Timely essays by specialists, scholars, and journalists interpreting the latest developments in Japan and around the world.

South Korea: Under Pressure from Washington and Beijing and Sharply Divided as Its Presidential Election ApproachesSumida Takushi

As North Korea pushes ahead with its nuclear and missile development programs, the new administration in Washington is taking a hard line, suggesting that even a military strike is among the options. South Korean President Park Geun-hye was removed from office in March, and the campaign to choose her successor in the upcoming May 9 election has heated up. Public opinion is sharply split with regard to defense and foreign policy. Meanwhile, the government in Seoul is effectively paralyzed.

Park Leaves Challenging Legacy for Next South Korean PresidentKimura Kan

South Korea is in political turmoil after the impeachment and arrest of former President Park Geun-hye. Whoever is elected in the May 9 presidential vote will face a tough international environment and will have to work hard to regain the global community’s trust.

Deep Learning’s Rise Leaves Japan Playing AI CatchupShimizu Ryō

Japan joined the artificial intelligence race late. It was not until the mid-1980s, three decades later than countries like the United States, that researchers began pondering the idea of thinking machines. Japanese companies and universities are now increasingly pouring resources into unlocking the secrets of deep learning. The country’s slow start and scarcity of AI experts, however, has hindered progress, as illustrated by the lack of breakthroughs to date.

Easier Permanent Residency for Highly Skilled Foreign Professionals—Is Japan Ready?Himeda Konatsu

The administration of Prime Minister Abe Shinzō has made luring more “highly skilled foreign professionals” to Japan a critical link in its growth strategy. Yet the problems could far outweigh the benefits if more and more immigrants are allowed into Japan before appropriate preparations are put in place.

Koike Eyes Her Next MoveKunikida Tatsuya

Tokyo Governor Koike Yuriko is currently dominating political headlines in Japan. Despite her affiliations with the ruling Liberal Democrat Party, Koike stood as an independent against the LDP candidate in the gubernatorial elections last year. She has started her own political group Tomin Fāsuto no Kai (Tokyo Citizens First) and an academy that aims to turn her acolytes into electoral candidates. Many associated with Koike and the LDP now suspect she is plotting a return to national politics and may even have her eye on the biggest job of all.

Japan’s Ig Nobel Prize Winners Show Path of Scientific Progress Is Not Always StraightShimizu Masatoshi

By highlighting humorous scientific research, the Ig Nobel Prize aims to make people laugh and then to make them think. Japanese scientists are regularly among the winners. Where do their ideas come from, and what is the point of their seemingly useless research?

Societywide Effort Needed to Address School BullyingArai Hajime

Bullying at schools in Japan has become harder to identify as students are often harassed through social-networking sites like Line. The author looks at the approaches necessary to protect children and students from becoming victims.

A New Shopping Center for a Tsunami-Struck TownKikuchi Masanori

The Miyagi Prefecture town of Minamisanriku was devastated by the March 11, 2011, tsunami. Nearly six years on, a permanent shopping center is finally in place, and hopes are high that this will accelerate the community’s recovery. But considerable challenges remain.

From Tomb to Museum: Transferring and Reconstructing the Kitora Burial Mound MuralsHayakawa Noriko

A new museum displays murals from an ancient burial mound in Nara Prefecture that were painted some 1,300 years ago. Safely removing the murals from the tomb and reconstructing them was a complicated process that took 12 years.

Taking Stock of Suicide in JapanTakahashi Yoshitomo

While the number of Japanese who take their own lives continues to fall, suicide remains a serious social problem. A mental health expert looks at the factors behind Japan’s high suicide rate and considers the measures needed to drastically reduce the chronically high figure.

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