TIME Japan

Japanese PM Orders ‘Thorough Measures’ After First Bird Flu Outbreak in 8 Months

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MIXA—Getty Images/MIXA

Poultry culled and affected farms quarantined

Japan ordered the culling of about 4,000 chickens Tuesday following an outbreak of avian influenza at one of the country’s poultry farms.

The owner of the farm in the country’s southwest reported that 20 of his birds died suddenly over the weekend, following which a DNA test revealed the presence of the H5 strain of the bird flu virus, AFP reported.

The affected farm, located in Miyazaki prefecture on the island of Kyushu, has been locked down along with several others surrounding it. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe ordered “thorough measures for epidemic prevention” in what is the country’s first confirmed bird-flu outbreak since April.

[AFP]

TIME Morning Must Reads

Morning Must Reads: December 15

Capitol
The early morning sun rises behind the US Capitol Building in Washington, DC. Mark Wilson—Getty Images

Sydney in Lockdown Amid Developing Hostage Crisis

Heavily armed police fanned out across downtown Sydney on Monday after an unidentified man took an undisclosed number of people hostage at a café in the central business district of Australia’s largest city. Five hostages fled the premises in the afternoon

Meet the Sony Exec Tied Up in the Worst Corporate Hack Ever

The Co-Chairman of Sony Pictures Entertainment has been the executive behind successful movies like Skyfall and Zero Dark Thirty

Dick Cheney on CIA Interrogations Order: ‘I’d Do It Again in a Minute’

Former Vice President Dick Cheney fiercely defended the CIA’s brutal, post-9/11 interrogation tactics in an interview

Johnny Manziel Stumbles During Debut Start for Browns

Manziel looked overwhelmed and frustrated in Sunday’s 30-0 loss, throwing several passes too high and finishing with 10 completions in 18 attempts for 80 passing yards, no touchdowns, two interceptions and three sacks

Japan’s Ruling Coalition Wins Big in Elections

Japan’s ruling coalition, the conservative Liberal Democratic Party, won a resounding victory in lower house elections, firming up Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s hold on power as he prepares to push forward on several politically difficult fronts

Bill Cosby Briefly Breaks His Silence

The actor and comedian accused of drugging and/or sexually assaulting more than a dozen women briefly explained why hasn’t responded to the claims, saying his lawyers “don’t want me talking to the media”

R&B Icon D’Angelo Releases His First Album in 14 Years

D’Angelo’s first album in 14 years is impressively timely, unveiled as it was at a New York City listening session one day after an estimated 25,000 people in the same city protested police brutality against unarmed black citizens. Black Messiah came out at midnight

One of the World’s 6 Northern White Rhinos Has Died

The world has only five northern white rhinos left, after the sixth, Angalifu, died at the San Diego Zoo on Sunday. He was 44 and zoo officials said he had been refusing food for a week. Decades of wide-scale poaching have driven the rhinos to the brink of extinction

Deal Salvaged at U.N. Climate Talks in Peru

A compromise deal salvaged by climate negotiators in Lima early Sunday sets the stage for a global pact in Paris next year, but a consensus could not be reached on nations submitting to a rigorous review of their plans for greenhouse gas emissions limits

Newtown Mom Decries Gun Violence on Anniversary

The mother of a first-grader killed in the Newtown school shooting rampage spoke out against gun violence on the second anniversary of the massacre, saying it has broken the hearts of other mothers across the country

Exodus Dethrones Mockingjay to Win Weekend Box Office

Ridley Scott’s Exodus: Gods and Kings, which tells the Old Testament story of Moses and features Christian Bale, earned $24.5 million to unseat The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1 for the top spot at the American box office

Suspect Arrested in Death of Auburn Football Player

A suspect in the early morning shooting death of an Auburn University football player was arrested, police said. Markale Deandra Hart, 22, was charged with murder in connection with the death of Mitchell, who was found dead at an apartment near campus

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TIME Japan

Japan’s Ruling Coalition Wins Big in Elections

Japan's Prime Minister Abe smiles during a news conference at the LDP headquarters in Tokyo on Dec. 14, 2014.
Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe smiles during a news conference at the LDP headquarters in Tokyo on Dec. 14, 2014. Toru Hanai—Reuters

Firming up Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's hold on power

(TOKYO) — Japan’s ruling coalition won a resounding victory in lower house elections Sunday, firming up Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s hold on power as he prepares to push forward on several politically difficult fronts.

