The Weekly Observer: August 9-13

Condensed Ver. (usually around 1/2 of online ver.)
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I. News of the Week


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

1. Japan Confirms Highest Number of Cases in a Day   

  • On Friday, Japan confirmed a record-high 20,365 cases nationwide. Seventeen prefectures confirmed record-highs, with Okinawa’s case tally per 100,000 this week reaching 256.09, which is as bad as the U.K.’s 275.9 cases

  • Tokyo confirmed 5,773 cases on Friday, the highest case count ever. The number of patients with severe symptoms also reached record-highs for the fourth consecutive day at 227 people.

  • The seven-day average as of Wednesday was 3,934 cases, double the number of cases confirmed two weeks ago. The Tokyo Metropolitan Government’s expert panel indicated that this is an emergency in which the virus spreads uncontrollably at disaster-level pace, rendering the medical system to a dysfunctional state.

  • Recent trends show that while the ratio of hospitalized elderly citizens has decreased, those in their forties and fifties without underlying conditions are increasingly hospitalized with severe symptoms and with faster progression in severity. 

  • Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike revealed Wednesday that an individual in his thirties recuperating at home died of COVID-19. He is the third person to die at home due to a sudden change in his health since the start of the “fifth wave” in late July.

  • His death comes a week after the government announced a policy that says hospitals should only accept patients who are seriously ill, moderately ill but in need of oxygen, or at risk of becoming seriously ill.

2. Government Considering an Extension to the State of Emergency Until September 

  • Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said Friday that he instructed cabinet ministers to prepare a system placing “oxygen stations” across the country to provide those recuperating at home with oxygen.

  • He also indicated the government will begin preparations to allow antibody cocktail treatment for individuals experiencing severe symptoms.

  • Regarding a lockdown, which the National Governors Association proposed the government consider earlier in the day, Suga commented that it wasn’t working in other countries to mitigate the spread of the virus.

  • The government’s expert panel issued Thursday an emergency recommendation to reduce people’s movement for the next two weeks in Tokyo by 50 percent from early July levels, or before the explosion in coronavirus cases.

  • In particular, it suggests mitigating people’s movement to areas that are easily crowded such as shopping malls and the food section at department stores. It also proposes asking hospitals and medical staff who have not been involved in the coronavirus response to help ease the burden on medical institutions.

  • Sankei reported Wednesday that next week, the government will consider extending the state of emergency, set to end on August 31, until September. There is growing concern within the government that an extension will be unavoidable.

  • It will also contemplate shifting the thirteen prefectures under pre-emergency measures (man-en bōshi-tō jūten sochi) to a state of emergency.

  • Shigeru Omi, head of the government’s expert panel, said Tuesday that “delta” is now the dominant strain and spreading to places it was not found before. He added that people should thoroughly implement basic measures to avoid the virus. 

  • Suga said Monday that citizens, especially younger generations who face increasing risks of experiencing severe symptoms, should avoid unnecessary travel or returning home to avoid spreading the virus.

  • Yasutoshi Nishimura, minister in charge of economic revitalization, stated Monday that clusters due to homecoming have been reported, and said he will request people avoid returning home over the Obon holiday (8/13-16). 

3. Japan Reaches 100 Million Vaccine Shots 

  • The Cabinet Office reports that, as of Friday, around 108.2 million shots have been administered across the country. Of the total population, 49 percent have been vaccinated once, while 37 percent have been vaccinated twice.

  • Prime Minister Suga revealed at a press conference on Monday that Japan’s total vaccinations reached over 100 million shots. 

  • As of August 6, around 41.6 million people have been vaccinated twice. By the end of the month, the government aims to vaccinate 40 percent (around 50 million) of the population twice.

  • Six leaders of municipal governments in Tokyo, including the largest district Setagaya, issued on Thursday an emergency proposal requesting the government focus vaccine distributions to Tokyo and other regions experiencing a surge in coronavirus cases.

