Timeline for December 2014Politics Economy Science Technology Society
US credit rating company Moody’s Investors Service downgrades Japan’s credit rating by one notch from Aa3 to the fifth-highest A1 rating, citing such factors as the postponement of a second consumption tax hike as having heightened uncertainty over the achievability of fiscal deficit reduction goals. It is three years and four months since Moody’s last downgraded Japan’s credit rating; the A1 rating puts Japan lower than both China and South Korea and on a par with Israel, the Czech Republic, and Oman.
Publisher Jiyū Kokumin Sha announces the winners of its “Words of 2014.” The top prize is shared by shūdanteki jieiken or the “right to collective self-defense,” after a July 1 cabinet resolution reinterpreted the constitution to make this possible, and Dame yo. Dame dame, a popular catchphrase meaning “No way. No, no” from comedy duo Nippon Erekiteru Rengō.
The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) successfully launches an H-IIA rocket carrying the Hayabusa 2 probe from the Tanegashima Space Center in Kagoshima Prefecture. The Hayabusa 2 probe is the successor to the Hayabusa, which collected samples from the asteroid 25143 Itokawa before returning to Earth in June 2010. It is scheduled to arrive at the asteroid designated (162173) 1999 JU3, which orbits between Venus and Mars, in summer 2018, spend around 18 months collecting samples and conducting research, and arrive back on Earth at the end of 2020. The twentieth consecutive successful H-IIA launch since 2007 means that the rockets now have a success rate of more than 96%.
At the award ceremony in Stockholm, King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden presents official medals and diplomas to the winners of the Nobel Prize in Physics: Professor Akasaki Isamu of Meijō University, Professor Amano Hiroshi of Nagoya University, and Professor Nakamura Shūji of the University of California, Santa Barbara. The prize is awarded for the invention of efficient blue light-emitting diodes. It comes two years after Kyoto University Professor Yamanaka Shin’ya won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, and brings the total number of Japanese Nobel laureates in all fields to 22.
A law to protect state secrets related to defense, diplomacy, and other areas of national security comes into effect. The strict new law carries penalties including imprisonment of up to 10 years for public servants and private contractors who leak state secrets. Passed in December 2013, the law has been criticized as infringing on citizens’ right to know.
The Kanji of the Year for 2014 is named as 税 (zei; mitsugi), meaning “tax,” at a ceremony at the temple of Kiyomizudera in Kyoto. The character is chosen by voters as the twentieth winner of the Japanese Kanji Proficiency Society’s annual competition following the consumption tax hike of April 2014. In second place is 熱 (netsu; atsui), meaning “hot,” and in third place is 嘘 (kyo; uso), meaning “lie.”
Hanyū Yuzuru retains the men’s singles figure skating Grand Prix in Barcelona, becoming the first Japanese man to win two successive competitions. This follows a difficult month in which he suffered head injuries after a collision at a competition in China on November 8 and could only achieve a fourth-place finish in the NHK Trophy competition, which concluded on November 30. Mura Takahito and Machida Tatsuki come fifth and sixth respectively in the men’s singles in Barcelona, while Hongō Rika debuts in sixth place in the ladies’ singles.
In the forty-seventh House of Representatives election, the Liberal Democratic Party wins 291 of the 475 seats available—of which 295 are single seats and 180 come through proportional representation—and coalition partner Kōmeitō takes 35 seats. The strong performance gives Prime Minister Abe Shinzō a firmer footing for implementing long-term policies as the Democratic Party of Japan can only make minor gains to win 73 seats. Both Obuchi Yūko and Matsushima Midori, who resigned from ministerial posts after scandals in October, hold onto their seats. However, prominent casualties include DPJ leader Kaieda Banri, former Your Party leader Watanabe Yoshimi, and Party for Future Generations chief Ishihara Shintarō. Voter turnout is 52.66%, a new record low following the previous record of 59.32% set in the 2012 election.
Toyota launches the world’s first mass-market fuel cell vehicle, the Mirai. FCVs have been described as the ultimate in environmentally friendly cars as they run on electricity generated through a reaction between hydrogen fuel and oxygen in the air and do not emit carbon dioxide or harmful exhaust fumes. Toyota will produce 700 of the vehicles annually and plans to start exports to Europe and North America from summer 2015. The cars cost ¥7.24 million, though government subsidies of around ¥2 million are available.
Japan soccer coach Javier Aguirre is named as one of 40 people under investigation for match fixing in Spain’s top league in 2011, when he was coach of Real Zaragoza. Aguirre denies any involvement.
The Central Japan Railway Company begins construction of the linear Chūō Shinkansen, which aims to start services between Shinagawa in Tokyo and Nagoya in 2027. Ceremonies praying for the safety of construction workers are held at the two stations. When the route is operational, journeys will take a minimum of 40 minutes, less than half of the 88 minutes currently required. However, as 86% of the route will consist of tunnels, numerous issues remain, such as disposing of large amounts of excavated earth and completing difficult construction work through the Southern Alps.
The Riken research institute announces that it is unable to reproduce STAP cells, bringing an end to experiments that had been due to continue until March 2015. Neither Obokata Haruko, leader of the team that claimed to have created the cells, nor other Riken researchers were able to recreate the cells before the end of November. Obokata and her team wrote papers about STAP cells that were published in Nature in January 2014, but after doubts were raised about their authenticity the journal retracted both papers in July. On December 21, Obokata resigns from her position at Riken.
Tokyo Station celebrates 100 years since it opened in 1914. The JR station is a major hub in the metropolitan area and a symbol of Japan’s modernization. Plans to distribute 15,000 limited edition commemorative Suica fare cards meet with overwhelming demand and JR halts sales amid chaotic scenes after only selling 8,000 cards.
The Central Council for Education presents its proposals for university entrance reform to Minister of Education Shimomura Hakubun. It recommends a switch from judging applicants solely on their test scores, measures of how well they have memorized facts, to multifaceted overall assessment including essays and interviews.
Hashimoto Tōru resigns as co-leader of the Japan Innovation Party, saying that he wishes to devote his energies to administrative reform in Osaka in his role as mayor of the city. Osaka Prefecture Governor Matsui Ichirō also resigns from his position as secretary-general. Both men will focus on winning reelection in local elections in spring 2015 and are expected to return after the elections are over. Eda Kenji moves from co-leader to party president and Matsuno Yorihisa becomes secretary-general.
Prime Minister Abe Shinzō is formally selected as prime minister by both houses at the opening of the 188th extraordinary diet session. Abe removes Minister of Defense Eto Akinori after a political funding scandal, replacing him with former defense agency head Nakatani Gen. The other 17 cabinet members remain unchanged.
An independent committee presents the findings of its investigation into the Riken STAP cells, concluding that they were actually embryonic stem cells. However, it is unable to ascertain whether ES cells were added intentionally or accidentally and who added them. The committee discovers two more examples of Obokata falsifying images and states that her coauthors also bear heavy responsibility.
On the final day of trading in 2014, the Nikkei index falls heavily, ending the day 279.07 points lower at 17,450.77. Concern about Greek political chaos was a factor as selling outpaced buying. However, the index rose 7.12% overall in 2014, achieving its highest closing level in 15 years.