TIME Japan

This Week’s Foreign Policy Must-Reads

From yakuza battles to Russian food policy

A roundup of the most intelligent takes on global affairs this week

The Coming Yakuza War—The Daily Beast

Japan’s organized crime groups, known collectively as the “yakuza,” … are different from the mafias we know about in the West. They are treated as if they were some sort of controlled substance, dangerous but accepted within certain parameters… The Yamaguchi-gumi isn’t only Japan’s largest organized crime group; it’s also a well-known Japanese corporation… They are Goldman Sachs with guns.

Only in Japan: The “gangster company man.”

Pablo Escobar Will Never Die – GQ

Alive, Pablo was a murderer and a philanthropist, a kidnapper and a congressman, a populist antihero who corrupted the institutions that tried to contain him and slaughtered thousands of compatriots who got in his way. Safely in the grave, he has spawned an entertainment-industrial complex—movies, books, soap operas, souvenirs—his legacy as impossible to repress as the frisky hippos he left behindThe commodification of Pablo is an awkward development for many Colombians, having struggled for a generation to overcome the collective trauma he visited on them.

Some say you don’t really die until the last time someone says your name. If so, Pablo Escobar will be with us for a long time to come.

The Lessons of Anwar al-Awlaki – New York Times Magazine

Some government agencies have tried to boil the process of radicalization down to a few clear-cut and inevitable stages, but in reality, the journey to extremism is a messy, human affair that defies such predictability. This was true of Awlaki’s acolytes; it was also true of the great radicalizer himself. Before Awlaki could talk anyone else into violent jihad, he had to talk himself into it. One giant step came as the unintended result of surveillance by the United States government.

Here’s a question: Does law enforcement tend to overestimate its ability to use surveillance to understand a person, his motivation, his capabilities, and his intent?

The Other France – New Yorker

France has all kinds of suburbs, but the word for them, banlieues, has become pejorative, meaning slums dominated by immigrants… [After the Charlie Hebdo massacre,] there was a widespread feeling, in France and elsewhere, that the killings were somehow related to the banlieues. But an exact connection is not easy to establish. Although these alienated communities are increasingly prone to anti-Semitism, the profiles of French jihadists don’t track closely with class; many have come from bourgeois families. The sense of exclusion in the banlieues is an acute problem that the republic has neglected for decades, but more jobs and better housing won’t put an end to French jihadism.

There is nothing more dangerous for the internal stability of France (and many other European countries) than the isolation of its minority enclaves, the violence that isolation can inspire, and the rise of political parties who win votes by exploiting the resulting fear and anger.

Why Russia is So Afraid of French Cheese—The Atlantic

Russia’s Federal Customs Service has drafted legislation classifying banned foreign foods as ‘strategically important.’ Until now, that label only applied to weapons, explosives, poisons, and radioactive materials. If it becomes law, the new classification will mean those caught importing banned fruits, vegetables, meat, and poultry can face up to seven years in prison. French cheese is apparently now just as dangerous to the security of the state as polonium, uranium, assault weapons, and dirty bombs.

Maybe NATO should load brie into warheads and rain “fromage fury” on Moscow.

TIME Media

This Is the Next Battleground for Netflix and Amazon

Gaby Hoffmann, Jeffrey Tambor, Jill Soloway
Richard Shotwell—Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP From left, Gaby Hoffmann, Jeffrey Tambor, and Jill Soloway speak onstage during the "Transparent" panel at the Amazon 2014 Summer TCA on Saturday, July 12, 2014, in Beverly Hills, Calif. (Photo by Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP)

The streaming wars continue to go global

Amazon and Netflix will soon be squaring off in a new Asian battleground. On Wednesday Amazon announced that it will bring its Prime Instant Video service to Japan in September. Netflix has had long-announced plans to roll out its own streaming service in the country on Sept. 2.

Amazon’s Japanese offering will include dramas, anime and variety shows popular in both the U.S. and Japan. Original shows like “Transparent” will also be available.

Amazon, which already offers Prime subscriptions in Japan, will have a significant price advantage. Amazon Prime costs ¥3900 (about $32) per year, or about $2.71 per month. Netflix will have multiple tiers starting at ¥650, or about $5.40 per month.

It reminans to be seen whether either service will find substantial success in the country. Hulu launched in the country in 2011 but ended up selling off its Japanese streaming business to the Nippon TV television network in 2014.

