With the holiday season approaching more people will be requiring rooms at quarantine hotels in the coming days and weeks. However, questions are already being asked as to whether there will be enough space to accommodate everyone. On the Return to Japan Support Group on Facebook there have been several comments by people who’ve been transferred to distant locations as rooms in and around the capital fill up.  

Also this week, we report on the latest from the Moritomo Gakuen scandal as the government agrees to a financial settlement with the widow of a bureaucrat who killed himself. The region of Musashino in Tokyo, meanwhile, considers letting foreigners vote in referendums. Boxer Naoya Inoue wins again and Japan’s representative at the Miss Universe pageant causes a stir due to her dress. All that, plus we have the kanji of the year winner.  

No Room at the Inn 

With Omicron spreading at an unprecedented rate, Japan’s border restrictions are likely to be in place for a while. Japanese citizens and foreign residents (except those from 10 African countries) are still permitted to enter but must isolate for two weeks. For many, that includes spending at least three days at a government-designated facility. Thirteen thousand rooms have been secured for quarantine, but will that be enough for the busy new year period?  

In the past couple of weeks, passengers arriving at airports in Tokyo have been told there weren’t any hotel rooms available in the capital. With no room at the inn, many have had to hop on board another flight. On Facebook people have reported being sent to Kansai, Chubu, Sendai and even Fukuoka. The situation is expected to become increasingly problematic as Omicron cases surge and more people enter Japan for the holiday season.  

Japanese Government Pays Widow Damages in Document-Tampering Suit  

In March of this year, Masako Akagi came home to discover her husband Toshio had taken his own life. She claims the former finance ministry bureaucrat suffered from severe mental distress after being ordered to tamper with official documents related to the Moritomo Gakuen scandal. The ultra-nationalistic school was sold state-owned land at a massive discount, being charged around ¥134 million for 8,770 square meters. That was roughly 14 percent lower than its estimated value.  

On Wednesday, the government did an about-face by accepting liability for damages. It ended the lawsuit by agreeing to pay ¥100 million to Akagi. The surprise move angered the widow as she was determined to hear about the circumstances leading to her husband’s suicide. “I feel like I lost,” she said in a press conference. “I believe the state has facts it wants to hide,” added her lawyer. 

A Familiar Choice for Kanji of the Year 

Every December Seihan Mori, the chief priest of Kiyomizu-dera Temple in Kyoto, writes out the kanji that best represents the year on a giant piece of washi (Japanese paper). This year’s choice was 金 (kin or kane) meaning gold or money. It reflects the country’s record haul of 27 gold medals at the Olympics plus the 13 won at the Paralympics. It was selected for the fourth time (always in an Olympic year), garnering 10,422 votes.  

Just over 100 behind in second place was 2013 winner 輪 (rin or wa) meaning ring. It’s used in the kanji for the Olympics 五輪 (gorin: literally five rings). In third was 楽 (raku: comfort), followed by 変 (hen: strange) and 新 (shin: new). Voting is via postcard, online or in-person at book stores and libraries. The ceremony began in 1995. 震 (shin: to shake) was the inaugural selection following the Great Hanshin earthquake earlier that year.  

Musashino Expected to Grant Voting Rights to Foreigners  

On December 21, a plenary vote will take place at the Musashino City assembly in Tokyo to decide whether foreign residents can vote in local referendums. The proposal was submitted by the region’s mayor Reiko Matsushita in November. The general affairs committee then gave the ordinance the green light on Monday. The plan includes anyone aged 18 and over who has been listed in the city’s basic resident registration system for at least three straight months.  

“From a commonsense perspective, it’s nonsense to treat people who’ve lived in Japan for a long time and foreigners who’ve only stayed here for three months at the same level,” said opposing member Taro Kikuchi. Mayor Matsushita, however, argued that she was “aiming to create a city that accepts diversity.” If, as expected, the proposal is given the green light, Musashino will become the third region in Japan to grant voting rights to foreigners after Zushi and Toyonaka.  


Kimono Raises Eyebrows at Miss Universe Pageant  

The 70th Miss Universe pageant took place in Israel this week. Representing Japan at the event was Juri Watanabe who placed in the top 16. However, it was her costume rather than her finishing position that got most people talking. Seemingly inspired by Sailor Moon, it was criticized by netizens for being a mishmash of Japanese stereotypes. The fact that the kimono was folded left over right was another issue. That’s the way it’s worn by dead people.    

The outfit was designed by Israel’s Aviad Arik Herman. Watanabe, of course, has no say in what she wears. Born to a Japanese father and a Korean mother, she graduated from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) with a degree in development economics and international development. A year later, she served as a spokesperson for the non-profit mental health services organization TELL. Winner of the pageant was India’s Harnaaz Sandhu.  

The Monster Marches On  

Japanese boxing superstar Naoya Inoue retained his WBA and IBF bantamweight titles with a victory over Thailand’s Aran Dipaen. The contest ended in the eighth round following a series of heavy power shots by the man known as the “monster,” who was given a tougher match than expected by the mandatory challenger. On the same card fellow countryman Masataka Taniguchi claimed the WBO minimumweight title with a technical knockout win over Puerto Rico’s Wilfredo Méndez.  

In soccer, Daichi Kamada scored the winner as Eintracht Frankfurt beat Borussia Monchengladbach 3-2. It was his first Bundesliga goal of the season, though he has scored three times in the Europa League. Staying in the German top flight, Masaya Okugawa netted his fourth of the campaign as Arminia Bielefeld’s defeated Bochum 2-0. Ritsu Doan, Okugawa’s former teammate at Bielefeld, bagged a brace for PSV Eindhoven in the KNVB Cup in the Netherlands. 

*Feature image by Anna Petek