Musician and actor Gackt will be going on a hiatus for an indefinite period. The 48-year-old singer has dysphonia (vocal disorder) and has been told by doctors it would be impossible to continue with any work that involves using his voice. His website reported that he lost 10kg and the situation had progressed into a temporary life-threatening situation, but he’s now in a stable condition. In other entertainment-related news, a car carrying Takeshi Kitano was attacked by a man wielding a pickaxe.

Following Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s shock announcement last week, attention has turned to who his successor will be. Taro Kono is the current favorite. The vaccine czar was mocked this week for blocking critics on Twitter, yet according to the latest opinion polls, he currently leads the way in the race to be next PM.

The new leader will be under intense scrutiny for how he or she addresses the pandemic exit strategy. This week the state of emergency was extended again in 19 prefectures and will run until at least September 30. The government, however, has developed plans to start easing restrictions in October or November, depending on the progress in vaccinations.

The curtain came down on the Paralympics last Sunday. Japan finished strongly with five golds on the final weekend. It pushed the host nation up to 11th in the table, finishing with 13 in total. That’s more than they managed in the last three Games put together, though four less than they achieved in 2004. Also in sport, Naomi Osaka and Kei Nishikori both lost their third-round matches at the US Open. The former announced that she would now be taking a break from tennis.

Gackt Stops All Entertainment-Related Work Due to Dysphonia 

Popular musician Gackt issued a statement on Wednesday to thank fans and apologize for making them worry after it was announced that he would be suspending activities due to a neurological disease affecting his voice. It’s a condition he has suffered from since childhood.

“For about 10 years now, I was preparing to cure my illness abroad and receiving medical treatment etc. I don’t know what caused it, if it’s something that got worse over time, or some kind of a neurological disorder, all I know is that it triggers a sudden dysphonia,” he said.

A car carrying comedian and award-winning director Takeshi Kitano was attacked by a man carrying a pickaxe outside TBS Studios last Saturday evening. Fortunately, the entertainer and his driver were unharmed. Reported to be an unemployed man in his 40s, the perpetrator told the police he’d been snubbed by Takeshi in June after he begged for help to enter the world of show business.

Kono the Current Frontrunner in PM Race

Opinion polls taken by Kyodo News Agency, Yomiuri Shimbun and TBS Television showed Taro Kono as the public’s choice to be Japan’s next prime minister. Of course, this will have no bearing on the result as the new leader will be chosen by parliament, but at the moment Kono is the clear favorite despite having not announced his candidacy yet.

The outspoken vaccine minister, who graduated from Georgetown University, tweets regularly to his more than 2.3 million followers. This week he faced a backlash after blocking users. “You wouldn’t disparage a stranger on the street, but on social media it’s quite common. I’m just asking that Twitter users demonstrate the same degree of civility as in a real-life setting,” he said in a press conference.

In all three opinion polls, former defense minister Shigeru Ishiba finished in second place with former foreign minister Fumio Kishida in third. The latter was the first politician to announce his candidacy. The second was Sanae Takaichi. She officially told reporters she would be running for party leadership on Wednesday. A close ally of Shinzo Abe, she outlined her ‘Sanaenomics’ plan to make the economy more resilient. A fan of heavy metal, she is a divisive character who strongly opposes apologies for Japan’s wartime aggression.

State of Emergency Extended Again, Plans in Place to Ease Restrictions 

Despite falling numbers of infections, hospitals remain stretched in Japan due to the Covid-19 pandemic. As a result, it was not a surprise to hear that the Japanese government had decided to extend the state of emergency again. Slated to end on September 12, it will now remain in place until at least September 30 in 19 prefectures.

Plans, however, are in place to start lifting curbs once most of the population has been vaccinated. “We will be easing restrictions by using vaccination certificates and negative test results and setting a path toward normalizing social and economic activities,” said Prime Minister Suga on Thursday.

The exit strategy could begin on an experimental basis in October, though is expected to be fully operational in November. Restaurants and bars will be given the green light to serve alcohol and stay open later provided they maintain virus precautions. People will be allowed to dine in bigger groups, attend large-scale events and travel across prefectural borders. This is under the provision that they’ve been fully vaccinated or provide negative test results. According to reports, Japan is also considering shortening the quarantine period from two weeks to 10 days for returning Japanese citizens and foreign residents who have been fully inoculated.

A Golden Weekend for Japan in Badminton 

Badminton made its debut at the Paralympics in Tokyo with Sarina Satomi winning Japan’s first-ever gold in the sport. The 23-year-old triumphed in the WH1 women’s singles final, defeating Thailand’s Sujirat Pookkham 14-21, 21-19, 21-13. Satomi sustained a spinal cord injury when she was involved in a car accident in May 2016. She lost the use of her legs and her father persuaded her to take up badminton. She won her first World title in 2019 and climbed up to number one in the world rankings.

The following day, Satomi won her second gold. This time she was playing alongside Yuma Yamazaki in the women’s WH doubles final. The pair came from 1-0 down to defeat Chinese duo Liu Yutong and Yin Menglu by two sets to one. Like Satomi, Yamazaki lost the use of her legs in a traffic accident.

Japan’s other badminton gold on the last day of action came from Daiki Kajiwara. The 19-year-old proved too strong for Korea’s Kim Jung-jun as he took home the men’s WH1-WH2 singles title in straight sets. Kajiwara was also involved in a traffic accident in 2015. He took up para badminton two years later after being introduced to the sport by a social worker.

Golds for Kunieda and Michishita

Going into the Paralympics, Shingo Kunieda was arguably under more pressure than any other Japanese athlete. Widely regarded as the greatest ever male wheelchair tennis player, the 37-year-old was a strong favorite for gold. He didn’t disappoint. The top seeded player was too good for the Netherlands’ Tom Egberink in the final, comfortably winning 6-1, 6-2.

It’s his fourth Paralympic title and first since 2012. With injuries taking their toll, he considered retiring after losing in Rio. He then changed coaches and discovered a backhand technique that put less stress on his body.

Japan’s final gold of the Games came in the women’s marathon for the visually impaired. Misato Michishita won the race in a Paralympic record time of 3 hours and 50 seconds. A silver medalist in Rio, she lost vision in her right eye when she was in junior high school. An intractable disease, it soon began to affect her left eye and by the time she was 25, she could only sense light. Michishita took up marathon running at the age of 31.

Osaka to Take Time Away from Tennis 

At an emotional press conference last weekend, Naomi Osaka revealed that she would be taking another break from the sport. It came after she lost in the third round of the US Open to Canadian teenager Leylah Fernandez.

“I feel like for me recently, like when I win, I don’t feel happy. I feel more like a relief. And then when I lose, I feel very sad. I don’t think that’s normal,” said Osaka while tearing up. She added that she didn’t know when she would be playing her next tennis match. Kei Nishikori also lost his third-round match, going down in four sets to world no.1 Novak Djokovic.

Japan will not be hosting the FIFA Club World Cup this December. The JFA was preparing to stage the tournament here for the first time in five years as part of its centennial celebrations, however, due to the Covid-19 pandemic a decision has been made to give up on the idea. A backup host has yet to be chosen. As for next year’s World Cup in Qatar, Japan currently sit fourth in their qualifying group. They bounced back from last week’s disappointing defeat to Oman with a 1-0 win over China.