TIME Japan

These Are Japan’s Coolest New Trains

Japan has unveiled several new luxury trains, most recently East Japan Railway Company's Cruise Train, designed by Ferrari designer Ken Okuyama. Here's a look at the new opulent way to travel around Japan's most scenic routes

TIME Japan

Tokyo’s Robot Restaurant Boasts Fembot Battles and Ninja Stage Hands

The restaurant opened in the Kabukicho district at a reported cost of $10 million

What more could you ask for in a restaurant than large female robots, ninja costumes and gold urinals? You’ll find all of the above at Tokyo’s Robot Restaurant.

The neon-flashing, techno-blasting eatery opened two years in Tokyo’s Kabukicho district at a reported cost of about $10 million. And with a $35 entry fee as well as a dress code, admission can be selective.

But Japanese yuppies and college students find the cost worthwhile to watch bikini-clad women direct battles between large female robots while stage hands dressed as ninjas assist offstage. Everyone wins at the Robot Restaurant.

TIME

Police Arrest Japanese Artist Who Invited Fans to 3-D Print Her Genitalia

Emailed design files to supporters as a reward for those who crowd-funded her vagina kayak project

A Japanese artist who specializes in vaginally inspired art has been arrested in Tokyo on grounds of obscenity for allegedly emailing design files to her supporters so that they could print 3-D renderings of her genitalia. Or as The Guardian calls it, a “vagina selfie.”

Megumi Igarashi, who works under the name Rokudenashiko, had started a crowd-funding project to create a kayak designed after her vagina. The design files were supposed to be a reward for investors who backed the project.

Igarashi wrote on her campaign’s page that she seeks funding to make her art anatomically precise. “It is extremely difficult to make precise mold. Even when successful, silicone mold will gradually deteriorate, which makes mass production difficult.”

The Tokyo Metropolitan Police arrested the 42-year-old artist for breaking obscenity laws Wired notes hark back to 1907 that prohibit the display of genitalia. But the artist argues that the data itself isn’t adult material. “I cannot understand why the police recognize the 3D data as obscene material,” she said, according to TechCrunch.

Other projects Igarishi has made designed on her vagina include a comic-book, a remote controlled car, and a lampshade.

A Change.org petition has been launched to protest Igarashi’s arrest.

[The Guardian]

TIME China

Many Asian Nations Believe That a War With China Is Looming

Abner Afuang, a retired policeman, sets fire to an inverted Chinese national flag in a protest action in Manila,
Abner Afuang, a retired policeman, sets fire to an inverted Chinese national flag during a protest in Manila on June 9, 2014. Romeo Ranoco—Reuters

A majority in the Asian countries polled in a new Pew study say they fear a looming military conflict with China

China’s neighbors fear the worst is yet to come.

Strong-arm tactics and tough talk coming from Beijing in the past year have succeeded in convincing neighboring countries that war may just be around the corner, according to a new poll released by the Pew Research Center.

“In all 11 Asian nations polled, roughly half or more say they are concerned that territorial disputes between China and its neighbors will lead to a military conflict,” read the report published by the Washington, D.C.-based think tank on Monday.

In Vietnam, where relations with Beijing have been exceptionally tense since a state-owned Chinese drilling platform moved into disputed waters near the Paracel Islands in early May, 84% of participants said they were “very” or “somewhat” concerned that territorial disputes could lead to war.

In Japan, which is embroiled with Beijing in disputes over vacant outcroppings in the East China Sea, 85% concurred.

Farther south in the Philippines, 93% of those polled feared the possibility of conflict with China. The archipelago nation has a number of ongoing disputes with China in the South China Sea and, much to Beijing’s chagrin, is pursuing international arbitration in a bid to settle those claims.

While many of the territorial disagreements with China have been ongoing for years, a number of incidents initiated by Beijing in the past nine months have led to increasingly strained ties across the region.

