Japan in 2015: The Year’s Top Stories

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Security legislation passes amid protests, Prime Minister Abe Shinzō makes a statement to mark the seventieth anniversary of the ending of World War II, and Japanese hostages are killed in Syria. A look back on the biggest Japan-related stories of 2015.


Abe Visits Middle East

Prime Minister Abe Shinzō visits Egypt, Jordan, Israel, and Palestine, meeting with their leaders during a Middle East tour. In a

January 17 speech in Cairo, he pledges $2.5 billion in support for the region, including $200 million in nonmilitary aid to countries battling the group Daesh (Islamic State) for measures incluing assistance to refugees.

Japanese Hostages Killed in Syria

Daesh releases a video of two Japanese hostages on

January 20 , demanding a ransom of $200 million within 72 hours for their safe return. Both Yukawa Haruna, an adventurer seeking to set up a security firm, and freelance journalist Gotō Kenji had been captured in Syria during 2014. On

January 24 , Daesh announces Yukawa has been killed; on

January 31 , it releases footage of Gotō’s execution on the Internet.

Skymark Files for Bankruptcy Protection

Japan’s third-largest carrier Skymark Airlines files for bankruptcy protection at the Tokyo District Court on

January 28 with ¥71 billion of liabilities. This follows Airbus’s July 2014 cancellation of a contract to supply six A380 planes to Skymark when it was unable to make payments. With support from private-equity firm Integral and All Nippon Airways, in August the carrier decides to restructure and continue operations.


Funding Scandal Forces Cabinet Change

Minister of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries Nishikawa Kōya resigns on

February 23 over a political funding scandal. Prime Minister Abe replaces him with Hayashi Yoshimasa, who returns to the post just five months after the September 2014 reshuffle.


Hokuriku Shinkansen Route Opens

The Hokuriku Shinkansen service connecting Tokyo to Kanazawa comes into operation on

March 14 , cutting travel time between the two cities by over an hour to 2 hours and 28 minutes. The service will be expanded to Fukui and Tsuruga by 2022. Ridership exceeds expectations in the first six months of operation, bringing economic benefits to tourist sites on the route.

Aging Nuclear Reactors to Close

Japanese utilities decide on

March 17 to shut down three reactors in Fukui Prefecture: two in Mihama and one in Tsuruga. On

March 18 , further closures are announced at Matsue in Shimane Prefecture and Genkai in Saga Prefecture. The five reactors have been in operation for 39–44 years, and the cost of meeting new safety standards is given as the reason for closure. The closures reduce Japan’s total number of nuclear reactors from 48 to 43.

First Recognition for Same-Sex Couples

Shibuya in Tokyo on

March 31 becomes the first place in Japan to recognize same-sex relationships, approving a statute to issue cohabiting couples with certificates and treat them the same as married couples. In April, Setagaya in Tokyo announces it is considering a similar move and both cities start issuing certificates in November. Although the municipal documents are not legally binding, it is hoped that they will lead to greater acceptance.


Nikkei Hits 15-Year High

The Nikkei average clears the 20,000 mark on

April 10 for the first time since April 17, 2000, due to share price rises in Western markets and expectations of domestic recovery as the yen depreciates.

Abe Addresses Joint Session of US Congress

Prime Minister Abe begins an eight-day tour of the United States on

April 26 . In a meeting with President Barack Obama at the White House, the two leaders stress the importance of newly revised defense guidelines and release a joint statement affirming the need to strengthen the US-Japan alliance through greater military and economic cooperation. Abe becomes the first Japanese prime minister to address a joint session of the US Congress on

April 29 . Marking the seventieth anniversary of the end of World War II, Abe expresses deep regret for the war, saying, “Our actions brought suffering to the peoples in Asian countries. We must not avert our eyes from that.”


Osaka Reform Plan Rejected


May 17 , voters in an Osaka referendum narrowly defeat a bill that would have abolished the municipal assembly and divided the city into five special wards. Mayor Hashimoto Tōru, who proposed the plan, states that he will not run in the next election, scheduled to be held before the end of the year, and will retire from politics. Japan Innovation Party leader Eda Kenji also takes responsibility for the defeat of the motion and resigns; he is replaced by Matsuno Yorihisa.


Pension Service Suffers Huge Leak

News emerges on

June 1 of a massive leak of personal information from the Japan Pension Service, which handles public pensions, after its computers are hacked via an email-borne virus. The hackers obtained names, addresses, dates of birth, and pension numbers for over 1 million citizens.

