In this week’s news roundup, we report on the Johnny & Associates press conference as former idol Noriyuki Higashiyama takes over from Julie K. Fujishima in the hot seat. Shinji Aoba, the suspect in the 2019 Kyoto Animation arson attack that killed 36 admits to starting the fire, but his defense team say he should be acquitted due to suffering from delusions at the time. Japan successfully launches a rocket carrying a small lunar lander and X-ray satellite. China turns down a proposal from Japan to join the IAEA in monitoring Fukushima’s wastewater. Baseball star Hotaka Yamakawa is suspended by the Saitama Seibu Lions despite rape charges against him being dropped. And Japan’s men’s basketball team qualify for next year’s Paris Summer Olympics. 

Higashiyama Named as New Johnny’s President 

Julie K. Fujishima, the now former head of talent agency Johnny & Associates, announced her resignation from the company at a press conference on Thursday. She will be replaced by former idol Noriyuki Higashiyama, who was a member of the boy group Shonentai. The ex-leader finally admitted that her uncle, the organization’s founder Johnny Kitagawa, had abused minors for decades. “Both the agency itself and I, myself as a person, recognize that sex abuse by Johnny Kitagawa took place,” she said. “I apologize to his victims from the bottom of my heart.” 

Thursday’s announcement came just over a week after an independent investigation called for Fujishima to stand down. The feeling was that familial ties would likely hamper any attempt to reform the agency. Despite resigning as Johnny’s president, she’s staying on as a representative director to oversee compensation payments. Her successor, meanwhile, vowed to “win back the trust” the company lost. In the subsequent question-and-answer session, he said he’d never been abused by Kitagawa, but had heard rumors and did nothing about them. Regarding the founder as a “father figure,” he didn’t think he was capable of such despicable behavior.  

Kyoto Animation Studio 1 | Image by icosha via Shutterstock

Aoba’s Defense Call for His Acquittal in Kyoto Animation Arson Trial  

It was the worst mass killing in Japan in almost two decades. On July 18, 2019, 36 people died and 32 were injured following an arson attack at Kyoto Animation’s Studio 1 building in the city’s Fushimi ward. This Tuesday, more than four years after the attack, Shinji Aoba, 45, finally admitted to starting the fire. His defense team, however, called for his acquittal, stating that he was mentally unfit to be held criminally liable. Requesting a reduced punishment if convicted, they claim he was suffering from delusions and was fighting back against a “dark figure.” 

Prosecutors, on the other hand, believe he wasn’t controlled by any delusions and should, therefore, be held fully responsible. They claim he falsely believed Kyoto Animation, often referred to as “KyoAni,” plagiarized a story he entered into a contest. As well as setting the studio ablaze, Aoba also set himself on fire and then attempted to flee. The police waited 10 months for him to recover from life-threatening burns before arresting him. “I felt I had no other option but to do what I did,” said Aoba at the Kyoto District Court. He added that he “didn’t anticipate so many people would die.” 


Japan Launches Two Key Missions Into Orbit   

At 8:42am on Thursday, Japan successfully launched an H-IIA rocket carrying a probe that will attempt to make the country’s maiden lunar landing. Just under an hour after the launch, the rocket placed the probe, which is known as the Smart Lander for Investigating Moon (SLIM), into an orbit at an altitude of over 600 kilometers. Nicknamed “Moon Sniper,” it’s designed to land within 100 meters of a specific target on the surface. Taking off from Tanegashima Space Center in Kagoshima Prefecture, it’s expected to enter the Moon’s orbit within four months. 

It will then attempt to make the lunar landing in February after spending a month circling the Moon. Two weeks ago, India landed its Chandrayaan-3 spacecraft, becoming the fourth country after the United States, Russia and China to achieve the feat. Japan is now hoping to become the fifth next year following several failures. The H-IIA rocket was also carrying the X-Ray Imaging and Spectroscopy Mission (XRISM), which was put into orbit just before 9am. A joint project between Japanese, American and European space agencies, it will observe plasma in stars and galaxies. 

Diplomatic relations between Japan and China have worsened due to the Fukushima wastewater release | Image by Anna Petek

Fallout From Fukushima Wastewater Release Rumbles On  

Citing unnamed diplomatic sources, Kyodo News revealed on Tuesday that China turned down Japan’s proposal to take part in a verification framework led by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to assess the results of sea water monitoring off Fukushima. After Japan announced in April 2021 that it would be discharging treated wastewater from the crippled Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant into the sea, China became its most vocal opponent. Since the release began on August 24, the condemnation has grown louder. This is despite the fact that the IAEA has stated that the impact will be negligible.  

According to a report by British-based data analysis company Logically, Chinese officials, state media and pro-China influencers have, since January of this year, “amplified disinformation and narratives related to the wastewater release in line with the Chinese government’s statements opposing the move.” This, the report says, has included claims that the IAEA’s analysis is flawed and that the wastewater will contaminate Japanese food, making it unsafe to eat. Japanese seafood was subsequently banned in China. “It is quite evident that this is politically motivated,” Hamsini Hariharan, a China expert at Logically, told the BBC. 

Lions Suspend Yamakawa Indefinitely Over Alleged Rape Case  

On Monday, the Saitama Seibu Lions announced that Hotaka Yamakawa would be suspended indefinitely despite prosecutors deciding not to indict him over an allegation of rape. The 31-year-old slugger, who helped Japan lift the WBC trophy in March, was accused of raping a female acquaintance at a Tokyo hotel last November. Shukan Bunshun reported on the story six months later. It said the alleged victim had suffered bleeding from the vagina and other parts of the body. Yamakawa denied the charges, stating it had been consensual and that he had relations with the woman.  

On August 29, prosecutors decided to drop the case, citing a lack of evidence. This, however, didn’t stop Yamakawa’s team from taking further action against their player. “We take this situation very gravely and have punished the individual in order to encourage him to do some serious self-reflection,” said Tsuyoshi Okumura, president and CEO of the Lions. The 2018 Pacific League MVP was initially removed from the team a day after the story broke. “This situation was caused by my failure to consider my position as a professional baseball player. I will reflect deeply,” he said. 

FIBA Basketball World Cup | Image by Nomi2626 via Shutterstock

Japan’s Men’s Basketball Team Seal Olympic Spot  

In much more positive sports news, Japan’s men’s basketball team qualified for the Paris 2024 Summer Olympics with an 80-71 victory over Cape Verde in their classification game at the FIBA Basketball World Cup on Saturday. With a 73-55 lead going into the final quarter, the hosts looked set for a comfortable victory at the Okinawa Arena. The African side fought back strongly, but in the end it wasn’t enough. The semi-finals take place today, starting with Serbia against Canada and followed by the United States versus Germany. The final is in the Philippines city of Pasay on Sunday evening.  

In men’s soccer, it was a stellar weekend for Japanese players in Europe. Takefusa Kubo and Takuma Asano both bagged braces for Real Sociedad and VfL Bochum. Daichi Kamada and Ayase Ueda grabbed their first goals for Lazio and Feyenoord. Kyogo Furuhashi scored the winner as Celtic beat archrivals Rangers 1-0. There were also goals for Borussia Mönchengladbach’s Ko Itakura and Gornik’s Daisuke Yokota. Kaoru Mitoma, meanwhile, won Match of the Day’s Goal of the Month award for August. In the J-League, Juan Mata signed for current leaders Vissel Kobe, while in the women’s game, Hinata Miyazawa joined Manchester United.