Japan’s daily coronavirus count topped 18,000 on Thursday, four times higher than the same day a week ago. In Tokyo, the number exceeded 3,000 for the first time since September 2, 2021. The capital’s metropolitan government subsequently raised its Covid-19 alert level to the second highest of four. With cases soaring again, the recent decision to extend Japan’s entry ban came as no surprise.  

Foreign arrivals are banned until at least the end of February, though, there will be some exceptions for Japanese families. The decision has been criticized by many, including Rakuten CEO Hiroshi Mikitani who described it as “illogical.” Also this week, we report on a three-hour standoff between a homeless man and police at a yakiniku restaurant in Tokyo. Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s Drive My Car added to its impressive collection of awards. And in sport, one ’king’ retired while another just keeps on going.  

Japan Extends Entry Ban 

November 8, 2021 was a day that many students and workers from abroad had been waiting for. Japan was finally opening its doors to foreign arrivals again. Three weeks later those doors were firmly shut in an attempt to halt the spread of the Omicron variant. This week, the prime minister unsurprisingly announced that the ban on foreign arrivals would be extended until at least the end of February.  

Fumio Kishida spoke to reporters about the decision on Tuesday. “Thanks to the toughest border rules in the G7 nations, we’ve been able to keep the spread of Omicron to a minimal level. This has given us time to prepare to deal with domestic infection. We’ll maintain the current framework of measures until the end of February for the time being. At the same time, we’ll continue taking necessary measures from the perspective of humanitarian and national interests.” 

Foreign students continue to wait for the opportunity to enter Japan

Calls for an End to the Ban Grow Louder  

While opinion polls show the majority of the Japanese public support the strict border restrictions, calls for an end to the ban have grown louder. A petition started on change.org less than a week ago has already garnered more than 20,000 signatures. “The current border policies are not helping to keep Omicron out,” Davide Rossi, founder of the Education is Not Tourism website told TW. “The majority of people in Japan can go in and out, while only a minority are stuck in limbo.” 

Hiroshi Mikitani agrees. The Rakuten CEO has been openly critical of the way the government has handled the pandemic. This week he turned to Twitter to criticize the latest entry ban extension. “Corona is everywhere in the world and borders must be open, the restrictions clearly aren’t working. What needs to be done is prioritizing vaccinations and the use of oral medications,” he wrote. Japan aims to start booster shots for the public sooner than scheduled, shortening the interval between the second and third vaccine by a month. It also plans to expand the scope of inoculation to children aged under 12, possibly from March.  

Man Arrested After Three-Hour Standoff 

At around 9pm on Saturday night, Akito Araki handed a note to the manager of a yakiniku restaurant in the Yoyogi district of Tokyo. It said that he had activated a home-made bomb in a box. Brandishing two knives, he told the other customers to leave and ordered the manager to call 110. The doors were then locked as they waited for the police to arrive. Following around three hours of negotiations, officers barged into the restaurant and arrested Araki.

“I could have done (the attack) anywhere, but I wanted to eat grilled meat before I was caught,” Araki was quoted as saying. He reportedly told investigators that he wanted to end his own life having become homeless in Tokyo since leaving his parents’ home in Nagasaki Prefecture. According to the manager of the restaurant, he wanted to copy the recent train attacks in Japan’s capital. A fake bomb was found on the premises. Fortunately, nobody was injured.

Drive My Car Races Off with More Awards  

The accolades just keep coming for Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s film Drive My Car. An adaptation of Haruki Murakami’s story, it premiered at Cannes last summer, winning a Best Screenplay gong at the world’s most prestigious international film festival. More recently, it became the first foreign language film to win Best Picture from all three major US film critics’ groups (LA Film Critics Association, New York Film Critics Circle and National Society of Film Critics).  

The National Society of Film Critics prize was announced this Saturday. The following day, Drive My Car was named the Best Foreign Language Film at the Golden Globes. It also picked up awards in San Diego, San Francisco and Austin this week. The melancholic drama has been nominated for several other prizes that are pending and is the Japan entry for the Best International Feature Film at the Academy Awards. The story centers around Yusuke (Hidetoshi Nishijima), a director and playwright dealing with the death of his wife.  

Israel Folau Stars on Opening Weekend of Rugby League One  

Japan’s new Rugby League One officially launched on Saturday. The inaugural game saw Kobelco Kobe Steelers host Shining Arcs Tokyo-Bay Urayasu. It was the away side that edged the thrilling encounter 24-23. Former Australian international Israel Folau was the star of the show with two tries on his debut. The controversial player had his contract terminated by Rugby Australia in 2019 following discriminatory comments about same-sex marriage and homosexuality.  

In the 101st High School Rugby final, Tokai University Osaka Hosei HS defeated Kokugakuin Tochigi HS 36-5. The 100th soccer High School final, meanwhile, was won by Aomori Yamada. Their star midfielder Kuryu Matsuki has joined J-League club FC Tokyo. In other soccer transfer news, former Manchester United and Borussia Dortmund attacking midfielder Shinji Kagawa has signed for Sint-Truidense V.V. He is now one of six Japanese players at the Belgian club. Also this week, 54-year-old striker ‘King Kazu’ Miura signed for Suzuka Point Getters in the Japanese fourth-tier. 

Photo by Hiromi Ave

The ‘King’ Calls it a Day  

The man considered by many to be the greatest gymnast of all time this week retired from the sport. Kohei Uchimura won an incredible 10 world titles, six of which came in the all-around event. He also won gold in the all-around competition at the 2012 and 2016 Olympics and helped the Japan team top the podium at the latter Games. After claiming an all-around silver at the 2008 Olympics, he went on a remarkable unbeaten run that lasted almost a decade.  

In recent years, injuries have taken their toll on the gymnast who is known as the ‘king’ both at home and abroad. Suffering from shoulder pain, Uchimura decided to focus on the horizontal bar at the Tokyo Games. He failed to make the final, though, after falling from the bar in the qualifying round. Two months later, he finished sixth in the horizontal bar competition at the World Championships in his hometown of Kitakyushu. 

*Feature image by Anna Petek