TIME Japan

Japan Can’t Afford to Give Centenarians Gifts Anymore Because There Are Too Many of Them

Yoshikazu Tsuno—AFP/Getty Images Elderly residents rest in the grounds of a temple in Tokyo on Sept. 15, 2014, as the country marks Respect for the Aged Day

29,357 centenarians as of 2014, to be exact

Every year on Senior’s Day, new Japanese centenarians receive a special sakazuki — a silver cup valued at around $64. But as the country’s population continues to grow, the Japanese government has realized that it simply can’t afford to be giving out such lavish gifts any longer.

According to Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, 29,357 people over the age of 100 were registered in the country last year. When the sakazuki program began over 50 years ago in 1963, there were only 153, the Japan Times reports. The gift program’s cost has risen to over $2 million in 2014 alone.

Japan is renowned for the longevity of its elders, breaking the world record repeatedly for longest-living population. The gift dilemma signals a larger trend for the country, as its demographics continue shifting toward an increasingly aging population. The government expects that, by 2018, the country will have around 39,000 centenarians, the Times says.

The government doesn’t want to leave centenarians unacknowledged altogether though — instead, it’s considering making the sakazuki from a cheaper material or simply sending a congratulatory letter, according to the Times.

[Japan Times]

TIME weather

Watch This Hypnotizing Video of Rare Twin Typhoons in the Pacific

Two simultaneous typhoons have been observed for the first time since October, 1997

Prepare to be enthralled: a Japanese satellite has captured twin typhoons—that’s Goni on the left, Atsani on the right—swirling simultaneously for the first time since October, 1997.

The stunning images come courtesy of Japan’s new weather satellite, the Himawari-8, currently coasting about 22,000 miles above the Pacific. The video is able to capture the typhoon’s movement especially well because the Himawari-8 is snapping photos every ten minutes. U.S. weather satellites take shots every three hours, and at half the resolution.

The twin typhoons are a weather oddity—it’s the first time in about 18 years that twin typhoons have been observed. Incidentally, 1997 is known for hosting a particularly strong El Niño (we’re in the middle of another El Niño now), which tends to lead to typhoons in the central Pacific, according to Eric Holthaus, a meteorologist who writes for Slate. The stronger storms lead to stronger El Niño effects, leading to “a feedback loop of sorts,” Holthaus writes.

Goni might make landfall near the Philippines, Taiwan, or Japan over the next week or so. Atsani is so far not expected to affect any country.

TIME A Year In Space

Japanese Rocket Rides to the Rescue

On the way: The white stork takes wing
Kyodo/Reuters On the way: The white stork takes wing

A sturdy cargo ship brings much-needed supplies to the space station

On Aug. 19, a white stork carried 14 doves and 12 mice to low-Earth orbit. Every word in that sentence is entirely true—but it does take some explaining.

The thing that actually flew to space was less lyrically known as an H-II launch vehicle, a 164-ft. (5o m) rocket built by the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA)—or Japan’s NASA. The H-II is a nifty ship, a liquid fueled booster carrying a cargo vessel that has both pressurized and unpressurized compartments, meaning it can carry both inert and living payloads (animals only, no people).

The craft was launched on a supply run to the International Space Station (ISS), and it comes in the nick of time. It’s been a bad year for ISS supply ships, with both an Antares vessel and a Dragon vessel—built by Orbital Sciences and SpaceX respectively—being destroyed in launch accidents, and a Russian Progress ship reaching orbit but plunging into the atmosphere without ever making it to the station. Space station crews are well supplied with essentials like basic foods, water and breathable oxygen, but relative luxuries like fresh food, changes of clothes and packages from home—to say nothing of new scientific experiments and equipment—require regular resupply trips. And the H-II is carrying plenty.

Included in its 6.5 tons of cargo are 600 liters (159 gallons) of potable water; a processing unit for purifying and recycling urine; an experiment known as the Calorimetric Electron Telescope (CALET), which will be mounted on the exterior of the station to study the nature of cosmic radiation, as well as to look for signs of the elusive dark matter that makes up 87% of the mass in the universe.

MORE: Watch TIME’s remarkable series covering a record-breaking mission to space

Also on the flight manifest are 14 miniature satellites known as cubesats, built by Planet Labs, a San Francisco-based company. They are designed to beam down high-resolution images of Earth to paying customers, and are part of an overall fleet of 101 the company plans to loft. But since “cubesat” lacks a certain lyricism, the company calls the little satellites Doves.

The white stork, similarly, is a poetic liberty. It is the cargo vehicle itself, which is technically known as the HTV, but is called Kuonotori—white stork—in Japanese, as a nod to the delivery function it was built to serve. As for the mice? They’re real, a part of ongoing studies of how organisms adapt to zero-gravity.

