss economic policies such as income redistribution

  • Abe was named senior advisor to another group headed by Amari which aims to strengthen the competitiveness of domestic EV storage batteries. Abe and Aso were also named senior advisors to the Japan-Australia Parliamentary League on Tuesday, while Amari was named an advisor.  

  • Aso and Nikai are well-known rivals, with the former especially wary of the latter’s strong relationship with Suga. Meanwhile, Aso and Abe are known allies

Other Noteworthy News

  • New Troubles For Toshiba After Third-Party Probe Concludes Collusion: An independent investigation led by three lawyers found that government officials colluded with Toshiba to prevent shareholders from exercising their voting rights at last year’s annual general meeting. The report, published on Thursday, said Toshiba and METI officials devised a plan to prevent Effissimo Capital Management, which holds 9.9 percent of Toshiba shares, from exercising its shareholder proposal to add three of its nominees to the board. Toshiba’s then-CEO Nobuaki Kurumatani also met with Suga, then-chief cabinet secretary, and presumably discussed Toshiba’s plan to prevent the proposal. Suga denied that he was given an explanation on the issue. The probe did not find sufficient evidence to tie Toshiba to a separate report that it had interfered with Harvard Management Company’s voting rights at the annual meeting. The report concludes that Toshiba did not “fairly manage” the meeting. This comes after Toshiba made the news in April for almost being acquired by private equity fund CVC Capital Partners, and the subsequent resignation of CEO Kurumatani. This report will likely amplify shareholders’ calls for change at the company ahead of this year’s annual shareholder meeting on June 25

  • FDA Approves Alzheimer’s Drug Co-Developed by Eisai: The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved Monday a new medication for Alzheimer’s disease called Aducanumab, the first new drug for the disease in eighteen years. The drug was co-developed by U.S. company Biogen and Japan’s Eisai, and is effective in removing amyloid beta, which accumulates in the brain and is considered a disease-causing substance. It is the first medication to tackle the disease process rather than just treating symptoms of dementia. There are, however, some uncertainties regarding its benefits. The drug did not reverse mental decline, only slowing it in one study. The FDA’s top regulator acknowledged these uncertainties, but maintained that the drug does reduce harmful clumps of plaque which will help slow dementia. This approval came despite an independent panel writing in November that reanalyzed data from a single study did not prove the drug’s effectiveness. The FDA did require Biogen to conduct another trial to confirm the benefits of the drug, which will be completed by 2030. In the meantime, around six million patients can start using the drug, which Biogen plans to begin shipping within two weeks. Eisai’s CEO said that the treatment would “become a substantial blockbuster” and bring in annual sales of over $1 billion. The company may take advantage of the approval to file for regulatory approval for Lecanemab, another Alzheimer’s drug, in the fiscal year ending in March 2023.

II. Public Opinion Polls

  • A Yomiuri Shimbun poll released Monday showed a 37 percent approval rating for the Suga cabinet, down 6 percent from May (lowest since the cabinet was formed), and a disapproval rating of 50 percent, up four percent.
    • 42 percent of respondents said they disapproved because of Suga’s lack of leadership, while 22 percent cited bad policies.
    • 43 percent of respondents said they want Suga to continue as prime minister until the end of his term as LDP president in September; 23 percent said for another one or two years; 16 percent said they want him out now; and 13 percent said as long as possible
    • 27 percent of respondents approved of the government’s coronavirus response, up four percent, while 68 percent said they disapproved.
    • 50 percent of respondents said they would like to get vaccinated; 27 percent said they would like to get vaccinated as soon as possible; 14 percent said they have already been vaccinated; and 8 percent said they will not get vaccinated.
    • 37 percent of respondents said the government’s vaccination program is proceeding at a good pace, while 58 percent it is slow.
    • 68 percent of respondents said they are feeling “COVID-19 fatigue” from self-restraining over a long period of time, while 30 percent said they didn’t feel “fatigue.”
    • 48 percent of respondents said the Olympic Games should be cancelled; 26 percent said it should be held with no spectators; and 24 percent said it should be held with limited spectators.
    • 63 percent of respondents said the government’s coronavirus countermeasures for athletes and other personnel from abroad is inadequate, while 19 percent said it is sufficient
  • The survey also collected data on the latest approval ratings of political parties.
Party NameApproval Rate (%)
Liberal Democratic Party (LDP)33 (-4)
Komeito (coalition partner of the LDP)3 (+1)
Constitutional Democratic Party (CDP)5 (-2)
Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Innovation Party)2 (±0)
Democratic Party for the People (DPP)0 (-1)
Japanese Communist Party (JCP)3 (+1)
Social Democratic Party (SDP)1 (+1)
Reiwa Shinsengumi0 (±0)
Independents48 (+4)
Number in parenthesis shows net change from May survey
  • A Cabinet Office survey released last Friday showed 71.6 percent of respondents felt tired of having to restrict certain activities due to the pandemic. Younger generations tend to feel this more than older generations. 
    • Respondents in their sixties and seventies said they were most worried about health, while respondents in their teens were most worried about the lack of interaction with others and society. 

Image: Captain76 (CC BY-SA 3.0)


2 thoughts on “The Weekly Observer: June 7-11

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