In this week’s news roundup, we take a closer look at Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy‘s speech to Japan’s parliament. It was an address that clearly left a big impression on both lawmakers and the public here. The question now, though, is what impact will it have in regard to future actions by Japan against Russia? 

Also this week, we report on the breakdown in talks between Japan and Russia over the disputed Kuril Islands. There was relief on Tuesday as Tokyo and surrounding areas narrowly avoided a power outage. And in sport, Hajime Moriyasu’s men booked their place at the FIFA 2022 World Cup with a 2-0 win over Australia. 

Zelenskyy Warns of Potential Russian Chemical Attack in Stirring Speech 

On Wednesday Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy became the first foreign leader to address Japanese lawmakers at the Diet via a video link. The former comedian turned heroic leader praised Japan for being “the first in Asia to put real pressure on Russia to restore peace.” He then called on the government here to continue imposing sanctions on Moscow. “To stop the tsunami of brutal invasion, trade with Russia must be banned. Also, companies must leave the Russian market so money is not spent on the Russian military.” 

The 12-minute speech included many references to key moments in Japan’s recent history. Alluding to the dangerous situation near the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, Zelenskyy invoked memories of the 2011 meltdown in Fukushima. He also spoke about the possibility of Russia using chemical or nuclear weapons. “I have received reports that Russia is preparing chemical attacks by using chemical weapons such as sarin,” said Ukraine’s president. 27 years ago this month, the doomsday cult Aum Shinrikyo unleashed sarin gas on the Tokyo subway system, killing 14 people.  

Sergiy Korsunsky, Ambassador of Ukraine to Japan

Reaction to Zelenskyy’s Address  

Zelenskyy was given a standing ovation following the speech. It clearly left a big impression on those in attendance, but will it lead to more sanctions against Russia? Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s words after watching the live stream, suggested it might. “Russia’s outrageous act is utterly unacceptable. I’ve renewed my determination to support people facing difficulties in Ukraine, together with the international community,” said the PM. He added that he was touched by the Ukrainian president’s determination to protect his country and people from Russian attacks. 

Sergiy Korsunsky, Ambassador of Ukraine to Japan, was in the room with Kishida. He told Tokyo Weekender he could sense that the speech had a big impact on the PM. “I was sat near Mr. Kishida, Yoshimasa Hayashi (Minister of Foreign Affairs) and Nobuo Kishi (Minister of Defense),” said Korsunsky. “You could see how deep their sympathy was towards Ukraine. I was overwhelmed with the compassion they showed. I feel our president touched the hearts of both politicians and ordinary people with this speech.” 

Russia Suspend Peace Talks Over Disputed Kuril Islands  

Russia has reacted to Japan’s sanctions by suspending talks over the disputed Kuril Islands, known as the Northern Territories here. The four islands were annexed by the Soviet Union towards the end of World War II. While the USSR didn’t sign the Treaty of Peace with Japan in 1951, the two countries did sign a joint declaration five years later, ending their formal state of war. During negotiations, Japan turned down the offer of the two smaller islands in exchange for renouncing the bigger ones.  

The question over who they belong to hasn’t been resolved and relations between the two nations have now broken down. “All responsibility for the damage to bilateral cooperation and the interests of Japan itself lies with Tokyo. Japan deliberately made a choice in favor of an anti-Russian course instead of developing mutually beneficial cooperation and good neighborliness,” said Russia’s Foreign Ministry. Unsurprisingly, Kishida has taken a different stance. “This entire situation has been created by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine,” he said. “Russia’s response to push this onto Japan-Russia relations is extremely unfair.”   

Erika and Yurie Kamura performing at a concert

Japanese Sisters Anxious about Fiancés   

As the bombs continue to rain down on Ukraine, the anxiety grows for Erika and Yurie Kamura. The Japanese sisters are both engaged to Ukrainian nationals, who they speak to everyday, but only for a short time. “I call him to confirm that he is safe,” says Erika of her fiancé Volodymyr Goshovskyi. “He is currently receiving military training while patrolling the streets of Lyviv. Though it is a relatively safe city, nobody knows where the missiles will fly as the air strikes are at night. I’m anxious about him.”  

Erika and her sister moved to Ukraine’s capital of Kyiv in 2018 to study music. They met their fiancés a year later. The two women held piano concerts throughout Ukraine, but opportunities diminished due to the Covid-19 pandemic. They decided to go back to Japan for what they thought would be a short time, but haven’t been able to return to Ukraine. Before departing, their partners proposed. The sisters are performing many charity concerts for their adopted country, including one in Kamakura on April 10. 

Blackouts Avoided after Energy Conservation Pleas  

Businesses and households dimmed lights and turned down thermostats after the government warned of potential blackouts in and around the capital this week. Last Wednesday’s powerful earthquake in northeastern Japan led to several power plants suspending operations. Due to some remaining offline and the unseasonably cold weather, Japan was facing its biggest power crisis since 2011. An alert was raised on Monday evening for areas served by Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco). Supply was expected to fall short of demand the following evening.  

With usage in Tepco’s service area exceeding 100 percent at one stage on Tuesday, things weren’t looking good. Koichi Hagiuda, the minister of economy, trade and industry, subsequently called a press conference, asking people to save electricity. It had the desired effect. Some companies sent their employees home early, many shops turned off their neon signs and Tokyo Skytree went dark. Power consumption was reduced by nearly five gigawatts. That’s equivalent to something like five nuclear reactors. The power shortage warning was lifted on Wednesday morning.  

Magnificent Mitoma Wins it for Japan 

Kaoru Mitoma was the hero as Japan booked their place at this year’s soccer World Cup in Qatar. The 24-year-old winger, on loan at Union SG from Brighton, came off the bench to bag a brace as Hajime Moriyasu’s men won 2-0 in Australia. It was no more than the away side deserved, however, the Socceroos did have a goal controversially ruled out. Despite Japan’s domination, a goalless draw looked on the cards until substitute Mitoma swept home in the 89th minute. He then put the icing on the cake with a second in injury time.  

There were plenty of Japanese players on the scoresheet in Europe earlier in the week. In Scotland, Daizen Maeda grabbed his sixth goal for Celtic in the Hoops 4-0 win over Ross County. Ritsu Doan also found the net for the sixth time this season in Holland as PSV defeated Fortuna Sittard 5-0. Across the border in Belgium, Junya Ito, Taichi Hara and Musashi Suzuki all added to their tallies for the season, while Hayao Kawabe scored for Swiss side Grasshoppers Club Zürich. In the J-League, Vissel Kobe fired manager Atsuhiro Miura following a poor start to the campaign.