  • It also calls for online check-ups for those recuperating at home, the establishment of a system to allow antibody cocktail treatment and increasing facilities where patients waiting to be hospitalized can get oxygen. 

  • The proposal was sent to both the ruling and opposition parties in an effort to promote a “political ceasefire” to deal with a vaccine shortage in municipalities.

Foreign & Defense Policy

4. Japan-U.S. Developments  

  • On Tuesday, Prime Minister Suga held a phone meeting with President Joe Biden, in which the two spoke about the Olympic Games and reconfirmed the two countries would work closely together to achieve a free and open Indo-Pacific.

  • Takeo Akiba, secretary general of the National Security Secretariat, traveled to the U.S. on August 7-11 for the first time since taking over the position. 

  • On Tuesday, Akiba met with Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin. They discussed regional security issues in the Indo-Pacific region, and reaffirmed that the alliance remains the cornerstone of regional peace and stability

  • On Monday U.S. time, Akiba met with Secretary of State Antony Blinken. Both emphasized the importance of the alliance to maintaining a free and open Indo-Pacific. They discussed China, North Korea and stressed the importance of peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait. 

  • On the same day, Akiba met with National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and exchanged views on the regional situation including China, North Korea and the East and South China Seas. The two agreed to work together closely on cyber and economic security, as well as cooperate through the Quad. 

  • On Sunday, Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato met with U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield. The two reconfirmed the importance of the alliance to regional peace and security, as well as for tackling global issues such as climate change, COVID-19 and strengthening democracy. 

  • Kato also requested that the U.S. continue to support Japanese efforts to resolve the North Korean abduction issue, an “utmost priority for the Suga Cabinet.”

  • Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi had a phone call with Secretary of State Blinken last Friday, in which the two reconfirmed further cooperation to achieve a free and open Indo-Pacific. 

  • This came after China strongly criticized Japan for meddling in its internal affairs by voicing its concerns over the human rights situations in Xinjiang (Uyghurs) and Hong Kong at the East Asia Summit on August 4.

5. Foreign Policy Developments

  • On Friday, ahead of the anniversary of the end of WWII, ministers Nobuo Kishi and Yasutoshi Nishimura visited Yasukuni Shrine, which is seen by neighboring countries as a symbol of Japan’s past militarism. It is the first time since December 2016 that a sitting defense minister has visited the shrine.

  • On Thursday, Foreign Minister Motegi had a phone call with Erywan Yusof, second foreign minister of Brunei and ASEAN’s special envoy to Myanmar.

  • Motegi pointed out that the envoy should open a channel of communication with both the military and pro-democracy organizations. He stated Japan’s full support for the envoy’s activities. 

  • Motegi also had a phone call with Canadian Foreign Minister Marc Garneau following the incident on Wednesday in China, where Canadian businessman Michael Spavor was sentenced to eleven years in jail on espionage charges. 

  • The two ministers agreed that it is important that respect for basic human rights and the rule of law are guaranteed even in China. 

  • On Wednesday, Motegi had a phone call with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. In the meeting requested by Japan, the ministers agreed to continue communicating at all levels to further develop Japan-Russia relations. 

  • The ministers discussed topics including negotiations over a peace treaty, joint economic activity in the Northern Territories, bilateral exchanges, as well as economic and security relations. 

  • According to UNICEF data as of August 1, Japan is only behind the U.S. and China in the list of countries providing vaccines bilaterally for free. Of the 11.62 million doses, Taiwan has received 3.34 million doses, the most of any country.

6. Defense-related Developments

  • In an interview with Newsweek published on Wednesday, Prime Minister Suga said that he does not intend to maintain the one percent cap on defense spending in order to respond to a tougher security environment. 

  • He added that protecting Okinawa in the event of a U.S.-China conflict over Taiwan is a “very important goal of the Japanese government”.  

  • In an interview with the Sydney Morning Herald published on Thursday, Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi said the shifting power balance between the U.S. and China “has become very conspicuous” while a military battle over Taiwan had “skewed greatly in favour of China”.

