Big in Japan
September 16, 2020

Japan's parliament elected Yoshihide Suga, the longtime right-hand man to outgoing Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, as the country's new prime minister Wednesday. Suga, 71, was Abe's Cabinet secretary during his record-setting tenure in office. The ruling Liberal Democratic Party selected him party leader Monday, all but ensuring his elevation to prime minister. The lower house of parliament ratified the choice with 314 votes out of 462 cast. Abe, 65, resigned for health reasons and said he will support Suga's government as a lawmaker.

Suga has listed battling the COVID-19 pandemic and turning around a coronavirus-battered economy as his first priorities, and he will also seek to finish Abe's unfinished reforms. He is expected to retain about half of Abe's Cabinet ministers. Peter Weber

September 14, 2020

Japan's ruling Liberal Democratic Party selected Yoshihide Suga as party leader on Monday, virtually assuring that he will be elected prime minister Wednesday in a parliamentary vote. Suga is chief Cabinet secretary and right-hand man to outgoing Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who announced his resignation last month for health reasons. Suga received 377 votes in the party election versus a combined 157 for his two competitors, former Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida former Defense Minister Shigeru Ishiba.

Suga is expected to continue Abe's polices, which he helped promote with an iron fist. He has said his top priorities will be containing the COVID-19 pandemic and reviving the economy. Peter Weber

August 28, 2020

Shinzo Abe, who became Japan's longest-serving prime minister on Monday, will step down due to unspecified health concerns, Japanese media reported and his party confirmed Friday. Abe is expected to announce his resignation in a press conference. He has no successor in his ruling Liberal Party, and he's expected to stay on until a successor is chosen by his party and approved by parliament, though if the health problems turn out to be serious enough, Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso or chief cabinet secretary Yoshihide Suga could take over in a caretaker capacity, AFP reports.

Abe has stepped down for health concerns before, in 2007, less than a year into his first term. When he was elected again in 2012, he said he was managing his ulcerative colitis with new medications. Two hospital visits this month fueled speculation that his health had taken a turn for the worse.

"Abe on Monday became Japan's longest serving prime minister by consecutive days in office, eclipsing the record of Eisaku Sato, his great-uncle, who served 2,798 days from 1964 to 1972," The Associated Press notes, but his poll numbers had hit new lows due to his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and its economic fallout, as well as a number of political scandals. Peter Weber

November 20, 2017

On Sunday night, the U.S. military ordered all service members in Okinawa to stay on base or at their off-base residence and banned alcohol consumption by all service members on mainland Japan at all times and in all places, following a fatal crash early Sunday morning. In the crash, an unidentified U.S. Marine and a 61-year-old Japanese man collided in Naha, Okinawa prefecture, killing the Japanese man and leaving the Marine slightly injured. Kazuhiko Miyagi of the Okinawa police told Voice of America that the Marine's blood alcohol level registered three times the legal limit in a breath test.

About half of the 50,000 U.S. troops stationed in Japan are on Okinawa, and their presence has met with local resistance, especially after U.S. military personnel behave badly off base. Sunday's order mandated training on responsible alcohol consumption, risk management, and other acceptable behaviors not just for military personnel but also U.S. government civilians stationed Japan. Peter Weber

September 16, 2016

On Thursday, Japan's main opposition Democratic Party selected Renho Murata as its new leader and first woman to lead the party. Renho, 48, has served in the upper house of Japan's Diet, or parliament, for more than a decade, and before that she was a model and TV news anchor. Her easy win over two male opponents follows a good few months for women in Japan's government, Motoko Rich notes at The New York Times, following the election of Tokyo's first female governor, Yuriko Koike, and appointment of Japan's second female defense minister, Tomomi Inada.

Japan has been less successful elevating women to positions of power than its Asian neighbors and global economic peers, and women still hold only 15 percent of Diet seats. But having Renho at its helm might help the Democratic Party make inroads against the ruling conservative Liberal Democrats of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. "Of the three candidates, she was the only one who has any chance of turning around the party's fortunes," Gill Steel, an associate professor of politics at Kyoto's Doshisha University, tells The New York Times. "A party led by and comprised mainly of older men, particularly when younger women are touted as a reformist alternative, does not project an attractive image."

Renho's Taiwanese heritage, on the other hand, could prove a problem in Japan. She was born in Japan to a Japanese mother and Taiwanese father, and because Japan only allowed citizenship for children of Japanese fathers until 1985, Renho was a Taiwanese citizen until she was 17 years old. Japan's Socialist Party elected the first female leader of a major party, Takako Doi, 30 years ago, when it was the largest opposition party. Peter Weber

August 8, 2016

On Monday, Japan's Emperor Akihito made his second-ever televised address, gently nudging Japan's parliament to act so he can step down and pass the throne to his eldest son, Crown Prince Naruhito, 56. Akihito, 82 and in poor health, has been emperor since his father, Emperor Hirohito, died in 1989. It is widely known that he wants to abdicate, but he had to approach the subject indirectly, because Japan's post-World War II constitution doesn't allow the emperor to engage in politics.

"I am concerned that it will become more and more difficult for me to fulfill my duties as a symbolic emperor," Akihito said in his prerecorded, 10-minute message. If he gets too infirm to fulfill his obligations now, "a regency may be established to act in the place of the emperor," he said, but "even in such cases, however, it does not change the fact that the emperor continues to be the emperor till the end of his life." Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, whose conservative government does not share the Japanese public's strong support for letting the emperor retire, said Monday that "considering His Majesty's age, the burden of his official duties, and his anxieties, we must think carefully about what can be done."

Japan's Chrysanthemum Throne is the world's oldest hereditary monarchy, dating back nearly 2,700 years, The New York Times reports, and while "historically, it was extremely common for emperors to abdicate," according to Takeshi Hara, an expert on Japan's imperial family, it became impossible in the 19th century, when Japanese leaders created a cult of emperor worship. That lasted until Hirohito declared after World War II that he was not a god. You can read Emperor Akihito's entire speech at BBC News. Peter Weber

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