The perennially taut relationship between Tokyo and Beijing reached a flash point late last year when China unilaterally declared the establishment of an air-defense zone that covered the skies over disputed isles in the East China Sea.

Both Manila and Hanoi have meanwhile accused China of maintaining a large presence of paramilitary vessels, coast-guard ships and fishing boats in disputed maritime areas in a bid to edge rival nations out of contested waters. Experts following the region say the tactic must have had clearance from the upper echelons of power in Beijing.

“Xi Jinping and the central military commission as well as key figures in Zhongnanhai — they took a calculated risk,” Alexander Neill, Shangri-La Dialogue Senior Fellow with the International Institute for Strategic Studies’ Asia office, tells TIME. “China is testing the tensile strength of the sort of hub-and-spokes alliance system in the region.”

A majority of the Filipinos, Japanese, Vietnamese and South Koreans surveyed considered China as their nation’s top threat and the U.S. as their nation’s most important ally, according to Pew.

Only Pakistani and Malaysian respondents named the U.S. as their top foe and saw China as their biggest ally. (Indonesia was the lone country where respondents named the U.S. as both their biggest threat and No. 1 partner.)

The publication of the Pew poll comes after Washington has upped both economic and military cooperation with its Asian allies and fostered relations with former foe Vietnam to counter China’s increasingly brazen moves in the Asia-Pacific. Beijing has not responded kindly.

“What we seem to be seeing is increasing polarization in Washington and in Beijing,” says Neill. “The Sino-U.S. relationship is going through a rocky period.”

Last week, the U.S. Senate passed a resolution calling on China to avoid engaging in behavior that would “destabilize the Asia-Pacific region” and to refrain from enforcing its air-defense zone.

But Beijing does not appear to be interested in backing down. An editorial published in the state-linked Global Times on Monday fired back at Washington.

“[China] has the right to safeguard its sovereignty and it has no intention to go to war,” read the editorial. “China will not make trouble, but equally is unafraid of any trouble.”

TIME Japan

Is Shinzo Abe’s Notion of ‘Womenomics’ Just a Pipe Dream in Sexist Japan?

Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe leaves a news conference at his official residence in Tokyo
Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe leaves a news conference at his official residence in Tokyo on June 24, 2014. Abe has unveiled a package of measures aimed to boost Japan's long-term economic growth, from phased-in corporate tax cuts to a bigger role for women and foreign workers Yuya Shino—Reuters

As the Japanese Prime Minister's government pushes economic reform, it faces a major challenge: uprooting a male-centric business culture

On a recent state visit to Australia, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe spoke of his plans to lift Japan from its economic doldrums and of the role women will play in that rejuvenation.

“Women have the greatest potential,” he told the business publication Nikkei, “and allowing them to demonstrate their full abilities is the core of our growth strategy.”

It wasn’t the first time Abe invoked gender equality in his developmental rhetoric. In September last year, he wrote an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal, in which he extolled the virtues of “womenomics”: “A country that hires and promotes more women grows economically.” Soon after the piece ran, Abe declared to the U.N. General Assembly his intention to “create a society in which women shine.”

The Abe government’s intent to rectify Japan’s gender imbalance is a key component in what has been dubbed Abenomics, a series of initiatives to prop up growth in the country. The first two “arrows” of the program have garnered praise among market watchers, who attribute low unemployment levels and a favorable exchange rate to aggressive fiscal stimulus and monetary easing. The third arrow, however, which aims at structural reforms to bolster Japan’s competitiveness, centers on the much more difficult task of overhauling a largely male-centric business culture.

“I used to be one of those people who would roll their eye at cries of sexism, and feminists terrified me,” says Mona Nomura, a Japanese woman raised in the U.S. “But moving to Japan has changed all of that.” Nomura, who works for an e-commerce company, says she has had an executive walk out of a meeting with her at the office, unhappy with her questions. She’s also been told to “go back to the U.S.,” where independent women are more welcome, by Japanese male acquaintances.

