In this week’s news roundup we have the latest on the U.S. military Osprey airline that crashed into the sea near Yakushima Island, killing at least one of the eight members on board. We also report on the trial run of over-the-counter contraceptive pills that began in Japan on Tuesday and a robbery attempt at a jewelry store in Tokyo that was thwarted by an employee with an ancient samurai weapon. In sport, Nihon University’s American football team disbands following another drug scandal. Kirishima captures his second Emperor’s Cup. Equinox signs off in style at the Japan Cup. And Vissel Kobe win their first ever J-League title.

Japan Asks the U.S. to Suspend Osprey Flights Following Deadly Crash  

At approximately 2:40pm on Wednesday, a U.S. military Osprey aircraft disappeared from radar off the island of Yakushima in Japan’s southwestern prefecture of Kagoshima. A distress call came into the Japan Coast Guard about five minutes later with the news that the plane had crashed. While early reports said six people were on board, U.S. and Japanese officials then revised that number to eight. Two hours after the crash, one member of the crew was discovered by a civilian vessel around 3 kilometers away from Yakushima. He was later pronounced dead by a doctor at a nearby port.  

Japanese rescuers are continuing to scour the waters in search of the other seven members who were on board the flight. On Thursday, the Japan Coast Guard started using a sonar system to scan the seafloor. The cause of the accident, meanwhile, is currently under investigation. According to the U.S. Air Force Special Operations Command, the CV-22B transport aircraft was involved in a “mishap” while carrying out routine training. Japan has subsequently asked the U.S. to suspend all non-emergency V-22 Osprey flights over its territory. On Thursday, however, Pentagon spokesperson Sabrina Singh said Ospreys were “still operating in Japan.” 

morning-after pill in Japan

The morning-after pill is available at 145 pharmacies nationwide during the trial period

Japan Begins Trial of Over-the-Counter Emergency Contraceptives  

On Tuesday, Japan began trial sales of over-the-counter emergency contraceptive pills without a prescription. The pills, NorLevo and the generic version levonorgestrel, are available at 145 stores nationwide, with two to three pharmacies selling them in each prefecture. This covers just 0.2% of Japan’s 60,000 pharmacies, which rights groups believe is not nearly enough. Priced between ¥7,000 and ¥9,000, the pills can be obtained by women over the age of 16. Those aged under 18, however, require parental consent and must be accompanied by a parent or guardian when purchasing the contraceptives.  

For a country that only legalized the birth control pill in 1999 — more than 30 years after it was first submitted for approval — this is a significant development. The campaign group Emergency Contraceptives at Pharmacies Project, though, believes there are still too many restrictions. “There are many who say they cannot talk to their parents about possible pregnancy. It’s going to be difficult if they have to talk about their sexual experiences and concerns about pregnancy.” The trial runs until the end of March. A decision on whether to approve a full-scale rollout will then be made. 

Sasumata-Wielding Employee Saves Store from Robbery  

There has been a rise in demand for the pole weapon known as sasumata in Japan after it was used to thwart robbers during an attempted raid in Tokyo’s Ueno district last weekend. During the Edo period (1603-1867), the fork spear was utilized by samurai police and security forces to catch suspects around the arms, legs or joints. Today, it is still used from time to time by police officers and sometimes civilians who need to defend themselves. That was the case on Sunday night as a shop employee prevented his store from being looted.  

At around 6:40pm, two men, who kept their motorbike helmets on, entered the jewelry shop, Ryutsu, near Okachimachi Station. They then started smashing the glass display cases with what appeared to be crowbars. Another man, also wearing a helmet, then appeared at the front of the store. Just as he was about to go inside, his accomplices ran out. They were being chased by an employee with a sasumata. As they escaped, he used the weapon to smash one of their motorbikes. No goods were taken from the shop and no injuries were reported.   

Japan’s Cannabis Control Act

Nihon University Disbands American Football Team After Third Cannabis-Related Arrest 

Established in 1940, the Nihon University American football team, nicknamed “Phoenix,” has long been known as a powerhouse of college football in Japan having won the Koshien Bowl 21 times and the Rice Bowl, a tournament that also includes corporate sides, four times. The team’s 83-year history, though, is now coming to an end. The reason: cannabis. On Monday, a third player from the side was arrested on suspicion of possessing the psychoactive drug. Arrests were also made in August, which led to an indefinite suspension of the team’s activities, and in October.  

The Nihon University American football team was involved in another scandal back in 2018 when their coach allegedly ordered a linebacker to injure the quarterback of Kwansei Gakuin University. That incident led to the resignation of the coach. This time, it’s the university’s president, Takeo Sakai, and vice-president, Yasuhiro Sawada, who are set to step down. At the end of October, Sawadai was criticized by a third-party panel for keeping suspicious plant fragments for 12 days before reporting them to the police. On Monday, Sawada filed a lawsuit against Nihon University Chairperson Mariko Hayashi for alleged power harassment. 

Vissel Kobe Win First-Ever J-League Title   

In men’s soccer, Vissel Kobe won the J-League title for the first time in the club’s history on Saturday. With last year’s champions Yokohama F. Marinos being held to a 0-0 draw by Albirex Niigata on Friday night, Takayuki Yoshida’s side knew a victory over Nagoya Grampus at the Kobe Stadium the following day would be enough to secure the trophy with a game to spare. They achieved it thanks to goals from Haruya Ide and Yoshinori Muto in the first half. Kasper Junker pulled one back for the visitors, but the Kansai-based club managed to hold on.  

In the Asian Champions League, Kawasaki Frontale booked their place in the last 16 with a 5-0 thrashing of Malaysian side Johor Darul Ta’zim. Jose Kante scored a 90th-minute winner for last year’s champions, the Urawa Red Diamonds, as they beat China’s Wuhan Three Towns 2-1. The Saitama side must now win their last game of the group and hope other results go their way. Ventforet Kofu, meanwhile, drew 3-3 with Melbourne City FC. With a game to go, the J2 team leads the group ahead of the A-League club on goals scored.  

Equinox Signs Off in Style  

Equinox, the world’s top-rated horse, is set to retire from racing to perform his duties as a stud alongside his father, Kitasan Black. The announcement was made on Thursday, a few days after the 4-year-old thoroughbred won the Japan Cup by four lengths in front of 85,000 spectators at Tokyo Racecourse. Undefeated since May of last year, it was the sixth successive G1 triumph for the Tetsuya Kimura-trained horse. “He’s truly a super horse: smart, powerful and gentle. Like a pony. I think anyone could ride him,” said superstar French jockey Christophe Lemaire after the race. 

In other sports news, Kirishima captured his second Emperor’s Cup at the Kyushu Grand Sumo Tournament on Sunday. The Mongolian’s victory was secured before he even fought, after Kotonowaka defeated 21-year-old Atamifuji, the only man who could catch him. Kirishima then put the icing on the cake by beating fellow ozeki Takakeisho in his final bout. Another championship win in January’s grand tournament is likely to see Kirishima ascend to the highest rank of yokozuna. The sole yokozuna currently is Terunofuji. He competed in just one of the six grand tournaments this year.