In this week’s news roundup we report on the mysterious dead fish that washed up on the coast of Hakodate city. While some Western media outlets suggested this may have been linked to the release of treated wastewater from Fukushima, experts have been quick to dismiss the possibility.

Also, this week four Cabinet ministers quit due to the ongoing funding scandal. Rina Gonoi wins her landmark sexual assault case against three former members of the Japan Ground Self-Defense Forces (SDF). And 31 squirrels at a Tokyo zoo die after being treated with pesticides. In sport, the world reacts to Shohei Ohtani’s record-breaking contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Eddie Jones is back for his second tenure as Japan’s rugby coach. And Ventforet Kofu make history in the Asian Champions League.  

Anger as British Tabloid Links Mysterious Dead Fish to Fukushima Wastewater  

On December 7, 1,200 tons of dead sardines and mackerel washed up on the coast of Hakodate city in Hokkaido Prefecture. The mass fish death stumped locals and unsurprisingly led to some Western media outlets speculating about possible links to the release of wastewater from the stricken Fukushima nuclear plant. “Thousands of tons of dead fish wash ashore in Japan — three months after the nation released treated Fukushima radioactive water into the sea” read the headline from the British middle-market tabloid, the Daily Mail. Experts, though, were quick to dismiss any connection between the two incidents.  

“The spread of unsubstantiated information is a worrying situation, so I’d like to disseminate accurate information, including the results of monitoring,” Fisheries agency official Ken Mori told NHK. Speaking to the same media organization, Takashi Fujioka of the Hakodate Fisheries Research Institute said it was unlikely that the Fukushima wastewater would ever reach Hakodate. He added that fish die-offs are not uncommon. One theory is that they may have become exhausted and suffered from a lack of oxygen after being chased by a predator. Another is that they encountered a sudden pocket of freezing water that weakened them. 

Japan Prime minister resigns

The approval rating for Prime Minister Kishida’s Cabinet has fallen below 20% for the first time

Corruption Scandal Leads to Resignation of Four Cabinet Members  

Four Cabinet ministers, plus seven senior vice ministers and aids resigned on Thursday as a result of the funding scandal that’s rocked the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). They were all part of the party’s largest faction, previously led by former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. According to investigative sources, the group accumulated a slush fund worth approximately ¥500 million over a five-year period, beginning in 2018. This has further damaged Fumio Kishida’s increasingly unpopular government, with public approval for his Cabinet dropping to 17.1% in December. That’s the lowest since 2012, when the LDP returned to power.  

The most high-profile name to announce he was quitting was Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno. He has long been seen as the PM’s right-hand man. Reports suggest he received more than ¥10 million in kickbacks from selling tickets for political fundraising parties. His replacement is former Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi. Yasukazu Hamada reportedly turned down the role. Tetsushi Sakamoto, meanwhile, is stepping into Ichiro Miyashita’s shoes as agriculture minister. Ken Saito is taking over from Yasutoshi Nishimura as trade minister. And Takeaki Matsumoto is returning to the post of internal affairs minister following Junji Suzuki’s resignation. 

Rina Gonoi Wins Landmark Sexual Assault Case Against Three Former Soldiers  

Three former members of the SDF were found guilty of sexually assaulting a female colleague in a landmark case on Tuesday. Shutaro Shibuya, Akito Sekine and Yusuke Kimezawa were all sentenced to two years in prison, four years suspended, by the Fukushima District Court. Prosecutors had sought two-year jail terms for the three men, who were all dishonorably discharged by the Defense Ministry. In August 2021, the trio allegedly pinned Rina Gonoi to a bed and forced her to spread her legs open. They then repeatedly pressed their crotches against hers. 

Gonoi told the BBC that at least a dozen other colleagues were present at the time. Nobody attempted to stop the trio. She reported the incident, but her complaint was dismissed. A petition calling on the defense minister to investigate her case garnered more than 100,000 signatures after her YouTube video went viral last year. Speaking outside the courtroom, Gonoi told reporters, “The ruling today proves what they did was a crime — so I want them to face up to it and reflect on their actions. And I hope this verdict will encourage victims to speak out.” 

Mass Squirrel Poisonings at Tokyo Zoo  

The Tokyo Zoological Park Society announced on Monday that more than 30 Japanese squirrels have died at Inokashira Park Zoo in the capital’s Musashino region after being treated with pesticides. To eliminate parasites, on December 4, two kinds of parasiticides were dripped onto the backs of the 40 rodents that are kept at the breeding facility. The nesting boxes in their enclosure were also sprayed with insecticide. Around two hours later, one squirrel started exhibiting an unusual symptom. It died the same day. More soon followed and by Monday the number of fatalities stood at 31.

“The possibility of drug-induced poisoning cannot be denied,” the zoo admitted in a statement on Monday. “We’re currently investigating the cause of their deaths and observing the conditions of surviving individuals. We offer our deepest apologies.” According to the zoo, a pathological examination of the corpses is taking place. It added that the drugs were used in proper doses and had been administered before. In Kamakura, meanwhile, the local government has proposed a supplementary budget of ¥7 million to humanely cull Formosan squirrels. The cute-looking rodents, that are native to Taiwan, damage crops and destroy ecosystems.

Shohei Ohtani has signed for the Los Angeles Dodgers in a record-breaking deal

Sporting World Reacts to Shohei Ohtani Transfer 

“If anybody knows a company that can pick jaws up from the floor, please let me know.” That was the reaction of baseball outfielder Enrique Hernández on X after Shohei Ohtani completed his transfer from the Los Angeles Angels to the Los Angeles Dodgers. The 10-year contract is reported to be worth $700 million. It’s believed to be the largest contract in professional sports history, surpassing deals for soccer players like Kylian Mbappé ($679 million over three years for PSG), Lionel Messi ($674 million over four years for Barcelona) and Cristiano Ronaldo ($500 million over two years for Al Nassr).  

Former basketball great Magic Johnson said he was “extremely happy and excited” about the move. “Damn it, played the wrong sport, 10 yrs 700 mil!!!! Congrats Ohtani.. Gotta see him play once,” tweeted former American football tight end Shannon Sharpe. As for the man himself, he posted a message on Instagram, expressing his “sincere gratitude to everyone involved with the Angels organization.” At his first press conference for his new team on Thursday, he said he “couldn’t wait to join the Dodgers. They share the same passion as me.” He was speaking through his interpreter, Ippei Mizuhara.  

Former Wallabies head coach Eddie Jones is returning to Japan | Image courtesy of the JRFU

Eddie Jones Returns as Japan Rugby Head Coach  

In other sports news, Eddie Jones has been rehired as the national team coach for Japan’s men’s rugby team. The 63-year-old Australian takes over from Jamie Joseph, officially beginning at the start of next year. Jones famously led the Brave Blossoms to a stunning 34-32 victory over South Africa at the 2015 World Cup. “Japan’s always been quite divided,” he said at a press conference on Thursday. “You’ve had the university teams, the company teams, and the national teams. We need everyone to be working together.” He denied interviewing for the role prior to this year’s World Cup.  

In men’s soccer, Ventforet Kofu became the first side from Japan’s second tier to reach the knockout stages of the Asian Champions League. They sealed top spot in their group with a 3-2 win over Thailand’s Buriram United on Tuesday. The following night, Yokohama F. Marinos joined them in the round of 16. They beat China’s Shandong Taishan 3-0 in what was manager Kevin Muscat’s final game in charge. The Australian announced that he was leaving last week after two-and-a-half years at the club. Kawasaki Frontale had already qualified. Reigning champions Urawa Reds, however, were eliminated.