In this week’s news roundup, we have the latest on the alleged ringleaders of the so-called “Luffy” robberies as four suspects, deported from the Philippines, arrive in Japan. We also report on four other high-profile arrests related to the Olympics. In politics, problems continue to mount for Prime Minister Fumio Kishida as his close aide is fired following disparaging remarks about sexual minorities. There’s some positive news too. In Iwate Prefecture, an unidentified individual donates gold bars worth over ¥500 million to the quake-hit village of Tanohata. Masa Takumi wins a Grammy. And in sport, Kaoru Mitoma strikes again for Brighton.

Suspects in ‘Luffy’ Robberies Deported from the Philippines

Four men suspected of being behind the “Luffy” robberies in Japan were this week taken into police custody following their deportation from the Philippines. Kiyoto Imamura and Toshiya Fujita, both 38, arrived in the country on Tuesday. The handover was then completed on Wednesday night when alleged leader Yuki Watanabe, 38, and Tomonobu Kojima, 45, departed Manila. They are suspected of conducting telephone scams in Japan remotely from the Philippines. Investigators believe the group stole more than ¥6 billion between 2018 and 2020.

They are also thought to be the masterminds of more than 50 robberies in various prefectures throughout Japan since last summer. One of those robberies claimed the life of 90-year-old Kinuyo Oshio who was found dead at her home in Tokyo last month. It’s believed they bought privileges at their immigration facility in the Philippines. This enabled them to run the operation remotely using an encrypted messaging app. Instructions were allegedly sent from a person or persons using the pseudonyms “Luffy” and “Kim.” Inamura claims he is innocent.

Olympic Bribery Scandal Widens as Four More Arrested

It’s been more than a year and a half since the Tokyo Olympics and it’s still making headlines. On Wednesday, the Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office made four arrests in connection to allegations of bid rigging for contracts related to test events for the pandemic-postponed Games. Yasuo Mori, former deputy director of the Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee’s operations bureau, was among those to be taken in. Police believe he led the bid rigging along with marketing and advertising giant Dentsu Inc.

Koji Henmi, a former Dentsu executive; Masahiko Fujino, an executive of television production company Fuji Creative Corp and Yoshiji Kamata, an executive at one of the successful bidders, Cerespo Co., were also arrested. According to sources, Mori allegedly asked potential bidders about the events they wanted to be in charge of prior to the open bids that were held between May and August 2018. He then created a list of potential bidders for each event venue, which he shared with Dentsu officials and others.

Unidentified Individual Donates Gold to Quake-Hit Village

An individual has donated gold bars worth more than ¥500 million to the village of Tanohata in Iwate Prefecture. The philanthropist expressed hope that the money raised from the bars would be used for the good of the village, which was left devastated by the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami. It killed 39 residents, destroyed more than 200 buildings and demolished 512 of the 565 vessels in the local fishing cooperative. Shimanokoshi Station had to be rebuilt after being washed away.

Established in 1889, the village has a population of just over 3,000. The municipal government reportedly plans to use the proceeds for child-rearing support and to rebuild the decades-old village office. “The donation is a big present for our village,” said senior official Mitsuyuki Kudo. Japanese companies, meanwhile, are soliciting donations for victims of the earthquakes that struck Turkey and Syria. This includes retail giants Aeon, Seven & i Holdings and FamilyMart Co., Ltd. As of early Thursday, Yahoo Japan had raised more than ¥50 million. Suntory Holdings donated ¥20 million.

Masayoshi Arai was fired after making discriminatory remarks about sexual minorities | Image by Anna Petek

Kishida Fires Secretary Following Anti-LGBTQ Comments

On Saturday, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida revealed that he had dismissed his close aide Masayoshi Arai following discriminatory remarks he made about sexual minorities. Arai, who served as the PM’s media relations executive secretary, was speaking off the record to reporters last Friday. He said he wouldn’t want to live next door to LGBTQ couples and hated even looking at them. The elite bureaucrat added that people in Japan would abandon the country if same-sex marriages were recognized here.

“My administration has made clear that it’s seeking to establish a sustainable and inclusive society in which diversity is recognized. The comments by Arai go completely against that stance,” the PM told reporters. Arai retracted his comments, but the damage had already been done. His firing is yet another blow for the Kishida government, which has seen its approval ratings plummet since last year. Four ministers have gone in just three months, including Mio Sugita, who also made disparaging remarks against sexual minorities.

Masa Takumi Takes Home Grammy for Best Global Music Album

Masa Takumi picked up this year’s Grammy award for Best Global Music Album. The first Japanese person to triumph in the category, he won it for Sakura, his fifth solo LP. The 8-track album mixes American sounds with traditional Japanese instruments. “I never expected to receive such an honorable award,” he told reporters after the event. “It feels like [it has happened to] somebody else, but I’m sure it’ll slowly sink in. I hope this award will inspire young people.”

There was also good news for another Japanese musician. The Grammy for Best Contemporary Instrumental Album went to Empire Central by Snarky Puppy, for whom Keita Ogawa plays the percussion. Beyoncé became the most awarded Grammy artist of all time; Harry Styles’ Harry’s House was named Album of the Year and Bonnie Raitt’s “Just Like That” won the Single of the Year gong. In other music news, Fuji Rock announced that Foo Fighters, Lizzo and The Strokes will be headlining this year’s festival.

Mitoma Strikes Again

It was a weekend of late goals for Japanese soccer players in Europe. Kaoru Mitoma grabbed his sixth in nine games in the 87th minute as Brighton defeated Bournemouth 1-0. Hayao Kawabe scored the winner four minutes into injury time as Grasshopper Club Zürich beat Basel by the same score. Ayase Ueda, meanwhile, struck in the 91st minute as Cercle Brugge drew 1-1 with Standard Liège. There were also goals this week for Kyogo Furuhashi (Celtic), Takuma Asano (Bochum) and Daichi Kamada (Eintracht Frankfurt).

In other sporting news, Ginwoo Onodera became the youngest ever male to medal at a street skateboarding World Championship on Sunday. The 12-year-old Yokohama-native finished behind Aurelien Giraud and Gustavo Ribeiro to claim the bronze. On the same day, Japan swept the podium at a women’s ski jumping World Cup event for the first time. Yuki Ito led the way, ahead of Nozomi Maruyama and Sara Takanashi. In rugby, Toyota Verblitz announced the signings of All Blacks’ stars Beauden Barrett and Aaron Smith. They’ll join after the World Cup.