With the State of Emergency likely to be extended, it seems that there is no end in sight. Concerned about the spread of Covid-19 cases here, America’s State Department this week warned its citizens not to travel to Japan. Though the decision will reportedly have no impact on the Olympics, pressure is without doubt increasing. This week the Asahi Shimbun joined the growing number of voices calling for a cancelation. This is no surprise given how slow the Covid-19 vaccine drive has been. At least there are signs that things are starting to pick up with mass vaccination centers opening in Tokyo and Osaka.
In other news this week, a health center apologizes for a discriminatory email, UNESCO recognizes Jomon ruins, a train driver goes to the toilet and a baseball coach goes missing. It’s also been a busy week in sport. Shohei Ohtani continues to impress, Naomi Osaka won’t be speaking at the French Open and a 12-year-old qualifies for the Olympics. Here’s our look at some of the biggest stories over the last seven days.
The US State Department has issued its highest-level advisory against travel to Japan because of spiking Covid cases weeks before the Tokyo Olympics begin https://t.co/w7MxW3HKjW
— CNN (@CNN) May 25, 2021
America Issues Advisory Recommending Citizens Not to Visit Japan
With less than two months to go before the start of the Olympics, the US State Department has issued a new advisory, urging its citizens against traveling to Japan due to the recent increase in Covid-19 cases. The “Level 4: Do Not Travel” warning is the highest on its four tier scale. It’s issued when the Covid-19 incidence rate – defined as cumulative new cases over 28 days per 100,000 population – exceeds 100. Japan met that criteria last Friday. Despite the advisory, the White House continues to reaffirm its support for the Games. “Our position has not changed on the Olympics,” press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters. In Japan, however, anti-Olympic sentiment continues to grow. On Wednesday, liberal newspaper Asahi Shimbun ran an editorial urging Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga to reassess the situation. “It’s simply beyond reason to hold the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics this summer,” said the article.
Ibaraki Health Center Apologizes for Warning Farmers Not to Eat with Foreigners
An advisory e-mail sent by a public health center in Itako, Ibaraki Prefecture has been retracted after causing offense. According to NHK, the document said “there are many patients with the new coronavirus suspected of being infected by foreigners.” That was followed by two warnings: “Be sure to wear a mask when talking to foreigners,” and “Please do not eat with foreigners.” It was supposed to be shared among farmers hiring foreign workers in the city of Hokota. The region has a high rate of foreign nationals, many of whom come from developing countries. After becoming aware how insensitive the e-mail was, the health center apologized. “Though we had no intention of discriminating against foreigners, we are sorry if any of the expressions were misleading,” said an official.
Mass Vaccination Centers Open in Tokyo and Osaka
Japan is finally starting to ramp up its inoculation program. On Monday large-scale vaccination centers opened in Tokyo and Osaka that will operate from 8am to 8pm for three months, including national holidays and weekends. The plan is to provide jabs for up to 10,000 people a day in the former and 5,000 in the latter. The government’s target is to have all people aged 65 or older vaccinated by the end of July. They are using the two-dose vaccine developed by US biotechnology company Moderna. Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga visited the site early in the week. “It’s the government’s responsibility to ensure every Japanese person is inoculated as soon as possible. We must protect their lives and health,” he told reporters. According to Reuters, at the time of writing, Japan has administered just over 10,500 doses of Covid-19 vaccines.
A senior official of JR Central said “It was an extremely inappropriate act. We apologize.” https://t.co/mrk5zC25dO
— The Japan Times (@japantimes) May 21, 2021
Shinkansen Driver Leaves Cockpit for a Toilet Break
A Shinkansen driver could face possible punishment after leaving the cockpit for around three minutes for a toilet break. The 36-year-old unnamed man reportedly had a stomachache and needed the restroom immediately. He asked an unlicensed conductor to take control of the train. It was traveling at 150 kilometers per hour. An inquiry was launched by bosses as the train reached its destination one minute late. JR Central rules state that a driver who feels unwell during a journey should report the matter to the operations center. If there is no conductor licensed to drive the train, a stop should be made at the nearest station. “I wanted to avoid delaying the train by stopping it,” the driver was quoted by the company as saying. “It was an extremely inappropriate act. We apologize,” said Masahiro Hayatsu, a senior official at JR Central.
UNESCO to Add Jomon Ruins to World Heritage List
Jomon archaeological sites in Hokkaido and Northern Tohoku are, as a collective, set to become Japan’s 20th cultural property on UNESCO’s World Heritage List. It includes 17 ancient sites, the most famous of which is probably Sannai-Maruyama located in Aomori Prefecture. Fumitaka Sato, head of an NGO raising public interest in the Sannai-Maruyama village, was understandably delighted by the news. “As I think that the sites will be finally listed, I find it extremely impressive,” he said. “Being listed is not our end goal, though. It’s only the start. We want to cooperate with other regions with these ancient remains to share the appeal of the Jomon Period.” Believed to have begun around 16,500 years ago, the Jomon Period was known for its neolithic culture that produced pottery decorated with cord marks.
Baseball Coach Missing
On Wednesday, Chunichi Dragons announced that Ken Kadokura, a pitching coach for the second team, had been absent from practice since May 15. His family reported him as missing to the Aichi Prefectural police 24 hours later. An acquaintance said he’d sent a Line message to Kadokura on May 25 which was marked as “read.” Worryingly, the former Dragons and Yokohama BayStars pitcher didn’t reply or answer his call. In other sports news, Shohei Ohtani hit his 15th homer this season. Naomi Osaka, meanwhile, announced that she would not be attending mandatory media assignments at the French Open as she feels that “people have no regard for athletes’ mental health.” She added that she hopes the fines she incurs for missing news conferences go to mental health charities. In skateboarding, Kokona Hiraki qualified for the Olympics. Should the Games go ahead, she will become Japan’s youngest-ever Olympian.