This week’s news roundup is dominated by foreign visitors causing trouble in Japan. A shrine in Tsushima recently put up a sign saying Koreans are banned from entering following a string of complaints. A local priest has defended the controversial move, which has been labeled “discriminatory.” In Tokyo, it was a Chinese visitor making headlines. After he defaced a pillar at Yasukuni Shrine, a famous plastic surgeon offered a reward of ¥10 million for anyone who could find him.  

Also this week we report on Japan’s fertility and birth rates, which continue to drop. The Tokyo government is introducing a dating app to try to improve the situation. In entertainment news, a press conference on Tuesday revealed that Ryoma Takeuchi will play Kazuma Kiryu in Prime Video’s upcoming drama, Like a Dragon: Yakuza. Japan’s “Zombie Train” is back. And in sport, Yuka Saso wins the U.S. Women’s Open title while Shohei Ohtani hits another home run. 

Watatsumi Shrine Defends ‘Koreans Banned’ Sign

A picturesque island in Nagasaki Prefecture, Tsushima is a popular destination for tourists from South Korea as it is relatively nearby. One place on the island that Korean travelers won’t be allowed to visit from now on, though, is Watatsumi Shrine (also known as Watazumi Shrine). A sign at the entrance reads, “Koreans banned from entering,” written in Hangul. It’s a controversial measure that has been called discriminatory. However, the shrine, which has a history that dates back more than 1,000 years, felt it was necessary to combat ill-mannered visitors.

A priest at the shrine posted a video on X of a man smoking and littering in front of a torii gate. Both actions are prohibited on the premises. The priest said that he confirmed that the man was Korean, adding that “90% of foreigners who visit Tsushima are Korean.” He also posted videos of a woman uttering the word “jjokbari,” an ethnic slur against Japanese people, and tourists singing and dancing on the back approach to the shrine, pre-COVID. A restaurant owner nearby commented, “I understand the sentiment, but banning Koreans only feels a bit excessive.”

Chinese National Defaces Pillar at Yasukuni Shrine

At around 6:20 a.m on Saturday, a passerby noticed that the word “toilet” had been spray-painted in red on a pillar near the entrance of Yasukuni Shrine. Two pieces of paper with the words, “People of the world unite” and “but not you guys” were also discovered close to a guardian lion-dog statue on the premises. Footage was then posted on the Chinese video sharing app, “Little Red Book,” showing a man appearing to pee on the pillar before defacing it with the red paint. The incident reportedly occurred at around 10 p.m. on Friday, May 31. 

The man, who introduced himself as “Iron Head,” said, “Faced with the Japanese government’s permission to discharge nuclear wastewater, can we do anything? No. I will give them some color to see.” Japanese netizens subsequently expressed their anger on social media sites, with one celebrity plastic surgeon offering a reward of ¥10 million ($64,000) to help track the perpetrator down. Doctor Katsuya Takasu, a reported holocaust and Nanjing Massacre denier, initially offered ¥5 million, but then later doubled it. The suspect, though, has already left Japan, according to the Metropolitan Police Department. 

Japan’s Fertility Rate Drops to Record Low  

On Wednesday, the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare announced that Japan’s total fertility rate reached a record low in 2023. Referring to the number of children born to each woman if she were to live to the end of her childbearing years, the total fertility rate in Japan last year was 1.20, around 0.06 lower than in 2022. It’s the eighth consecutive year that the number has fallen. Japan’s birth rate also dropped for an eighth straight year. In 2023, 727,277 babies were born here. That’s 43,482, or 5.6% fewer than the previous year.  

One of the main reasons for the declining birth rate is the fact that fewer people are getting hitched. Last year the number of marriages fell by 6% to 474,717. Hoping to encourage more people to tie the knot in Japan’s capital, the Tokyo government announced on Tuesday that it is planning to launch its own fee-based dating app. Those planning to apply will have to provide a tax certificate slip showing their annual salary and documentation proving they are single. They’ll also need to sign a letter confirming their willingness to get married. 

Takeuchi Ryoma - Like a Dragon: Yakuza

Ryoma Takeuchi to Play Kazuma Kiryu in Like a Dragon: Yakuza

On Tuesday Prime Video announced that it will be premiering Like a Dragon: Yakuza, an original Japanese series this fall. Directed by Masaharu Take (The Naked Director) and starring Ryoma Takeuchi (Kamen Rider Drive) as the iconic character Kazuma Kiryu, it’s a live-action adaptation that’s loosely based on the Sega game franchise of the same name. There will be six episodes of the story, which will span across two time periods: 1995 and 2005. It will be streamed in more than 240 countries and territories with subtitles and dubbed versions in 30 languages. 

“You can’t play Kazuma Kiryu without getting into shape, so I knew I had to throw myself into it,” said Takeuchi during a press conference at the elegant Hotel Gajoen Tokyo in Meguro. He added, “It’s partly Kazuma Kiryu, and it’s partly me. I got so close to the part that it was hard to distinguish where he ended, and I began. That included getting into shape for the part, the costume and so on. Rather than acting the part of Kiryu, I feel like he became part of the family.”

Japan’s Wildly Popular ‘Zombie Train’ is Back

The “Zombie Train” is back. Following its successful debut run last summer, Watarase Keikoku Railway Co. decided the haunted house-on-rails, in which passengers are scared out of their wits by actors posing as reanimated corpses, was worth pursuing for another year. The hair-raising characters returned on Sunday, June 2, and will appear eight more times over the next three months. Passengers can enjoy the experience either on the outbound service, departing from Omama Station in Midori city, Gunma Prefecture, in the morning, or the outbound one, leaving from Tsudo Station in Nikko city, Tochigi Prefecture, in the afternoon.

It was the Nikko city government that came up with the concept last year to encourage young people to use the scenic train line, which tends to appeal more to older customers. The idea worked well, with almost all the seats selling out, according to The Asahi Shimbun. With Japan’s tourist industry thriving right now, the service is likely to prove just as popular this time around. The action takes place on the first car of the tram. It costs ¥3,500 for adults and ¥2,000 for children (elementary school age and lower).


Yuka Saso Wins Second Major  

Yuka Saso won the U.S. Women’s Open title on Sunday, becoming the first Japanese golfer to win two majors. Compatriot Hinako Shibuno finished second, three strokes behind. Going into the final day, Australia’s Minjee Lee, Andrea Lee from the U.S. and Thailand’s Wichanee Meechai tied for the lead. Saso, began the day in fifth place, three shots back. She then produced a run of four birdies in five holes on the back nine to overtake the leaders. The 22-year-old finished the tournament on 4-under to claim her first major as a representative of Japan.

“Winning in 2021, I represented the Philippines. I feel like I was able to give back to my mom,” said Saso during the trophy presentation. “This year, I was able to represent Japan. And I think I was able to give back to my dad. I very happy that I was able to do it.” In other sports news, Shohei Ohtani smashed his 15th homer of the season in the Dodgers defeat to the Pittsburgh Pirates. In soccer, Japan defeated Myanmar 5-0 in their latest World Cup qualifier. Nadeshiko Japan, meanwhile, beat New Zealand 4-1 in a friendly on Monday. 

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