In this week’s news roundup, we report on the 7.4-magnitude earthquake that hit north-east Japan on Wednesday night. The powerful quake brought back memories of the devastating earthquake and tsunami that struck in the same region just over 11 years ago. That one was 64 times stronger, though it must be remembered that it was preceded by a 7.2-magnitude earthquake two days earlier.  

Also this week, we have the latest on Japan’s response to the war in Ukraine as more evacuees enter the country. There’s good news for bars and restaurants as the quasi-state of emergency is set to end nationwide. For Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s Drive My Car, the number of awards just keeps growing. And in sport, tennis star Naomi Osaka addresses the crowd after being heckled by a spectator, while baseball player Yusei Kikuchi signs a bumper deal with the Toronto Blue Jays. 

Powerful Quake Rocks North-East Japan 

Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno warned residents in the Tohoku region to remain vigilant for violent aftershocks following Wednesday night’s earthquake off the coast of Fukushima. At least three people died as a result of the 7.4-magnitude tremor with more than 200 injured. The shaking began at around 11:36pm local time. In some areas, it became too forceful for people to stand up. The Japan Meteorological Agency issued a low-risk advisory for tsunami waves reaching up to one meter. However, that was lifted on Thursday morning.  

The quake caused temporary power outages affecting more than 2.2 million homes. Most of East Japan Railway’s train services were suspended for safety checks, leading to long lines outside stations. The Yamabiko 223 Shinkansen bound for Sendai from Tokyo came off the tracks between Fukushima and Shiroishizao stations. 16 of the 17 carriages derailed. Fortunately, the 75 passengers and three crew members were all uninjured. Due to the power outage, they were trapped inside the train for around four hours.  

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said earlier this month that Japan would be accepting Ukrainian evacuees

Japan to Accept Ukrainian Evacuees Without Guarantors  

By Sunday, March 13, 47 Ukrainian evacuees had entered Japan on short-term 90-day visas. Applications have, thus far, been limited to relatives and acquaintances of the roughly 1,900 Ukrainians residing here. Those residents are assigned as guarantors. At an upper house committee meeting on Tuesday, however, Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi stated that Ukrainians fleeing their homeland with no connection to Japan and, therefore, no guarantor, “will be allowed to enter the country in principle if humanitarian considerations dictate it.” 

Those entering will also have permission to work in Japan. They’ll be given the opportunity to switch their 90-day short-stay visas to a one-year “designated activities” status, giving them residency. “We will flexibly respond to the visa status, sufficiently taking into consideration the situation facing the evacuees,” said Justice Minister Yoshihisa Furukawa on Tuesday. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, meanwhile, has approached officials here about delivering a virtual speech to the Japanese Diet. Both the ruling and opposition parties intend to acquiesce to the request.   

Quasi-Emergency Measures to Be Lifted from Tuesday  

For the first time since January 8, the whole of Japan is set to be quasi-emergency free. 18 areas, including the Tokyo metropolitan region and Osaka, will have their restrictions lifted from Tuesday, March 22. “The number of coronavirus infections across the country has decreased to about half what it was at its peak. Although there are regional differences, there’s a clear downward trend in the occupancy rate of hospital beds and the tally of people recuperating at home,” said Prime Minister Fumio Kishida at a press conference on Wednesday. 

Border restrictions are also likely to be loosened further. According to government sources, plans to raise the daily cap on overseas arrivals from 7,000 to 10,000 from April are being considered. While nonresident foreign nationals were effectively banned from entering Japan in late November, rules have eased in recent weeks. In addition to the daily cap increasing, extra seats on flights are being provided for international students, some of whom have been waiting two years to study here. Foreign tourists are still banned from entering. 

Ryusuke Hamaguchi ©︎ 2018 Netemo Sametemo Film Partners & Comme Des Cinemas

More Awards for Drive My Car  

The awards just keep piling up for Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s movie Drive My Car. The three-hour drama based on Haruki Murakami’s short story picked up the Best Film Not in the English Language gong at the 75th British Academy Film Awards on Sunday. Two nights earlier, it received eight prizes at the Japan iteration of the Academy Awards. That included Best Picture, Best Director (Hamaguchi), Best Screenplay (Hamaguchi and Takamasa Oe) and Best Actor (Hidetoshi Nishijima). It also picked up awards for Cinematography, Lighting, Sound Recording and Editing.  

Other winners on the night included Kasumi Arimura who was named Best Actress for her role as Kinu in the romantic drama We Made A Beautiful Bouquet. Best Supporting Actor gongs went to Ryohei Suzuki for the yakuza flick Last of the Wolves and Kaya Kiyohara for the murder mystery In the Wake. Animation of the Year went to Evangelion: 3.0+1.0 Thrice Upon a TimeNo Time to Die, the 25th installment of the James Bond series, was chosen as the Best Foreign Language Film. 

Naomi Osaka in Tears After Being Heckled  

Naomi Osaka broke down in tears after being heckled by a spectator at the Indian Wells Masters. The Japanese-Haitian tennis star’s serve was broken in the opening game of her second-round clash with Russia’s Veronika Kudermetova. In the following game, someone in the crowd shouted “Naomi, you suck,” to the four-time Grand Slam champion. Visibly upset, Osaka asked the umpire if the person could be kicked out. She then asked for a microphone to address the crowd during the match. Both requests were turned down.  

“To be honest, I’ve been heckled before. It didn’t really bother me. But heckled here, like, I’ve watched a video of Venus and Serena (Williams) getting heckled here. If you’ve never watched it, you should watch it. I don’t know why, but it went into my head and got replayed a lot,” said Osaka after the match, which she lost 6-4, 6-0. On Twitter, she wrote, “Very proud of myself for reaching a point in my life that despite the lows, I would still rather be myself than anyone else.”

Yusei Kikuchi Signs for Blue Jays  

At the weekend, the Toronto Blue Jays announced the signing of left-handed Japanese pitcher Yusei Kikuchi in a three-year deal worth a reported $36 million. The former Saitama Seibu Lions man has spent the last three years in the States playing for the Seattle Mariners. He posted a 15-24 record with a 4.97 earned run average (ERA) in 70 games. Last season, he was selected to play for the American League in the 91st Major League Baseball All-Star game.  

In other sporting news, Daichi Kamada grabbed the winner as Bundesliga side Eintracht Frankfurt defeated Bochum 2-1. In Belgium, Daichi Hayashi netted again for Sint-Truiden in their 1-0 victory over Genk. Maya Yoshida, meanwhile, scored an own-goal as Sampdoria lost 3-1 to Juventus. Vissel Kobe booked their place in the group stage of the Asian Champions League following a dramatic 4-3 win over Melbourne Victory. Goals from Andrés Iniesta, a brace from Yuya Osako and an extra-time winner from Lincoln sent them through. 

Feature image by Anna Petek