Younger Voters From 2016

Japan’s voting age is reduced from 20 to 18 as a bill to amend the Public Offices Election Act is unanimously approved during a session of the House of Councillors on

June 17 . The change will come into force one year later, increasing the total number of voters by 2.4 million, or approximately 2%, in time for the 2016 House of Councillors election.


Japanese-Korean Friction Over World Heritage Selection

At a meeting in Bonn, Germany, on

July 5 , the UNESCO World Heritage Committee decides to list Sites of Japan’s Meiji Industrial Revolution as a World Heritage site. The 23 locations, spread across eight prefectures, are described by UNESCO as testifying to “what is considered to be the first successful transfer of Western industrialization to a non-Western nation.” South Korea had opposed the registration due to the use of Korean forced laborers at seven of the sites, but ultimately agreed after Japanese concessions.

Comedian Matayoshi Becomes Bestselling Novelist

The 153rd Akutagawa Prize is jointly awarded to Hada Keisuke for his story “Sukurappu ando birudo” (Scrap and Build) and Matayoshi Naoki for the novel Hibana (Spark) on

July 16 . Matayoshi’s popularity as a member of the comedy duo Peace contributes to sales of 2.4 million for Hibana, his writing debut, as of December 2015.

Back to the Drawing Board on Olympic Stadium

Prime Minister Abe announces on

July 17 that plans for the new National Stadium, scheduled to be the venue for the 2020 Summer Olympic and Paralympic Games, will be scrapped, saying “We have decided to go back to the drawing board and start again from zero.” Projected total construction costs had spiraled to ¥252 billion, almost twice the original estimate.

Scandal at Toshiba


July 20 , an independent committee publishes its report into inappropriate accounting practices at Toshiba, concluding that senior managers were involved in inflating earnings by ¥156.2 billion from April 2008 to December 2014. On

July 21 , President Tanaka Hisao, Vice-Chairman Sasaki Norio, and Senior Advisor Nishida Atsutoshi submit their resignations. Sasaki and Nishida were both former presidents of the company. In December, Toshiba announces an estimated loss of ¥550 billion for the fiscal year to March 2016 and says it will slash 10,000 jobs in Japan and abroad.


First Nuclear Plant Restart Since 2011 Disaster

Kyūshū Electric Power Company restarts Reactor 1 at the Sendai Nuclear Power Plant on

August 11 . This is the first restart of any Japanese nuclear power plant under a new safety regime instituted after the Fukushima Daiichi disaster of March 2011. All of Japan’s nuclear plants have been inactive for nearly two years, since the Ōi Nuclear Power Plant shut down in September 2013. Reactor 1 resumes commercial operation on September 10 and Reactor 2 is restarted on October 15.

The Abe Statement

Prime Minister Abe makes a statement on

August 14 to mark the seventieth anniversary of the ending of World War II. He says that “Japan has repeatedly expressed the feelings of deep remorse and heartfelt apology for its actions during the war,” and that the “position articulated by the previous cabinets will remain unshakable into the future.” His statement also uses such keywords as “aggression” and “colonial rule.”


Olympic Logo Scrapped

The organizing committee for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics decides to scrap the official logo on

September 1 after allegations of similarities to the logo for the Théâtre de Liège in Belgium. The abandoned logo, which was designed by Sano Kenjirō, was unveiled in July. A new logo competition is launched in November and over 14,000 submissions are received by the December 7 deadline.

Dispute Over Okinawa Base Relocation Continues


September 7 , talks held since August 10 between the Japanese government and Okinawa Prefecture over the relocation of the US Marine Corps Air Station Futenma from Ginowan to Henoko conclude unsuccessfully. On

September 12 , the government restarts construction at Henoko. In October, Okinawa Governor Onaga Takeshi revokes permits for Henoko landfill work and the government responds the next month by filing a lawsuit with the Naha branch of the Fukuoka High Court, transforming the dispute into a legal battle.

Security Bills Pass Through Diet

The governing coalition in the House of Councillors wins a majority vote on

September 19 to pass security legislation that would allow Japan to exercise the right of collective self-defense. Public opinion is divided, with some criticizing the move on the grounds that sending Self-Defense Forces overseas to engage in military action is a violation of the Constitution. SEALDs (The Students Emergency Action for Liberal Democracy) and other student groups come to prominence as protests take place around the Diet and elsewhere.