The stork still has some work ahead of it before it completes its mission. It will not have finished navigating its way to the ISS until Aug. 24. After it safely docks and is unloaded by the crew, it will detach, plunge through the atmosphere and incinerate. In space, a pretty nickname takes you only so far. After that, alas, hardware is nothing but hardware.

TIME People

5 Myths About Emperor Hirohito

AFP/Getty Images This undated picture taken in Tokyo shows Japanese Emperor Hirohito.

On the 70th anniversary of the Japanese surrender in World War II, separating the legend from the history

History News Network

This post is in partnership with the History News Network, the website that puts the news into historical perspective. The article below was originally published at HNN.

Myth 1: Emperor Hirohito was a God

After the overthrow of the Japanese Shogunate in 1868, the four southern tribes, the Satsuma, Choshu, Saba and Tosa, sought to embed the legitimacy of their new regime by the re-promotion of an eighth century myth that the Japanese Emperor was a God. The myths were set out in two official chronicles, the Kojiki (Record of Ancient Matters: AD 712) and the Nihon Shoki (Chronicles of Japan: AD 720).

The powers of the Emperor did not survive as power shifted to the Shogun system and until 1868 the Imperial Japanese family continued to exist largely in obscurity and often in relative poverty. As often happens with revolutionary regimes, a new national identity was required to justify and embed the country’s new military rulers. An infant Emperor Meiji was adopted as the new order’s figurehead and self-justification. Japan’s new regime re-emphasized the role of the Emperor as a living God, making it the heart of an ideological indoctrination taught in the new state school education system. The Japanese Army took this further by the simultaneous incorporation of Bushido (the military scholar code) into its military programs. Thus the overthrow of the Shogun was portrayed less as a revolution and was characterized instead as the Meiji Restoration, a title that gave moral justification to a successful armed insurrection.

Myth 2: Hirohito was simply a constitutional monarch forced into war by his generals

In March 1946, some nine months after the Pacific War had been brought to an end, Emperor Hirohito made a testament about his role in the war. In a bizarre scene, Hirohito had a single bed set up on which he lay in pure white pajamas on the finest soft cotton pillows. In eight hours of statements, the Showa Tenno no Dokuhaku Roku (Emperor’s Soliloquy: his post-war testament) Hirohito absolved himself for all responsibility for the war by claiming that he was a constitutional monarch entirely in the hands of the military: ‘I was a virtual prisoner and was powerless.’

This was a lie. Although by convention Hirohito behaved as a constitutional monarch, the Meiji Constitution granted him absolute power – he was after all enshrined as a God. On three separate occasions during his rule he had demonstrated his absolute powers; in 1929 he forced the resignation of his prime minister; in 1936 he overruled his military advisors to insist on the harshest treatment of the young officers involved in the coup d’etat known as the 26 February Incident in 1945; and finally in August 1945 he overruled his advisors by insisting on a Japanese surrender. Hirohito had the power to stop Japan’s military adventurism in the 1930s but chose not to. As his former aide-de-camp Vice-Admiral Noboru Hirata conjectured, “What [his majesty] did at the end of the war, we might have had him do at the start.”

Myth 3: Hirohito was a peace-loving scientist only interested in ocean mollusks

After the Pacific War, General MacArthur’s propaganda machine as well as the Imperial court went into overdrive to convince the world that the Emperor was a peace loving man, a scientist, whose main interest was the study of hydrozoa, microscopic jellyfish. Hirohito was indeed an avid gentleman scientist. However he was also a young man with an interest in the minutiae of military activity. He had a war room built underneath the Imperial Palace in Tokyo from where he could follow Japan’s military adventures in detail. Even the military hierarchy complained at the level of resources needed to update the Emperor. Throughout the war, he mainly wore a military uniform and to celebrate great victories he rode a pure white charger in parades in front of the Imperial Palace. Furthermore, although the Emperor’s court papers were destroyed before the Allies could seize them, it seems clear from contemporary accounts that as Japan’s war situation deteriorated, that he became increasingly shrill in his criticisms of the military, and more insistent on his own strategic suggestions.

Myth 4: Hirohito did not know about the Rape of Nanking and the genocide in China

The Rape of Nanking was widely reported in the Japanese Press, even relaying in gory detail a competition between officers as to who could cut off most Chinese heads. Hirohito could not have been unaware of these reports particularly as his own family was closely involved in the atrocities in China. His own uncle, Prince Asaka had commanded the Japanese troops at Nanking. As a reward Hirohito gifted Asaka a pair of silver vases and they also resumed their regular games of golf.