The numbers certainly paint a picture of a system less than inviting to women. On average, female workers earn 30.2% less than their male counterparts, and, according to 2012 data from the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, women only occupied 11% of managerial positions in the private sector.

It’s a similar scenario of inequality in politics. Government estimates in 2011 noted that women took up just 0.8% of town and village mayorships throughout the country. Female legislators only made up 8% of Japan’s lower house of parliament and 16% of the upper house.

A public outburst at the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly in June showcased just that sort of male-dominated brand of politics. Akihiro Suzuki, an assemblyman who has since resigned from Abe’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party but not his post, shouted at female lawmaker Ayaka Shiomura to “get married as soon as possible.” Another colleague heckled, “Can’t you even bear a child?” as Shiomura delivered a speech advocating more government support for pregnant women and young mothers.

Oyaji cannot be changed,” says Kotoyo Obikawa, an office worker in Tokyo, using the Japanese word for middle-aged man. “Teach gender equality to schoolkids.” She says sexism at her place of work remains rife — she has been asked as a project manager to do secretarial work and is obliged to pour drinks for men at parties. “Sexism is deeply rooted in Japanese culture,” she adds. “A lot of people unconsciously discriminate against women.”

But if the principles of womenomics are anything to go by, Japan’s future largely depends on its ability to uproot that status quo. Kathy Matsui, co-head of Asia investment Research at Goldman Sachs and longtime champion of womenomics, wrote last year that Japan could raise its GDP by as much as 14% if female participation in the workforce expanded to 80%. In an earlier report, Matsui and her colleagues noted an added benefit to bridging the gender gap: “Contrary to popular opinion, higher female employment could actually help raise, not lower, fertility rates.” That would help insulate Japan from the impending economic challenges posed by its aging population.

With that in mind, Abe has set targets, albeit some optimistic ones in the eyes of critics. He declared the goal of boosting female workforce participation from 68% to 73% by 2020 and challenged Japanese corporations to have women in 30% of top managerial positions, also by the end of the decade. As if to lead by example, Abe set the same 30% target for supervisory roles in the civil service, but his government has thus far only achieved a 3% rate. It remains to be seen how exactly his government plans to meet its lofty ideals.

Michael Woodford, the former CEO of Japanese optics company Olympus, says the recognition of the need for reform is “a positive sign of meaningful change in Japan.” He adds, however, that “it’s going to be a long and arduous journey to alter the entrenched behaviors of what I found to be an incredibly chauvinistic corporate world.”

Japan’s Minister of State for Gender Equality, Masako Mori, cited myriad challenges that need to be taken on in the reform process, among them better child-care support and more opportunities for female advancement in the workplace. “I’ve cursed the world around me as I’ve worked,” she said in an interview with Bloomberg. “It’s just so hard for women to work in this country.”

For the likes of Nomura, who are deep in the as yet inadequate bureaucracy, the hope lies in the waiting. “As everything else in Japan goes,” she says, “it will take a very, very, very long time.”

Correction: The original version of this story misspelled the first name of Japan’s Minister of State for Gender Equality, Masako Mori.

TIME Japan

Japanese PM Abe’s Security-Policy Shift Blamed for Local Poll Loss

Japan's PM Abe delivers an address to both houses of parliament in Australia's House of Representatives chamber at Parliament House in Canberra
Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe delivers an address to both houses of parliament in Australia's House of Representatives chamber at Parliament House in Canberra July 8, 2014. Lukas Coch—Reuters

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe faces backlash just weeks after reversing Japan’s security policy

The first signs of a backlash against Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe have appeared since he dramatically changed the country’s defense policy earlier this month.

Abe’s party, the Liberal Democrats, lost a gubernatorial election in Shiga prefecture in what is perceived as a protest vote against the July 1 ending of the country’s ban on “collective self-defense,” reports Reuters.

