In this week’s news roundup, TW looks at the latest monkey drama unfolding at the Takasakiyama Natural Zoological Garden. Nine-year-old macaque Yakei took over the reins there last April, becoming the first female leader in her reserve’s 70-year history. According to experts, however, the monkey queen’s supremacy could now be under threat due to the mating season and a potential love triangle.  

Also this week, we have the latest Covid-19 news as the quasi-state of emergency expands around the country. Outside Japan, demonstrations were held in front of Japanese embassies in protest to the entry ban. A 19-year-old woman handed herself into the police, admitting she cheated on a university exam. And the Tokyo High Court ruled in favor of Shiori Ito in her rape case against Noriyuki Yamaguchi.  

In sport, there was promotion to ozeki for sumo wrestler Mitakeumi. Nadeshiko Japan safely booked their place in the quarter-finals of the Asian Cup while the men’s team comfortably beat China. At the Australian Open, Japan’s Shuko Aoyama and Ena Shibahara bowed out at the semi-final stage of the women’s doubles tournament, while in wheelchair tennis, Shingo Kunieda claimed his 26th Grand Slam title. 

Is Monkey Queen’s Reign Under Threat? 

Around 10 months ago, Yakei beat up her mother to become the top female monkey in her troop at the Takasakiyama Natural Zoological Garden in Oita Prefecture. Not finished, she then attacked the top four males, including 31-year-old Nanchu, who’d ruled the roost there for five years. The reserve, which opened in 1952, now had its first female leader. This was confirmed following the “peanut test.” Provided with peanuts, all the other monkeys stepped aside to let Yakei eat first. The question now is how long will she stay in power?  

Speaking to the New York Times, animal welfare scientist Katherine Cronin said mating season (usually from November until March) could jeopardize the queen’s position as “the environment becomes more competitive and tense.” Last year, Yakei paired with 15-year-old Goro, who seems to have lost interest, but could that spark be rekindled? Eighteen-year-old Luffy recently threw his hat in the ring but was rejected. Yu Kaigaishi, who studies the behavior of Japanese macaques, feels Luffy has shown signs of becoming dominant over Yakei since then. Describing the society as “dramatic and unpredictable,” he’s excited to observe what happens next.  

The booster rollout has been slow in Japan

Quasi-State of Emergency Expanded as Covid Cases Soar  

Covid-19 infections continue to surge all over Japan. On Tuesday, the nationwide tally exceeded 60,000 for the first time. The following day, it surpassed 70,000, with another record-breaking total of 78,931 yesterday. As a result, 34 out of the country’s 47 prefectures are now under a quasi-state of emergency. Eighteen were added to the list on Thursday including Osaka, Kyoto, Fukuoka and Hokkaido. Rules vary depending on the prefecture, though in most places bars and restaurants are being asked to close by 9pm.  

On Wednesday, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida took to Twitter to urge the nation to get vaccinated. As with last year, though, the rollout has been slow. The target of administering booster shots to 15 million people by the end of this month looks like it’s going to fall well short. According to government figures, on Tuesday the number stood at just 2.6 million. That’s less than 20 percent of the target and just over two percent of the population. 

Global Protests Over Japan’s Entry Ban

Demonstrations are taking place in Germany, Italy, Spain, Colombia, Lithuania and Bangladesh today in protest at Japan’s strict border restrictions. Rallies were also staged earlier in the week in countries such as Poland, India, Mongolia and Malaysia. The gatherings, which are held outside Japanese embassies, were initiated by “Stop Japan’s Ban,” a group launched on Twitter. According to organizers, a protest due to be held outside the prime minister’s office is being arranged for February.  

Masakazu Tokura, chief of the Japan Business Federation, also called on the government to lift the ban on non-resident foreigners. “It was a good decision to cast a wide net in the first place. But there is no point keeping the measure in place given Omicron has already become the dominant strain” he said at a press conference on Monday. Japan finally opened its doors on November 8 last year. They were closed again three weeks later due to the global spread of the Omicron variant. 