In a genocide that killed 20 to 30 million Chinese, the Emperor’s relation, Field Marshal Prince Kanin, gave the authorization for the use of gas. Prince Mikasa, Hirohito’s youngest brother, even visited Unit 731 in Manchurian where live vivisection and other experiments were carried out on Chinese and western prisoners. Although unproven, it seems highly unlikely that the inquisitive Hirohito would have been uninformed by his relatives of these activities conducted by the Japanese Army. Like Hirohito, all the imperial family was excused prosecution at the Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal.

Myth 5: Hirohito apologized for Japan’s war crimes in the Pacific War

It is variously reported that Emperor Hirohito offered to give a formal apology for Japanese war crimes including the attack on Pearl Harbor. Supposedly MacArthur, in order not to undermine the Tokyo War crimes trials refused to allow this. However if Hirohito had really wanted to issue an apology to the nations of Asia and to the United States he could surely have done so by handing a press release to the international press. In 1975, when asked about the “responsibility for the war,” Hirohito replied, “I can’t comment on that figure of speech because I’ve never done research in literature.” It is an obfuscation that is fully reflected in the Japanese post-war historiography taught in schools and universities.

Francis Pike is a historian, journalist and specialist in Asian economics, politics and history. He is the author of Empires at War: A Short History of Modern Asia Since World War II (2009). His latest book is Hirohito’s War: The Pacific War, 1941-1945 (Bloomsbury Academic, 2015).

TIME Japan

Japan’s Leader Apologizes for ‘Damage and Suffering’ Inflicted During WW2

Shinzo Abe
Toru Hanai—Reuters Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe attends a news conference to deliver a statement marking the 70th anniversary of World War Two's end, at his official residence in Tokyo Aug. 14, 2015.

He also apologized for Japan's actions

TOKYO — Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has expressed “profound grief” for all who perished in World War II in a statement marking the 70th anniversary of the country’s surrender.

Abe acknowledged Friday in the statement delivered live on national television that Japan inflicted “immeasurable damage and suffering” on innocent people in the war. He also expressed apologies for Japan’s actions.

The statement was closely watched by Japan’s neighbors, especially South Korea and China. Resentment over invasion, occupation and atrocities by the Japanese Imperial Army before and during the war still bedevils relations between Japan and the East Asian countries decades after the war ended with the Aug. 15, 1945, surrender.

Abe said Japan must face its history squarely, but that future generations should not have to continue apologizing.

TIME Japan

U.S. Army Helicopter Crashes on a Ship Near Japan

Ryusuke Uematsu—AP A yellow sheet covers a U.S. Army helicopter that crashed on a Navy cargo vessel near Okinawa on Aug. 12, 2015.

7 people were injured in the crash off the island of Okinawa

(TOKYO) — A U.S. Army helicopter crashed while landing on a Navy ship Wednesday off Japan’s southern island of Okinawa, injuring seven people and damaging the aircraft, officials said.

The H-60 helicopter made a hard landing on the USNS Red Cloud cargo vessel around 20 miles (30 kilometers) east of Okinawa, U.S. Forces Japan said in a statement, adding that the cause was under investigation. Okinawa is home to most of the tens of thousands of U.S. troops in Japan.

The injured were transported to a Navy hospital, the statement said. Their conditions were not immediately clear.

The other 10 people aboard the helicopter were not hurt, said Japanese coast guard spokesman Shinya Terada.

Japanese national broadcaster NHK showed video of the helicopter sitting on the cargo ship, with its tail broken off and its body partly covered with an orange tarp.

The presence of so many U.S. troops on Okinawa — more than half of about 50,000 American troops in Japan — has been a source of friction and Okinawans have long complained about crime, accidents and noise from the U.S. bases.

A plan formulated in 1996 between the Japanese and American governments would move U.S. Marine Air Station Futenma from a populated neighborhood to a less developed area, but Okinawans want the Marine base moved off the island altogether.

Wednesday’s accident coincided with Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga’s visit to the island for talks with Okinawa Gov. Takeshi Onaga, a vocal opponent of the relocation plan.

“For those who live near (U.S.) bases, it’s a serious matter,” he said at the outset of the talks, reminding Suga of Okinawa’s burden and risk of accommodating the U.S. military bases.

Onaga has threatened to revoke an approval for reclamation work to build an off-shore runway in the area called Henoko.

Suga called the helicopter accident “extremely regrettable,” and told reporters that he has lodged a protest to the U.S. military over it, asking for prompt information disclosure, thorough investigation and implementing preventive measures.

Since the island prefecture reverted to Japanese control in 1972, there have been 45 crashes involving U.S. military aircraft, according to Okinawan government statistics. The island was the scene of a harsh World War II battle and was U.S. occupied for 27 years.

