In this week’s news roundup, we look at the latest sexual assault case involving a US military officer in Okinawa. We also report on the sexist speech that led to the dismissal of an executive at Yoshinoya and the expulsion of Russian officials from Japan. In more positive news, researchers here are working on chopsticks that create the taste of salt. And in baseball, Roki Sasaki threw another eight perfect innings.  

Another Sexual Assault Case Involving the US Military in Okinawa  

On Tuesday, local prosecutors in Okinawa announced that a US marine had been indicted for sexual assault resulting in injury on a woman in the prefecture last December. Lance Corporal Jordan Begaye allegedly had no personal acquaintance with his victim. According to prosecutors, the public wasn’t notified about the case “due to its nature” and to protect the woman’s privacy. Okinawans have had to contend with a litany of crimes committed by US military personnel down the years. The most high-profile case was in 1995 when three servicemen gang raped a 12-year-old girl.  

Following that incident, a women’s civic group released a booklet titled U.S. Military Crimes Against Women in Okinawa. It was last updated in 2016, revealing details of around 350 sex crimes by US military personnel, including one against a nine-month-old baby. The actual number though, is believed to be much higher. “It’s a constant cycle,” says Catherine Jane Fisher, who was raped by a US military serviceman 20 years ago. “A sex crime occurs, politicians are outraged, the US military apologizes. Then it happens again. And it’s going to continue to happen until the wording of the Status of Forces Agreement changes. According to Article 16, the military have to ‘respect’ the laws of Japan, not ‘obey’ them. I’ve written to Prime Minister Kishida demanding that this be amended. Until it is, responsibility for these crimes rests, not just with the perpetrators, but with the Japanese government as well.”  

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Yoshinoya Executive Fired for Sexist Speech 

An executive at fast food chain Yoshinoya was fired this week for a sexist speech he gave at Waseda University. Speaking at a “Comprehensive marketing seminar for the digital age,” Masaaki Ito, 49,  reportedly implied that young women from rural areas weren’t used to fine dining. The best strategy, therefore, was to “make young girls who’ve just left home in the countryside addicted to beef bowls while they’re still virgins.” 

He allegedly added, “Once men treat them to expensive meals, they definitely won’t eat beef bowls anymore.” Somebody at the lecture posted the comments online. Yoshinoya Holdings then confirmed the remarks were accurate. The company described his words as “extremely inappropriate for someone in his position and are absolutely unacceptable from the viewpoint of human rights and gender issues.” It announced on Tuesday that Ito, a former vice president at Procter & Gamble, had been dismissed. Waseda University also apologized.  

Electric Chopsticks Artificially Create the Taste of Salt 

Too much salt (or sodium) in one’s diet can cause raised blood pressure, increasing the risk of heart disease. With this in mind, researchers at Meiji University in Tokyo, collaborating with drink manufacturer Kirin Holdings, have developed chopsticks that artificially create the taste of salt. At the end of one of the chopsticks is a metal device that transmits sodium ions from the food. This is transferred via the chopsticks to the mouth, enhancing salty and umami flavors.  

In a recent trial, the electrical stimulation increased the salty flavor of dishes by 1.5 times. It also triggered the ions in the food’s monosodium glutamate (MSG) content, improving its umami flavor. While social media users in Japan were impressed with the results, some expressed concern about using electrical currents. Researchers, however, were keen to stress that the electricity was undetectable for the user. The research team, led by Yoshinori Miyashita, are now refining the prototype. They hope to commercialize the chopsticks next year. / Hannamariah

JR West Forced to Return ¥56 in Docked Wages for One-Minute Delay  

Okayama District Court this week ordered West Japan Railway Company to posthumously repay the ¥56 it deducted from one of its train drivers due to a one-minute delay in 2020. The court ruled that the deduction was unjustified. However, it dismissed the man’s claim of ¥2.2 million for distress. According to presiding judge Hisanori Okuno, the time during the delay constituted labor, therefore should be subject to the payment of wages. 

The employee reportedly waited on the wrong platform for an empty train he was supposed to move to the depot. As a result, there was a two-minute delay. JR West initially deducted ¥85 from the man’s salary, claiming he didn’t perform any labor for two minutes. This was then reduced to one minute following advice from the Okayama labor standards inspection office. The staff member subsequently sued his company, stating that time was included in his work hours. The man, in his 50s, died of an illness earlier this year.  

Russian Officials Expelled from Japan 

Eight Russian officials and their family members departed Japan on Wednesday after being expelled from the country. Those forced to leave included diplomats from the embassy and staff at the Office of the Trade Representative of Russia in Japan. The request was made by the Foreign Ministry on April 8 in protest against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The last time a similar request was made was in 2012 when Syria’s ambassador to Japan was expelled due to the persecution of anti-government rebels by Bashar al-Assad’s administration.  

Japan is now waiting for a response from Russia. “At this point, there have been no countermeasures from Moscow,” said Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno on Wednesday. “We’ll continue to take all possible measures to protect the activities of Japanese residents and companies in Russia,” he added. With the war now two months old, Russian troops are intensifying their attacks in Ukraine, particularly in Mariupol. The US satellite firm, Maxar, says it has identified a mass burial site with around 200 graves just outside the port city.  

Another Stellar Showing from Sasaki  

All eyes were on one man for the contest between the Chiba Lotte Marines and Nippon Ham Fighters on Sunday. Following his perfect game against the Orix Buffaloes a week earlier, there was big pressure on 20-year-old Roki Sasaki. He didn’t disappoint. The right-hander delivered another eight perfect innings. Disappointingly, he was pulled by his manager for the ninth. His team then lost 1-0. Sasaki, though, understood the decision. “I felt some fatigue, and I’m satisfied with how I finished,” he said.  

Inspired by his fellow Iwate Prefecture-native, Shohei Ohtani pitched a near-perfect game in the Los Angeles Angels 6-0 victory over the Houston Astros on Wednesday. The two-way sensation also hit three home runs in two games at the weekend against the Texas Rangers. Seiya Suzuki, meanwhile, was named as the National League Player of the Week. The Chicago Cubs rookie enjoyed a nine-game hitting streak. That equaled Akinori Iwamura’s record for the longest run to begin an MLB career for a Japanese player. 

Feature image by Anna Petek