The conservative Liberal Democratic Party, which has ruled for most of the post-World War II era, locked up a solid majority, and appeared headed to winning at least two-thirds of the House of Representatives together with its coalition partner, the Buddhist-backed Komei party.

In a series of TV interviews from party headquarters, Abe said his top priority was the economy. “Economy first,” he told national broadcaster NHK, adding that he would also tackle other major issues, including national security.

The U.S. government hopes Abe will be able to win passage of a series of bills needed to expand Japan’s military role, so that it can play a bigger part in their alliance. A heated debate is expected when parliament takes up the legislation, likely after local elections in April.

With most of the votes counted, the Liberal Democrats had won more than 280 of the 475 seats in the lower house, and topped 310 with the Komei party, according to NHK. The main opposition party, the Democratic Party of Japan, had won about 70 seats.

The big victory will give a boost to Abe’s agenda, including economic reforms, nuclear plant restarts and his long-term goal of revising Japan’s constitution. But opposition from vested interests and sizeable segments of the public could still stymie his plans.

“I believe the results show that we have received a public mandate for the Abe administration’s achievement over the past two years,” Abe said in a live television interview with Tokyo Broadcasting System. “But we should not be complacent about the results.”

Abe, who took office two years ago, called Sunday’s snap election last month, saying he wanted a fresh mandate for his economic revitalization program, known as Abenomics.

Share prices have risen and many companies have reported record profits, but the recovery has faltered in recent months, with the country returning to recession after a sales tax hike chilled demand among consumers and businesses.

“I believe this shows that voters gave the Abe administration a positive evaluation over the past two years,” said Finance Minister Taro Aso, who retained his seat in parliament. “Abenomics is still halfway through, and I feel a strong sense of responsibility to push it further.”

Despite weakening popularity ratings, a recession and messy campaign finance scandals, the Liberal Democrats were virtually certain to triumph thanks to voter apathy and a weak opposition.

The popularity of the Democratic Party of Japan, which held power from 2009 to 2012, plunged after it failed to deliver on campaign pledges and struggled in the aftermath of the 2011 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disasters.

“I think Mr. Abe is the only choice we have considering from what I heard and saw in the reports,” retiree Hiroshi Yamada said as he came out of a downtown Tokyo polling station.

Abe’s agenda includes trying to carry out labor market reforms and secure a trans-Pacific trade agreement that faces stiff opposition from the farm lobby and others.

He also hopes to begin restarting some of Japan’s nuclear power plants, despite continued public concerns after the meltdowns at the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant following the 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

Kyodo news agency estimated voter turnout at 52 percent, a post-World War II record low and down 7 percentage points from the previous lower house election in 2012.

Many voters were perplexed over Abe’s decision to call an election.

“I think two years is too soon to decide whether his policy failed or not,” said Yoshiko Takahashi, a Tokyo businesswoman.

___

Associated Press writers Mari Yamaguchi, Elaine Kurtenbach, Emily Wang and Kaori Hitomi contributed to this report.

TIME Japan

Exit Polls in Japan Project Big Win for Ruling Party

An election official places an unopened ballot box on a table at a counting centre in Tokyo
An election official places an unopened ballot box on a table at a counting center in Tokyo on Dec. 14, 2014. Thomas Peter—Reuters

Liberal Democratic Party easily retaining its House majority

(TOKYO) — Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s ruling party was headed for a landslide victory in lower house elections Sunday, according to projections released soon after polls closed.

The projections, based on exit polls, showed the ruling Liberal Democratic Party easily retaining its majority in the 475-seat House of Representatives. Exit polls have been reliable predictors of the final results in past Japanese elections.