TIME Bizarre

There’s a Perfect Outline of a Disney Princess In This Iced Coffee

With perfectly coiffed hair and a puffy gown to boot

A Disney Princess may have appeared in the most unlikely of places—a cup of iced coffee.

A tweet purportedly showing a princess-shaped outline in an ice cube was sent out by user @niiiiiifaaaaa in Japanese. According to RocketNews24, the tweet reportedly says, “It looks like a Disney princess is in my iced coffee.”

Good thing the evidence—with its perfectly coiffed hair and puffy Disney signature gown—was snapped before it melted away.

TIME Japan

Japan Restarts First Nuclear Reactor Since Fukushima Meltdown

Dozens of protesters gathered outside the plant

(TOKYO) — A power plant operator in southern Japan restarted a nuclear reactor, the first to begin operating under new safety requirements following the Fukushima disaster, and said Wednesday that there has been no major problem so far.

Kyushu Electric Power Co. said Tuesday it had restarted the No. 1 reactor at its Sendai nuclear plant as planned. The restart marks Japan’s return to nuclear energy four-and-half-years after the 2011 meltdowns at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant in northeastern Japan following an earthquake and tsunami.

The plant said the nuclear chain reaction started safely late Tuesday.

The national broadcaster NHK showed plant workers in the control room as they turned the reactor back on. Tomomitsu Sakata, a spokesman for Kyushu Electric Power, said the reactor was put back online without any problems.

The Fukushima disaster displaced more than 100,000 people due to radioactive contamination and spurred a national debate over this resource-scarce country’s reliance on nuclear power.

A majority of Japanese oppose the return to nuclear energy. Dozens of protesters, including ex-Prime Minister Naoto Kan, who was in office at the time of the disaster and has become an outspoken critic of nuclear power, were gathered outside the plant as police stood guard.

“Accidents are unpredictable, that’s why they happen. And certainly not all the necessary precautions for such accidents have been taken here,” Kan shouted to the crowd of about 300 people.

The Nuclear Regulation Authority affirmed the safety of the Sendai reactor and another one at the plant last September under stricter safety rules imposed after the 2011 accident, the worst since the 1986 Chernobyl explosion.

The Sendai No. 1 reactor is scheduled to start generating power Friday and reach full capacity next month. The second Sendai reactor is due to restart in October.

Yoichi Miyazawa, Japan’s industry minister, said Tuesday that the government would “put safety first” in resuming use of nuclear power.

All of Japan’s 43 workable reactors were idled for the past two years pending safety checks. To offset the shortfall in power output, the country ramped up imports of oil and gas and fired up more thermal power plants, slowing progress toward reducing its emissions of greenhouse gases.

Miyazawa said nuclear power is “indispensable” for Japan.

“It would be impossible to achieve all these three things simultaneously — keep nuclear plants offline, while also trying to curb carbon dioxide and maintain the same electricity cost. I hope to gain the public’s understanding of the situation,” Miyazawa said.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has sought to have the reactors restarted as soon as possible to help reduce costly reliance on imported oil and gas and alleviate the financial burden on utilities of maintaining the idled plants.

“There are very strong vested interests to reopen nuclear reactors. Accepting them as permanently closed would have financial implications that would be hard to manage,” said Tomas Kaberger, chairman of the Japan Renewable Energy Foundation.

Utilities are seeking approvals to restart 23 reactors, including the other Sendai reactor.

The government has set a goal to have nuclear power meet more than 20 percent of Japan’s energy needs by 2030, despite the lingering troubles at the Fukushima plant, which is plagued by massive flows of contaminated water leaking from its reactors.

Removal of the melted fuel at the plant — the most challenging part of the 30-to-40-year process of shutting it down permanently — will begin only in 2022.

Still, the government favors restarting other plants judged to meet the new safety criteria, for both economic and political reasons. Japan invested heavily in its nuclear power program and many communities rely on tax revenues and jobs associated with the plants.

Japan also faces pressure to use its stockpile of more than 40 tons of weapons-usable plutonium, enough to make thousands of nuclear weapons. The plutonium, as fuel called MOX, will be burned in reactors since the country’s nuclear fuel recycling program at Rokkasho in northern Japan has been stalled by technical problems.

To burn enough plutonium, Japan needs to restart as many as 18 reactors. Nuclear experts say this could pose a challenge.


Associated Press writer Emily Wang in Satsumasendai, Japan, contributed to this report.


The first name of the industry minister has been corrected to Yoichi. The story has been also corrected to say Japan’s plutonium stockpile is worth thousands of nuclear weapons.

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