Japan Timeline

Timeline for January 2015

Politics Economy Science Technology Society

Prime Minister Abe Shinzō visits the Middle East, mourners mark the twentieth anniversary of the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake, and the extremist group Islamic State kills two Japanese hostages. These are the main news stories for January 2015.


Aoyama Gakuin University wins the ninety-first Hakone Ekiden relay, completing the 10-stage, 217.1 kilometer course in 10 hours, 49 minutes, 27 seconds to break the 10 hour, 50 minute barrier for the first time in the competition’s history. Komazawa University finishes second and 2014 champion Tōyō University finishes third.


On the first day of trading in 2015, the Nikkei index drops 0.2% to 17,408.71 before falling a further 3% on January 6 in its largest tumble since March 2014.

Toyota announces it will freely share more than 5,000 patents related to hydrogen fuel cell technology. This exceptional decision is intended to drive the development and early adoption of fuel cell vehicles.


Yamaguchi Yoshinori is elected as governor of Saga Prefecture, defeating Hiwatashi Keisuke, who had been backed by the Liberal Democratic Party and Kōmeitō. At a press conference on January 14, Yamaguchi states that he will “go back to square one” to reconsider the plan to deploy Self-Defense Forces Osprey aircraft at Saga Airport.


Japan’s cabinet approves a record ¥96 trillion budget for fiscal 2015, projecting increased corporate profits and cutting new borrowing to less than ¥40 trillion. Social welfare programs are expected to grow by 3.3% to ¥31.5 trillion, while defense expenditures will rise 2% to a record ¥4.98 trillion.


Ono Masatsugu wins the 152nd Akutagawa Prize for “Kunen mae no inori” (A Prayer Nine Years Ago), while Nishi Kanako’s Saraba! (Farewell!) is awarded the 152nd Naoki Prize.


Prime Minister Abe Shinzō visits Egypt, Jordan, Israel, and Palestine, and meets 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 such measures as providing assistance to refugees.


On the twentieth anniversary of the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake, mourners observe a moment of silence at 5:46 am, the time that the disaster occurred. The 1995 magnitude 7.3 earthquake killed 6,434 people in Hyōgo Prefecture, with most of the victims coming from the city of Kobe.

Mourners light candles at a January 17, 2015, ceremony in Kobe marking the twentieth anniversary of the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake. (© Jiji)


Okada Katsuya is elected as leader of the Democratic Party of Japan, defeating Hosono Gōshi in a runoff vote. A former foreign minister, Okada retains Edano Yukio as secretary-general of the DPJ and appoints Hosono as policy chief, Takaki Yoshiaki as chair of the Diet affairs committee, Genba Kōichirō as chair of the election campaign committee, and Nagatsuma Akira and Renhō as acting presidents.


The extremist group Islamic State releases a video of two Japanese hostages, 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. It is the first time the group has threatened to kill Japanese nationals. Prime Minister Abe, who is touring the region, says at a Jerusalem press conference that it is “an abhorrent act of terrorism.” On January 24, a newly released video includes a photograph that appears to show Yukawa’s body.

The Japan National Tourism Organization announces that a record 13.4 million foreign tourists visited Japan in 2014, a 29.4% increase from the more than 10 million overseas visitors in 2013. The largest number of visitors came from Taiwan at 2.83 million (up 28.0%), followed by South Korea with 2.76 million (up 12.2%) and China with 2.41 million (up 83.3%).


Toyota announces that its worldwide group sales for 2014, including for the Daihatsu and Hino brands, were 10.23 million, a 3% annual increase. This put the Japanese giant marginally ahead of the Volkswagen group, which recorded sales of 10.14 million, to remain the world’s leading automobile manufacturer for the third consecutive year. It is the first time Toyota’s sales have exceeded 10 million units.

Onitsuka Miyabi wins the women’s slopestyle gold medal for snowboarding at the FIS Freestyle Ski and Snowboarding World Championships in Kreichsberg, Austria. At 16 years and 3 months, she is the youngest-ever snowboarding champion at the competition.


Mongolian yokozuna Hakuhō wins his thirteenth consecutive bout at the New Year Tournament to secure his thirty-third career championship, thereby moving ahead of Taihō (1940–2013) to take sole possession of the record for sumō wrestling championship wins. On January 25, he defeats Kakuryū for a perfect undefeated record in the New Year Tournament.

Hakuhō receives the New Year Tournament trophy following his thirty-third career championship win on January 25, 2015. (© Jiji)

Japan’s soccer team is defeated in the quarterfinals of the Asia Cup in Australia by the United Arab Emirates, losing 5–4 in a penalty shootout after Shibasaki Gaku’s equalizing goal results in a 1–1 draw. As a result, the 2011 champion Japan fails to reach the semifinal of the Asia Cup for the first time since 1996.


A new video of hostage Gotō Kenji is released, purportedly by Islamic State. The video claims Yukawa Haruna has been executed and drops demands for a ransom, instead asking for Sajida Mubarak Atrous al-Rishawi, a death-row prisoner in Jordan, to be released in exchange for Gotō.

People gather in central Tokyo to call for the release of Japanese hostage Gotō Kenji on January 28, 2015. (© Jiji)


Japan’s third-largest carrier Skymark Airlines files for bankruptcy protection at the Tokyo District Court 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, the carrier intends to restructure and continue operations.


A further video is released by the group claiming to be Islamic State, which appears to show the execution of Gotō Kenji. The Japanese government states that the video seems to be authentic.

Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake Democratic Party of Japan budget Toyota Islamic State Nikkei index Hakuho Asia Cup