O-Bon holiday could last nine days for some Japanese workers, but not everyone is happy about it

For many in Japan, this year’s Bon holiday period in mid-August may be expanded to nine consecutive days, but not everyone is excited about the idea of a long break due to fears that their work will keep piling up.

Mountain Day, a national holiday established in 2016 to encourage people to become familiar with mountains and be thankful for their benefits, is on Aug. 11. Because that falls this year on a Sunday, the following Monday becomes a substitute holiday, creating a three-day weekend.

The Bon holiday period generally runs from Aug. 13 to Aug. 15, although there are some regional differences. Workers can create a nine-day holiday period if they take Friday, Aug. 16 off, leading into another weekend.

Congestion is expected on trains and highways during the holiday period as people travel and visit their hometowns. Japan Railways Group officials said a spike in reservations was expected during Bon.

Reservations for shinkansen and limited express trains between Aug. 9 and Aug. 18 have seen a 2 percent increase over last year, JR officials said. The Sanyo Shinkansen and Kyushu Shinkansen were in particularly high demand, they said. The mass exodus from major cities is expected to peak on Aug. 10, the first day of the nine-day period.

In an online survey by travel booking website airtrip.jp, which polled 748 people ranging in age from their 20s to 70s about their summer vacation plans, 62.7 percent said they were happy to take a vacation, but 13.0 percent were unhappy due to fears about work stacking up and congestion.

A 40-year-old man who responded to the survey said that he would prefer to be able to take holidays based on his convenience rather than at set times of the year.

Only 13.0 percent of respondents said they were planning to take a full nine days off.

Similar mixed feelings about long holiday periods emerged during this year’s unprecedented 10-day Golden Week, from April 27 to May 6, which was created by special holidays related to the accession to the throne of Emperor Naruhito.

Passports, maiden names, brackets: Japan Foreign Minister Taro Kono wades into a minefield

When Foreign Minister Taro Kono wrote on Twitter that he would order his ministry to look into the contentious issue of maiden names on passports in response to a tweet in early June, he may not have been aware of the minefield he was about to step into.

The issue has been a vexing one for some. And with female empowerment guidelines released this year by the government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pledging to ease passport rules to allow for the full-fledged use of maiden names within the fiscal year, it is again being thrust into the national spotlight.

Japan is the only country in the world that doesn’t allow married couples to officially use different surnames, a Justice Ministry official told the Lower House’s Judicial Affairs Committee in March 2018. Rather, the country’s Civil Code requires married couples to choose either the surname of the wife or husband.

Premarital surnames can sometimes be used on passports, including when the person’s surname prior to marriage is academically prestigious or when the person has credible career-related reasons to use the name for work overseas, but the rules are complicated and have led to confusion.

In these cases, applicants can list both their premarital and legal surnames on their passports, with the former in brackets, a practice rarely, if ever, seen in other countries.

As a result, people with such passports often struggle to explain their situations when traveling abroad or registering for visas.

Miki Haga, a 29-year old living in Tokyo who has her maiden name included on her passport, recalled an encounter she had at a hotel in Cambodia.

“I was asked if I was really the person who booked the room,” she said. “I made a reservation with my maiden name, but because my current name is on the passport and my maiden name is in brackets, I had to explain what it meant.”

Kono’s order last month to look into the issue came in response to a tweet by Haga about the difficulties faced when using a passport that includes both her maiden and legal family name.

“I asked if there was any document published by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs that could explain my passport situation,” Haga told The Japan Times.

“I used the passport with the maiden name written in parentheses to apply for a U.K. student visa, but I was anxious that that could affect whether I got in,” she said.

Haga, who plans to study in Britain from September, says she is worried about whether her maiden name will be printed on her diploma, as she intends to continue using it for work.

“Something like an official explanatory letter of what the brackets mean is essential to avoid the prickly misunderstandings on foreign soil,” Haga wrote in the tweets that prompted Kono’s response.

The foreign minister has admitted that the current system could cause problems for travelers, though he has not specifically linked the issue to his government’s female empowerment goals.

“Since the system of listing the name in brackets, including the previous surname, on passports is unique to Japan, it could cause trouble from immigration authorities not familiar with such a system,” Kono wrote in a post to his official blog in June.

The ministry had said in April that the use of passports abroad, together with other forms of identification with different surnames, could leave individuals vulnerable to illegal activities, including fraud and identity theft. And in response to this, as well as Haga’s tweet, the ministry took action in June, releasing an explainer on its website in both English and Japanese.

“We are planning to distribute passport-size portable cards with a similar explanation for travelers as soon as possible,” an official with the ministry’s passport division said without giving further details.

The Foreign Ministry in mid-June also said that it would re-examine the passport application process for having surnames listed in parentheses. It will also re-examine the way it lists the names in order to avoid further trouble for passport holders with two surnames, according to Kono.