The pacifist policy has defined postwar Japan, but Abe argued that the nation needs a new security policy in the current political climate, hinting at territorial disputes with China. In response, however, voter support for the 59-year-old Premier has already dropped below 50%, according to a recent public-opinion survey.

Abe is not up for re-election until 2016, but three other prefectures will elect governors later this year. Japan will also have several more polls next April.

The ballot also revealed divisions within the Japanese electorate regarding the East Asian nation’s nuclear policy following the 2011 Fukushima nuclear meltdown.

Many voters in Shiga prefecture are wary of the Prime Minister’s plans to restart nuclear reactors in neighboring Fukui prefecture. By contrast, Shiga’s new governor, Democratic Party member Taizo Mikazuki, called for Japan to reduce its reliance on nuclear power.

[Reuters]

TIME Pentagon

U.S. Stepping Up Scrutiny of China’s Military Moves

Uotsuri Island
This is one of the disputed Senkaku islands, controlled by Japan but sought by China. The U.S. has a treaty obligation to Japan to defend the islands. Asahi Shimbun/Getty Images

Seeks status quo in region without “containing” Beijing

Sometimes, the delicacies of diplomacies require lying. Or, as the foreign-service set puts it, diplomacy.

“Let me emphasize to you today: the U.S. does not seek to contain China,” Secretary of State John Kerry said Wednesday at the two-day China-U.S. Strategic and Economic Dialogue in Beijing.

That was hard to square with the headline atop a story in Thursday’s Financial Times newspaper: Pentagon plans new tactics to deter China in South China Sea. U.S. officials say increased air and sea patrols in the region should be expected as part of President Obama’s “pivot” to the Pacific.

Neither Washington nor Beijing can get all it wants.

“The U.S. has carved out a limited number of steps that it is willing to take to signal the Chinese that the U.S. has an interest in preventing coercion, and in trying to compel a peaceful resolution of disputes,” says Bonnie Glaser, a Chinese military expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

The U.S. wants to keep playing the key cop in the western Pacific, a beat it has sailed since World War II. It wants to preserve the status quo. Many nations in the region appreciate the U.S. military presence, given their bloody histories with the Middle Kingdom.

But China has made clear it has expansionist aims, as its economy grows and it seeks small islands, reefs and atolls long claimed by Japan, the Philippines and other neighbors. Any one of these claims could spark shooting that could trigger war.

Thomas P.M. Barnett, a former Pentagon official and now the chief analyst at the private Wikistrat intelligence firm, says the U.S. needs to raise the price for such Chinese mischief. “Every great power goes through its reckless `teenage years,’” he says. “Beijing will persist in these 19th century behaviors for some time, but it needs to be educated—as unimperiously as possible—that such tactics come with great costs in the 21st-century interdependencies that define globalization.”

The Obama Administration has been making that clear. “In recent months, China has undertaken destabilizing, unilateral actions asserting its claims in the South China Sea,” Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said in Singapore in May. “It has restricted access to Scarborough Reef, put pressure on the long-standing Philippine presence at the Second Thomas Shoal, begun land reclamation activities at multiple locations, and moved an oil rig into disputed waters near the Paracel Islands…we firmly oppose any nation’s use of intimidation, coercion, or the threat of force to assert those claims.”

Yet despite Kerry’s claim that “the U.S. does not seek to contain China,” the U.S. has made clear it is willing to go to war to keep China from gaining control of what Japan calls the Senkaku islands, known in China as the Diaoyus. The stakes, in terms of geography, could hardly be smaller: the Senkakus consist of five uninhabited islets and three barren reefs in the East China Sea. But they’re surrounded by waters rich in fish, natural gas and oil.

The Chinese claim Japan stole the islands from them in 1895, based on ancient texts and maps suggesting the islands were theirs; Japan says they were unclaimed by any nation when it took them over. Nationalists in each country insist they belong to their side. Tensions over the islands’ fate have been steadily rising, and spiked in 2012 after Japan’s government bought three of the islands from a Japanese family.

