TOPTokyo LifeNews & OpinionNews Roundup: Uniqlo U-Turn As Retailer Halts Russia Operations

News Roundup: Uniqlo U-Turn As Retailer Halts Russia Operations

Several other major Japanese companies have pulled out of Russia due to the war in Ukraine

By Matthew Hernon

In this week’s news roundup, we focus on Japan’s reaction to the war in Ukraine. Several large companies here have pulled out of Russia due to the country’s invasion of its neighbor. That includes a Uniqlo U-turn. The fashion retailer previously came under fire for announcing that it would be keeping its stores open there. As a result, #Boycottuniqlo was trending on Twitter. The online backlash clearly had an effect. On Thursday, Fast Retailing, the parent company of Uniqlo, said it would be temporarily closing its 49 Russian outlets.   

Also this week, the Japanese government sent defense equipment, including bullet-proof vests, to support the Ukrainian cause while eight Ukrainian evacuees were granted short-term residency in Japan. Foreign students, meanwhile, who’ve been waiting a long time to enter this country, can finally start planning ahead. A new priority program has been set up that should mean most of them can enter by the end of May. In sport, Momoka Muraoka starred for Japan in the first few days of the Winter Paralympics, winning two golds. 

Uniqlo Temporarily Closes Stores in Russia After Online Backlash  

It’s been an eventful seven days for Fast Retailing. Last Friday, Uniqlo’s parent company revealed it was donating 200,000 items of clothes and $10 million to the UN Refugee Agency to support Ukrainians forced to escape from their homeland. It was a wonderful gesture that was rightly lauded. The announcement four days later, however, wasn’t so well-received. President Tadashi Yanai told the press via email that Fast Retailing would continue its operations in Russia. “Clothing is a necessity of life,” he wrote. “Russian people have the same right to live that we do.”  

Despite adding that there “should never be war,” and “every country should oppose it,” Yanai’s statement incited a furious backlash online with #boycottuniqlo trending on Twitter. Ukrainian Ambassador to Japan, Sergiy Korsunsky was among those to tweet his displeasure at the decision. With pressure growing, Fast Retailing eventually had a change of heart. “While continuing our Uniqlo business in Russia, it has become clear to us that we can no longer proceed due to a number of difficulties. Therefore, we have decided today to temporarily suspend our operations,” read a company statement on Thursday.  

Sony is one of several Japanese companies to have cut ties with Russia

Several Japanese Companies Pull Out of Russia  

Uniqlo is one of a number of major Japanese companies to suspend activities in Russia. Both Honda and Toyota have temporarily stopped exporting vehicles there and the latter has also halted production at its plant in Saint Petersburg. As has Nissan. On Twitter, Ukraine’s Vice Prime Minister Mykhailo Fedorov urged Hitachi to stop supplying products and services to Russia. The multinational conglomerate corporation subsequently suspended exports and ceased most operations there, except for vital electrical power facilities. Mitsubishi Electric is another company to stop exporting to the region.  

Sony and Nintendo have both halted deliveries of their gaming consoles and software. The former has also closed its online store in Russia, stopped releasing movies and suspended the launch of the game Gran Turismo 7. Shiseido, for the time being, won’t be shipping its products to Russia while Toridoll Holdings is closing all of its seven udon restaurants in the country. It’s all part of a global exodus. From McDonald’s to Starbucks, many of the world’s biggest firms are cutting ties with Russia.  

Japan Send Bullet Proof Vests and Other Defense Equipment to Ukraine  

In an unprecedented move, Japan has sent a planeload of defense equipment to support Ukraine’s war effort. The KC-767 transport aircraft set off to Poland from Komaki Air Base in Aichi Prefecture on Tuesday evening. Equipment inside included bullet-proof vests, helmets, winter clothes and emergency food supplies. The country’s pacifist constitution bans the transfer of defensive equipment to parties in conflict. However, according to Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno, the term refers to “a country against which the UN Security Council is taking steps to maintain or restore peace and security,” and therefore, doesn’t apply to Ukraine.  

