It’s later than initially predicted, but cherry blossoms in Tokyo are now in full bloom. The Japan Meteorological Agency announced on Thursday that the Somei-Yoshino cherry tree at Yasukuni Shrine — the benchmark tree for making the announcement — has finally entered full bloom. That’s 13 days later than last year and four days later than average. Due to a recent spell of unseasonably cold weather and regular bouts of rain, hanami events have been delayed this spring. There should be plenty of people out and about this weekend, though more rain is forecast. The last time they bloomed in April was in 2017.   

In political news, we report on the LDP’s fundraising scandal as 39 members are punished and two are asked to leave the party. Also this week, we have the latest on the powerful earthquake in Taiwan that triggered a tsunami warning for Okinawa. Shizuoka Governor Heita Kawakatsu announces his resignation after calling farmers and fruit sellers stupid. North Korea fires yet another ballistic missile and American chat show host Jimmy Kimmel compliments Japan on its cleanliness. In sport, there’s a first Dodgers home run for Shohei Ohtani and plenty of goals for Japanese soccer players in Europe. 

Fumio Kishida | Image by lev radin via Shutterstock

Two LDP Members Urged to Leave Party

Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) has decided to punish 39 of its members for their involvement in a fundraising scandal that came to light last December. Between 2018 and 2022, some LDP factions, including one previously led by the late Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, allegedly failed to include some revenues from fundraising events in financial statements. The disciplinary measures were decided at the Party Ethics Committee meeting on Thursday. Former education minister Ryu Shionoya, the de facto leader of the Abe faction, and Hiroshige Seko, the former LDP secretary general in the House of Councillors, have been advised to leave the party.

“I’m dissatisfied because it’s a heavy punishment that cannot be justified. I firmly protest the party executives’ dictatorial party management,” said Shionoya in a statement. Seko told reporters he has offered to resign. Being asked to leave is the second harshest of the LDP’s eight disciplinary measures. The third is party membership suspension, which was handed out to former trade minister Yasutoshi Nishimura and former policy chief Hakubun Shimomura (one year each), as well as Tsuyoshi Takagi (six months), who served as secretary general of the Abe faction. Prime Minister Kishida apologized and vowed to implement political reforms to prevent similar issues from occurring again. 

okinawa tsunami warning after earthquake

10 Dead in Taiwan Quake, Tsunami Advisory Lifted for Okinawa

At approximately 7:50 a.m. (local time) on Wednesday morning, a 7.4 magnitude earthquake struck off the coast of Taiwan. The largest to hit there in a quarter of a century, it registered over 4 on Japan’s shindo seismic intensity scale. According to authorities, at least 10 people have been confirmed dead, all in Hualien County. More than 1,000 have been reported injured, while dozens of people are still missing. According to the United States Geological Survey, the quake originated 18 kilometers south-southwest of Hualien, at a depth of 34.8 kilometers. Strong tremors were felt across Taiwan, including in Taipei and New Taipei. 

The powerful earthquake triggered tsunami warnings in Okinawa. Citizens in the area were urged not to go to the coast and evacuate to higher ground. The Japan Meteorological agency initially projected waves of up to 3 meters for some areas. Waves measuring up to 30 centimeters were observed at Yonaguni and Miyako islands. “There haven’t been reports of casualties or buildings damaged so far. Besides that, we ‘re aware of emergency calls regarding traffic in the prefecture,” said Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshimasa Hayashi. The tsunami warning was lowered to a tsunami advisory at 10:40 a.m, which was then lifted around noon. 

shizuoka govenor resigns after calling farmers stupid

Shizuoka Governor to Resign After Calling Farmers Stupid

On Tuesday, the governor of Shizuoka Prefecture announced that he plans to resign at a prefectural assembly in June after facing a backlash for his gaffe about fruit sellers. The previous day, Governor Heita Kawakatsu delivered a speech to newly hired prefectural officials, telling them that, “unlike those who sell vegetables, raise cattle and make things, everyone here is a brainy and intelligent person.” He later apologized for the faux pas, though he denied insulting certain professions. “All occupations are equally valuable. They are all necessary,” he said. “I’m very sorry if I made people feel uncomfortable.” 

