In this week’s news roundup, we look at the government’s campaign to boost alcohol consumption amongst young people in Japan. We have the latest on the Olympic bribery scandal, Covid-19 and the Unification Church while also paying our respects to trailblazing designer Hanae Mori. In sport, Takefusa Kubo scores on his Real Sociedad debut, Saki Baba wins the US Women’s Amateur golf championship and Shohei Ohtani hits more home runs. 

Young People Encouraged to Drink More  

The younger generation in Japan isn’t as interested in drinking booze as their parents. While that may not sound like a bad thing, it’s a worrying trend for the government. According to the National Tax Agency (NTA), alcohol consumption in Japan fell by 25 liters per person between 1995 and 2020. That’s a significant drop which has reportedly had a detrimental effect on the economy. In an attempt to try and turn things around, the NTA has launched a nationwide competition calling for people to come up with ideas to make drinking more enticing.  

The “Sake Viva!” campaign is asking 20 to 39-year-olds to propose business plans to revitalize the popularity of alcoholic beverages. Participants are being encouraged to think about new products and designs as well as branding and promotional campaigns. Due to lifestyle changes, caused by the coronavirus pandemic, there will also be an emphasis on home drinking. The deadline for the competition is September 9. The best plans will then be developed with the help of experts before the final proposals are presented at a gala awards ceremony on November 10. The campaign has been criticized by a number of people on social media.

The 2020 Games continue to be blighted by scandals | Image by A.Ricardo from Shutterstock

Former Olympic Official Arrested for Taking Bribes 

Haruyuki Takahashi, a former Tokyo Olympic organizing committee executive, was arrested on Wednesday on suspicion of bribery. The former senior managing director of Dentsu Inc., Japan’s largest advertising agency, is accused of receiving bribes of around ¥51 million from business suit retailer Aoki Holdings Inc. Prosecutors allege that Takahashi received backhanders on more than 50 occasions between October 2017 and March of this year. In return, he helped Aoki get preferential treatment in relation to sponsorship and licensing contracts. Prior to his arrest, Takahashi denied any wrongdoing. 

Prosecutors also detained Aoki’s former chairman Hironori Aoki, his brother Takahisa Aoki and Katsuhisa Ueda, an executive director at the company. The business clothing specialty store was categorized as an “official supporter” for the Tokyo Games. That’s the lowest of the three sponsorship tiers, commanding a reported fee of approximately ¥1.5 billion. On Thursday, sources familiar with the matter said Aoki paid just ¥500 million. Being an “official supporter” meant the retailer could use Olympic emblems for business purposes and sell licensed products.  

More than 100 Lawmakers Have Links to the Unification Church  

Results from a Kyodo News survey released on Saturday revealed that at least 106 Japanese lawmakers have had links with the Unification Church. Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) members accounted for around 80 percent of the total. Those connections include attending events associated with the religious group and receiving electoral cooperation from its members. As of last Friday, 583 of the 712 lawmakers had responded to the questionnaire. Prime Minister Fumio Kishida was not one of them. Within his new cabinet, seven members have been confirmed to have had ties with the church.  

The religious group, now formally known as the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification, has been in the spotlight since the murder of Shinzo Abe. The gunman, Tetsuya Yamagami believed the former prime minister had links with the church. He held a grudge against the organization due to his mother’s considerable donations which he said ruined his family financially. On Thursday, around 3,500 Unification Church followers, mostly Japanese women married to Korean men, held a rally in Seoul to protest what they call the biased Japanese media coverage of the group. 

Another record high for Covid cases on Thursday | Image by Anna Petek

Daily Covid Tally Hits Record High 

Japan recorded 255,534 new coronavirus cases on Thursday, a record high. Of the country’s 47 prefectures, 21 reported single-day records. In Tokyo, there were 27,453 new cases, down 1,963 from Wednesday and 3,794 from a week ago. The number of Covid-related deaths nationwide was 287. Since August 9, there has only been one day in which it hasn’t topped the 200-mark. The occupancy rate of hospital beds for coronavirus patients in Tokyo is currently just below 60 percent. The occupancy rate for severely ill patients is at 33.8 percent. 

With cases soaring, Japan is unlikely to change its strict rules in regards to letting tourists in anytime soon. In July, the number of foreign arrivals here exceeded 100,000 for the fourth consecutive month, however, fewer than 8,000 of these visitors were tourists. The North Korea-style chaperoned travel packages are clearly putting people off coming. There are also the extra procedures to consider such as acquiring a negative coronavirus test result. From August 12 to 31, 7,412 people have reportedly applied to enter Japan for tourism purposes. 

Trailblazing Designer Hanae Mori Dies at 96 

The office of Hanae Mori announced this week that the trailblazing fashion designer died in her home on August 11. She was 96. Japan’s first internationally known designer, she was nicknamed “Madame Butterfly” due to her signature motif. In 1992, she was responsible for creating the official uniform for her country at the Barcelona Olympics. A year later, she designed the sleeveless white dress for Empress Masako to wear for her wedding parade. She also had the patronage of several influential figures from abroad including Hillary Clinton, Nancy Reagan and Grace Kelly.  

Born in Muikaichi, Shimane Prefecture on January 8, 1926, Mori moved to Japan’s capital with her family before going on to graduate from Tokyo Women’s Christian University. In 1951, at the age of 25, she opened her first atelier in Shinjuku. In the years that followed she designed costumes for hundreds of movies. Her first fashion show overseas, acclaimed as “East meets West,” was presented in New York in 1965. Twelve years later, she became the first Asian woman to be listed as an official haute couture designer in Paris.

Kyogo Furuhashi was one of a number of Japanese scorers in Europe last weekend

Debut Goal for Kubo at Sociedad  

Following an underwhelming season at Mallorca, Takefusa Kubo is looking to reignite his career at Real Sociedad. On Sunday, he got off to the perfect start, scoring the only goal in his side’s 1-0 victory over Cadiz. In the Bundesliga, Wataru Endo’s thunderous strike helped Stuttgart earn a 2-2 draw with Werder Bremen and Daichi Kamada was on the scoresheet in Eintracht Frankfurt’s 1-1 draw with Hertha Berlin. Celtic’s Kyogo Furuhashi and LASK’s Keito Nakamura were also on target in Scotland and Austria. And in England’s second tier, Yuta Nakayama scored his first goal for Huddersfield. 

In other sporting news, Japanese high schooler Saki Baba won the US Women’s Amateur golf championship on Sunday. The 17-year-old defeated Canada’s Monet Chun in the play-off. In doing so, she became the first player from this country to win the tournament since Michiko Hattori in 1985. In baseball, Shohei Ohtani struck his 26th home run of the season in the Los Angeles Angels 5-3 win against the Minnesota Twins on Saturday. His 27th (a two-run homer) came in his side’s 11-7 loss to the Seattle Mariners on Wednesday. It was also his first four-hit game since 2019.