This Week In Japan #20 (August 21th, 2020)

Increased cases of heat stroke as Japan’s brutal heat wave continues. And more big news stories!

August 22, 2020

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Hosts of This Week In Japan

Julian Domanski

Born in England, Julian is a writer, videographer & musician living in Tokyo. When he’s not drinking copious amounts of English Tea, he can be found studying Japanese or trying to master the surprisingly complex basics of the Jiuta Shamisen.

Yasuharu Matsuno

Founder of Japan Insider (Former Ryu Tokyo). Japanese-born entrepreneur. Yasu spent his life around the globe – Japan, Singapore, Switzerland, Australia, and the U.S. He hopes he had more time to play Japanese RPGs. MBA from Columbia University in the City of New York.

Scorching Summer Sees Record-setting Temperatures in Japan

Temperatures in Hamamatsu, Shizuoka rose to sweltering highs of 41.1 degrees Celsius this Tuesday. Photo sourced from https://english.kyodonews.net/

After an unusually long rainy season this year, summer temperatures have spiked to brutal levels. As of now, over 100 people have died in Tokyo alone from heat stroke. Most of the victims were aged above 70, and investigations indicated that they were not using or did not have air conditioning.  

In Shizuoka Prefecture, Hamamatsu tied with Japan’s highest recorded temperature ever this Tuesday at a sizzling 41.1 degrees Celsius. The previous area to have the same temperature was in Kumagaya in Saitama Prefecture two years ago. 

Japan has been in the middle of a serious heat wave since last week, with several cities across the country reaching above 40 (104 in Fahrenheit) degrees. The heat wave is expected to continue until next week, and all citizens are encouraged to avoid direct sunlight, drink water, and to use their air conditioning when possible.

Health Concerns as Prime Minister Abe Visits Hospital

Concerns over Prime Minister Abe Shinzo’s health have been dismissed as rumors. Photo sourced from vox.com

On Monday morning, Prime Minister Abe Shinzo entered Keio University hospital in Tokyo. A hospital official told reporters that his visit was a follow-up from a regular health check up from June. 

But that has not eased the flood of rumors spreading about the prime minister`s health. His recent lack of a proper summer holiday due to Tokyo Governor Koike`s attempts to lessen travel may be starting to catch up with him. At a recent assembly on August 9th for the 75th anniversary of the atomic bombing, Minister Abe seemed to struggle with reading his prepared answers and spoke in a raspy voice. 

Other TV personalities have also pointed to the heavy criticism he and his party have recently been facing at one possibility for a decline in health. As it stands, Abe`s cabinet is sitting at a 54% disapproval rating according to Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper. Heavy blame for how Corona is being handled, lack of proper rest, and record-breaking summer heat could be taking a toll. 

In 2007, he was forced to resign due to chronic ulcerative colitis. If his condition were to once again worsen, opposing parties would likely call his ability to lead into question. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga insists that the prime minister’s condition is fine in response to a rumor that he had coughed up blood in his office.

People Can`t Stop Sleeping on Roads in Okinawa

The strange phenomenon of street sleepig in a common occurrence in Okinawa. Photo sourced from sirabee.com

An odd problem is plaguing the southernmost prefecture of Okinawa. Rojone, which literally means, sleeping on roads, is once again becoming common as summer brings heat and increased drinking.

For some reason, Okinawan residents seem to be tempted to take to the streets instead of their beds when the alcohol hits. Pictures of previous cases provided by the police department show citizens snugly cozied up and asleep in the middle of the street or on a sidewalk, often at night. One theory the police have is that the road, and adjoining sidewalk, is cool and reminds people of their bed and a pillow. It is easy to imagine why many car accidents, fights, and even deaths are often linked with rojone cases.

There were over 7,000 cases of rojone reported last year in Okinawa. Even with Corona, it seems the cases are not settling down. In a similar pattern to the previous year, around 2,700 calls have been made concerning rojone from January to June. Recently instated Prefectural Police Chief Tadataka Miyazawa appears to be as equally surprised as most people are to hear just how common this phenomenon can be. He had never heard of the word rojone until coming to Okinawa, and believes that Okinawa is the only place to actually keep a record of these kinds of incidents. 

New High Speed Maglev Bullet Train Faces Potential Setbacks 

Japan’s Maglev rail will works by using magnets to float. Photo sourced from asia.nikkei.com

Japan`s construction of it`s newest model of bullet train, the Maglev Chuo Shinkansen, has been underway since 2014, but a recent setback may delay it`s scheduled 2027 partial opening. 

The Chuo Shinkansen will implement maglev technology. The name maglev is short for magnetic levitation, and involves using 2 sets of very powerful magnets to levitate the train off the ground and to push it forward. The lack of friction from this allows maglev trains to comfortably transport passengers at record speeds.  The Chuo Shinkansen project is currently scheduled for a 2027 partial opening, connecting Tokyo to Nagoya in about 40 minutes, cutting off an incredible 50 minutes from the current shinkansen time. However, construction has recently come to a standstill in Shizuoka. 

Current construction plans would go through the Southern Alps, which provides water to the Oigawa River. This would reportedly cause groundwater to flow into the tunnel, draining a large amount of water from the river (approximately 2 tons per second). Shizuoka Governor Kawakatsu Heita is holding off giving permission to build the 9 kilometer tunnel while in discussions with Central Japan Railways. 

Representatives of Central Japan Railways insist that there will be no environmental damage to the river due to an implementation of underground waterways and pumps to redirect the water, but have yet to provide solid evidence to support this claim. Governor Kawakatsu is remaining steadfast in his decision to hold off in the meantime while other options are discussed. According to him, the Oigawa River is an important part of life for many of the local residents.

Man Arrested After Attempting to Reach Tokyo on Stolen Mom Bike

A typical “mamachari” or mom bike. One man rode over 1000 kilometers on a similar bicycle.

On August 10, a man from Kagoshima was arrested in Kanagawa Prefecture after admitting to bike theft. The Kyushu native was attempting to make it to Tokyo on a stolen mamachari, or mom bicycle, which are identifiable by their baskets, large wheels and seating position. He had originally intended to reach Tokyo on foot, but ended up stealing the bike out of a garage in Tamana City, Kumamoto when walking became too much. 

The 53-year-old man is unemployed and has no fixed address. When asked about his reasoning for heading to Tokyo, he stated that because he was from a remote island and had never been, he wanted to try and go. 

By the time he was arrested in Kanagawa, he had already managed to travel over 1,000 kilometers on the mamachari. His arrest came after police became suspicious of the older man pushing a mamachari up a hill with an umbrella strapped to it on a sunny day. When stopped and questioned, he admitted to everything. 

His journey from stealing the bike in Tamana City to his arrest totaled 78 days. He is thought to have used the Kanmon Pedestrian Tunnel that connects Kyushu to Honshu. Despite the bike theft, his simple dream is being praised across Japan in the form of people leaving comments in support of his dream to see Tokyo. 

Christian Dakin

Christian Dakin is an editor, designer, and video game director currently based out of Tokyo, Japan. Originally from a small town in Georgia, he studied in Japan for a year in college before returning again for work. Christian enjoys studying Japanese and the outdoors. In his off time, he is most likely to be found adventuring to a castle, belting it out in karaoke with friends, or in a gym somewhere.

More articles by Christian Dakin

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