Saga was this week named Japan’s least attractive prefecture, replacing Ibaraki at the bottom of the pile. Having been there recently, we can say it’s not as bad as it’s made out. Tourists from overseas, however, will no doubt be more interested in the destinations at the top of the list including Hokkaido and Kyoto. With Japan finally easing its border restrictions on Tuesday, they’ll now have the chance to visit these places.  

Also this week, the central government announced plans to abolish the current health insurance card system, while the Tokyo metropolitan government started accepting applications for same-sex partnership certificates. We have the latest on Japanese filmmaker Toru Kubota as his prison sentence in Myanmar is extended by three years. And human bones are mysteriously discovered on the premises of Universal Studios Japan. In sport, we report on the world championships in judo and women’s volleyball, plus there’s some baseball and soccer news.  

Hokkaido Named Most Attractive Prefecture Again

For the 14th year in a row, Hokkaido retained its title as Japan’s “most attractive” prefecture. It has held on to the top spot since 2009 when the Brand Research Institute began conducting the survey. Every summer respondents are asked around 90 questions regarding things such as recognition of the prefectures and willingness to go. This year the consulting agency asked more than 34,000 people.  

As with 2021, Kyoto, Okinawa, Tokyo and Osaka made up the top five. At the bottom, it’s usually Ibaraki propping up the rest. This year, though, the perennial “least attractive” prefecture moved up a place to 46th. Saga, famous for being the birthplace of ceramics in Japan, was the unfortunate prefecture that slipped down to 47th. Making up the rest of the bottom five were Saitama, Gunma and Yamaguchi.  

Tourists will no doubt be excited about the prospect of visiting destinations like Hokkaido

Border Restrictions Finally Lifted

After more than two years of isolation, Japan has finally opened its doors to visa-free independent tourists from overseas. The country’s strict border restrictions were lifted on Tuesday. It means short-term visitors from 68 countries and regions (that had a waiver agreement prior to the pandemic) will no longer require visas or need to book through a travel agency that will manage their itineraries. The 50,000-person daily entry cap has also been lifted. 

On the same day the borders opened, the National Travel Discount program was launched. Only available to those with residency status in Japan, it offers a financial subsidy of up to ¥11,000 per person per night, for a maximum of seven days. Of the country’s 47 prefectures, 46 launched the program on Tuesday with Tokyo set to join on October 20. It’s due to run until late December, though prefectural governments can choose when to end it.

Health Insurance Cards to Be Scrapped in Fall 2024

Speaking at a press conference on Tuesday, Digital Minister Taro Kono announced that Japan will be abolishing in principle the current health insurance card system from the fall of 2024. The cards will, instead, be integrated into the “My Number” national identification system. “This will help improve the quality of healthcare,” said Kono. As Japan’s health insurance system covers all residents, My Number cards will become mandatory. Plans to integrate driver’s licenses into the system are being considered. 

Also this week, the Tokyo metropolitan government started accepting applications for same-sex partnership certificates. The program will officially launch on November 1. Despite not offering the legal benefits of marriage, the certificates are seen as a significant step in the right direction. “The introduction of the system in Tokyo is extremely positive. But partnership is not enough. We basically want legal marriage,” said Soshi Matsuoka, head of the LGBTQ rights organization.

Human bones were found on the premises of USJ

Cold Case at USJ

On Wednesday afternoon, a Universal Studios Japan (USJ) employee called the Osaka police to tell them she’d discovered human bones on the theme park’s premises. She found them in a shrubbery in the northwest area of the park, away from the attractions. Among the remains was what appeared to be part of a human skull. According to the police the bones are too big to be that of a child. The investigation continues. 

On the same day in Uji City, Kyoto Prefecture, the dead body of caregiver Akiko Okimura, 44, was found in a parked car alongside a river. Prior to the discovery, police received a call from a man claiming he’d killed his wife. He hasn’t been heard from since despite saying he’d turn himself in. Two days earlier in Osaka, Yutaka Morimoto, 73, was arrested on suspicion of strangling his 66-year-old wife to death. He claimed she’d asked him to do it. 

Three Years Added to Japanese Filmmaker’s Sentence

On Wednesday, a court in Myanmar sentenced Japanese documentary filmmaker Toru Kubota to another three years in prison, adding to the seven he received last week. Detained by plain clothes officers on July 30 for taking pictures and videos of demonstrators at a flash protest in the former capital of Yangon, he was initially charged with violating the electronic transactions law and sedition. His latest sentencing is supposedly due to a breach of an immigration control law. 

On the same day as Kubota’s hearing, a more high-profile case was taking place in Myanmar’s modern capital of Naypyidaw as ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi was sentenced to three more years in prison for corruption. The court ruled that she accepted bribes from a businessperson in exchange for preferential treatment. The 1991 Nobel Peace Prize laureate now faces 26 years behind bars. Her supporters and independent analysts believe the charges are politically motivated.  


Japan Dominate at Judo World Championships

In sport, Japan won six gold medals at the Judo World Championships in Uzbekistan. There were triumphs for the Abe siblings (Hifumi and Uta), Naohisa Takato, Natsumi Tsunoda, Megumi Horikawa and the mixed team. Another World Championship taking place this week was in women’s volleyball in Poland and the Netherlands. Japan lost 3-2 to Brazil in the quarterfinals after leading 2-0. In Japanese baseball, the Yakult Swallows and the Orix Buffaloes both lead 2-0 in their respective Climax Series’ final stages. 

In European soccer, Daichi Kamada scored his first Champions League goal in Eintracht Frankfurt’s 3-2 loss to Tottenham. Yukinari Sugawara opened his account for the season as Eredivisie leaders AZ Alkmaar defeated FC Utrecht. Other Japanese scorers in Europe this week included Hidemasa Morita, Kyosuke Tagawa and Hayao Kawabe. In the J-League, leaders Yokohama F. Marinos lost 2-0 to Gamba Osaka. They’re now just two points ahead of Kawasaki Frontale with two games remaining.