In this week’s news roundup, we look at a murder case spanning three continents. The trial of Chilean Nicolas Zepeda, accused of killing Japanese national Narumi Kurosaki, began in France on Tuesday with the defendant pleading not guilty. A less high-profile court case, meanwhile, concluded in Japan’s capital on Tuesday. A former employee of Oriental Land, which runs Tokyo’s Disney resorts, received ¥880,000 in compensation for the way she was treated while working there.
Speaking of Japanese money, the yen briefly fell below the ¥125 line against the dollar on Monday. That was its lowest level in more than six and a half years. Depreciation of the yen inflates import costs, one of the reasons why price hikes are hitting several essential items from today. In more positive news, Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s film Drive My Car won an Oscar. And in sport, sumo wrestler Wakatakakage caused an upset at the Emperor’s Cup in Osaka.
Zepeda Pleads Not Guilty to Murder of Ex-Girlfriend
The high-profile trial of Nicolas Zepeda began on Tuesday with the Chilean man pleading not guilty to the murder of his ex-girlfriend, Narumi Kurosaki. Zepeda was the last to be seen with the University of Tsukuba student, then aged 21, on December 4, 2016. The pair reportedly went to dinner together that evening just outside the city of Besançon, the historical city in France where she’d been given a scholarship to study French. CCTV footage then showed the pair entering her residence at around 11pm.
Fellow students staying on the same floor as Kurosaki said they heard a thud and screams at approximately 3am. Zepeda claims they were having sex. The Japanese woman was reported missing a few days later, but her body has never been discovered. At the time of her disappearance, Kurosaki was believed to be in a new relationship with Arthur del Piccolo. Prosecutors allege that a jealous Zepeda was unable to deal with their breakup. He had previously sent her a threatening video online that he later removed. The court is expected to hand down a ruling on April 12.
Former Disneyland Worker Awarded ¥880,000 in Damages
A former Tokyo Disneyland employee was paid ¥880,000 in damages this week after she sued the operator of the theme park for failing to address her complaints. The 41-year-old woman was seeking damages of ¥3.3 million from Oriental Land Co., claiming she was treated unfairly by bosses and employees. Things reportedly started to go badly for her after she injured her finger at work in 2013. Filing for compensation, she was chastised by her manager, who allegedly called her “mentally weak.”
As further health issues hampered her work, she grew increasingly isolated from her colleagues. Going to another boss for support, she was told to “leave the job right now,” if she couldn’t bear it. Presiding judge Toshio Uchino ruled that Oriental Land had neglected its obligation of arranging a better work environment. He acknowledged that some of the remarks could be viewed as power harassment, but stated, “They cannot be called illegal under social norms.”
Yen Tumbles to Lowest Level in More than Six Years
The yen temporarily dipped below ¥125 against the US dollar on Monday, its lowest level since August 2015. Japan has long preferred a weak yen as it allows exporters to lower their prices in foreign markets. However, this strategy isn’t proving as beneficial in the current climate as many firms have been forced to cut their exports as a result of supply issues caused by the pandemic. Another reason to keep the yen low is to attract tourists, yet that hasn’t been possible in the past two years.
For companies that rely on imports, which is considerable in a resource-scarce country, the yen’s devaluation further exacerbates the burden of hefty costs for imported goods. And with wages not really rising, it is households that are being hurt the most. There has been some speculation that the government could intervene to stop the decline. The last time that happened was during the Asian Financial Crisis in 1998 when the ¥146 barrier was breached. On Thursday evening, the yen stood at ¥121.8 against the US dollar.
Increase in Prices for Food and Other Daily Goods
For consumers, it’s a worrying time. The depreciation of the yen, the impact of the war in Ukraine and the pandemic have led to an increase in prices of daily goods. From today, customers must pay more for various food items and other products. That includes cheese produced by Megmilk Snow Brand, Meiji and Morinaga Milk Industry. The Nisshin OilliO Group and J-Oil Mills are raising their prices for cooking oil, Kagome for ketchup and Nippon Paper Crecia for tissues and toilet paper.
From April 15, Japan Airlines will increase ticket prices for some domestic flights. Riding the bullet train is also expected to become more expensive during the high season. Prime Minister Fumio Kishida addressed the issue with cabinet ministers on Tuesday. He ordered them to put together a fresh relief package by the end of April. “We need to prevent rising fuel, raw material and food prices from inflicting a huge impact on people’s livelihood and economic activity,” he said.
Hamaguchi’s Movie Drives Off with an Oscar
Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s film Drive My Car added to its long list of accolades on Sunday by taking home Best International Feature at the 94th US Academy Awards. It’s the first Japanese movie to win the prize since Departures 13 years ago. Unfortunately, less than 20 seconds into his speech, Hamaguchi was interrupted by the ceremony’s band. After he’d thanked various collaborators, Travis Barker started playing the drums. “Just a moment,” said the director, indicating he wasn’t done. He was given around a minute for the speech before being ushered off stage.
Drive My Car was also nominated for Best Film and Best Adapted Screenplay, but both of those awards went to Sian Heder’s tearjerker CODA. Hamaguchi also missed out on the Best Director gong to Jane Campion for The Power of the Dog. The main story of the night, though, was undoubtedly that slap. The Japanese interpreter on Wowow avoided translating Will Smith’s words after he struck Chris Rock. Like everyone else, she was probably too shocked to speak.
Wakatakakage Makes History
Sumo wrestler Wakatakakage made history on Sunday, becoming the first newly-promoted sekiwake since 1936 to win an Emperor’s Cup. The last man to do that was legendary figure Futabayama who went on to rise to the sport’s highest rank of yokozuna. Wakatakakage will now be dreaming of doing the same following his triumph in Osaka. He finished the final day with a 12-3 record, the same as rank-and-file, Takayasu. Wakatakakage won the subsequent playoff to take home the trophy.
In other sporting news, Japan’s Central and Pacific baseball leagues began their respective seasons last Friday. Nippon Ham Fighters coach Tsuyoshi Shinjo made most of the headlines on the opening weekend. The former MLB outfielder, who’s officially changed his registered name to Big Boss, made quite the entrance. Coming out of a box to flashing lights and smoke, it looked like he was going to burst into song. His team won their first game last night after five consecutive defeats.