Another week, another state of emergency in Tokyo. This one is due to run until August 22, spoiling many people’s prospects of having an enjoyable summer. It’s also a huge blow for bars and restaurants in the capital. There was further disappointment for fans hoping to attend this summer’s Olympic Games. On Thursday it was announced that events in Tokyo and three neighboring prefectures would be spectator-less. The decision was made due to a recent surge in infections. On Wednesday Tokyo reported 920 new coronavirus cases, the most since mid-May. Despite the increasing numbers, Japan is hoping that its citizens will be exempt from quarantining in certain countries once vaccination passports have been issued. Discussions are currently taking place with more than 10 nations.
More than 20 people are still missing in Atami following a devastating mudslide in the city last weekend. The death toll currently stands at nine. Fears are growing for British citizen Alice Hodgkinson who was reported missing on July 1. She was last heard from on June 30. Rakuten CEO Hiroshi Mikitani has hit out at discriminatory remarks made by Barcelona player Ousmane Dembele. The French winger could be heard mocking Japanese staff in a video taken here two years ago while teammate Antoine Griezmann laughed at his comments. Last year Rakuten extended its shirt sponsorship deal with Barcelona until 2022. In other sports news, controversial rugby player Israel Folau has signed with Japanese side NTT Communications Shining Arcs and baseball star Shohei Ohtani continues to break records.
Tokyo Set for Another State of Emergency
And here we go again. Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga this week declared another state of emergency for Tokyo. It will begin next Monday and last until August 22, covering the entirety of the Olympics. The Paralympics is due to start two days later. This is the fourth time a state of emergency has been called since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic. It means that restaurants and bars in the city are prohibited from serving alcohol and must close by 8pm. It was also confirmed that spectators would be banned from attending events at the Olympics in Tokyo, Kanagawa, Saitama and Chiba. Some competitions in outlying areas such as Fukushima will allow a limited number of fans.
Before all of that came the announcement that the Olympic Torch Relay would not be held on roads in the two weeks leading up to the opening ceremony. The only exceptions will be isolated island areas. Instead, a flame lighting ceremony will be broadcast on the website of the Bureau of Olympic and Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020. The news came one day after a 53-year-old woman was arrested for spraying liquid on a torch bearer in Mito City, Ibaraki Prefecture. She voiced her displeasure at the Games going ahead before shooting the runner with a water gun. A total of 582 athletes will represent Japan at the Olympics. That’s 244 more than the Rio Games and 227 more than the country’s previous record set in 1964.
Rescue Efforts Continue as Landslide Hits Atami
Nine people have died and more than 20 remain unaccounted for following a deadly landslide in the seaside city of Atami on Saturday. More than 130 houses were swept away as the mud came crashing down on the Izusan district of the city. Video footage showed cars being swept away and power poles exploding. Around 1,000 people, including 140 troops, joined the rescue effort the day after the disaster. Between Thursday and Saturday of last week, Atami recorded 410mm of rain in just 72 hours. That’s more than the average rainfall for the whole of July. According to the Meteorological Agency, the downpours are due to a lingering rain front.
The Shizuoka government also plans to investigate the role a hill-top mound played in the tragedy. Soil from the mound is believed to represent around half of the 100,000 cubic meters of material that came down the mudslide. “It is not known whether the collapse of this mound triggered the landslide, but it can be said to have added to the damage,” the prefectural government said. “In general, mounds are more prone to collapse than natural slopes,” added University of Tokyo associate professor Norifumi Hotta. “The mound may have become extremely unstable due to the heavy rain, because it was built in a valley where water accumulates easily.”
British Woman Alice Hodgkinson Reported Missing
The whereabouts of British citizen Alice Hodgkinson remains unknown more than a week after she was reported missing. The 28-year-old, 5ft 6in blonde-haired teacher from Nottingham, England failed to turn up for work at an English School in Tokyo on July 1. Her manager subsequently contacted the police. They then visited her apartment in Yokohama before breaking the door down. A note was reportedly found in her room, but police have refused to reveal what was written. Alice’s father Stephen Hodgkinson has described her disappearance as being “completely out of character.”
