TOPTokyo LifeNews & OpinionYoshihide Suga To Stand Down As Prime Minister

Yoshihide Suga To Stand Down As Prime Minister

The LDP presidential election is due to take place on September 29

By Matthew Hernon

In a shock announcement on Friday, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said he wouldn’t be running in the upcoming LDP election, effectively ending his term as the country’s leader. The 72-year-old Akita Prefecture-native took over from Shinzo Abe a year ago and has received widespread criticism for his handling of the pandemic.

The rest of this week’s news roundup is dominated by crime and the Tokyo Paralympics. With the Games due to end on Sunday, Japan’s target of 20 gold medals looks well out of reach. That said, they have already improved on their gold medal haul from the last three Paralympics in Rio, London and Beijing. At the time of writing the host nation has won seven, with two each from track and field star Tomoki Sato and cyclist Keiko Sugiura, who became the country’s oldest-ever Paralympic champion. Swimmer Naohide Yamaguchi and Hidetaka Sugimura in boccia also triumphed.

In crime news, the suspect behind last week’s sulfuric acid attack was arrested in Okinawa. A husband and wife admitted to murdering a high school student in Yamanashi and a 27-year-old man confessed to killing his sister in Kawasaki. A former elite bureaucrat, meanwhile, was sentenced to five years in prison over a fatal car crash in 2019. In Covid-19-related news, Japan has confirmed its first cases of the mu variant. A new mutation of the delta variant has also been discovered.

Suga to Step Down

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga announced his plan to resign at a news conference on Friday. He will officially step down when a new party head is chosen on September 29. His term as LDP president was due to end the following day. “Since I became prime minister a year ago, dealing with (the) coronavirus has been the center of my efforts,” he told reporters. “Dealing with the virus while campaigning for the election would take a huge amount of energy. I realized I couldn’t do both and I should choose one.” He didn’t take any additional questions.

Approval ratings for the Suga Cabinet have been plummeting due to the  government’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic on top of other issues. He has suffered numerous setbacks in recent weeks, including the loss of a candidate he personally backed in the Yokohama mayoral election. LDP policy chief and former foreign policy minister Fumio Kishida had already announced his intention to run in the party presidential election. Sanae Takaichi, Taro Kono and Shigeru Ishiba are other names that could be in the mix.

Double Joy for Sato on the Track

After silvers in the 400m and 1,500m T52 races in Rio, Tomoki Sato wasn’t prepared to settle for second in Tokyo. The 31-year-old produced two fantastic performances to take home gold in both events. He broke the Paralympics record in the 400m, finishing 0.20 seconds ahead of reigning champion Raymond Martin. Sato’s compatriot Hirokazu Ueyonabaru picked up the bronze. The three men finished in the exact same positions for the 1,500m race with Sato once again breaking the Paralympic record. His impairment is the result of the effects of myelitis – an inflammation of the spinal cord.

In between Sato’s triumphs, Naohide Yamaguchi won Japan’s second gold in the pool. The 23-year-old broke his own world record as he finished ahead of Australia’s Jake Michel by 0.51 in the men’s SB14 100m final. A late bloomer to the sport, his international debut came in 2019, but he made huge progress in a short space of time, becoming a World Champion that same year. An Ehime Prefecture-native, he was diagnosed with autism when he was three. Also in the pool, Takayuki Suzuki added three more medals to the two he won last week while 14-year-old Miyuki Yamada picked up another silver.

Keiko Sugiura: Japan’s Golden Oldie

Last week Miyuki Yamada made history by becoming Japan’s youngest-ever Paralympic medalist. This week, it was Keiko Sugiura’s turn to enter the record books, becoming the country’s oldest athlete to top the podium at the Games. The 50-year-old cyclist finished the women’s C1-3 road time trial 22.27 seconds ahead of closest rival Anna Beck of Sweden. She then claimed her second gold of the Games on Friday morning, winning the C1-3 road race. Sugiura competed in triathlons and road races until suffering a crush fracture to her skull in a cycling crash in 2016. An acquaintance recommended para-cycling and the following year she won gold at the World Championships.

