In this week’s news roundup, we report on the latest North Korean missiles and the tragic crush in South Korea. Closer to home, Japanese households and businesses are being asked to conserve energy this winter while Tepco considers increasing prices from next year. In much lighter news, 178 Hirokazu Tanakas gather in a Tokyo cinema to break a world record. And in sport, Hajime Moriyasu names his squad of 26 for Qatar, Japan run New Zealand close in front of a record attendance at the National Stadium and the Orix Buffaloes win their first Japan Series in 26 years.  

Kim Jong Un’s military has intensified its battery of missile tests in recent days

North Korean Missile Disappears from Radar

North Korea fired multiple missiles in an easterly direction on Thursday morning, including an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). It was initially feared to be on a potential trajectory to fly over Japan. Warnings to take shelter were subsequently issued in Niigata, Miyagi and Yamagata prefectures. Shinkansen services in the region were also temporarily suspended. The J-Alert system later confirmed that the missile had disappeared over the Sea of Japan and subsequently revised the warnings. “North Korea has conducted repeated ballistic missile launches in recent days. It’s an outrage and should never be tolerated,” said Prime Minister Fumio Kishida.  

A day earlier, Pyongyang launched at least 23 missiles, a record for a single day. One of them landed less than 60 kilometers off the city of Sokcho. That’s the first time since the end of the Korean War in 1953 that a North Korean missile has landed so close to the South’s territorial waters. “Effectively a territorial invasion,” was how South Korean president Yoon Suk-yeol described it. His country responded by launching its own air-to-surface missiles over the disputed maritime demarcation line. The North’s missile launches are believed to be a protest against US-South Korea joint air drills.  

Two Japanese Dead in Seoul’s Halloween Crush

“It is so sudden that I have no words. I am just so sad. It feels as if my heart is going to be ripped apart.” These were the words of An Kozuchi’s grandfather following the 18-year-old language student’s death on Saturday. The Saitama Prefecture-native was one of two Japanese people killed in the Halloween crush in Seoul that took the lives of at least 156 people and injured more than 170. The other Japanese person that passed away was Mei Tomikawa, 26, who like Kozuchi was also studying Korean in the country’s capital. 

“I tried calling her to warn her to be careful, but she never answered her phone. She was a great daughter … I want to see her as soon as possible,” Tomikawa’s father told NHK before flying out to South Korea to identify his daughter’s body. The tragedy occurred in the popular Itaewon district of Seoul. Approximately 100,000 people, mostly in their teens and 20s gathered in the region for the Halloween festivities. The area’s characterized by narrow streets and alleys without escape routes. South Korea’s police chief admitted that the emergency response to the crush was “inadequate.” 

Japan is asking its residents and businesses to conserve electricity this winter | Image by aon168/Shutterstock

Japan Asks Households and Businesses to Save Energy this Winter

The government is asking homes and businesses in Japan to conserve as much electricity as they can this winter. The request comes into effect on December 1 and will last until March 31 next year. “As was the case this summer, we’ve not set a numerical target for energy consumption over the winter months. However, we’d like to ask the entire country to cooperate in conserving energy within a reasonable range,” said economy minister Yasutoshi Nishimura on Tuesday. People will be asked to turn off unnecessary lights, keep air conditioner temperatures low and wear warm clothes inside. 

Tepco, meanwhile, is considering increasing regulated electricity rates for households. Any hike in prices, however, requires government approval. The company plans to apply for this by the end of the year to implement the revised fees from fiscal 2023. “It’s important to secure stable business foundations in order to fulfill our responsibility over the Fukushima accident and ensure power supply stability,” said Tepco Vice President Hiroyuki Yamaguchi at a press conference on Tuesday. He also asked for the public’s understanding. Japan’s largest power utility posted a consolidated net loss of ¥143.3 billion from March through to September.

World Record Broken by 178 Hirokazu Tanakas

In 2005, 164 Martha Stewarts came together to set a world record for the largest number of people to gather with the same name. On Saturday, that record was finally broken by a group of Hirokazu Tanakas: all 178 of them. Among them was a 3-year-old toddler and an 80-year-old man who flew in from Vietnam. They all wore identical T-shirts with their names on. To be recognized by the Guinness Book of Records, they needed to all remain in the theater for at least five minutes. They then all cheered as an official declared a new world record.  

It’s not the first time they’ve tried to break it. On previous attempts in 2011 and 2017, only 71 and 87 Hirokazu Tanakas turned up. Pretty poor showings compared to this year. The fact that they no longer have to share the same kanji characters has made things easier. The plan was to try again around the time of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, but like most things, it was postponed due to the Covid-19 pandemic. In other name-related news, Benesse Holdings revealed that Ao and Himari were the most popular baby names in Japan between January and September 2022.   

Kyogo Furuhashi is one of the surprise omissions from the Japan squad chosen for the Qatar World Cup

Celtic Pair Left Out of the Japan Squad for Qatar

On Tuesday, Hajime Moriyasu named his squad for the World Cup. Notable absentees include Celtic pair Reo Hatate and Kyogo Furuhashi. Vissel Kobe’s Yuya Osako also misses out, as does Genki Haraguchi from Bundesliga leaders Union Berlin. Huddersfield Town defender Yuta Nakayama was selected but has since been ruled out due to an Achilles injury. Daichi Kamada, the country’s star player, scored his 11th goal of the season in Eintracht Frankfurt’s 2-1 loss to Borussia Dortmund on the weekend. His 12th came in the Champions League against Sporting Lisbon on Tuesday as his side advanced to the knockout stages.  

Domestically, the J-League title race is to be decided this weekend. Yokohama F. Marinos extended their lead to five points with a convincing 4-1 victory over Urawa Reds on Saturday afternoon. Kawasaki Frontale then brought it back to just two points in the evening by beating Vissel Kobe 2-1. Kobe, who face Marinos tomorrow, are expected to lose defender Yuki Kobayashi to Celtic in January according to Sponichi. And in the fourth tier, Kazuyoshi Miura netted from the spot kick to become the oldest-ever goal scorer in the division at 55 years and 246 days.  

Japan Narrowly Beaten by the All Blacks

On Halloween weekend Japan’s rugby team gave New Zealand a real fright, but ultimately fell just short against their illustrious opponents. After a blistering start by the All Blacks, the Brave Blossoms hit back with two tries before the break, cutting the deficit to four points. New Zealand stretched further ahead in the second, leading 35-24 with 14 minutes remaining. Then came Brodie Retallick’s red card. Japan could sense an upset. A late try by flanker Kazuki Himeno put them back within four points, but it wasn’t enough. A Richie Mo’unga penalty made it 38-31 to the All Blacks to end a pulsating game. 

In baseball, the Orix Buffaloes defeated the Tokyo Yakult Swallows on Sunday to secure the Japan Series. It’s the first time the franchise has lifted the trophy in more than a quarter of a century. That looked unlikely after the first three encounters. In between a 3-3 tie, the Swallows won the first and third games convincingly. They looked odds on to defend their crown from 2021. Then came the fight back as the Buffaloes took the next four to defeat the defending champions by two games. The same two teams contested the best-of-seven play-off last year.