  • Kishi added that he expected Australia to demonstrate leadership in countering Chinese influence by promoting the free and open Indo-Pacific. 

  • He also stressed that “Japan’s defence policy is not targeted at any specific nation. But given that the security environment surrounding Japan is getting even harsher, we must build a structure where we can protect ourselves.

  • Though refraining from specific comments, he said it was up to the Diet to decide whether constitutional revision is necessary to meet Japan’s security needs.

  • On Tuesday, Finance Minister Taro Aso showed his understanding for an increase in defense spending after FY 2022, stating that spending increases proportionally as other countries continue spending.   

  • He added that it is normal to respond by bolstering deterrence, considering the situations in the East and South China Seas, as well as the Taiwan Strait. China’s defense spending in FY 2021 was about ¥23 trillion, four times more than Japan.

  • The defense ministry decided Wednesday that it will develop unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to support the ASDF’s next generation fighter succeeding the F-2 fighter aircraft. 

  • The UAVs are likely to be used in airspaces away from the combat zone, specifically for the early detection of enemy missiles and aircraft, missile launches and electronic attacks, as well as a “decoy” for enemy aircraft to target. 

  • The ministry expects to include related expenses in its FY 2022 budget request, while accelerating studies to realize AI-controlled autonomous flight technology for the UAVs. Like the fighter, the ministry aims to begin use around 2035

Domestic Politics

7. Suga Speaks at the Nagasaki Peace Memorial Ceremony  

  • Prime Minister Suga spoke Monday at the ceremony in Nagasaki marking the 76th anniversary of the U.S. atomic bombing in 1945.

  • In his address, Suga mentioned that as the “only country to have experienced the horror of nuclear devastation in war, Japan has the unceasing mission of advancing steadily, step by step, the efforts of the international community towards realizing ‘a world free of nuclear weapons.’”

  • He added that as survivors begin to advance in age, the government is determined to continue efforts to inherit the survivors’ recollections of the devastation of nuclear weapons and pass them on.  

  • Like Hiroshima City’s mayor last week, Nagasaki City Mayor Tomihisa Taue urged the government to sign and ratify the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, which entered into force on January 22, 2021. He also proposed the government explore building a nuclear-weapon-free zone in northeast Asia.

  • Following the ceremony, Suga met with representatives of five survivor groups. They requested that Nagasaki’s survivors be able to receive the same medical benefits granted to survivors in the Hiroshima “black rain” ruling last month.

  • Suga reiterated at the press conference after the meeting that he will continue to monitor how the ongoing court case involving Nagasaki survivors proceeds. In the case, plaintiffs desire to be certified as hibakusha,” or survivors of the atomic bombing, eligible to receive a health handbook (hokensho) for survivors. 

8. State of the Economy

  • The labor ministry announced Friday that the national average minimum wage for 2021 was up ¥28 to ¥930 an hour. Seven prefectures raised their minimum wages by more than the proposed ¥28. The wage increase begins in October.

  • The Cabinet Office’s Economy Watchers Survey released on Tuesday showed that the index rose 0.8 points from June, improving for the second consecutive month. The survey asks 2,000 people such as retail store employees and taxi drivers whether they feel the economy is doing better than three months ago.

  • The Cabinet Office commented that the economy is slowly picking up despite still feeling the severe impact of the coronavirus. 

  • The finance ministry said Tuesday the balance of debt at the end of June was a record-high ¥1,220.6 trillion (≈$11 trillion), up ¥4.2 trillion from the end of March. Debt continues to increase largely due to COVID-19 spending and ballooning social security costs.

9. Suga Touts Olympics Success

  • Prime Minister Suga said at a press conference on Monday that Japan was able to fulfill its responsibilities as the host nation.

  • According to multiple opinion polls released this week, at least a majority of citizens are happy the Olympic Games were held: Yomiuri (64 percent), Asahi (56 percent) and TBS/JNN (combined “very” and “somewhat” happy at 61 percent). 