The Liberal Democrats, a conservative party that has been in power for most of the post-World War II era, appeared to have fallen short of securing a two-thirds majority on their own, but may have done so together with their coalition partner, the Buddhist-backed Komei party.

A landslide victory could improve Abe’s chances of pushing ahead with difficult political and economic reforms, and his long-term goal of revising Japan’s constitution.

Abe, who took office two years ago, called Sunday’s snap election last month, saying he wanted a fresh mandate for his economic revitalization program, known as Abenomics.

Share prices have risen and many companies have reported record profits, but the recovery has faltered in recent months, with the country returning to recession after a sales tax hike chilled demand among consumers and businesses.

“I believe this shows that voters gave the Abe administration a positive evaluation over the past two years,” said Finance Minister Taro Aso, who retained his seat in parliament. “Abenomics is still halfway through, and I feel a strong sense of responsibility to push it further.”

But the vote was seen as less of a verdict on Abe’s policies than an acquiescence to the ruling party’s growing power. Despite weakening popularity ratings, a recession and messy campaign finance scandals, the Liberal Democrats were virtually certain to triumph thanks to voter apathy and a weak opposition.

The popularity of the Democratic Party of Japan, which held power from 2009 to 2012, plunged after it failed to deliver on campaign pledges and struggled in the aftermath of the 2011 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disasters.

“I think Mr. Abe is the only choice we have considering from what I heard and saw in the reports,” retiree Hiroshi Yamada said as he came out of a downtown Tokyo polling station.

Two hours before polls closed, voter turnout was 35 percent, 6.8 percentage points lower than the same time in the previous lower house election in 2012, the Internal Affairs Ministry said.

Many voters were perplexed over Abe’s decision to call an election.

“I think two years is too soon to decide whether his policy failed or not,” said Yoshiko Takahashi, a Tokyo businesswoman.

___

Associated Press writers Mari Yamaguchi, Emily Wang and Kaori Hitomi contributed to this report.

TIME Japan

Japan Likely to Return Abe to Power in Sunday’s Elections

Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe attends a news conference at his official residence in Tokyo
Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe attends a news conference at his official residence in Tokyo on Nov. 18, 2014. Toru Hanai—Reuters

Japanese PM seeks a landslide victory to allow him to pursue economic and political reforms

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is counting on a landslide victory in parliamentary elections Sunday that will likely return his ruling coalition to power with an even bigger majority, empowering him to pursue an ambitious agenda of political and economic reforms.

“This is the only way!” is the slogan Abe is driving home in his campaign speeches. For Japanese voters, that is probably the case.

The economy is back in recession, the government’s popularity ratings have slid and messy campaign finance scandals have roiled Abe’s Cabinet. Normally, that would be bad news for the incumbent. Yet Abe is virtually the only game in town thanks to Japan’s tendency toward a one-party political system, voter apathy and a lack of viable alternatives.

Campaigning wrapped up Saturday evening, with Abe, fist raised in the air, making a final appeal for support in Tokyo’s gaudy Akihabara electronics district.

“If we create a country where everyone is given a chance, Japan will grow much bigger,” Abe said, accusing the opposition Democratic Party of being too pessimistic over the country’s declining population, which is one factor behind Japan’s slowing economy. “We are finished if we give up!”

Surveys showed many voters planned to stay away from polling stations. Fed up with or indifferent to the choices on offer, a large share support no party in particular, so Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party may win by default.

“The problem of this election is there is actually no choice for voters,” said Yu Uchiyama, a professor of political science at Tokyo University. “Many people will choose Abe as a kind of negative choice. There are no alternatives.”

The main opposition Democratic Party of Japan was in power from 2009 to 2012, but lost voters’ confidence amid perceptions of ineptitude and after failing to deliver on campaign pledges and struggling to guide the country after the 2011 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disasters.

The DPJ is fielding candidates in only about one-fifth of the 295 single seat districts. Polls show it taking fewer than 100 seats in Sunday’s elections, including its winners in 180 proportional representation districts.