In the United States, Britain and Canada, as well as in most European countries, passports with an individual’s premarital surname can be used to travel abroad as long as they match the name printed on travel tickets.

The push in Japan comes on the back of a gradual loosening of restrictions on the common usage of premarital surnames in the country, and other ministries and agencies are also working to allow for the use of previous surnames on official documents.

In one example, applicants for passports featuring their premarital surnames are soon expected to be able to smoothly apply and no longer need to submit documents that certify past activities or work overseas so long as the previous legal name is confirmed in the person’s koseki (family registry).

Yet despite these moves, prior surnames will not be included in passports’ integrated circuit chips that contain personal data, including the holder’s name, birthdate, nationality and passport number, meaning that visa applications and overseas travel ticket purchases must be done using the name currently on the IC chip — regardless of whether or not an individual’s name has changed.

This also includes names added in brackets.

Procedures to add surnames will also be taken for both resident cards and individual number cards by November, a change expected to cost billions of yen, while the National Police Agency said in a June 13 notice that it is currently preparing to allow premarital surnames on driver’s licenses.

Naho Ida, director of Sentakuteki Fufu Bessei Zenkoku Chinjyo Action, a volunteer nongovernmental organization that promotes the rights of married couples to have separate surnames, says it is high time for the government to adopt a system that allows couples to select their surnames instead of the patchwork system allowing their use in certain exceptions.

“Billions of yen are being spent for something that does not fundamentally help us, and potentially invites problems abroad, which the government also recognizes,” she said. “As long as the Foreign Ministry’s concerns aren’t resolved, problems are going to increase, even if the surname application process is eased.”

But beyond saving tax dollars and preventing inconvenience, Ida says reforming the piecemeal approach currently in use would also further empower women.

“It’s no wonder that the validity of my Japanese passport could be questioned when I travel overseas,” said Ida, who has her maiden name written in brackets on her passport. “But when Prime Minister Abe talks about female empowerment, what he is really doing now is working against those pledges.”

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Japan’s plutonium stockpile shrunk in 2018 due to use of MOX fuel for power generation, government reports

The nation’s plutonium stockpile had shrunk as of the end of 2018 by about 1.6 tons from a year earlier, to 45.7 tons, reflecting increased plutonium thermal power generation, the Cabinet Office said Tuesday.

Concerns have grown internationally as Japan possesses a large amount of plutonium, which can be converted into nuclear weapons.

For thermal power generation, spent fuel from nuclear reactors is reprocessed to extract uranium and plutonium, which is then recycled into fuel called mixed oxide (MOX).

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MOX fuel is used at the Nos. 3 and 4 reactors at the Takahama nuclear power plant in Fukui Prefecture, operated by Kansai Electric Power Co., and by the No. 3 reactor at Kyushu Electric Power Co.’s Genkai nuclear plant in Saga Prefecture.

Of the total, some 9 tons are held in Japan and 36.6 tons are in the U.K. and France for reprocessing.

Most of Japan’s nuclear power plants remain offline as they are required to pass newly established safety regulations following the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster.

Actor-turned-politician Taro Yamamoto aims for real-life starring role as future Japan PM

Actor-turned-politician Taro Yamamoto is angling for a new real-life role in which he leads his novice party and allies to victory, ousts long-ruling conservatives and takes over as prime minister within the next few years.

Whether or not he can achieve that ambitious target, Yamamoto says his tiny Reiwa Shinsengumi party — which elected two disabled candidates to the Upper House of the Diet this month — is already having an impact. “Our two lawmakers have not entered parliament yet, but already they are making (the chamber) barrier-free,” he said in an interview. “Even if we are smaller than the number two opposition party, I think we can have a big impact.”

Political experts agree that Reiwa — named after the new imperial era that began in May — can have an impact on policies and attitudes, such as those in relation to people with disabilities. But achieving the longer-term goal would be a long-shot, and might require merging with other groups.

Reiwa was set up three months before the July 21 Upper House vote. It joined a fragmented opposition camp, with a platform heavy on policies aimed at those who remain socially marginalized and economically struggling despite almost seven years of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Abenomics policies to revive growth.

The group’s use of social media and the T-shirt clad Yamamoto’s charismatic stump speeches won him the largest number of votes of any single candidate in the proportional representation part of the election. A priority candidate system propelled the two disabled people to victory even though Yamamoto lost his own seat.

Yamamoto, 44, now plans to run 100 candidates — including himself — in a Lower House election that must be held before late 2021 and is likely, he says, to come within a year. “I’m saying I’m going to take power, so first I have to run for the Lower House,” he said, adding that he wanted to be prime minister but wouldn’t insist if someone else could do the job.