  • Takahide Kiuchi, executive economist at Nomura Research Institute, estimates that the economic effect of the Olympics/Paralympics is expected to be around ¥1.6 trillion due to the maintenance costs of temporary facilities and product sales. 

  • A total of ¥133.7 billion was lost from a loss in ticket sales and hotel revenue after the decision was made to hold the games without spectators. 

  • Meanwhile, IOC President Thomas Bach made the news on Wednesday when a local paper reported that Hiroshima prefecture and city will cover half the cost of his visit to Hiroshima: ¥3.79 million (≈$34,328) for security. The report says the IOC and organizing committee rejected requests to bear the cost.

  • Bach went to Hiroshima to visit the Peace Memorial Park, as well as the museum surveying the history of Hiroshima and the advent of the nuclear bomb.


10. LDP Presidential Election Could Be a Multi-Candidate Race

  • LDP Policy Research Council Chair Hakubun Shimomura said on a TV program aired Wednesday night that the party’s presidential election should take place next month before the House of Representatives election.

  • Shimomura pointed out that he agrees that the LDP should deliberate amongst its own members about the future of the country and the party before holding the Lower House election. 

  • On Wednesday, the Niigata prefectural branch made a proposal to the party headquarters that the election be held next month as the party rules stipulate.

  • According to the rules, election day must be between September 20-29, but some within the party are calling on the party to slightly extend the president’s term and hold the election after the Lower House election.  

  • Elsewhere, Yomiuri noted in an article on Wednesday that a dip in cabinet approval has prompted LDP lawmakers to call for a multi-candidate race where candidates would debate each other and actually compete for the presidency.

  • It is viewed as a swipe at Secretary-General Toshihiro Nikai, who seemingly pressured lawmakers on August 3 to avoid challenging Suga for the presidency.

  • Masaaki Taira, a five-term lawmaker, tweeted on August 5 that he hoped to see a mid-career or young candidate and not just party veterans running for office. A major challenge is obtaining twenty endorsements from fellow lawmakers amid factional jostling, which tends to favor well-known lawmakers.

  • Former internal affairs minister Sanae Takaichi indicated in an article published Monday that she is interested in running for the presidency. She says she envisions a “beautiful, strong and growing country”. Though she is unaffiliated with any faction, she is known to be close to former prime minister Shinzo Abe. 

  • Besides Takaichi, several candidates could surface in the coming weeks—former Policy Research Council chair Fumio Kishida, current chair Shimomura, Acting Secretary-General Seiko Noda, Minister for Administrative Reform and Regulatory Reform Taro Kono, Foreign Minister Motegi and former secretary-general Shigeru Ishiba may enter the race. 

  • It is interesting that Minister Kono tweeted about an upcoming book of his last Wednesday. Candidates sometimes publish books as manifestos ahead of elections; Fumio Kishida published his just three days before last election day.

  • Asahi reported Friday that it is unclear whether Ishiba, who is a popular candidate for prime minister, will run for the presidency again. Ishiba said on a radio show on August 4 that one choice for the party is to work hard under Suga and face the voters with him at the Lower House election.

  • On Monday, former secretary-general Hiroyuki Hosoda, leader of the largest LDP faction, announced his support for Suga’s reelection

11. Lower House Election Related Developments

  • A key demographic in the upcoming House of Representatives election could be younger voters.

  • According to past Nikkei polls, both former prime minister Abe and current Prime Minister Suga poll better among under-30s. 

  • Suga enjoys 58 percent support from those under thirty, and the lowest approval from those over sixty, at 46 percent. 

  • On the opposition side, the Communist Party has recently indicated its frustration over the Constitutional Democratic Party’s lack of enthusiasm in deliberating electoral cooperation. 

  • Reports suggest the JCP expected discussions over electoral cooperation to begin after the Tokyo Assembly election in July, but the CDP has yet to reach out. 

  • CDP leader Yukio Edano is wary of alienating the more conservative members of the party, as well as the Japanese Trade Union Confederation (Rengō), its largest support base which has voiced opposition to cooperating with the JCP.

