This week’s news headlines have been dominated by the US Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade. It means there is no longer a federal constitutional right to have an abortion in America. But what about the situation in Japan? Abortion is legal here, however, in the vast majority of cases, spousal consent is required. On Monday, Action for Safe Abortion Japan submitted a petition demanding the removal of this legal clause. In our latest news roundup, we speak to Kazane Kajiya, one of the leaders of the citizens’ group, about the issue.
We also speak to Glen Wood, whose paternity harassment claims were recently rejected by the Tokyo High Court. There’s a report on the most extreme June heatwave Japan’s capital has experienced since records began and the continuous rise in Covid-19 infections. On a lighter note, there’s relief for an IT worker in Hyogo Prefecture after he finds the USB flash drive containing data on an entire city’s residents he lost during a boozy night out. While in sport, Shohei Ohtani continues to dazzle and there are wins for Japan in women’s soccer and men’s rugby.
Campaigning for Bodily Autonomy
In 2020, the dead body of a baby with an umbilical cord attached was discovered in a park in Aichi Prefecture. The mother, who was sentenced to three years in prison, suspended for five years, said she couldn’t have an abortion because her partner wouldn’t sign a written consent form. Japan is one of only 11 countries that calls for a third party written agreement on the matter. This is something Action for Safe Abortion Japan is trying to change. Led by Kazane Kajiya, the citizens’ group submitted a petition this week demanding the removal of the spousal consent clause.
“With this requirement, women are treated purely as property of their households,” says Kajiya. “Most people here don’t know that Japan still legally deprives women of their right of body autonomy. So, I launched this petition to bring about change and raise awareness of the issue. Women are tired of being asked to get permission. I think once abortion pills become available (expected later this year), our voices and anger will grow even louder.” Kajiya’s petition, available in Japanese, English, Korean, Spanish and French, already has more than 82,300 signatures.
Canadian Father Describes High Court Decision as “Stunning” and “Dangerous”
In recent years, victims of maternity harassment, or matahara as it’s known here, have increasingly made their voices heard in Japan. It’s not just women who are victimized, though. Glen Wood, claims he was harassed and unfairly dismissed after requesting paternity leave. At the time, he was working as an equity manager at Mitsubishi UFJ Morgan Stanley Securities Co. In 2020, the Tokyo District Court ruled against Wood and criticized the Canadian father for going public with the case. His appeal was then rejected by the Tokyo High Court on June 23, 2022.
Tokyo Weekender, this week, spoke to Wood about his latest setback. “It’s a stunning and dangerous verdict that sets some unbelievable precedents,” he says. “Effectively, it means bosses are free to harass their staff. It gives them the right to deny employees maternity or paternity leave. A company can claim defamation if a worker speaks to the media, regardless of whether they’re telling the truth. Permanent contracts are not really permanent. And employees could be demoted or fired for taking time off.” Wood is prepared to take his case to the Supreme Court.
Temperatures Continue to Soar in Tokyo
Households in Tokyo and surrounding areas were asked by the government to conserve energy this week as the country’s capital faced up to the most extreme June heatwave since records began in 1875. For six days straight, temperatures in Tokyo exceeded 35 degrees, climbing to 36.4 C on Thursday. Isesaki City in Gunma Prefecture twice topped 40 degrees, marking Japan’s hottest ever temperature in June. Maximum highs are not expected to drop below 30 C before next Tuesday. Record high temperatures for the month were recorded in all but 12 of the country’s prefectures.
The extreme weather conditions led to fears of a potential power shortage in the Kanto region. Those fears intensified on Thursday morning when the No. 9 unit of the Nakoso Thermal Power Plant in Iwaki, Fukushima Prefecture was temporarily suspended due to a boiler fan failing. The unit usually provides 300 megawatts of electricity to Tepco’s service areas. Operations resumed on Thursday afternoon, but at a reduced output of 250 megawatts. Another thermal power unit was then restarted in Ichihara, Chiba Prefecture. The power shortage alert was lifted on Thursday evening.
Tokyo Raises Covid-19 Alert Level
Experts are concerned about the recent rise in coronavirus cases here. Japan’s capital reported 3,621 new daily cases on Thursday. That’s an increase of 1,208 from the same day last week. As a result, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government (TMG) raised its Covid-19 alert to the second highest of four levels. The highly contagious BA.5 strain of the Omicron variant is taking over as the dominant strain. It currently accounts for around a quarter of new infections, but is expected to exceed 50 percent by the second week of July.
Norio Omagari, head of the Disease Control and Prevention Center at the National Center for Global Health and Medicine, believes the daily figure of new cases could rise above 5,000 by the middle of this month. “An increase in Covid-19 cases during the sixth wave (from January to March) had a great impact on social activities. We need to make sure that it doesn’t get repeated,” he said at a TMG meeting. There are concerns that a combination of coronavirus and heatstroke patients could place a heavy burden on emergency medical services.
Memory Stick with Residents’ Personal Information is Found
Waking up after a heavy night of drinking, you just hope you haven’t lost something important. A cell phone would be bad. A wallet, even worse. How about a USB with the personal information of close to half a million people? That was the situation facing an IT employee in Amagasaki City, Hyogo Prefecture last week. His company, Biprogy, had been tasked with providing benefits to tax-exempt residents. The man transferred the information of those residents, including tax details and bank account numbers, to a memory stick.
That memory stick was then safely stored in his bag. Or so he thought. Following a solid session boozing at a local restaurant, the man passed out in the street. When he woke up, his bag with the USB inside had disappeared. Fortunately, the data on the drive was encrypted and locked with a password. After filing a theft report, the man searched the area with the police. His luck was in. On June 24, Amagasaki City officials announced that the bag had been found.
Ohtani Dazzles on the Mound and with the Bat
Shohei Ohtani continues to astound both on the mound and with his bat. In Saturday’s defeat against the Seattle Mariners, he smashed a 462-foot homer off Logan Gilbert’s 96.8 mph fastball. It was his 16th home run of the season. He followed that up with his 17th in Tuesday’s loss to the Chicago White Sox. The next day, he struck out 11 batters as the Los Angeles Angels defeated the same opponents 4-1. That’s an incredible 24 strikeouts in his last two outings and three consecutive scoreless starts.
In other sporting news, Takumi Minamino’s transfer from Liverpool to AS Monaco was confirmed. Vissel Kobe fired manager Miguel Ángel Lotina after less than three months in charge. They currently sit bottom of the J-League. Nadeshiko Japan hit 10 goals in two games on their European tour. They followed up their impressive 5-0 victory over Serbia with a 5-1 thumping of Finland on Monday. In men’s rugby, the Brave Blossoms swept aside Uruguay with ease, winning 43-7. Next up is Six Nations champions France, on Saturday.