By cooperating with other opposition parties, he aims to expand their presence in the Lower House, defeat Abe’s ruling bloc in a 2022 Upper House poll and take power in the following Lower House election.

“Only a small percentage of the people are grasping control. So to take back control, it’s necessary to have flexible ties with people who don’t vote,” he said. “It’s hard to convince them that they are connected to politics.”

“People’s livelihoods will only become more miserable,” Yamamoto said, predicting that the economy will worsen after a sales tax rise, to 10 percent from 8 percent, planned for October. “As long as we don’t change our direction, our momentum will continue.”

Yamamoto said his priority for inter-party cooperation was agreeing to cut the sales tax to at least 5 percent, in order to relieve the burden on the less-well-off and boost consumption.

His call to abolish the levy has sparked criticism that his policies are fiscally unrealistic. Agreeing to reduce it could be a high hurdle for parties like the biggest opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, which has called for freezing the tax at its current level.

Many economists say a higher sales tax is vital to fund the bulging social security costs of Japan’s aging population.

Japan has seen a flurry of opposition parties since the Democratic Party of Japan ousted the Liberal Democratic Party in 2009 and began a troubled three year reign that ended when Abe took power in December 2012.

The fragmentation has kept many dissatisfied with the ruling bloc from voting. Turnout fell below 50 percent in the Upper House vote for the first time since 1995. Yamamoto admitted the low turnout was a hurdle for his party, which lacks an organized base.

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Germany international ‘must take pay-cut’ to join Arsenal

Juventus midfielder Sami Khedira will have to reduce his current salary if he wants to sign for Arsenal this summer, according to reports in Italy.

Respected Italian journalist Tancredi Palmeri tweeted on Monday that Khedira – who was spotted in the crowd at the Emirates on Sunday – is “close” to joining Arsenal.

World Cup winner Khedira still has a year left on his contract at Juventus, but has been told he can leave the Serie A champions this summer following the arrivals in midfield of Adrien Rabiot and Aaron Ramsey.

And Palmeri is adamant in his belief that Khedira will sign; that despite Gunners boss Unai Emery looking to play down the rumour when questioned after the game.

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“Khedira is a very good player but this is the first time I have heard his name mentioned,” Emery said.

And now Gazzetta dello Sport (via Sportsmole) claim that there is a two-year contract on the table for Khedira ‘worth £70,000 per week’.

The report adds that the offer falls £36,000 a week short of his current wage packet and the World Cup winner will take his time deciding on whether to accept.


Sporting go public over ‘completely false’ £64.9m Man Utd deal claims

Sporting Lisbon have denied one claim surrounding a potential deal that would see midfielder Bruno Fernandes move to Manchester United, according to reports.

Fernandes broke down in tears at the end of Sporting’s 2-1 friendly defeat to Valencia on Sunday and may outlets have described it as a ‘hint’ he could be on the way to the Red Devils.

On Monday A Bola claimed that United are ‘preparing’ an offer of 72million euros (£64.9m) with a further 5million euros (£4.5m) in add-ons, as well as a five-year contract worth 30million euros (£27m).

With further dramatic headlines on Tuesday, including ‘It smells like farewell’ with another headline inside A Bola saying ‘The hour of goodbye’.

RTP (Portugal’s public service broadcaster) via Sport Witness says, after speaking to sources, Sporting are ‘denying’ claims that a Fernandes’ deal to United will only be announced after the midfielder has represented the club in the Portuguese Supertaça on Sunday.

Sporting insist that the rumours “are completely false” but do expect the same specualtion “until the Supertaça identical rumours replicate in the same channels”.

And RTP continues by pouring cold water on Fernandes to United claims with saying that no bids have been made for the Portugal international.


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Pochettino says Tottenham should change his job title

Mauricio Pochettino has repeated his claim that he has no influence on Tottenham’s transfer activity in the wake of his side’s Audi Cup win over Real Madrid in Munich.

Tottenham broke their transfer record to sign Tanguy Ndombele from Lyon earlier this month, but Pochettino says he “knows nothing” – and proposed the situation should be reflected in a change of job title.

Pochettino, who swerved questions regarding the future of Danny Rose, told reporters: “I am not in charge and I know nothing about the situation of my players.

“I am only coaching them and trying to get the best from them. Sell, buy players, sign contract, not sign contract – I think it is not in my hands, it’s in the club’s hands and (chairman) Daniel Levy.

“The club need to change my title and description. Of course I am the boss deciding the strategic play, but in another area I don’t know. Today, I feel like I am the coach.”

Pochettino, who has previously intimated frustration with his club’s transfer policy, watched as Harry Kane’s first-half strike proved enough to see them past Zinedine Zidane’s side.

Kane intercepted a wayward back-pass by Marcelo after 22 minutes and slotted what turned out to be the winner past Keylor Navas.

