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Are the Olympics cancelled? Japan official's comments sow doubts

Reuters

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A senior Japanese ruling party official said on Thursday (15 April) that cancelling this year’s Olympics in Tokyo remains an option if the coronavirus crisis becomes too dire, dropping a bomb on a hot-button issue and sending social media into a frenzy, write Sam Nussey, Chang-Ran Kim, Mari Saito, Rocky Swift, Kiyoshi Takenaka, Sakura Murakami, Daiki Iga and Yoshifumi Takemoto.

“If it seems impossible to do it any more, then we have to stop, decisively,” Toshihiro Nikai, secretary general of the Liberal Democratic Party, said in comments to broadcaster TBS.

Cancellation is “of course” an option, he said, adding: “If the Olympics were to spread infection, then what are the Olympics for?”

With the country in the midst of a fourth wave of coronavirus infections, doubts over whether Tokyo would be able to host the Summer Games - already an unpopular idea with the public - have resurfaced in recent weeks.

But government and organising officials have consistently insisted the Games would go ahead, and the fact that a ruling party heavyweight made the comment was enough to give his comments top billing on domestic news. “Olympics Cancelled” was trending on Twitter in Japan with more than 45,000 tweets from users as of Thursday afternoon.

“If this person says it, Olympics cancellation looks like a reality,” tweeted @marumaru_clm in reference to Nikai, who is a key backer of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and is known for his frank comments.

“Yay! This is great! Finally, it’s cancelled, cancelled, cancelled!” tweeted another user, @haruha3156.

Nikai later issued a written statement to explain his stance.

“I want the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics to succeed,” the statement said. “At the same time, to the question of whether we would host the (Games) no matter what, that is not the case. That’s what I meant by my comments.”

The Japanese Olympic Committee (JOC) and the Tokyo government declined to comment, while the Tokyo 2020 organising committee did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Japan is grappling with rising COVID-19 infections, with new cases in Tokyo jumping to 729 on Thursday, the most since early February. Tokyo, Osaka and several other prefectures entered a quasi-state of emergency this month, asking bars and restaurants to shorten their hours.

Still, the government is pushing ahead with preparations incorporating social distancing measures and other restrictions for the postponed Games, which are set to begin on July 23 and will be held without international spectators. A scaled-back torch relay is already underway.

“We’ll hold (the Games) in a way that’s feasible,” Taro Kono, a popular minister in charge of Japan’s vaccination drive, said on a separate TV programme, according to Kyodo News. “That may be without spectators,” he added.

Japan’s top medical adviser, Shigeru Omi, acknowledged the pandemic had entered a fourth wave, driven by mutant strains, with Kyoto University professor Hiroshi Nishiura urging in a magazine commentary that the Olympics be postponed.

Akira Koike, an opposition lawmaker with the Japanese Communist Party, reacted to Nikai’s comments on Twitter saying that holding the event was already “impossible” and that a swift decision on cancellation should be made.

Cancelling or postponing the Games would probably not hurt Japan’s economy much but would have a larger effect on Tokyo’s service sector, a senior International Monetary Fund official said on Wednesday.

EU

EU and Japan hold high-level policy dialogue on education, culture and sport

EU Reporter Correspondent

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On 10 May, Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth Commissioner Mariya Gabriel held a videoconference with the Japanese Minister for Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, Koichi Hagiuda (pictured), to discuss EU-Japan co-operation in the fields of their portfolios. Both sides reaffirmed their commitment to continued cooperation and support from their respective programmes, and agreed to join forces on researcher mobility. This ongoing cooperation has taken on new significance during the COVID-19 crisis, which has hit these sectors hard.

Commissioner Gabriel said: “Education, culture and sport bring people together – to learn, to teach, to create and to compete. International cooperation in these areas will always lead to a better understanding – like between Europe and Japan. In Brussels, as in Tokyo, we are looking at the future of education and the digital transition. I was delighted to exchange ideas and good practices in this field, as well as in culture and sport, with Mr Hagiuda and his team.”

Ahead of the Summer Olympic Games in Japan, Minister Haiuda shared updates during the meeting on the organisation of such a large-scale event in these unprecedented times. Commissioner Gabriel and Minister Hagiuda also welcomed the progress of the three special joint EU-Japan Erasmus Mundus Master programmes in robotics, extended reality, and history, which were launched as an outcome of the first policy dialogue of July 2018. Finally, they both emphasised the importance of people-to-people exchanges and agreed to maintain direct discussions on a regular basis. The forthcoming EU-Japan Summit will further highlight the scale and breadth of cooperation under the EU-Japan Strategic Partnership Agreement. A joint statement and more information following today's meeting are available online.

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Ten years after Fukushima, Japan remembers 'man-made' nuclear disaster

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A worker, wearing a protective suit and a mask, is seen from a bus near the No. 3 reactor building at Tokyo Electric Power Co's (TEPCO) tsunami-crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Okuma town, Fukushima prefecture, Japan February 10, 2016. REUTERS/Toru Hanai

When a huge earthquake and tsunami struck Japan on March 11, 2011, devastating towns and triggering nuclear meltdowns in Fukushima, a stunned world watched the chaotic struggle to contain the world’s worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl, writes Linda Sieg.

An onslaught of waves sparked by the 9.0-magnitude quake crashed into the northeastern coast, killing nearly 20,000 people and crippling the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant. More than 160,000 residents fled as radiation spewed into the air.