  • As a result, the JCP has attempted to jumpstart talks by backing four new candidates after the Tokyo Assembly election in districts held by CDP lawmakers.

  • House Speaker Tadamori Oshima (74) announced Thursday that he will not seek reelection and will retire at the end of his term. He joins other high profile veterans in announcing retirement ahead of the election.

Other Noteworthy News

  • Yokohama City Mayoral Election on August 22: Campaign season for the Yokohama City mayoral election began on Sunday, with election day set for August 22. The race is receiving more national coverage because Yokohama, Kanagawa, is Prime Minister Suga’s “home” prefecture (originally from Akita but elected from Kanagawa). The prime minister announced last month that he will support former LDP lawmaker and National Public Safety Commission Chairperson Hachiro Okonogi. According to a recent Asahi poll, Okonogi is currently slightly ahead of the seven other candidates, including incumbent Mayor Fumiko Hayashi, who is seeking a fourth term. Whether Suga’s support will boost his prospects is questionable, especially since the same poll shows cabinet approval in Yokohama is at 29 percent (disapproval at 53 percent). The LDP also announced last month that it will allow lawmakers to decide who to support and vote for because Okonogi’s campaign rests on opposing the LDP’s plan to construct an integrated resort and casino. So far, thirty out of thirty-six local LDP lawmakers have endorsed Okonogi. Okonogi’s position on the project pits him against Mayor Hayashi, who argues the project will have a positive impact on the local economy. This project is likely to be a major game changer, with 40 percent of respondents in the same Asahi poll indicating it was the issue they prioritized most. Support for the IR project overall is low, with the poll registering 68 percent disapproval. Another candidate seen to have a chance to win is former professor Takeharu Yamanaka, who vehemently opposes the IR project. He is backed by opposition parties CDP, JCP and the Social Democratic Party. Despite the Asahi poll suggesting Okonogi was slightly in the lead, a recent LDP poll actually showed Yamanaka was in the lead, most likely because the topic of discussion was shifting from the local IR issue to the national government’s coronavirus response. Thus, for Suga, who has already lost three national races and several local races, a win in this election could help boost his prospects ahead of the Lower House and LDP presidential elections. On the other hand, a loss in his home prefecture could spell the beginning of the end for his term as LDP president. 
  • Japan Admits to Mistreatment of Sri Lankan Woman Who Died at Immigration Center: On Tuesday, the Immigration Services Agency admitted in its final report on the death of a Sri Lankan woman in the Nagoya immigration center that there was an inadequate system in place to medically treat individuals who required such care. As a result of the report, the agency reprimanded (kunkoku) and warned (genjū chūi) four executive-level officials, including the director. The report was compiled following the death of Wishma Sandamali in March at the Nagoya immigration center. She had requested medical treatment after feeling ill but her concerns were reportedly laughed off by the guards. The report also points out that employees at the center ignored her requests for medical treatment and failed to inform the director of her request. In addition to this, the doctors and nurses at the center only work part-time and were not on-site when she died, leaving the employees to respond to her sudden change in health. The agency failed to also grant her request to temporarily leave the facility due to ill health. The agency says that in the future, it will respond to such requests swiftly and ensure the medical system at facilities are improved. It will also place a full-time doctor on-site and coordinate with external medical institutions to ensure such an incident never occurs again. On Thursday, following the release of the report, Justice Minister Yoko Kamikawa met Wishma Sandamali’s family and apologized for the incident. The family also watched partially disclosed video footage from the facility she died in. According to her mother and sister, the video showed how she was “treated like an animal” and discriminated against for being a foreigner. The family will demand full disclosure of the footage before her death and are protesting the agency’s decision to only warn and reprimand the officials involved in the incident. This incident is impacting the ruling coalition’s plan to pass legislation that will amend the immigration control act, allowing individuals who are unlikely to run away to leave the facility and live with their families. The government is keen to pass legislation to resolve the issue of long-term detention of individuals who reject orders to leave the country for overstaying their visas, among other reasons. According to statistics from January, the number of foreign residents living in Japan illegally is at 82,868, an increase of about 20,000 people in five years. The opposition is demanding this incident be resolved before passing the amended immigration control act. It successfully forced the ruling coalition to shelve the same bill back in May when the latter refused to disclose footage from this incident. Similar to May, the opposition is now demanding full disclosure of the footage and deliberation in an out-of-session Diet examination (heikaichū shinsa) before any immigration reform plans proceed.