Photo by Tsutomu Harigaya

Tokyo Court Upholds Ruling in High-Profile Rape Case  

On Tuesday, the Tokyo High Court ruled that journalist Shiori Ito was raped by former television reporter Noriyuki Yamaguchi. The 32-year-old accused him of drugging her and then engaging in sexual intercourse without her consent in 2015. In 2019, the Tokyo District Court ordered the defendant to pay Ito ¥3.3 million in damages. She had been seeking ¥11 million. Both appealed, but Presiding Judge Takao Nakayama this week upheld the decision. The court did, however, rule in Yamaguchi’s favor over the drugging allegation, ordering Ito to pay damages of ¥550,000. 

In other crime-related news this week, a 19-year-old student turned herself in for allegedly cheating on an exam. At 11am on January 15, four University of Tokyo students were sent questions from a world history exam via Skype. Working for an online tutoring site, they were informed that their abilities were being tested. Two responded with the answers. When one of them realized the questions came from a university entrance exam, he notified education ministry authorities.  The female student allegedly told investigators she decided to cheat because her grades weren’t improving. 

Mitakeumi Promoted to Ozeki  

Mitakeumi was promoted to sumo’s second-highest rank of ozeki on Wednesday. It came three days after his triumph at the New Year Grand Sumo Tournament. Victory at Tokyo’s Ryogoku Kokugikan gave the 29-year-old his third career championship. Born Hisashi Omichi in the Philippines on Christmas day, Mitakeumi grew up in Nagano Prefecture. A former amateur champion at Toyo University, he made his professional debut in 2015.  

At the January 2022 tournament, Mitakeumi was in an exciting three-way battle with yokozuna Terunofuji and sixth-ranked maegashira Abi Masatora. Terunofuji was aiming to become the first wrestler for 103 years to win three straight tournaments after being promoted to the highest rank. Victory in his final bout with Mitakeumi, would have set up a play-off involving the three wrestlers. In the end, though, it was not to be. Securing his opponent’s belt, Mitakeumi forced the yokozuna back out of the ring to claim the trophy.

Nadeshiko Through, Comfortable Win for Samurai Blue  

In soccer, Nadeshiko Japan are through to the quarter-finals of the Women’s Asian Cup after topping their group. The men’s side stayed second in their World Cup qualifying group following a 2-0 win over China with goals from Yuya Osako and Junya Ito. In Scotland, Reo Hatate hit a screamer as Celtic defeated Hearts 2-1. Takuma Asano, meanwhile, grabbed his first goal of the season as Bochum drew 2-2 with Cologne in Germany. Daichi Hayashi and Taichi Hara both netted for Belgian side Sint-Truiden who beat Seraing 3-1.  

At the Australian Open, Shuko Aoyama and Ena Shibahara missed out on a place in the women’s doubles final. The No. 2 seeds were beaten 6-4, 5-7, 6-4 by Anna Danilina and Beatriz Haddad Maia in a hard-fought semi-final encounter. In wheelchair tennis, the man widely considered the greatest of all-time won again. Shingo Kunieda lifted his 11th Australian Open title and 26th Grand Slam in total. Last year’s Paralympic champion proved too strong for Britain’s Alfie Hewett, winning 7-5, 3-6, 6-2. 

Breaking News

On Friday morning, a man was arrested for attacking three medical workers, shooting one and taking another hostage. They reportedly visited his house in Saitama last night to offer condolences over the death of a family member. An 11-hour standoff with the police ensued. According to the police, the hostage, a 44-year-old male doctor, showed no vital signs when rescued. A 41-year-old physiotherapist was shot in the abdomen by a hunting gun. He underwent surgery but his condition, at the time of writing, is unknown. The third worker was also hospitalized after being sprayed with tear gas.

Feature image by Anna Petek