U.S. officials repeatedly stress they have no opinion on the islands’ “ultimate sovereignty.” China is well aware of such American ambiguity. But Hagel said last fall the U.S. is willing to go to war to preserve Tokyo’s control over them: “Since they are under Japan’s administrative control, they fall under United States treaty obligations to Japan.”

Given that U.S. pledge, it may be easier to understand Beijing’s leeriness toward Kerry’s claim the U.S. doesn’t seek to contain China.

TIME Japan

This Is What Supertyphoon Neoguri Looks Like From Space

Supertyphoon Neoguri seen from space, July 7, 2014.
Supertyphoon Neoguri seen from space, July 7, 2014. Alexander Gerst—ESA/NASA

Typhoon Neoguri left at least one person dead Tuesday as it pounded Japan's southwestern islands

TIME North Korea

Japanese Pro-Wrestler Plans Pyongyang Extravaganza

Kanji "Antonio" Inoki, pro wrestling legend turned politician, is surrounded by journalists during a press conference in Tokyo on July 7, 2014.
Kanji "Antonio" Inoki, pro wrestling legend turned politician, is surrounded by journalists during a press conference in Tokyo on July 7, 2014. Kyodo News/AP

About 20 wrestlers and martial artists are expected to attend, although organizers have not announced their names or nationalities

(TOKYO) — North Korean leader Kim Jong Un may have found a new friend for life.

Hot on the heels of former NBA star Dennis Rodman’s basketball antics in Pyongyang on the young leader’s birthday, a Japanese pro wrestling legend turned politician is planning to entertain the North Korean capital with a martial arts extravaganza next month — and hopefully meet some senior leaders while he is there.

Kanji “Antonio” Inoki was to leave for Pyongyang on Wednesday to set the final details for the Aug. 30-31 event, which organizers say will feature pro wrestling, taekwondo, the Japanese martial art aikido and a traditional Korean style of wrestling.

Like Rodman, who said he and Kim were friends for life even though his trip to Pyongyang in January was a public-relations disaster, Inoki is both a savvy showman and charismatically eccentric. For a politician — he’s serving his third term in Japan’s parliament — he is also famously fond of being politically incorrect.

During the Gulf War, Inoki organized a pro wrestling show in Iraq and he has visited North Korea nearly 30 times. His proactive position on Pyongyang ties has gotten him in trouble before. He was suspended in parliament last year for 30 days after making an unauthorized trip to the North.

Government officials are not expected to protest his current plans, however.

Though he is a household name in Japan, the square-jawed, 6-foot-3 Inoki is probably best remembered elsewhere for fighting Muhammad Ali in Tokyo in 1976, though he spent much of the bout on his back kicking at Ali’s legs. Inoki was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2010. He retired from the ring in 1998.

If all goes as planned, this will be the second time Inoki has helped arrange a pro-wrestling show in Pyongyang — and the first was a huge success.

In 1995, Inoki fought American Ric Flair in what was called the “Collision in Korea.” That two-day event, held in Pyongyang’s huge May Day Stadium, drew a reported 380,000 spectators and was the biggest pay-per-view in pro-wrestling history. Ali was among the guest attendees.

Tokyo has cut off virtually all official ties with Pyongyang since 2006 over its nuclear weapons program and other issues, but Inoki runs a non-profit that opened an office in Pyongyang last year to promote international sports exchange. His connection to North Korea comes from his mentor, Rikidozan, a postwar wrestling legend in Japan who was born in the North.

Last week, Tokyo announced it was lifting some unilateral sanctions after the North agreed to revive a probe into the fates of at least a dozen Japanese who were abducted by North Korean agents in the 1970s and 80s. Though Tokyo will continue to enforce UN sanctions over North Korea’s nuclear program, the breakthrough on the abductions issue is expected to allow more contact between the countries.