“The DPJ government was seen as so unsuccessful in so many ways that it is no longer viewed as the true, viable alternative to the LDP,” said Ethan Scheiner, a political science professor at the University of California, Davis.

Many voters have swung back to the Liberal Democratic Party, a conservative party (despite its name) that guided Japan through its high-growth years in the 1960s and ’70s and has ruled the country for all but about four years since 1955.

Some structural factors also favor Abe’s party.

Most Japanese live in cities, but the LDP still dominates in the countryside, where votes in lower house elections hold up to 2.43 times the value of those in some urban districts – a situation deemed unconstitutional in Supreme Court rulings yet to be enforced. And the Liberal Democrats have a strong ally in their coalition partner, the Buddhist-backed Komei Party, whose loyal members can be counted on to vote for ruling coalition candidates.

“The way the system is structured, it is very difficult for an opposition party to defeat the LDP,” said Scheiner.

Efforts to form new alliances with other opposition parties have made little headway, and the remaining splinter parties will likely win only a handful of seats each, with the Japan Communist Party, a traditional protest vote, picking up a share of swing ballots.

“It’s an inherent problem in Japanese politics,” said Uchiyama. “The parties are so fragmented.”

The Liberal Democrats are poised to win big Sunday. They had 295 seats in the lower house when Abe dissolved the parliament, or Diet, on Nov. 20. They could win up to 320 seats out of 475 up for grabs, says Takao Toshikawa, editor in chief of Insideline and Tokyo bureau chief of the Oriental Economist. That would give them the two-thirds majority needed to amend the constitution – one of Abe’s pet projects – even without the backing of the Komei Party.

Some voters are puzzled over why Abe is holding an election at all.

“Why are they dissolving the parliament? It makes no sense to me,” said Toshio Yazawa, an 84-year-old as he sunned himself recently in a park north of Tokyo.

Abe has portrayed the election as a referendum on his “Abenomics” policies for reviving the economy through massive monetary easing and strong public spending, both intended to spur inflation. He also has proposed a slew of reforms to enhance Japan’s waning competitiveness.

The recovery that began as Abe took office in late 2012 took hold in early 2013 as the yen weakened and share prices soared. But incomes for most workers are flat or falling, and a sales tax hike in April chilled demand after a rush of spending early in the year, nudging Japan back into recession and prompting Abe to postpone a second sales tax increase originally planned for next year.

He then called the snap election, saying he wanted a renewed public mandate, a maneuver most analysts say is aimed at ensuring he can stay in office at least for another four years. That could give him enough time to move toward some of his more nationalistic goals, including revising Japan’s constitution.

Abe was prime minister in 2006-2007, when he quit due to health problems after just a year in office. The 2012 election that returned him to power netted a record low voter turnout of 59.3 percent, and Sunday’s vote is forecast to be even lower.

Michael Cucek, a fellow at Temple University in Tokyo, anticipates a “terrible, terrible election” for the opposition Democratic Party. But that may prompt some more serious thinking about the lack of a viable political opposition in Japan, which he says is unhealthy.

So in that regard, “I am hopeful about this election,” he said.

TIME movies

The Japanese Studio That Launched the Franchise Is Making a New Godzilla Movie

Godzilla Eats A Commuter Train
Godzilla, King of the Monsters! (1956) Toho/Embassy Pictures/Getty Images

“The time has come for Japan to make a film that will not lose to Hollywood”

Director Gareth Edwards’ 2014 Godzilla reboot was a box office rainmaker, earning $525 million worldwide. But Godzilla was born in Japan, and the Japanese studio that produced the first Godzilla movie in 1954 wants back in on the lucrative franchise. According to Variety, the studio, Toho, plans to begin filming next summer and release the film in 2016, a few years ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

The most recent of Toho’s 28 Godzilla movies, out in 2004, was to be the last, largely thanks to disappointing revenues. But the overwhelming success of this year’s American version along with advances in computer graphics, says Toho producer Taichi Ueda, inspired the studio to get back in the reptilian monster game.

