In this week’s news roundup, we report on the execution of Tomohiro Kato, the man who murdered seven people in a rampage in Akihabara in 2008. According to Amnesty International, he was in the process of requesting a retrial at the time of the hanging. The human rights group continues to call on the country to abolish the death penalty. However, public support for capital punishment remains high. 

Also this week, we have the latest on the monkey attacks in Yamaguchi City and the first cases of monkeypox in Japan. Covid cases, meanwhile, continue to break records putting a strain on medical services. There’s more on the Unification Church and its links to various Japanese politicians. And in sport, Japan wins four medals at the Athletics World Championships, equaling its record tally from 2003.  

Akihabara Mass Murderer Executed  

Tomohiro Kato, the man responsible for the Akihabara massacre in 2008, was executed on Tuesday. His crime was one of the most shocking mass murders in modern Japanese history. The then 25-year-old went on an indiscriminate rampage in the shopping district, murdering seven people and injuring 10 others. Three pedestrians died and two were injured after he drove a rented truck in a vehicle-free zone. He then randomly stabbed 12 individuals with a dagger, killing four and wounding eight. 

“The hanging of Kato is a callous attack on the right to life,” said Amnesty International Japan Director Hideaki Nakagawa. “Regardless of the crimes he had committed, he should never have suffered the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment at the hands of the state.” There are currently more than 100 death row inmates in Japan. In a poll conducted by the Cabinet Office in November 2019, 80.8 percent of respondents said capital punishment was necessary in some cases. 

Monkey Attacks Continue in Yamaguchi

A group of vicious monkeys are continuing to wreak havoc in Yamaguchi City. In the past three weeks more than 50 people have been attacked by the marauding macaques. As they aren’t interested in food, traps aren’s working. So, on Tuesday evening, specially commissioned hunters shot a monkey with a tranquilizer gun. Around half a meter tall and weighing seven kilograms, it matched the description of one of the attackers and was subsequently put down. The search for the others goes on, though, as more attacks have been reported since. 

It’s not just monkeys causing trouble, however. In Fukui Prefecture, there’s a dolphin that’s biting beachgoers with at least 10 incidents reported in the region. Signs have consequently been put up, warning people not to touch the aquatic mammal. The Municipal Government has also set up a device that emits ultrasonic frequencies to discourage the dolphin from approaching the shore. Masaki Yasui, an official from the tourism promotion department, believes the attacks are the work of a single dolphin. 

Two Cases of Monkeypox Confirmed in Japan

The first two cases of monkeypox in Japan have been confirmed. On Monday, the Tokyo metropolitan government revealed that a man in his 30s from Tokyo tested positive for the viral disease. He reportedly had close contact with an infected person during a trip to a European country, which he went on from late June to mid-July. His symptoms include a rash, headache and a fever. He was hospitalized after feeling unwell on July 15.  

A second man, also in his 30s, tested positive on Wednesday. He recently traveled to North and Central America and is currently in a stable condition. Last month, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared monkeypox a global health emergency. While the vast majority of cases have thus far occurred in men who are either gay or bisexual, the agency emphasized that anyone can contract the virus through close personal contact. The current outbreak is the largest ever seen outside Africa. 

Covid Cases Break Records Again  

As for new coronavirus cases, the numbers just keep rising. In the week up to Sunday, July 24, Japan recorded close to one million new cases, more than any other country. Things have shown no sign of slowing down this week either. The nationwide figure on Thursday was 233,100, setting a new record for a second day in-a-row. There was also a new record in Tokyo with 40,406 recorded new infections. That’s the first time the figure has exceeded 40,000.  

Despite these all-time high numbers, there are, at the time of writing, no plans to impose movement restrictions on citizens. That could change, however, if hospital occupancy rates approach capacity. As of Wednesday, occupancy rates for designated hospital beds exceeded 50 percent in 19 prefectures. That was previously the threshold for requesting a state of emergency. Okinawa has been the worst hit with the bed occupancy rate topping 85 percent on Monday. 

Unification Church Supported Japanese Defense Minister During the Election

It’s now been three weeks since the assassination of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Following the shooting, much of the media’s focus has been on the Unification Church and its ties with various politicians, particularly from the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). Several lawmakers have admitted to having some form of relationship with the religious organization including Abe’s younger brother Nobuo Kishi. The current defense minister received help from the group during the past election campaign. 

“I think some followers volunteered their time to call voters although I don’t have specific details about what they did. I’ve always believed it was necessary to rally as many supporters as possible for a campaign,” said Kishi at a press conference on Tuesday. That same day, LDP Secretary General Toshimitsu Motegi denied the existence of any organizational relationship between his party and the church. “We have firmly confirmed that our party has no systemic relations (with the Unification Church),” he said. 

Historic Medal for Kitaguchi

Japan finished the 2022 World Athletics Championships with a record-equaling four medals. On the final weekend of the competition, Haruka Kitaguchi became the first Japanese woman to make the podium in a field event at either the Worlds or the Olympics. Throwing 63.27 meters in the javelin final, she finished third behind Australia’s Kelsey-Lee Barber and America’s Kara Winger. In the men’s 35-kilometer race walk, Masatora Kawano missed out on gold by one second to Italy’s Massimo Stano. 

In other sporting news, Japan’s men’s soccer team lifted the East Asian Football Federation E-1 Championship for only the second time after defeating defending champions South Korea 3-0. Nadeshiko Japan, meanwhile, claimed the women’s trophy following a 0-0 draw with China. Having beaten South Korea and Taiwan, they only needed a point in the final game. In Major League Baseball (MLB), Shohei Ohtani hit his 21st home run of the season, while Seiya Suzuki recorded his eighth.