In this week’s news roundup we report on the KyoAni arsonist, Shinji Aobo, who was sentenced to death on Thursday. We also have the latest on Japan’s Moon landing and the arrest of two people from the Philippines in connection with the deaths of a couple in Tokyo’s Adachi ward. In entertainment news, three Japanese films are nominated for Oscars and a Ukrainian-born model wins Miss Japan. In soccer, Japan reach the knockout stages of the Asian Cup, but goalkeeper Zion Suzuki is subjected to racist abuse online. 

KyoAni Arsonist Death Sentence

Kyoto Animation Studio 1 | Image by icosha via Shutterstock

Death Sentence for KyoAni Arsonist who Killed 36 

Shinji Aoba, 45, was sentenced to death on Thursday for killing 36 people at the famed anime studio Kyoto Animation four and a half years ago. As the defendant admitted to starting the fire at the studio, the focus of the trial was whether he should be held criminally responsible for his actions, with his defense arguing that he was mentally ill at the time of the attack. Judge Keisuke Masuda, however, stated it was a crime of revenge and that Aoba was not mentally incompetent nor in a diminished state when he set the studio ablaze.  

The KyonAni arsonist claimed the studio had stolen novels he submitted for a company competition. On July 18, 2019, he entered the front door of the firm’s office and doused it with around 40 liters of gasoline before setting it alight, shouting “drop dead.” Thirty-six people died as a result of the attack and 32 others were injured. The police waited more than 10 months for Aoba to recover from his life-threatening burns before arresting him. It was the worst mass killing in Japan since 2001, when 44 people were murdered in an arson attack in Tokyo’s Kabukicho district. 

japan moon landing

Japanese Lunar Probe Pulls Off Precision Landing 

At just past midnight on Saturday, Japan became the fifth country to land a spacecraft on the moon’s surface, following in the footsteps of the United States, the former Soviet Union, China and India. Despite losing one of its main engines during the descent, the Smart Lander for Investigating Moon (SLIM) touched down 55 meters east of its target. “We have confirmed that SLIM succeeded in making a soft landing within the accuracy of 100 meters at 12:20am (Saturday),” said Hitoshi Kuninaka, director-general of JAXA’s Institute of Space and Astronautical Science at a press conference on Thursday.

Such a precise landing is all the more impressive when you consider that most lunar missions in the past missed their target points by several kilometers. It could have been even more precise — within 10 meters of the target — had obstacles not been in the way. The onboard computer used its “smart eyes” in the final moments of descent to move the craft to one side. It rotated 90 degrees before landing, ending up on its nose. JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) launched the unmanned spacecraft from Tanegashima Space Center last September.

Tokyo couple slaying

Second Suspect Arrested in Connection to Slaying of Tokyo Couple

On Monday, a second suspect was arrested in connection with the deaths of a couple whose bodies were discovered in their home in Tokyo’s Adachi ward. The corpses of Norihiro Takahashi, 55, and his wife Kimie, 52, were found under a bathroom floor in their residence on January 18. Their son called the police after he saw traces of blood in the house. The following day, Hazel Ann Baguisa Morales, 30, a Philippine national who was previously in a relationship with the couple’s son, was taken in for questioning on suspicion of abandoning the dead bodies. 

Morales continues to deny the allegations against her. On the night the couple died, she was reportedly caught by a security camera near their house. Another person, who the police have identified as Bryan Jefferson Lising Dela Cruz, 34, was with her. He was apprehended on January 22 on suspicion of abandoning the corpses. According to investigative sources, he told the police that he “was asked” to dump the bodies by his accomplice. The Takahashi couple were stabbed multiple times and Norihiro’s injuries indicate signs that a struggle had taken place.


Godzilla-1.0 leading cast members: Ryunosuke Kamiki and Minami ©2023 TOHO CO., LTD.Hamabe

Godzilla Minus One Scores Franchise’s First Oscar Nomination

After seven decades of being snubbed, the Godzilla franchise finally received an Oscar nomination this week. On Tuesday, Takashi Yamazaki’s Godzilla Minus One became the first ever Japanese-language film to be nominated in the Best Visual Effects category at the Academy Awards. The team behind the movie, the 37th film in the famous Kaiju series, celebrated widely when the news was announced. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One, The Creator and Napoleon are the other films nominated.

In the Best Animated Feature category, The Boy and Heron is expected to compete with Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse for the prize. Hayao Miyazaki‘s final movie won a Golden Globe earlier this month. His only Oscar triumph came in 2003 with Spirited Away. The three other films in contention are Elemental, Nimona and Robot Dreams. Wim Wenders’ Japanese movie Perfect Days also received an Oscar nomination in the Best International Feature Film category. It will be competing against The Zone of Interest, Io Capitano, Society of the Snow and The Teachers’ Lounge.

Miss Japan Ukranian Winner Carolina Shiino

Winner Karolina Shiino stands in the middle with her trophy for Miss Japan 2024

Ukrainian-Born Model Wins Miss Japan 2024

Ukrainian-born model, Karolina Shiino, was crowned Miss Japan on Monday. As well as being the first person born outside this country to walk away with the top prize, at 26, she’s also the oldest ever winner. In her speech after receiving the crown, Shiino said, “It was like a dream. The moment they called my name, I couldn’t stop crying. I’ve had to face barriers that often prevent me from being accepted as Japanese, so I am filled with gratitude to be recognized at this competition as a Japanese person.” 

Shiino was born in Ternopil to Ukrainian parents in 1998. She moved to Japan at the age of 5 after her mother remarried a Japanese man. She applied for the Miss Japan contest after acquiring Japanese citizenship in 2022. Her goal was to “create a society where people are not judged by their appearance.” There was a mixed reaction online following her triumph. Some people criticized the decision, with one person on X commenting that the competition is “discriminating against Japanese faces.” Others, though, felt there was nothing wrong with the choice as she is a naturalized Japanese citizen.

Japanese Goalkeeper Racially Abused Online  

Speaking on Monday, Japanese goalkeeper Zion Suzuki said he was racially abused online following national team games against Vietnam and Iraq at the Asian Cup in Qatar. The 21-year-old, whose father is Ghanaian-American and mother Japanese, made costly errors in both matches. Japan won the first game 4-2, but then lost to Iraq 2-1. “I’m not about to let it beat me,” Suzuki told reporters. “I want to come back at them by producing good results.” The netminder, who is on loan at Sint-Truiden from Urawa Reds, disabled comments on his Instagram page. 

Japan Football Association (JFA) President Kozo Tashima described the abuse as “simply unacceptable.” He added that the organization would “not hesitate to take legal action if required.” Hajime Moriyasu, coach of the national team, said he was “ashamed and appalled” that his goalkeeper was racially abused. He picked Suzuki for the side’s final group game against Indonesia on Wednesday. Japan won the game 3-1 thanks to a brace from Ayase Ueda and an own goal by Justin Hubner. Next up for the Samurai Blue is a round of 16 clash against Bahrain next Wednesday. 

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