Another Japanese athlete making history this week was Hidetaka Sugimura. He won Japan’s first-ever gold in boccia with a comprehensive 5-0 victory over defending champion Watcharaphon Vongsa from Thailand in the men’s individual BC2 final. The 39-year-old Shizuoka-native captained the Japanese team to a silver in Rio. Born with cerebral palsy, he started playing boccia as a hobby in 2001. After showing great potential, Sugimura made his debut for the national team at the 2010 Asian Para Games in China.

Acid Attack Suspect Arrested 

Hirotaka Hanamori, 25, was arrested on Saturday on suspicion of inflicting bodily harm following last week’s acid attack in Tokyo. The police caught up with the suspect in Okinawa where he used to go to university. The 22-year-old victim was a member of the same film club as Hanamori. “I called out to him a few years ago, saying ‘hey Hanamori,’ without using the honorific title,” the victim reportedly told the police. “He scolded me, insisting that I should call him Hanamori-san.”

It’s not clear yet whether this was one of the reasons for the attack. According to investigative sources, the suspect told the police that he had “troubles” with the victim in the past. Hanamori is accused of throwing sulfuric acid at the man at Shirokane-takanawa Station. A woman also suffered minor injuries after slipping on the acid. Fleeing the scene, Hanamori returned to his hometown of Shizuoka before flying out to Okinawa. He spent a few nights at an acquaintance’s house before being picked up by the police on August 28.

Couple Arrested for Murder of High School Student 

Tokyo high school student Kana Washino was found murdered at a storage shed in Yamanashi Prefecture on Tuesday. Shohei Komori, 27 and his wife Izumi, 28, were arrested after admitting to killing the girl and disposing of the body. The teenager left her home at around 3:30pm last Saturday, saying she would be back in the afternoon. When she failed to return and couldn’t be contacted, her mother called the police. Security cameras showed the 18-year-old getting into a car near her home that evening.

The Komoris drove from their hometown of Shibukawa in Gunma Prefecture to pick her up so they could chat. “I came to know her on SNS about two years ago and communicated with her. My wife was jealous of that,” the husband reportedly told the police. “I wanted him to cut off communications,” said his wife. She subsequently arranged for the three of them to meet. Washino was found with four stab wounds on her back and a mark on her neck. A rope was also found at the site, suggesting she’d been strangled.

Man Admits to Killing his Sister 

“I killed my sister,” said Yuya Takasaki, 27, as he turned himself in at a local police box in Kawasaki on Tuesday. The police then rushed to his home where they found his deceased younger sibling Minami, 24, covered in blood. He allegedly cut her throat with a 15cm long blade in the early hours of the morning. The suspect lives with his mother. She told the police she was asleep at the time of the incident and didn’t hear anything. Minami, who lived alone, was visiting her family home for a few days.

In other crime news, a former senior government official was given a five-year prison sentence for a fatal car crash in 2019. The Tokyo District Court convicted Kozo Iizuka, 90, of negligence resulting in death and injury. A 3-year-old girl and her mother were killed after he mistakenly pressed down the gas pedal instead of the brake. The victims’ husband and father Takuya Matsunaga said he was “relieved” with the verdict. Nine other people were injured in the incident including Iizuka’s wife who was sitting in the passenger seat.

Mu Variant of the Novel Coronavirus Found in Japan

The health ministry this week confirmed that two travelers who arrived in Japan earlier this year were infected with the mu variant of the novel coronavirus. The first was a woman in her late 40s who arrived at Narita Airport from the United Arab Emirates at the end of June. The other landed at Haneda airport from the United Kingdom at the start of July. The strain, which emerged in Colombia, is currently classified as a variant of interest by the World Health Organization.

A new mutation of the delta variant has also been discovered for the first time in Japan. It was confirmed in a Covid-19 patient in mid-August who had no history of traveling abroad. So far, only eight cases have been reported worldwide. At least a dozen sub-mutations of the delta variant have been confirmed globally so far. The delta strain is estimated to account for around 95 percent of the nationwide cases in Japan. In other Covid-19-related news, popular actress Haruka Ayase was hospitalized after being diagnosed with the novel coronavirus. Nagoya Mayor Takashi Kawamura, who bit the gold medal of softball player Miu Goto, also tested positive for the infectious disease.

*Feature image by Anna Petek