Looking to compete with the U.S. and develop a character that “will represent Japan and be loved around the world,” Toho is convening a committee of directors and studio executives, the Godzilla Strategic Conference, or Godzi-Con for short. There is still no word on a director or casting. But a competitive spirit will surely fuel the producers as the film takes shape — Edwards’ Godzilla 2 is slated for release in 2018.

TIME Military

Survivors Gather to Remember Pearl Harbor Attack

Remembrance Ceremony Held To Mark 73rd Anniversary Of Attack On Pearl Harbor
U.S.S. Arizona survivor Louis Conter salutes the remembrance wall of the U.S.S. Arizona during a memorial service for the 73rd anniversary of the attack on the U.S. naval base at Pearl harbor on Dec. 07, 2014 in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Kent Nishimura—Getty Images

For many of the roughly 2,000 survivors who remain, there are still painful memories

(PEARL HARBOR, Hawaii) — Many of the veterans who survived the Pearl Harbor attack that launched the United States into World War II attended Sunday’s 73rd anniversary ceremony with the help of canes, wheelchairs and motorized scooters.

Wearing purple orchid lei, about 100 Pearl Harbor and World War II survivors attended the ceremony overlooking a memorial that sits atop sunken battleship USS Arizona. Many of them arrived well before the sun came up.

This year’s anniversary is the 10th consecutive one that USS Utah survivor Gilbert Meyer attended. But it’s getting harder for Meyer, 91, to travel to Hawaii from San Antonio.

Asked if he planned to attend next year’s anniversary, he responded with a chuckle, “That’s like asking me if I’ll still be alive.”

Harold Johnson, 90, is making it a goal to attend the 75th anniversary, even though traveling from Oak Harbor, Washington, isn’t always easy. “I’ve got a little scooter that’s a real life saver,” the USS Oklahoma survivor said.

Johnson had been aboard the Oklahoma for just six months on Dec. 7, 1941, looking forward to a day off and a “date with a little Hawaiian girl.” He was shining his shoes when the first alarm went off, he recalled.

“Three months later I ran into her in town in Honolulu,” he said of his date. “She was mad at me because I stood her up.”

For many of the roughly 2,000 survivors who remain, there are also more painful memories.

Keynote speaker Gen. Lori Robinson, commander of Pacific Air Forces, told the crowd of several thousand about four of the nine remaining survivors of the USS Arizona. Don Stratton, 92, of Colorado Springs, Colorado, and Lauren Bruner, 94, of La Mirada, California, were two of six men who escaped the inferno that engulfed the forward half of the ship by negotiating a line, hand over hand, about 45 feet in the air, despite burns to more than 60 percent of their bodies. John Anderson, 97, of Roswell, New Mexico, was ordered off the ship, but he didn’t want to leave behind his twin brother, Delbert. Even though he was forced into a small boat that took him to Ford Island, he commandeered an empty boat and returned to the Arizona to rescue three shipmates. But he never found his brother.

“When the Arizona sank, she took with her 1,177 sailors and Marines,” Robinson told the crowd, which included Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer and Hawaii Gov. David Ige.

Robinson also highlighted the sacrifices of the Honolulu Fire Department, which was dispatched to respond after receiving the alarm at 8:05 a.m. “Without knowing it, the Honolulu Fire Department was going to war,” she said. “Three firefighters would never return, and six others would be seriously injured.”

The ceremony also featured a Japanese peace prayer, a Hawaiian blessing and a moment of silence at 7:55 a.m., the minute the bombing began. F-22s from the Hawaii Air National Guard 199th Fighter Squadron and Air Force 19th Fighter Squadron conducted a flyover.

Later in the afternoon, the four USS Arizona survivors planned to visit the memorial for a toast to their fallen shipmates with a glass of sparkling wine given to their survivors association by President Gerald Ford, using glasses that are replicas of the ones on the ship. After the toast, divers would place one of the glasses at the base of the Arizona’s gun turret four. It’s where ashes of 38 Arizona survivors are interred.

This year’s anniversary will likely be the last one Ervin Brody, 91, of Houston attends. “Expenses are getting up there and we’re retired,” he said. “A lot of us figure this will be the last.”

