In this week’s news roundup, we report on the tragic death of television personality Ryuchell (stylized as ryuchell). The 27-year-old social media influencer and LGBTQ advocate was found dead by their manager at the agency’s office in Tokyo on Wednesday. Police are investigating whether the celebrity died by suicide. Also this week, we take a closer look at the landmark decision made by the Japanese Supreme Court regarding transgender rights. Several people die as parts of Japan experience torrential downpours. Prosecutors announce they are going to drag out the Iwao Hakamada case. A teenage Canadian tourist defaces a 1,200-year-old temple. And Naomi Osaka celebrates the birth of her first child. 

TV Personality Ryuchell Dies at 27 

Ryuji Higa, known professionally as Ryuchell, passed away on Wednesday at the age of just 27. The former model, singer and activist was discovered unconscious by their manager at the office of an entertainment agency in the Sasazuka neighborhood of Shibuya. They were pronounced dead shortly after. Authorities are now investigating whether the Aishteru! star took their own life. A day before Ryuchell’s death, Peco (Tetsuko Okuhira), the multi-talented star’s former wife, posted a picture from Guam of their son’s birthday cake on his 5th birthday. The couple married in 2016 and divorced six years later.  

Around that time, Ryuchell announced they no longer identified as a male. “Being able to fall in love with a woman allowed me to imagine a life completely different from the one I thought I’d have and taught me joys I never knew existed. Somewhere along the way, I began to struggle with the concept of being the ‘ideal man’ and the ‘ideal husband’ and who I really was,” Ryuchell told Very magazine. Despite Peco defending her ex-husband, Ryuchell was subject to vitriolic abuse on social media after coming out. “Online slanders and hate speech against Ryuchell were totally intolerable and unacceptable,” Akutagawa Prize-winner Li Kotomi told Tokyo Weekender 

Supreme Court Rules Toilet Restrictions on Transgender Woman Illegal  

In a landmark decision on Tuesday, the Japanese Supreme Court ruled that a government ministry’s ruling barring a transgender employee from using the women’s bathroom on the same floor as her department was illegal. The plaintiff, who is in her 50s, began working at Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) as a man. After being diagnosed with gender dysphoria in 2009, she told METI she wished to identify as a female at the office. She was then given permission to use the women’s toilets, just not on the same floor. 

Her boss told her that because some fellow employees felt uncomfortable, she could only use facilities that were at least two floors away. After a request to rectify the situation was rejected by the National Personnel Authority — a neutral body safeguarding fairness in personnel administration — she filed a suit against the government in 2015, arguing that being banned from using certain toilets was discriminatory.  The ministry was initially ordered to pay ¥1.3 million in damages. When this decision was overturned by the Tokyo High Court, the plaintiff took her case to the Supreme Court.

Parts of Japan Hit by ‘Heaviest Rain Ever’  

At least seven people died and, at the time of writing, two remain unaccounted for after heavy downpours led to floods and landslides on Japan’s third largest island of Kyushu. Most of the deaths were reported in the island’s northernmost prefecture of Fukuoka. Meteorological agency official Satoshi Sugimoto described it as “the heaviest rain ever experienced” in the region. Rivers overflowed and hillsides collapsed. It prompted evacuation notices for hundreds of thousands of people. With roads and water supplies also cut off, the government set up a task force to coordinate a response. 

Parts of the Chubu region of central Honshu were also battered by heavy downpours. The Japan Meteorological Agency issued alerts on Wednesday night for Toyama and Ishikawa prefectures. Record rainfall totals were registered in the cities of Kahoku and Kamiichi. On Thursday, the body of Nanto city (Toyama Prefecture) politician Nobuhiko Akaike was discovered at the site of a mudslide disaster. He went missing after urging residents to escape due to the risk of flooding. According to scientists, downpours are likely to become heavier around the world as a warmer atmosphere holds more water vapor.  

A young Iwao Hakamada courtesy of Kyodo

Prosecutors Criticized for Pursuing Retrial of World’s Longest Death Row Inmate  

Iwao Hakamada, the man certified as the world’s longest death row inmate, was finally granted a retrial earlier this year. It’s a case that’s almost certain to lead to his acquittal. Prosecutors are refusing to give in, though, and on Monday announced that they intend to prove his guilt. “We don’t know the purpose of (their decision), if it’s for the organization or for saving face, but we’re disappointed,” said Hideyo Ogawa, one of Hakamada’s defense lawyers. He also described the prosecutors’ plan as an “outrageous act against victims of false accusations.” 

Hakamada, now aged 87, was accused of killing his boss along with his boss’ wife and two children in Shizuoka Prefecture in 1966. They were discovered stabbed to death after a fire. Around ¥200,000 in cash was also stolen from the residence. The miso factory employee confessed to the quadruple murder after 23 days of intense interrogation. He said he was forced into confessing after being beaten and threatened, all without a lawyer present. Doubts regarding his guilt lingered. In 2008, DNA tests showed that the blood on the clothing used as evidence didn’t match his. 

Canadian Teen Defaces Ancient Japanese Temple  

A Canadian teenager was taken in for questioning by the Japanese police on Saturday after defacing a 1,200-year-old temple. The incident occurred a day earlier at Toshodaiji Temple, a UNESCO World Heritage site in Nara city. Using his fingernails, the 17-year-old male reportedly scratched the name “Julian” onto a wooden pillar of the temple’s “Golden Hall,” which is a designated national treasure. A Japanese tourist who witnessed him doing it told him to stop before notifying temple staff. He was then taken into custody on suspicion of violating the cultural properties protection law. 

“The boy admitted his act and says it was done not with the intent of harming Japanese culture. He is now with his parents, who were with him when the incident occurred,” a police official told CNN. Built in the eighth century, Toshodaiji Temple is one of eight sites that make up the Historic Monuments of Ancient Nara. It’s not the only iconic site to be vandalized in recent weeks. On June 23, a Bulgarian-born British tourist was filmed carving “Ivan + Hayley 23” onto the wall of the nearly 2,000-year-old Colosseum in Rome. 

Naomi Osaka | lev radin via Shutterstock

Naomi Osaka Welcomes Baby Girl with Boyfriend Cordae 

In sports-related news, the World Tennis Association announced on Tuesday that Naomi Osaka gave birth to her first child. The news was confirmed by her boyfriend, American rapper Cordae, during his show at the Calgary Stampede. Osaka, a four-time Grand Slam champion, told fans she was pregnant in an Instagram post in January. “Can’t wait to get back on court but here’s a little life update for 2023,” she wrote alongside a picture of an ultrasound. Five months later, she revealed that she was expecting a girl with a princess-themed baby shower.  

In other sports news, Shohei Ohtani appeared in his third consecutive All-Star game on Tuesday. All eyes were on the Japanese two-way phenom who is out of contract at the end of this season. Fans of the Mariners at T-Mobile Park made their pleas for him to sign, loudly chanting “come to Seattle” every time he batted. Despite the huge support, Ohtani finished the match hitless as the American League went down 3-2 to the National League. In men’s soccer, 56-year-old Kazuyoshi Miura extended his stay with Portuguese second-tier side Oliveirense. He has talked about playing until he’s 60.