The triennial election to choose the leader of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) takes place next Wednesday. The winner of the LDP leadership election will then be formally named as prime minister at a special parliamentary session on October 4. There are 764 ballots in the first round split evenly between lawmakers and rank-and-file party members. If one of the four candidates gains a majority, he or she will win. If not, there will be a runoff between the two leading contenders. Taro Kono, Fumio Kishida, Sanae Takaichi and Seiko Noda are the names in the frame. Here we assess their chances.

Also in the news this week, Covid-19 cases continue to drop in Japan. As a result, the government is reportedly planning to at least partially lift the state of emergency on September 30. A decision is expected either on Monday or Tuesday of next week.

Japan has two new names in the Guinness Book of World Records. Umeno Sumiyama and Koume Kodama have surpassed Kin Narita and Gin Kanie as the world’s oldest ever identical twins. It’s been an exciting week for gaming fans with the global releases of Lost Judgement and Death Stranding Director’s Cut. At the cinema, Minamata starring Johnny Depp finally premiered in Japan. And in sport, Kokoro Fujii finished ahead of compatriot Tomoa Narasaki to claim the men’s bouldering world title.

Runoff Expected in LDP Leadership Battle

The race to succeed Yoshihide Suga as the new LDP leader is set to be a close-run contest. Divisive maverick Taro Kono is expected to come out on top in the first vote. He has the backing of faction leaders such as Shigeru Ishiba and Toshihiro Nikai as well as the current prime minister. According to a recent poll by Kyodo News, 48.6 percent of rank-and-file members see the vaccination minister as most suitable to be party leader. A similar poll by Yomiuri Shimbun gave him a 41 percent approval rate. He needs more than 50 percent to secure victory in round one.

If he doesn’t get it, there will be a runoff. That’s the most likely scenario and one Shinzo Abe is hoping for. The two-time prime minister could play a big role in the second round of the election as he has the largest faction (96 members). He recently backed his assertive conservative protege Sanae Takaichi. If she drops out in the first round, however, he will then most likely throw his support behind Fumio Kishida. The latter is slightly ahead of Takaichi in the polls. Seiko Noda, who joined the race late, is seen as an outsider.

Japan Considers Partially Lifting the State of Emergency

As well as electing a new leader, the LDP must next week decide what to do about the state of emergency. According to government sources, they are leaning towards at least partially easing restrictions. The SOE, which is slated to end on September 30, currently covers 19 prefectures including Tokyo. The vaccination drive is seen as the key to reopening society. Japan is already planning to provide booster shots for medical personnel by the end of this year. They will begin administering third doses for those aged 65 and above in early 2022.

In another step on the road back to normality, Japan is preparing to ease quarantine rules for fully vaccinated travelers. Provided they have proof of being double-jabbed with one of the three vaccines approved for use in Japan — Moderna, Pfizer or AstraZeneca — arrivals in Japan will no longer have to spend three days isolating in a government designated facility. They will be asked to quarantine at home for 10 days. After that, they will be required to pass a PCR test.

The World’s Oldest Identical Twins

Japanese sisters Umeno Sumiyama and Koume Kodama have been certified as the world’s oldest ever identical twins. The Guinness Book of World Records made the announcement on Monday, coinciding with Respect the Aged Day in Japan. At the time of writing, the pair are 107 years and 323 days old. The previous record was also held by Japanese twin sisters. Celebrity siblings Kin Narita and Gin Kanie (affectionately known as Kinsan Ginsan) were 107 years and 175 days old when the former died in 2000.

Sumiyama and Kodama had previously joked about surpassing Narita and Kanie’s record. Born on Shodo Island, Kagawa Prefecture on November 5, 1913, they lived separately after graduating from elementary school. In their 70s the two ladies began a pilgrimage to the 88 temples of Shikoku Island. There were tears of joy from Sumiyama after she received the certificate at her elderly care home. Kodama, however, suffers from memory loss and had difficulty comprehending the award. According to the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry, Japan has an estimated 86,510 people aged 100 and above.

Minamata Finally Released in Japan

Following a long delay due to the coronavirus pandemic, Minamata was finally released in Japan this week. The movie is based on the book of the same name by Aileen and Eugene Smith. The then married couple documented the effects of mercury poisoning on the people of Minamata in Kumamoto Prefecture. Smith, played by Johnny Depp, is probably most well-known for “Tomoko Uemura in Her Bath,” a black-and-white picture depicting a mother cradling her deformed, naked daughter. He suffered severe injuries after being attacked outside a Chisso plant by goons acting on company orders.

Chisso started releasing untreated wastewater into Minamata Bay in 1932. It was the same year they began producing acetaldehyde which used methylmercury as a catalyst. This eventually made its way on to people’s dinner plates. By the 1950s locals started to observe strange behavior in cats. Known as “dancing cat fever,” the felines would foam at the mouth, have convulsions and then throw themselves into the water. Residents who ate fish from Shiranui Sea started to show various symptoms in 1956. Minamata disease was then officially identified on May 1 of that year. More than 65 years on and many are still fighting for their right to a fair financial settlement.

Fujii Climbs to Victory at the IFSC World Championships

Kokoro Fujii put the disappointment of not making the Japan team for this summer’s Olympics behind him by taking home the men’s bouldering title at the IFSC World Championships in Russia. “It was unbelievable. I’m not motivated by not making the Olympic team in Tokyo. I’m motivated by making the team for Paris 2024 and have never stopped believing in myself,” said the 28-year-old. He was the only climber to make it over four boulders. Compatriot and two-time world champion Tomoa Narasaki made it past three to claim the silver.

In baseball, Shohei Ohtani hit his 45th homerun of the season for the Los Angeles Angels in their 10-5 loss to the Houston Astros. His first homer in 10 games, it puts him one behind Toronto Blue Jays’ Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Salvador Perez of the Kansas City Royals in the battle to become homerun king. Footballer Takumi Minamino played his first game of the campaign for Liverpool against Norwich in the Carabao Cup. He took just four minutes to open his account and then added a second in the 80th minute as the Merseyside club ran out 3-0 winners.

Lost Judgement Launched Globally

This week saw the global release of the action-adventure video game Lost Judgement. A sequel to the critically acclaimed 2018 game Judgement, it follows lawyer-turned-detective Takayuki Yagami as he investigates a murder case. The main character is voiced by Takuya Kimura, former star of the successful boy band SMAP. His talent agency Johnny & Associates allegedly didn’t want him appearing in PC games and hoped to block Lost Judgement from being released on Steam. It subsequently led to speculation that this could be the last game in the series.

Another high-profile release today was Death Stranding Director’s Cut. It’s an updated version of Hideo Kojima’s 2019 game based around a courier named Sam Porter Bridges (Norman Reedus). Players control Bridges as he delivers supplies to isolated colonies and reconnects them via a wireless communications network. The game has essentially been remade with new story missions and new abilities for Bridges to master. From a visual perspective, it’s on a different level to the original. Also this week, Pokémon Unite launched for IOS and Android users.

*Feature image by Anna Petek