At the time, some - including Prime Minister Naoto Kan - feared Tokyo would need to be evacuated, or worse.

“Fukushima is stamped for the rest of the history of nuclear energy,” said Kiyoshi Kurokawa, head of an investigation that concluded the disaster was “profoundly man-made”.

The government has spent about $300 billion (32.1 trillion yen) to rebuild the tsunami-devastated Tohoku region, but areas around the Fukushima plant remain off-limits, worries about radiation levels linger and many who left have settled elsewhere. Decommissioning of the crippled plant will take decades and billions of dollars.

Japan is again debating the role of nuclear power in its energy mix as the resource-poor country aims to achieve net carbon neutrality by 2050 to fight global warming. But an NHK public TV survey showed 85% of the public worries about nuclear accidents.

Energy policy was left in limbo after Shinzo Abe led his pro-nuclear energy Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) back to power the year after the disaster, ousting the novice Democratic Party of Japan, whose image was tainted by its handling of Fukushima.

“They sort of left things adrift,” said Tobias Harris, senior vice president at consultancy Teneo and author of a book about Abe.

‘RESULT OF COLLUSION’

Kurokawa’s commission, appointed by parliament, concluded in 2012 that the Fukushima accident was “the result of collusion between the government, regulators and Tokyo Electric Power Co” and a lack of governance.

Abe resigned last year, citing poor health, and his successor, Yoshihide Suga, has announced a goal of net carbon neutrality by 2050.

Gradually recovering: Fukushima residents talk ten years on

Proponents say nuclear power is vital to decarbonization. Critics say cost, safety and the challenge of storing nuclear waste are all reasons to avoid it.

“Those talking about atomic power are people in the ‘nuclear village’, who want to protect their vested interests,” former Prime Minister Kan told a news conference last week.

The mass demonstrations against nuclear power seen in the wake of 3/11 have faded, but distrust lingers.

A February Asahi newspaper survey found that nationwide, 53% are opposed to restarting reactors, compared with 32% in favour. In Fukushima, only 16% backed bringing restarting units.

“Ten years have passed and some people have forgotten. The zeal is gone,” said Yu Uchiyama, a University of Tokyo political science professor. “Restarts are not happening, so people think if they just wait, nuclear power will disappear.”

Only nine of Japan’s 33 remaining commercial reactors have been approved for restarts under post-Fukushima safety standards and only four are operating, compared with 54 before the disaster.

Nuclear power supplied just 6% of Japan’s energy needs in the first half of 2020 compared with 23.1% for renewable sources - far behind Germany’s 46.3% - and nearly 70% for fossil fuels.

Extending the lifespan of Japan’s 33 existing commercial reactors to 60 years, there would be only 18 in 2050 and none by 2069, said Takeo Kikkawa, an adviser to the government on energy policy. Newer business lobbies are pushing for renewable energy.

“Japan is a resource-poor country so we should not casually abandon the nuclear option,” Kikkawa told a media briefing. “But in reality, the future of nuclear power is bleak.”

(1 Japanese yen = $0.0094)

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coronavirus

Japan planning to ban overseas Olympic spectators over COVID-19 fears: Report

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Japan’s government is planning to stop overseas spectators coming to the Summer Olympics due to worries they will spread the coronavirus, a report said on Wednesday (3 March), as many Japanese remain opposed to holding the Games during the pandemic, write Chang-Ran Kim and Chris Gallagher.

Most Japanese oppose Tokyo Games this year - poll

The final decision would be made this month after talks with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and other parties, the Mainichi newspaper reported, citing multiple unnamed sources.

The government would continue to consider whether to accept spectators from within Japan, including the number allowed into venues, the Mainichi added.

The report came as the local organising committee was set to host a meeting on Wednesday with officials from the IOC, the International Paralympic Committee, and the Tokyo and national governments.

The question of whether to allow spectators into venues was top of the agenda and organisers have previously said they would make a decision by March.

A Yomiuri newspaper poll showed on Wednesday that, if the Games are to go ahead as scheduled, 91% of people in Japan want spectators kept to a minimum or not allowed at all.

The poll - conducted between Jan. 18 and Feb. 25 - showed 70% of respondents said they were “interested in the Olympics”, but 58% said they did not want them to be held this year because of fears over COVID-19.

Japan planning to ban overseas Olympic spectators over COVID-19 fears - report

The 58% in opposition was, however, about 20 percentage points lower than earlier opinion polls.

The Tokyo Olympic Games were postponed last year because of the pandemic and rescheduled to take place this year from July 23.

A survey by global consultancy Kekst CNC published on Wednesday showed similar rates of majority opposition to the Games going ahead in Japan, at 56%, as well as in Britain and Germany, at 55% and 52% respectively.

In France and Sweden, more people opposed than approved, while in the United States, respondents were split at one-third between those who agreed and disagreed that the Games should go ahead, according to the survey.

While coronavirus infection numbers are low in Japan compared with the United States and many European countries, the greater Tokyo metropolitan area remains in a state of emergency, with restrictions in place for spectator numbers for big sporting and cultural events, as well as closing times for bars and restaurants. The country remains closed to non-resident foreigners.

A Reuters poll published last month showed nearly two-thirds of Japanese companies also oppose holding the Games as planned, swinging from the previous survey showing most in favour.

Japan has so far confirmed 431,250 coronavirus cases and 7,931 deaths as of Monday.

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