“I know that a note was left addressed to myself and Peter, my son. I don’t know the exact text in the note, but I understand it suggested that she was in a distressed state when she wrote it. But there’s nothing I can do, it’s a waiting game wherever you are on the planet,” he told the Guardian. The last time Stephen heard from his daughter was on June 30 via email. She was replying to a “thank you” message for his Father’s Day present. Friends and colleagues have been distributing flyers in English and Japanese around Yokohama and Tokyo while also appealing for information on social media.
Update: On Friday Stephen Hodgkinson told the Sun newspaper that he had received the “worst news imaginable,” from Japanese police who discovered his daughter’s body. Authorities are treating her death as a suicide.
Japan Hopes to Have Vaccine Passports Accepted by More than 10 Nations
Japan will start issuing vaccination passports later this month. The certificate is to be issued by municipalities and will include the holder’s name, passport number and date of vaccination. Plans are now being put in place for these documents to be accepted by over 10 nations including Italy and France. Those with the certificate will be exempt from quarantining upon arrival in those countries. It also means they won’t have to show negative test results. Unsurprisingly, many on the list are calling for mutual exemption. Currently only travelers granted approval under “special exceptional circumstances” are allowed in Japan. They must either stay at home or a designated facility for 14 days after arrival.
Will these rules change once agreements have been reached with other nations? Former American Chamber of Commerce in Japan chairman Christopher LeFleur believes they should. “This recognition ought to be reciprocal. Otherwise, we will be in the somewhat uncomfortable position of the Japanese government issuing vaccination records to its citizens so they can travel overseas and yet foreigners can’t enter Japan [without restrictions],” opined LeFleur. At the moment, though, that appears to be their aim. “Until we see the spread of the delta variant subside, it will be difficult to allow the mutual exemption of quarantine,” a Japanese government source said.
Dembele and Griezmann Respond to Allegations of Racism
A video has emerged of French footballer Ousmane Dembele racially taunting local technicians in Japan. The recording is from 2019 when the winger was on tour here with his club side Barcelona. Speaking in French to teammate Antoine Griezmann as local employees try to get their TV to work, Dembele says: “All these ugly faces, just so you can play Pro Evolution Soccer, aren’t you ashamed?” He then adds: “What kind of backward language is that? Are you technologically advanced in your country or not?” Griezmann can be seen laughing throughout the video. Konami Digital Entertainment Co., Ltd has since dumped him as their Yu-Gi-Oh! contents ambassador. Hiroshi Mikitani, meanwhile, said he was “really sorry that the Barcelona players made discriminatory remarks.” The CEO of Rakuten, a major sponsor of Barcelona, added that he would protest officially against the club while waiting to hear their position on the matter.
Both players have since issued apologies of sorts. “I’ve always engaged against all forms of discrimination,” Griezmann wrote on Twitter. “For a couple of days now some people want to pass me for a man that I am not. I completely refute the accusations against me and I am sorry if I have offended my Japanese friends.” Dembele released a statement. “So, I wasn’t targeting any community. I sometimes use these kinds of expressions in private, with friends, regardless of their origin. This video is now public. I can therefore imagine that it could have offended the people present in these images. Therefore, I offer them my most sincere apologies,” he said. Barcelona also released a statement apologizing to Japanese and Asian fans.
Homophobic Rugby Player to Sign for Japanese Club
It was announced on Monday that Israel Folau will sign for Chiba-based side NTT Communications Shining Arcs. A dual-code International player, he was fired by Rugby Australia in 2019 for saying “hell awaits gay people.” It led to a lengthy legal dispute with Folau alleging that he was dismissed due to his religious beliefs. The case eventually ended with a multi-million dollar out-of-court settlement. The 32-year-old former Waratahs player is returning to union after being released by British Super League side the Catalan Dragons. He has switched between league and union before, in between a brief spell at Aussie Rules side Greater Western Sydney. In other rugby news, Japan lost 39-31 to Ireland in an entertaining game at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin.
In baseball, Shohei Ohtani continues to make headlines. On Sunday, he hit his 32nd home-run of the season, eclipsing Hideki Matsui’s record haul for a Japanese player that he set in 2004. “I’m just dazzled at the astounding pace he is getting home runs at,” said Matsui. Ohtani had plenty of reasons to celebrate this week. On Monday he turned 27. That same day came the announcement that he was set to become the first MLB player in history to be named as a position player and a pitcher for the All-Star game. Two other Japanese pitchers – Yu Darvish and Yusei Kikuchi – also made the team.
*Feature image by Anna Petek