One coronavirus case was all it needed for the New Zealand government to put the country into a nationwide lockdown. In Japan, things are a little different. Despite infections soaring, it’s a case of carrying on and hoping the situation eventually gets better.
The constitution is often cited as the reason as to why there’s never been a strict lockdown here. Though the Diet, “as the sole law-making organ of the State,” technically has the power to enforce one, it’s reluctant to do so due to Article 22 which guarantees the right to freedom of movement. As a result, with cases rapidly increasing, the extension and expansion of the state of emergency became inevitable.
The announcement of a spectator-less Paralympics also came as no surprise. Organizers delayed making the decision for as long as possible, hoping for an improvement in the Covid-19 situation.
While the focus has switched to the Paralympics, the Olympics continues to make headlines. Japan’s first known case of the Lambda coronavirus variant was brought into the country by a woman from Peru accredited with the Games. The Nagoya mayor, meanwhile, is taking a 100 percent pay cut for three months after biting the gold medal of softball pitcher Miu Goto.
Also this week, torrential rain has caused death and destruction in several regions of the country, particularly in Kyushu. There was sad news for movie fans following the passing of iconic actor Sonny Chiba. Maki Kaji, known as “the father of Sudoku,” also passed away. On a more positive note, a new island has been created in Japan following an underwater volcanic eruption. In sport, Shohei Ohtani just gets better and better while Kyogo Furuhashi impresses for Celtic.
State of Emergency Extended, Tougher Restrictions Being Considered
With the Delta variant causing an unprecedented rise in Covid-19 cases, the government decided to expand the state of emergency. Seven prefectures have been added to the list taking the total to 13. The date has also been extended to September 12, though it’s doubtful that measures will be lifted by then.
Since July 22, bars and restaurants have been asked to refrain from serving alcohol. Many, however, haven’t been complying as they aren’t receiving enough support from the government. With large numbers still out and about, calls are growing for legislation that would enable tougher restrictions on people’s movements.
“We have so far relied on asking people to restrict their activities and maybe that isn’t enough to overcome this situation,” said the government’s top health advisor Shigeru Omi at a news conference. There were 25,156 new coronavirus cases recorded in Japan on Thursday, a record high. In Chiba, a newborn baby passed away after a Covid-`19 patient was unable to find a hospital that would admit her, meaning she was forced to give birth at home.
4,400 Athletes but no Spectators for Paralympics
Next week Tokyo will become the first city to host the Paralympics on two separate occasions. Unfortunately, it won’t be the joyous event organizers had hoped for as fans won’t be allowed into stadiums. The exception will be students from a government-backed education program (though many have already pulled out).
There are expected to be around 4,400 athletes competing from 135 countries at the Games. Regrettably, that doesn’t include the two who were due to represent Afghanistan. Track and field athlete Hossain Rasouli and taekwondo fighter Zakia Khudadadi are trapped in Kabul. The latter was set to become her country’s first-ever female Paralympian.
Another Paralympian who won’t be competing is Georgia’s Zviad Gogotchuri, though for very different reasons. He was arrested this week for attacking a security guard at a hotel. The visually impaired judoka became the first Georgian to top the podium at the Paralympics when he triumphed in 2016.
First Lambda Case in Japan
A woman accredited with the Olympics who flew into Japan from Peru three days before the Games began was flagged as a likely carrier of the Lambda variant of the coronavirus. After she tested positive for Covid-19, the National Institute of Infectious Diseases confirmed that it was the Lambda variant.
According to The Daily Beast, this was then reported to the Ministry of Health, but not announced to the public. On Wednesday of this week, NHK revealed that the Ministry had failed to investigate those who were in close proximity with the lady. Also, the Tokyo Olympic Organizing Committee was not notified.
Lambda is currently classified by the World Health Organization as a Variant of Interest (VOI) rather than a Variant of Concern (VOC). “We still know very little,” says Peruvian molecular geneticist Pablo Tsukayama. “There’s no reason to believe it will be worse than Delta,” he added.
Biting off more than he can chew
Nagoya Mayor Takashi Kawamura announced that he plans to take a 100 percent pay cut for three months after he was heavily criticized for biting into the gold medal of Miu Goto. The softball pitcher visited his office on August 4, a week after Japan defeated America in the Olympic final.
As well as taking a bite of the medal, the 72-year-old mayor asked the Olympian if she had a boyfriend. He subsequently took an anti-harassment seminar on August 13.
“I feel like such a pathetic person and am deeply ashamed. My action lacked integrity and I apologize for causing everyone a great deal of trouble,” he said at a news conference on Monday. In addition to the three-month pay forfeit, Kawamura had offered to pay for a replacement medal for Goto. The IOC declined, however, as it cannot accept political donations under the Olympic charter.
Torrential Rain Brings Death and Destruction
Eight people have died and several others remain unaccounted for due to heavy rain battering parts of Japan this week. Among the deceased was a woman in her eighties who was found in a drain in Hioki City, Kagoshima Prefecture.
Rescue workers in various prefectures are continuing to look for those missing. The southwestern region of Kyushu has been the worst hit with some areas experiencing half their annual rainfall in a week. A few cities recorded close to 40 millimeters of rain in just one hour on Saturday morning.
Later in the day, more than five million people were ordered to evacuate their homes. The strongest warning – Level Five – was issued to around one million residents in the prefectures of Saga, Nagasaki, Fukuoka and Hiroshima. 17 prefectures received a Level Four warning. The torrential downpours have triggered floods and mudslides.
Iconic Kill Bill Actor Sonny Chiba Dies at 82
“Who is Sonny Chiba? He is bar none the finest actor working in martial arts movies today.” That was the view of Christian Slater’s character Clarence Worley in Tony Scott’s cult classic True Romance. The screenplay was written by Quentin Tarantino who was a huge fan of Chiba, particularly The Street Fighter trilogy. He would later go on to cast the Japanese man as katana ace Hattori Hanzo in Kill Bill: Volume 1.
Sadly Chiba passed away this week due to complications related to Covid-19. He was 82. According to his manager and friend Timothy Beal, Chiba was due to appear alongside Wesley Snipes in a zombie movie titled Outbreak Z. A legendary figure, he was a hero to many including Keanu Reeves. His career in film and television spanned five decades.
Maki Kaji, 69, has also passed away. The man known as “the father of Sudoku,” had bile duct cancer. He gave the popular game involving nine rows and columns of numbers its name after publishing it in his magazine Nikoli in the mid-1980s. The Sapporo-native first came across the puzzle in an American publication called Number Place. After revising the design, he decided to go with the name Sudoku. This came from the Japanese phrase “suuji wa dokushin ni kagiru,” meaning that numbers must remain single.
Underwater Volcano Erupts in Japan, Creating a New Island
Adding to the 6,852 already on the archipelago, Japan has a new island, though how long it will survive remains to be seen. Located around 50km south of Iwo Jima, it formed from an underwater volcano that started erupting last Friday. It’s not the first island to be created by a volcanic eruption in the area. A similar occurrence also happened in 1904, 1914 and 1986, though all those islands disappeared due to erosion
In other news this week, Shohei Ohtani hit his 40th homer of the season and struck out eight in eight innings as the Los Angeles Angels beat the Detroit Tigers 3-1. In football, Kyogo Furuhashi continued his fine start for Celtic. He scored his sixth goal in as many games as the Scottish side defeated AZ Alkmaar 2-0 in the Europa League. The second leg takes place next week.
*Feature image by Anna Petek