As of 5 p.m. on Tuesday, the prefectural government of Shizuoka had received 430 complaints by phone and email in relation to Governor Kawakatsu’s comments. It’s not the first time he has come under fire for disparaging remarks during his tenure. He was advised by the Shizuoka prefectural assembly to resign in 2021 after he suggested that Gotemba city “only has koshihikari” as its local specialty. Just last month, he publicly ranked regions within the prefecture based on how “cultured” they were. With his latest gaffe, though, he has gone too far, making his resignation inevitable.   

north korean missle

North Korea Fires Ballistic Missile Into the Sea of Japan

Last Thursday, Russia vetoed the United Nations’ renewal of a panel of UN experts monitoring North Korea’s compliance with international sanctions. Five days later, North Korea launched an intermediate-range ballistic missile towards the Sea of Japan (East Sea). It was fired from Pyongyang at approximately 6:53 a.m. on Tuesday. According to the Japanese Defense Ministry, the projectile flew around 550 kilometers at a maximum altitude of 100 kilometers, before landing outside Japan’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ). There were no reports of damage, casualties, or transport disruptions. The flight distance given by Seoul’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) was 600 kilometers. 

“This is a matter that concerns not only the security of our country but also the safety of the region and the international community. It is absolutely unacceptable,” Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida told reporters. It was North Korea’s third missile launch this year. The last was on March 18. At the time, the US Secretary of State Antony Blinken was in Seoul for a conference hosted by President Yoon Suk Yeol on advancing democracy. During that period, Pyongyang also announced that it had successfully tested a solid-fuel engine for its new-type intermediate-range hypersonic missile. 

Jimmy Kimmel Japan

Jimmy Kimmel Labels the US ‘Filthy’ and ‘Disgusting’ After Japan Visit

Prior to a recent visit to Japan, talk show host Jimmy Kimmel saw the United States as a country that, despite having its faults, was “pretty buttoned up,” compared to the rest of the world. That opinion changed following a few days here. “After traveling to Japan, I realize that this place, this USA we’re always chanting about, is a filthy and disgusting country,” said the comic during his opening monologue on Jimmy Kimmel Live! “We were in Japan for seven days. Not only did I not encounter a single dirty bathroom, the bathrooms in Tokyo and Kyoto are cleaner than our operating rooms here.”

Japan’s reputation for cleanliness is well-known around the globe. In recent years, much has been made of Japanese supporters tidying up stadiums at the soccer and rugby world cups, with the players doing likewise in the dressing rooms. Tourists visiting here regularly comment on how clean it is and are also often fascinated by the advanced features in the restrooms. “Outstanding cleanliness” was one of the reasons given by Condé Nast Traveler magazine for visiting Japan. Last year, readers of the publication voted it as the “Best Country in the World.” 

shohei ohtani gambling scandal response

Shohei Ohtani Hits First Home Run for the Dodgers

Shohei Ohtani smashed his first home run for the Dodgers on Wednesday as the Los Angeles side defeated the San Francisco Giants 5-4 to complete a three-game sweep. The 452-foot shot to left-center field ended the two-way superstar’s longest season-opening homer drought of his MLB career. “Honestly, very relieved that I was able to hit my first homer. It’s been a while and honestly my swing hasn’t been great,” Ohtani said through interpreter Will Ireton. On Tuesday, right fielder Seiya Suzuki smashed his first home run of the campaign in the Chicago Cubs 12-2 victory over the Colorado Rockies.

In men’s soccer, there were plenty of Japanese players on target in Europe this week. Takumi Minamino grabbed his seventh goal of the season in Monaco’s 5-2 drubbing of Metz, while Ritsu Doan scored his sixth in Freiburg’s 3-0 win over Borussia Mönchengladbach. In the Netherlands, Shunsuke Mito and Koki Saito (both Sparta Rotterdam) as well as Yukinari Sugawara (AZ Alkmaar) and Kodai Sano (NEC Nijmegen) all found the net. There were also goals for Taichi Fukui (Portimonense), Shinta Appelkamp (Düsseldorf) and Keisuke Goto (RSCA Futures). The unfortunate Daiki Hashioka scored an own-goal in Luton’s 2-0 defeat to Arsenal.

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