Rose and Christian Eriksen both started for Spurs despite recent transfer speculation, while Gareth Bale was left in Spain purportedly due to illness.

Real striker Rodrygo saw a goal disallowed for offside before fellow teenager Troy Parrott almost grabbed Tottenham’s second in the dying moments but saw his low shot strike the post.

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DNA tests cast doubt that remains found in Siberia are from WWII Japanese soldiers

The remains of 16 people collected in Siberia and brought to Japan in 2014 as those of Japanese soldiers who died while in detention there after World War II have not been identified as Japanese, welfare ministry officials said Monday.

The DNA test results were reported to the ministry by experts at a closed meeting in August last year, but the ministry did not disclose them at the time, the officials said.

The ministry plans to start talks with Russia at an early date on how to handle the remains, including their possible return, the officials said.

The officials said the ministry failed to make a timely disclosure because it was considering how it would discuss the matter with Russia.

In 2014, a group of ministry officials collected the remains of the 16 people from a burial site in eastern Siberia’s Transbaikal region that was believed to hold the remains of Japanese people, according to the ministry.

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The teeth of the collected remains were brought to Japan, while the other body parts were burned in Siberia. The ministry officials were not accompanied by any Japanese expert to determine whether the remains are those of Japanese, according to the ministry.

About 55,000 Japanese people are believed to have died in Siberia while in detention after the war. Of them, the remains of about 22,000 people were brought back home.

In 2018, it came to light that experts had found that the remains of people collected in the Philippines as those of Japanese soldiers who died during the war were not identified as those of Japanese.

Tokyo subway train decorated with ‘Thomas & Friends’ characters aims to offer a kid-friendly space

A Tokyo subway car decorated with characters from the popular children’s animation “Thomas & Friends” was shown to the media Tuesday, a day before the start of test runs aimed at making train services more accessible for people with young children.

Six cars on the Toei Subway’s Oedo Line will offer “child care support spaces” adorned with locomotive characters from the animation series, which originated in Britain.

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Stickers placed on the exterior of the subway trains will mark the spaces, which were created in an attempt to make people with strollers or children feel more comfortable riding them.

In downtown Tokyo, which is notorious for overcrowded rush-hour trains, passengers with children are often regarded as a nuisance and discouraged from using public transportation services.

“It’s cute,” said Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike upon entering the car. She inspected the space as the metropolitan government operates the subway services.

“This space sends a message that it’s OK to be accompanied by children,” Koike said. “I want to make Tokyo a convenient place to live for everyone.”

Schedules of the child-friendly train operations will be released on the website of the Tokyo government’s Transportation Bureau every morning. The municipality said it will study whether to expand the services after hearing the opinions of users.

Police detail suspect’s visits to ‘holy sites’ from anime series ahead of arson attack on Kyoto studio

KYOTO – The suspect in a deadly arson attack against a Kyoto Animation Co. studio in the city of Kyoto visited key sites related to an anime work produced by the company prior to the July 18 fire, it has been learned.

The Kyoto Prefectural Police are looking at Shinji Aoba’s visits to the sites in detail. The 41-year-old man is allegedly responsible for the attack that took 35 lives and injured many others.

According to police investigators, Aoba traveled from his home in the city of Saitama to Kyoto Prefecture by shinkansen on July 15.

He appeared in security camera footage taken that afternoon near Kyoto Animation’s headquarters in the city of Uji in the prefecture and at JR Rokujizo Station near the attacked studio. Aoba stayed at a hotel in the city of Kyoto that night.

On July 16, the suspect was found to have stayed in an internet cafe near Kyoto Station for about two hours from around 10:30 a.m. Around 2 p.m., a man believed to be Aoba was captured by security cameras at locations around JR Uji Station in the city of Uji.

The area around the station is known as the setting for “Sound! Euphonium,” a popular Kyoto Animation series, and several locations are known as “holy sites” among fans. Such sites are shown on a visitor guide map made by the Uji Municipal Government.

On July 17, the day before the attack, Aoba purchased a push cart and containers for gasoline at a store near JR Uji Station. From there, he is thought to have walked some 10 kilometers northward to the scene of the crime.

During his walk he was captured on security cameras near Obaku Station, a “Sound! Euphonium” holy site in Uji, and near Kohata Station, close to the anime producer’s headquarters.

“For Aoba, these visits might have been for inspecting the areas or for sightseeing,” a senior official of the Kyoto Police Department said.

In the attack, Aoba allegedly spread gasoline in the three-story studio of Kyoto Animation and set it on fire. Aoba himself suffered severe burns in the incident and is hospitalized in Osaka Prefecture.

The Kyoto Police Department has obtained an arrest warrant for Aoba and plans to arrest him after he recovers.

The police have confiscated DVDs of Kyoto Animation-related works from Aoba’s home.

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