Great Strides for Japanese Rugby

In one of the biggest upsets in rugby history, Japan defeats two-time tournament champions South Africa 34–32 in its first match at the Rugby World Cup in England on

September 19 . Although it fails to progress to the knockout tournament, the team finishes with an impressive record of three wins and one loss. Fullback Gorōmaru Ayumu rises to fame and the “Gorōmaru pose,” in which he stands with his hands together and both index fingers pointing upward before place kicks, is selected as one of the Words of 2015.


My Number System Launched

“My Number” legislation, under which all residents of Japan will be assigned 12-digit identification numbers for taxation and social security purposes, comes into effect on

October 5 with the aim of increasing efficiency. Delivery of My Number notification cards begins later in the month.

Agreement on TPP

Japan, the United States, and 10 other countries reach agreement on

October 5 on trade and investment rules for the Trans-Pacific Partnership. With lowered tariffs likely to hit Japanese agriculture and fisheries hard, particularly the livestock and dairy industries, local authorities begin to estimate the probable impact.

Nobel Success for Japanese Scientists

Ōmura Satoshi is named among the winners of the 2015 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine on

October 5 and Kajita Takaaki is announced as a shared winner of the 2015 Nobel Prize for Physics on

October 6 . Ōmura is chosen for the discovery of the microbe avermectin, which became the basis for treatment of river blindness and other parasitic diseases in the developing world. Kajita is selected for the discovery that neutrinos have mass, based on his study at the Super-Kamiokande neutrino detector in Gifu Prefecture.


Talks Resume with China and South Korea

Prime Minister Abe meets in Seoul on

November 1 with President Park Geun-hye of South Korea and Premier Li Keqiang of China. It is the first time the tripartite talks have been held since May 2012, due to issues including increased tensions related to the disputed Senkaku Islands. Prime Minister Abe and President Park hold a formal summit on

November 2 . Regarding the “comfort women” issue, seen by Korea as the largest stumbling block to better ties, Abe says that the leaders agreed “to speed up negotiations with the aim of reaching an early resolution.”

IPO for Japan Post Firms

Japan Post Holdings and its subsidiaries Japan Post Bank and Japan Post Insurance are listed on the Tokyo Stock Exchange on

November 4 . Following privatization, the combined market value of the three companies is more than ¥15 trillion, making it Japan’s second largest IPO ever after the ¥25 trillion raised for NTT in 1987.

Maiden Flight for Japanese Jet

Japan’s first passenger jet, the Mitsubishi Regional Jet, takes off from Nagoya Airport in Aichi Prefecture and returns 90 minutes later to complete its maiden test flight on

November 11 . The jet, developed by Mitsubishi Aircraft, is Japan’s first domestically built passenger plane since the propeller-driven YS-11 around 50 years ago.

Record-Breaking Skating from Hanyū

Hanyū Yuzuru becomes the first skater to score more than 300 points, racking up a total score of 322.40 to win the NHK Trophy in Nagano on

November 28 . On December 12, he breaks his own record with a score of 330.43 at the Grand Prix Final in Barcelona, Spain, becoming the first man to win three consecutive titles.


Japanese Probe Enters Venus Orbit

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency announces on

December 9 that the Akatsuki probe has successfully entered into the orbit of Venus on its second attempt, five years after its initial attempt in 2010. It spent the intervening time traveling around the sun. Akatsuki, meaning “Dawn,” is the first Japanese probe to orbit another planet.

Supreme Court Upholds Separate Surname Ban


December 16 , Chief Justice Terada Itsurō announces the Supreme Court’s decision that the ban on married couples using separate surnames is constitutional, dismissing a case brought by women seeking a change to Japanese family law. He also states that decisions on the present system should be made by the Diet. Of the 15 members of the court, 5 voted that the ban was unconstitutional, including all 3 female justices. In a separate ruling, the court decides that the six-month ban on women’s remarriage after divorce is unconstitutional, but only beyond the first 100 days.

Kuma Kengo Design Selected for New National Stadium

After scrapping an earlier proposal, the Japan Sports Council on

December 22 unveiled the newly chosen National Stadium design by acclaimed architect Kuma Kengo. The five-story-high facility will seat 68,000 and feature a playing field sunk two stories underground. Construction is scheduled to be completed in November 2019 at a cost of ¥149 billion.

(Banner photo: Young demonstrators protest the government’s new security legislation outside the Diet on July 31, 2015. © Jiji.)

China Abe Shinzō nuclear power TPP Okinawa space Toshiba South Korea my number Olympics Hokuriku Shinkansen Nobel Prize Hanyū Yuzuru rugby LGBT US Congress security legislation voting age Abe statement Mitsubishi Regional Jet Daesh UNESCO World Heritage