Welcome to News of Note, a weekly news summary highlighting just a few noteworthy stories from Japan.
The Emperor Recovers
Many in Japan breathe a sigh of relief as Emperor Akihito begins a safe recovery from recent surgery. The 78-year-old Emperor underwent coronary artery bypass surgery on Saturday, after being diagnosed with angina earlier this month. Health issues have followed the aging Emperor for the past several years.
The surgery was performed at University of Tokyo Hospital in Bunkyo Ward, Tokyo. It lasted approximately four hours and completed without any complications or excessive bleeding. The Imperial Household Agency reported Sunday that the Emperor was recovering in the company of his wife, Empress Michiko, and had even requested permission to read books.
Emperor Akihito is the 125th emperor of his line. He ascended the throne in 1989, following his father Hirohito’s reign of 62 years. His heir apparent, Crown Prince Naruhito, will perform the duties of state during his father’s recovery. The IHA has established 13 locations for well-wishers from the general public to register their names in visitors books, to be delivered to the Emperor.
(To learn more about the Imperial Family, see the English-language Imperial Household Agency website:http://www.kunaicho.go.jp/eindex.html)
Futenma Remains but Marines on the Move
Earlier this month, senior U.S. officials sounded a familiar refrain: for the time being, the Futenma Air Station will remain in its current location in Ginowan, Okinawa Prefecture. It appears that the U.S. and Japan are at an impasse over the relocation plan, the discussions of which began as early as 1996.
This announcement coincides with the election of Atsushi Sakima as the new mayor of Ginowan. Sakima has long been involved in local politics and is a vocal supporter for the base move. However, the Mayor disagrees—as many Okinawans do—with the relocation strategy. Since discussions first began, U.S. and Japanese officials targeted the northern coastal area of Henoko Bay as the site for the new base construction. Sakima and others demand that the base be removed from the island entirely.
In the densely populated Futenma city, complaints about the base range from noise and air pollution to the danger of crashes, such as an infamous helicopter crash in 2004. Yet the military presence is also credited with supporting the local economy and providing jobs for residents. The controversy surrounding Futenma is revisited on a regular basis, with unfortunately no resolution in sight.
U.S. officials did agree to reassign 4,700 Marines from Futemna to a base location on the island of Guam. This number was negotiated down from an original count of 8,000. It is unlikely the U.S. military presence will decrease in the region, as concerns mount over recent power plays made by China and North Korea. There are approximately 35,000 military personnel currently stationed in Japan.
(You can read more about the facilities at Futenma on GlobalSecurity.org:http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/facility/futenma.htm)
TEPCO to Raise Rates, Resist Government
Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) is currently engaged in a power struggle with the Japanese government, amidst rising criticism and calls for cooperation from the business sector. At stake are the control of the company and the price of electricity in April.
TEPCO, recognized internationally as the operator of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, has shouldered its share of notoriety over the past year. When the company announced in January that it planned to raise electricity rates on corporate customers, it caused concern.
The government is working closely with TEPCO to provide it with the money it requires for the payment of claims. This money is meant to be used for compensation payments to the March 11th disaster victims, which total an estimated 1.7 trillion yen. Initial funds were approved as early as November 2011 and more funds were granted to TEPCO as recently as Monday.
However, TEPCO officials are simultaneously resisting the call to hand management of the company over to the Japanese government. The government has requested it be granted stake in the company, in the form of voting rights that would grant it a majority control. TEPCO President Toshi Nishizawa insists that further discussion is necessary. Yukio Edano, the Economy, Trade, and Industry Minister warns that TEPCO cannot expect to keep receiving an injection of funds if it will not cooperate.
Meanwhile, representatives of the corporate sector have come out publicly to either reprimand TEPCO for the intended rate hikes or even to plead reconsideration. TEPCO also announced a rate hike for households, but not potentially until 2013.
(You can follow the work of Yukio Edano and the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry by visiting the METI English-language website: http://www.meti.go.jp/english/)