Japan is on the verge of not being able to function as a society due to its falling birth rate. That was the stark warning from Prime Minister Fumio Kishida during a 45-minute speech at the Diet on Monday. The PM promised to set up a government agency to focus on the issue by April and vowed to eventually double government spending on child-rearing programs. Skepticism as to whether this will make any difference remains. Previous leaders have attempted to tackle the demographic crisis without any success. 

Also this week, we report on a spate of violent robberies that have shocked the nation. A crime ring led by an individual calling himself “Luffy” is believed to be responsible for the misdeeds. We have weather news as Japan experiences a “once-in-a-decade” cold snap. Yoshiro Mori arouses controversy with his comments about the war in Ukraine and Japan wins the Pastry World Cup. In sport, Rui Hachimura makes his debut for the Los Angeles Lakers and Kaoru Mitoma continues to impress for Brighton. 

It’s ‘Now or Never’ to Reverse Japan’s Falling Birth Rate Says PM

Around 773,000 babies were estimated to have been born in Japan last year, falling below the 800,000-mark for the first time since records began in 1899. The National Institute of Population and Social Security Research previously predicted that Japan’s population, currently around 125 million, would decrease to below 100 million by 2049. However, the falling birth rate has accelerated beyond any government projections. Exacerbated by a super-aged society, it’s an increasingly desperate situation that this week led to a surprisingly dramatic pronouncement from Japan’s soft-spoken PM.  

“Our nation is on the cusp of whether it can maintain its societal functions. It’s now or never when it comes to policies regarding births and child-rearing. This is an issue that simply cannot wait any longer,” said Kishida in a policy speech at the opening of this year’s parliamentary session. Plans to reverse the falling birth rate, which won’t be properly outlined until March, are said to include bigger child allowances and greater access to after-school care for working parents. Previous policies have failed, though, with many young people still reluctant to start families.  

Police believe a crime ring led by an individual calling himself “Luffy” is responsible for the string of robberies in Japan | Image by Anna Petek

Crime Ring May Have Been Responsible for Around 40 Robberies

Several suspects were arrested this week in relation to a string of robberies, often violent, around Japan. They are thought to be connected to a crime ring led by an individual calling himself “Luffy,” who is believed to be operating from the Philippines. The supposed mastermind behind the heists reportedly recruited members via a Telegram communication app. One suspect purportedly told police he applied for a “dark part-time job” online. According to investigative sources, the ring may have been responsible for around 40 robberies and thefts since last year. 

Among the cases being investigated is the murder-robbery of 90-year-old Kinuyo Oshio. She was attacked in her home in Komae, western Tokyo, last Thursday. Correspondence pertaining to the incident was allegedly found on the phone of Rikuto Nagata, 21. He was arrested on Saturday on suspicion of involvement in last December’s Nakano Ward robbery and assault. Three others have been arrested for that crime, while on Thursday, police announced that eight people had been arrested in connection to October’s robbery and assault in the Tokyo suburb of Inagi (though one has since been released pending a decision).  

Cold Snap Sweeps Across Japan

Record low temperatures were recorded in 12 locations in Japan this week as a deadly cold snap swept across the country. This included the city of Otawara in Tochigi Prefecture, which saw the mercury plunge to minus 16.4 degrees Celsius. Many regions on the Sea of Japan side of the country’s Chugoku region experienced heavy snowfall, such as Maniwa City in Okayama Prefecture, which observed 93 centimeters of snow during a 24-hour period until 8am on Wednesday — its most on record. 

Sadly, the extreme weather conditions led to the deaths of at least four people. According to Japanese officials, they died while trying to clear snow. It also caused power outages and disrupted transportation across the country. As of 6am on Wednesday, ANA and JAL had canceled more than 200 flights between them. Rail services, too, were badly affected, with many trains suspended. A traffic jam on the Shin-Meishin Expressway, meanwhile, stretched up to 34.5 kilometers between Shiga and Mie prefectures, leaving vehicles stuck for more than a day.  

Former PM Mori has criticized Japan’s overwhelming support for Ukraine | Image by Shugo Takemi

Mori Questions Japan’s Overwhelming Support for Ukraine

Former Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori has never been one to mince his words. In 2021, he was forced to resign as chairman of the Tokyo Olympic organizing committee after saying that female board members prolonged meetings because they talked too much. His latest comments, concerning the war in Ukraine, have also proved contentious. Known for his strong ties to Russia, the veteran ruling party member questioned Japan’s overwhelming support for Ukraine at an event in Tokyo to commemorate the 120th anniversary of the founding of the Japan-India Association.  

“Should we be supporting Ukraine to this extent? It’s unthinkable that Russia will lose,” he said. “A much more terrible situation would emerge if that were to happen, and Japan would have to play an important role. I believe that would be the job facing Japan.” His country has been providing Ukraine with funds, supplies and equipment since Russia invaded its neighbor last February. It has also sanctioned Russia over its actions. Prime Minister Kishida, meanwhile, is considering a visit to Ukraine in February if the right conditions are met.  

Japan Wins Pastry World Cup

After five consecutive second-place finishes, Japan finally won its third Pastry World Cup on Saturday. The two-day contest, which takes place biennially in the suburbs of the French city of Lyon, is a prestigious international event for catering and hotel professionals that began in 1989. This year’s edition included 17 teams, each one consisting of a chocolatier, a sugar expert and an ice cream maker. Together, they had to create 42 desserts and three artistic pieces based around the theme of climate change. 

Japan’s team of Moe Takahashi (chocolate), Naritoshi Suzuka (sugar) and Yusaku Shibata (ice cream) impressed with their wind-based creations. They were also praised for not wasting any products and for their team camaraderie. France, who’ve won the competition a record eight times, finished second, while three-times winners Italy came third. For Japan, it was the 12th time with podium finish — more than any other nation. The country’s first victory came in 1991. There were then two 16-year intervals between the next two triumphs. 

Rui Hachimura this week signed for the LA Lakers

Hachimura Joins the Lakers

Rui Hachimura moved from the Washington Wizards to the Los Angeles Lakers on Monday, in a move that saw Kendrick Nunn and a trio of second round draft picks going the other way. The Toyama City-native made his debut for his new team alongside LeBron James and Anthony Davis on Wednesday night. Playing against the San Antonio Spurs, he was on the court for 21 minutes. During that time, he scored 12 points and grabbed six rebounds as the Lakers won 113-104.  

In soccer, Brighton’s Kaoru Mitoma was again named in Alan Shearer’s Premier League Team of the Week following his cracking strike against Leicester City. Koki Saito and Soichiro Kozuki both opened their accounts for Sparta Rotterdam and Schalke respectively. Ayase Ueda (Cercle Brugge), Yukinari Sugawara (AZ) and Wataru Endo (Stuttgart) were also on the scoresheet, while Kyogo Furuhashi bagged his 19th and 20th goals of the season for Celtic. In other sporting news, lone ozeki Takakeisho claimed his third Emperor’s Cup at the New Year Grand Sumo Tournament.