II. Public Opinion Polls

  • Below is a table comparing this week’s polling data across several outlets:
Media OutletApproval (%)Disapproval (%)
NHK29 (-4)52 (+6)
TBS/JNN33 (-10)64 (+9)
Asahi Shimbun28 (-3)53 (+4)
Yomiuri Shimbun35 (-2)54 (+1)
Jiji29 (±0)48 (-2)
Number in parenthesis shows percent change from last month
  • A Yomiuri Shimbun poll released Tuesday showed a 35 percent approval rating for the Suga cabinet, down 2 percent from July, and a disapproval rating of 54 percent, up 1 percent.
    • 38 percent of respondents said they did not support the government due to the prime minister’s lack of leadership; 24 percent said they had little expectation for its policies; and 18 percent said they could not trust the prime minister.
    • 48 percent of respondents said they want Suga to continue as prime minister until the end of his term as LDP president in September; 21 percent said they want him to continue for another one or two years; 18 percent said they want him out as soon as possible; and 8 percent said they want him as prime minister for as long as possible.
    • When asked which LDP lawmaker they want as the next prime minister:
      • 19 percent of respondents said Shigeru Ishiba;
      • 18 percent said Taro Kono;
      • 17 percent said Shinjiro Koizumi;
      • 15 percent said they had no preference;
      • 10 percent said Shinzo Abe;
      • 4 percent said Fumio Kishida;
      • 3 percent said Yoshihide Suga;
      • 2 percent said Seiko Noda;
      • 1 percent each said Katsunobu Kato, Sanae Takaichi and Toshimitsu Motegi;
      • And zero percent said Hakubun Shimomura.
    • 31 percent of respondents approve of the government’s coronavirus response so far, while 63 percent disapprove.
    • 38 percent of respondents approve of the government’s vaccination response, while 58 percent disapprove.
    • 84 percent of respondents said they will refrain from going on trips over the summer; 9 percent said they will travel to nearby locations; and 6 percent said they would travel across prefectural lines
    • 64 percent of respondents said they believe it was good to host the Olympic Games, while 28 percent said they believe it was not a good idea.
    • 61 percent of respondents said they thought it was good the games were held without spectators; 25 percent said they believe it should have been cancelled; and 12 percent said they believe more spectators should have been let in
    • 55 percent of respondents did not think the games were held in a “safe and secure” manner as promised by Suga, while 38 percent thought it was.
    • 57 percent of respondents said they hope to see another Olympic Games held in Japan, while 38 percent said they did not.
    • When asked who they plan to vote for the in the proportional block in the next election:
      • 37 percent of respondents said they plan to vote for the LDP;
      • 24 percent said they are undecided;
      • 12 percent said the CDP;
      • 6 percent each said Komeito and the Japan Innovation Party;
      • 5 percent said the JCP;
      • And 1 percent each said the DPP, the SDP and Reiwa Shinsengumi.
  • The survey also collected data on the latest approval ratings of political parties.
Party NameApproval Rate (%)
Liberal Democratic Party (LDP)32 (-4)
Komeito (coalition partner of the LDP)3 (-1)
Constitutional Democratic Party (CDP)5 (±0)
Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Innovation Party)2 (±0)
Democratic Party for the People (DPP)0 (-1)
Japanese Communist Party (JCP)3 (±0)
Social Democratic Party (SDP)0 (±0)
Reiwa Shinsengumi0 (±0)
Independents49 (+6)
Number in parenthesis shows net change from July survey

Image: Captain76 (CC BY-SA 3.0)


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