TIME Autos

Toyota Recalls Cars in Japan, China for Air Bags

Some 14 million vehicles, including Toyota cars, have been recalled worldwide over Takata air bags

(TOKYO) — Toyota is recalling 185,000 vehicles in Japan and 5,000 in China for a possibly defective air bag supplied by Takata, the Japanese manufacturer at the center of an unfolding safety scandal.

Toyota Motor Corp. said Thursday the latest air bag problem was discovered as a result of passenger-side air bags in some Toyota vehicles rupturing when intentionally deployed while being scrapped, a routine procedure under Japanese law for scrapping vehicles.

Toyota said it was not aware of any fatalities or injuries related to the latest problem.

The recall includes vehicles produced from September 2002 through to December 2003, including Corolla models, Noah, Voxy, Mark II and Will.

The driver-side air bags in the affected models are not being recalled because they were not supplied by Takata, said Toyota spokesman Naoki Sumino.

Some 14 million vehicles, including Toyota cars, have been recalled worldwide over Takata air bags, 8 million of them in the U.S. At issue are air bags whose inflators can explode, hurling shrapnel into the passenger compartment. At least five deaths and dozens of injuries have been linked to the problem worldwide.

The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is pressing for a nationwide recall. The recalls have so far been in high-humidity areas such as the Gulf Coast, because of evidence that moisture can cause the propellant in the air bags to burn too quickly.

Toyota said it still did not know the cause of the air bag problems.

“We decided to conduct a recall campaign as a precautionary measure and replace the inflator with a new one to help minimize potential risk to customers and to investigate the possible root cause through tests on the replaced parts,” the company said.

Takata has defied the NHTSA order to carry out a nationwide recall, insisting that automakers carry out the recalls, not suppliers, but promised to cooperate with any automakers that decide to do recalls.

Honda Motor Co. responded by saying it will comply with the NHTSA order. Toyota does not have any vehicles that fall under the expanded recall that the NHTSA wants in the U.S.

Takata has said it is investigating, but has repeatedly said its air bags are safe.

TIME Japan

Japanese Space Explorer to Blow Crater in Asteroid

Japan Space Exploration
An H2-A rocket carrying space explorer Hayabusa2 lifts off from a launching pad at Tanegashima Space Center in Kagoshima, southern Japan, on Dec. 3, 2014 AP Photo/Kyodo News

The explorer will hide behind the asteroid during the blast and will then try to collect material from inside the crater

(TOKYO) — A Japanese space explorer took off Wednesday on a six-year journey to blow a crater in a remote asteroid and bring back rock samples in hopes of gathering clues to the origin of earth.

The explorer, named Hayabusa2, is expected to reach the asteroid in mid-2018, spend about 18 months studying it and return in late 2020.

A small device will separate from the explorer and shoot a projectile to blast open a crater a few meters (several feet) in diameter. The explorer, which will hide behind the asteroid during the blast, will then try to collect material from inside the crater.

Asteroids can provide evidence not available on earth about the birth of the solar system and its evolution. JAXA, Japan’s space agency, said the research could help explain the origin of seawater and how the planet earth was formed.

Hayabusa2 will attempt to expand on the work of Hayabusa, a previous explorer that returned in 2010 after collecting material from the surface of another asteroid. By reaching inside an asteroid this time, the new explorer may recover material that is not as weathered by the space environment and heat.

The earlier mission was plagued by mechanical failures and other problems. JAXA hopes improvements since then will make this trip smoother.

“The mission was completed one way or another, but we stumbled along the way,” said Akitaka Kishi from JAXA’s lunar and planetary exploration program. “To travel there and bring back something is extremely difficult.”

Hayabusa2, which was launched from Tanegashima Space Center in southern Japan, is a rectangular unit with two sets of solar panels sticking out from its sides. The main unit measures 1 x 1.6 x 1.4 meters (3.3 x 5.2 x 4.6 feet) and weighs about 600 kilograms (1,300 pounds).

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