Domestic news this week was dominated by the LDP presidential election won by Fumio Kishida. We’ve covered that here, so in this article we’ll be looking at the other stories that made headlines in the past seven days. That includes the media frenzy caused by Kei Komuro’s ponytail. The haircut of the man often compared to Meghan Markle provoked quite a reaction online and in the press. As did the fact that he had his hands in his pockets as paparazzi snapped pictures of him. Komuro is due to marry Princess Mako later this year.

Two other weddings making the news this week both involved members of the pop group Arashi. “Sho Sakurai and Masaki Aiba Marriage Announcement,” was a headline run by some media outlets. It led to confusion, with a quite a few netizens assuming they had married each other. As it turns out, the pair were just sharing news of their nuptials on the same day.

In sport, legendary sumo wrestler Hakuho announced his retirement. Shohei Ohtani, meanwhile, failed to match Babe Ruth’s record of 10 wins as a pitcher while hitting 10 homers in the same season. We also report on the latest North Korean missile fired into the Sea of Japan and the government’s decision to finally end the state of emergency.

The Debate Surrounding Komuro’s Hairdo

Princess Mako’s fiancé Kei Komuro returned to Japan on Monday. It’s the first time he’s been home in around three years. Given the furor surrounding his arrival at Narita Airport, it’s no wonder he’s stayed away for so long. Since his engagement to the princess in 2017, the media has largely focused on the financial dispute involving his mother and her ex-fiancé (who claimed she owed him more than ¥4 million). Those revelations meant the wedding had to be postponed and Komuro became a vilified figure. This time, though, the contentious issue seemed much more trivial: his haircut.

“Ponite Kikoku,” (“The Ponytail returns home”) was the headline in Nikkan Sports. TV shows debated whether a person sporting such a hairdo could be considered a suitable husband for a member of the royal family. It also became a popular discussion topic on social media. The fact that he wasn’t wearing a tie and had his hands in his pockets added fuel to the fire. Komuro and Princess Mako are expected to register their marriage later this month. The princess has made the unprecedented request to forgo the ¥150 million payment that female imperial family members traditionally receive upon their departure from the royal household.

Arashi Members Announce Marriages on Same Day

Fans of pop group Arashi reacted with a mix of happiness and disappointment after it was revealed this week that Sho Sakurai and Masaki Aiba had both tied the knot, though not to each other (as some initially thought). The pair made their announcements separately through their agency Johnny & Associates on Tuesday. Neither provided any details about their wives, however, both are believed to be in their late 30s and are not involved in the entertainment industry.

Arashi debuted in 1999, going on to become the country’s biggest male pop act. In 2019, they shocked fans by announcing they would be going on an indefinite hiatus at the end of 2020. Before that, they released 5×20 All the Best 1999-2019. Shifting 3.3 million copies that year, it would go on to become the world’s best-selling album of 2019 ahead of Taylor Swift’s Lover and BTS’s Map of the Soul: Persona.

State of Emergency Lifted Nationwide

For the first time since April 4, none of the 47 prefectures in Japan are under a state of emergency. The SOE, which covered 18 prefectures and Tokyo, was officially lifted today. The quasi-state of emergency in eight prefectures has also ended. As a result, restaurants and bars will no longer be asked to refrain from serving alcohol. However, some limitations will remain in place for around a month to prevent a resurgence in cases.

“New cases will undoubtedly rise after the emergency state is lifted. We need to continue with the necessary measures to prevent a rebound,” said Economy Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura on Tuesday. The government has introduced a certification system that allows approved establishments to stay open until 9pm. All others will be asked to close by 8pm. Infections across Japan have been falling since hitting a nationwide high of 25,876 cases on August 20.

North Korea Says It Fired a Hypersonic Missile into the Sea of Japan

North Korea fired a missile toward the Sea of Japan on Tuesday. The projectile fell outside the country’s exclusive economic zone and there was no report of damage to Japanese sea vessels. It was the North’s third missile test in September. They had already revealed a new type of cruise missile and a new train-launched ballistic missile system. The latest launch, according to the state-run North Korean news agency, was the “first test” of a hypersonic missile.

As well as being more maneuverable, hypersonic missiles travel at speeds of Mach 5 and higher. That’s around five times faster than the speed of sound. Considered a “game-changer” in next-generation warfare, they are very difficult for missile defense systems to intercept. It’s a weapon that has generated concern in this part of the world, though the South Korean military played down the threat, stating that “it will take some time before [the missile] can actually be deployed for combat.”

End of an Era as Hakuho Bows Out

For two decades, Hakuho was the dominant force in sumo, breaking record after record. Nobody in the history of the sport has won more bouts (1,187) or tournaments (45) than him. He also boasts the most undefeated championships (16), double the number of nearest rivals Futabayama and Taihō. Most top division wins, most tournaments ranked at yokozuna, the list of achievements goes on. Yet, all good things must come to an end. This week, Hakuho announced his retirement from sumo due to a persistent knee injury.

Born Mönkhbatyn Davaajargal, the Mongolian debuted in 2001 and was promoted to the highest rank of yokozuna six years later. Despite remaining at the top ever since, injuries have finally taken their toll. He missed six tournaments between last July and this autumn but did return for the Nagoya tournament in the summer. In typical Hakuho fashion, he won it with a perfect 15-0 record. Terunofuji, who would subsequently be promoted to yokozuna, was his final opponent. It was the perfect way to bow out.

10th Win as a Pitcher Eludes Ohtani in Final Home Game of the Season

In the Los Angeles Angels final home game of the season, Shohei Ohtani left the field to a standing ovation. The two-way star produced another impressive performance on the mound, allowing just one run over seven innings with 10 strikeouts and no walks. Unfortunately, his efforts were in vain as his side lost 5-1 to the Seattle Mariners.

“I really like the team. I love the fans and the atmosphere of the team. But more than that, I want to win. That’s the biggest thing for me. So, I’ll leave it at that,” he said through his interpreter. The Angels missed out on the play-offs for a seventh straight year, yet Ohtani remains favorite to win the American League’s MVP.

In other sporting news, defender Maya Yoshida scored his second goal of the season in Sampdoria’s 3-2 loss to Juventus. Full-back Takehiro Tomiyasu continues to impress for Arsenal. He was singled out for praise by former England captain Tony Adams after the Gunners defeated North London rivals Tottenham Hotspur 3-1. The same fixture was played in the Women’s FA Cup in midweek. Nadeshiko Japan star Mana Iwabuchi scored Arsenal’s first as they ran out 5-1 winners.

*Feature image by Anna Petek