In this week’s news roundup we report on the five Chinese ballistic missiles that landed in Japan’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ). We also have the latest Covid-19 news as experts call for its classification to be downgraded. There’s flooding in Tohoku and Hokuriku while in Myanmar, a Japanese journalist is arrested. Back in Japan, the minimum wage is set for a record increase and in sport, Shohei Ohtani is staying put.  

Japan Lodges Protest with China After Missiles Land in its Waters  

We have gotten used to North Korea firing missiles into Japanese waters over the years. For China to do the same, though, is an unprecedented event. According to officials here, nine missiles were launched from China, five of which landed in Japan’s EEZ. Tokyo voiced a strong protest over the launches through diplomatic channels. “This is a grave issue that concerns our country’s national security and people’s safety,” said Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi at a hastily arranged press conference on Thursday. He declined to comment on China’s intentions, but called them “extremely menacing.”  

Daniel Sneider, an expert on Japan’s foreign relations at Stanford University, believes China is sending a clear message to those coming to the aid of Taiwan. “If anyone in Japan thought they could avoid involvement in a conflict in the Taiwan Strait, the Chinese have demonstrated that’s not the case,” he said. The world’s most populous nation held its largest ever military exercises around Taiwan on Thursday after Nancy Pelosi’s visit to the self-governing island. The speaker of the House of Representatives became the highest-ranking US official to visit the region in 25 years. On Thursday evening, she arrived in Japan. 

Experts believe the Covid-19 classification should be downgraded | Image by Anna Petek

Is it Time for Japan to Downgrade its Coronavirus Classification?

In Japan infectious diseases are placed into five categories. The highest is Class I which includes Ebola and Lassa fever. Covid-19, meanwhile, belongs to a separate “new influenza and other diseases” category which is basically the equivalent to Class II, alongside diseases such as tuberculosis. As it has such a high classification, all hospitals and clinics must report every case to their local public health centers. Also, only designated hospitals and clinics can treat patients. These factors are placing a huge burden on local medical systems.  

Reducing the coronavirus to Class V, the same as flu, would help to ease that burden. Speaking on Sunday, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said that reclassification was being considered but only after the seventh wave subsides. That will be too late according to a government coronavirus panel headed by Shigeru Omi and other medical experts. Presenting a 19-page proposal that includes calls for anti-virus measures to be taken at ordinary institutions and to only track patients at risk of developing severe symptoms, they believe the time to act is now. 

Covid Cases Break Records Again

While the BA.5 variant is less lethal than previous types, it is more contagious. As a result, Japan continues to report huge numbers. On Wednesday, the nationwide figure was 249,830, another record high. Yesterday there were 238,735 new cases, down 11,095 from the previous day. However, those hospitalized with severe symptoms rose to 516, up 38 from Wednesday. Another issue straining Japan’s emergency services is the soaring temperatures. While many people are suffering with heatstroke, ambulance crews are struggling to find medical facilities that will accept patients. 

Speaking of the weather, it’s not just the heat that is endangering people’s lives. Torrential rain sweeping through the Sea of Japan coast caused river banks to burst and bridges to collapse in the Tohoku and Hokuriku regions of the country. According to NHK, non-compulsory evacuation advisories were issued to around 200,000 residents in five regions: Niigata, Yamagata, Fukushima, Ishikawa and Fukui. Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno told reporters that two people had been reported missing on Thursday. The Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA) warned people to be on their guard against landslides and flooding. 

Toru Kubota was arrested in Myanmar on Saturday | Image courtesy of DocuMeme

Japanese Journalist Arrested in Myanmar 

Toru Kubota was detained by plain clothes officers on Saturday following a flash protest in Yangon, Myanmar. The Japanese video journalist was taken into custody after filming demonstrators. On Thursday, the southeast Asian country’s military government announced that he had been charged with violating a law against spreading false or alarming news. “His arrest is extremely concerning,” Teppei Kasai, a program officer for Human Rights Watch, told Tokyo Weekender. “Since the military coup last February, the Myanmar junta has been ruthlessly committing atrocities against unarmed civilians across Myanmar. Journalists are no exception.”  

At the time of writing, an online petition has collected close to 50,000 signatures, demanding Kubota’s release. Kasai, however, believes the Japanese government should be doing more to put pressure on the junta. Not just for Kubota, but the thousands of others in Myanmar who’ve been arbitrarily detained. He also feels the diplomatic approach to Myanmar needs to change. “Non-humanitarian ODA projects must be suspended and sanctions placed against military leaders and military-owned companies. Training of Myanmar soldiers in Japan has to be stopped. And the invitation to the Myanmar junta for Shinzo Abe’s funeral should be rescinded,” he said.  

Minimum Wage Set for Record Rise

The average minimum wage in Japan is set to rise from ¥930 to ¥961 per hour for fiscal 2022. An advisory panel at the labor ministry agreed to the record hike on Monday. “Raising the minimum wage is important in terms of investing in people. We’d like to see an increase that would be appropriate for the era of a new capitalism,” Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Seiji Kihara told reporters before the decision was made public. The panel met at the beginning of this week after failing to reach an agreement in July.  

Both the labor and management sides concurred that an increase was required, but they disagreed on how much. The former called for a large hike due to rising living costs, caused partly by Russia’s war in Ukraine. The latter meanwhile, stressed the need for careful consideration as companies are struggling with surging prices. The minimum wage is decided by each prefecture with the nationally determined amount used as a reference point. In fiscal 2021, the highest rate was ¥1,041 in Tokyo while the lowest was ¥820 yen in Kochi and Okinawa prefectures. 

Ohtani Staying Put

Shohei Ohtani is to remain with the Los Angeles Angels for the rest of the season. Several clubs, including the New York Yankees and the Chicago White Sox, were believed to have made offers. Angels’ owner Arte Moreno, however, was unwilling to let the two-way sensation leave, particularly with the injuries to Mike Trout and Anthony Rendon. The Japanese man will become a free agent after the 2023 campaign. On Saturday, he hit his 22nd home run of the season. In Japan’s Central league, Munetaka Murakami became the first professional player here to homer in five straight at-bats.  

In other sports news, Ritsu Doan got his career at Freiburg off to the perfect start. The former PSV attacker’s beautifully struck free-kick in extra-time earned his side a 2-1 victory over second-division Kaiserslautern in the opening round of the German Cup. In the same competition, Daichi Kamada bagged a brace as Eintracht Frankfurt defeated Magdeburg 4-0. Masaya Okugawa also netted in Arminia Bielefeld’s 7-1 win over Engers. The Bundesliga kicks off this weekend. In the Belgian Pro League, Daichi Hayashi equalized for Sint-Truiden in their 1-1 draw with Gent. 



Feature Image by Hamara via Shutterstock