About 20 wrestlers and martial artists are expected to attend, although organizers have not announced their names or nationalities. Organizers say the International Pro-Wrestling Festival in Pyongyang will likely be broadcast over the Internet. It is to be held at Pyongyang’s Chung Ju-yung Stadium, which has a capacity of 15,000.

Inoki, who is 71, told reporters on Monday that while in Pyongyang for the event he hopes to meet with senior North Korean officials. It remains to be seen whether Kim himself will be among the spectators.

The event would be the biggest sports show with a marquee foreigner since Rodman and a team of other former NBA players and streetballers took to the basketball court in Pyongyang’s Indoor Stadium in January.

Rodman dedicated the game to his “best friend” Kim, who along with his wife and other senior officials and their wives watched from a special seating area. The capacity crowd of about 14,000 clapped loudly as Rodman sang a verse from the birthday song and then bowed deeply to Kim, seated above him in the stands.

Rodman called the event “historic,” but he was widely criticized by members of the U.S. Congress, the NBA and human rights groups who said he had become a public relations tool for North Korea’s government. Rodman apologized publicly for his conduct while in North Korea, and entered rehab soon after his return to the United States.

 

TIME Japan

Typhoon Neoguri Pounds Japan’s Okinawa at Speeds of 108 Miles Per Hour

An image from NASA's Terra satellite shows Typhoon Neoguri in the Pacific Ocean approaching Japan
A Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) image from NASA's Terra satellite shows Typhoon Neoguri in the Pacific Ocean, approaching Japan on its northward journey July 6, 2014. Handout—Reuters

Typhoon Neoguri swept across the southern Japanese islands of Okinawa on Tuesday.

(TOKYO) — A powerful typhoon pounded across the southern Japanese islands of Okinawa on Tuesday, as residents took refuge from destructive winds, towering waves and storm surges.

Airports closed and residents were evacuated from low-lying areas and shorelines as Typhoon Neoguri was passing through Okinawa, packing sustained winds of 175 kilometers (108 miles) per hour and gusts up to 250 kph (154 mph), the Japan Meteorological Agency said.

The storm was due to hit the main Okinawan city of Naha Tuesday evening. The national broadcaster said one woman had suffered a head injury due to the storm and one fisherman was missing after he was swept off a boat in seas near the southern island of Kyushu.

Television footage showed roads in Naha strewn with greenery and some downed trees.

Officials said the storm could be one of the strongest to hit Japan in decades, generating waves up to 14 meters (46 feet) high. But since typhoons track along Japan’s coasts and occasionally veer onshore every summer, the country is relatively well prepared.

“Please take refuge as early as possible,” said Keiji Furuya, chairman of the National Public Safety Commission.

The meteorological agency issued special warnings for violent winds, heavy rain and storm surges. The storm was moving slowly and diminishing in intensity, but its wide area and slow movement could add to the potential damage, weather forecasters said.

Evacuation advisories were issued for some 500,000 people, and about 500 sought refuge in Naha’s city hall, NHK reported.

Government leaders held an emergency meeting Monday, urging urged local governments and residents to take maximum precautions. Authorities in China and Taiwan also warned ships to stay clear of the storm.

Forecasts show the storm tracking toward Kyushu island and then across Japan’s main island of Honshu. It is forecast to lose more of its power over land, but much of the damage from such storms comes from downpours that cause landslides and flooding. Such risks are elevated by the storm’s timing, on the tail end of Japan’s summer rainy season.

The Philippines, which suffered the strongest typhoon to ever hit land when Haiyan struck six months ago, was spared the ferocious winds of Neoguri. The storm did not make land fall and remained about 480 kilometers (300 miles) east of the northernmost province of Batanes, when it roared past on Sunday.

The typhoon did intensify the country’s southwest monsoon, dumping heavy rains on some western Philippine provinces.

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