The government has also pledged to set up as a support system as it plans to accept Ukrainian evacuees. On Tuesday, Justice Minister Yoshihisa Furukawa announced eight people displaced from the country due to Russia’s invasion had arrived in Japan. All have either relatives or acquaintances here. According to the Immigration Services Agency of Japan, they have been granted short term residency for 90 days. The government, however, is planning to take a flexible approach, allowing refugees to extend their visas through a “designated activities” status of residence.  

Foreign students like Jorge Romo Andrade should soon be able to enter Japan

Japan to Accelerate Entry Process for Foreign Students  

It’s been a long road for many, but it looks like most foreign students will soon be able to enter Japan. From next Monday, the daily cap on non-tourist international arrivals will increase from 5,000 to 7,000. On top of that, a separate quota will allow in more foreign students. The newly-introduced fast track system will provide 1,000 extra seats daily on JAL and ANA flights every Monday to Thursday, when there are fewer passengers. The government is aiming for around 100,000 student entrants within the next 10 weeks.  

“We expect the entry of those students (wishing to study in Japan) to be realized to a great extent by the end of May,” said Matsuno at a recent press briefing.  Just under 150,00 students have been unable to enter the country due to the pandemic. It’s unclear how many of them still want to study here. For those that do, the latest measures will come as a relief. “It’s going to be very important for the economy and reputation of Japan, how they react when the next Covid outbreak hits,” says Davide Rossi, founder of the Education is Not Tourism website. “We hope the borders will never close to international students again.” 

Muraoka Stars with Two Golds at the Winter Paralympics  

Japan’s captain Momoka Muraoka has once again been the star for her country at the 2022 Winter Paralympics. The 25-year-old para-alpine skier, who won five medals in PyeongChang, earned her nation’s first gold of the Beijing Games on Saturday in the downhill sitting category. She followed that up with another golden run in the super-G event on Sunday. Her third medal was a silver in the women’s sitting super combined in which she finished behind Germany’s Anna-Lena Forster. Muraoka is also competing in the slalom and giant slalom events.  

Japan’s third gold medal at the Games came from flag bearer Taiki Kawayoke. The 21-year-old Toyama Prefecture-native triumphed in the para cross-country skiing on Monday.  He finished the 20-kilometer race 50 seconds ahead of runner-up Cai Jiayun from China. Japan’s other medals at the Paralympics have so far come from Taiki Morii. The 41-year-old alpine skier picked up a bronze in the downhill event on Saturday. He then followed that up with another third-place finish in the men’s super-giant slalom on Sunday. He has medaled at five consecutive Paralympic Games.   

Kenyan Athletes Dominate Tokyo Marathon  

Around 25,000 runners took part in the Tokyo Marathon on Sunday. It was the first time since 2019 local residents were allowed to compete in the prestigious event. Two-time Olympic champion Eliud Kipchoge from Kenya won the men’s race in 2:02:40, a record for the Tokyo Marathon and the fourth fastest run ever (he has three of the top four fastest runs). The third-fastest women’s marathon in history was won by Kipchoge’s compatriot and fellow world record holder Brigid Kosgei in 2:16:02. Kengo Suzuki was Japan’s best placed finisher, coming fourth in the men’s race. His wife, Mao Ishiyama finished sixth in the women’s event. 

In other sporting news, Daichi Kamada grabbed his fourth Europa League goal in seven games and 10th in total as Eintracht Frankfurt won 2-1 away at Real Betis. Ritsu Doan scored for PSV four minutes after coming on as the Dutch side drew 4-4 with FC Copenhagen in the Europa Conference League. In the Bundesliga, Stuttgart’s captain Wataru Endo netted for the second successive game as his side recorded a much-needed 3-2 victory against Borussia Monchengladbach. They still, however, remain in the relegation zone. Daizen Maeda scored the opener for Celtic in their 3-1 win over Livingston. The Hoops top the Scottish league, three points ahead of rivals Rangers.