Japan Timeline

Timeline for January 2016

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The Nikkei index falls to its lowest level since October 2014, Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko visit the Philippines, and Minister for Economic Revitalization Amari Akira announces his resignation. These are the main Japan-related stories of January 2016.


Aoyama Gakuin University wins the ninety-second Hakone Ekiden relay, its second consecutive victory, completing the 10-stage, 217.1-kilometer course in 10 hours, 53 minutes, 25 seconds.


Japanese Communist Party leaders attend the opening ceremony of the Diet for the first time, ending a longstanding boycott based on the party’s stance that it is unconstitutional for the emperor to attend the ceremony in an elevated seat suggesting his primacy over the democratic process. The JCP will continue to seek changes to what it views as a violation of the principle of popular sovereignty.

Stocks tumble on the year’s first day of trading at the Tokyo Stock Exchange due to a decline in Chinese manufacturing economic indicators and end-of-year losses on Wall Street. The Nikkei index drops 582.73 from the last day of trading in 2015 to finish at 18,450.98.


Atomic bombing survivors and others hold a sit-in protest at Hiroshima’s Peace Memorial Park on January 7, 2016, in response to North Korea’s announcement that it has tested a hydrogen bomb. (© Jiji)

North Korea conducts its fourth nuclear test. Its claim to have successfully tested a hydrogen bomb is met with skepticism from the United States and South Korea. Prime Minister Abe Shinzō condemns the action as “a clear violation of relevant United Nations Security Council resolutions,” adding that “Japan will take firm measures.”



The Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare orders Kumamoto research institute Kaketsuken to suspend operations for 110 days after it is found to be using blood-product manufacturing methods in violation of the Act on Pharmaceuticals and Medical Devices. The suspension, effective from January 18 to May 6, is the longest ever imposed on a pharmaceutical company.


Several sports dailies carry stories that four members of long-running idol group SMAP wish to leave the Johnny & Associates talent agency, with only Kimura Takuya remaining. On January 18, however, all five SMAP members appear live on a TV variety program to announce that the group will remain together.

All of the January 19 sports dailies gave front-page coverage to the television appearance in which SMAP apologized for causing trouble and pledged to stick together.


A research panel headed by former University of Tokyo President Sasaki Takeshi submits a report to House of Representatives Speaker Ōshima Tadamori, recommending reducing the overall number of seats by 10 to 465. The plan would address disparity in the value of a vote by adding seven seats split between Tokyo and four other densely populated prefectures and removing one each in 13 prefectures. Tokyo would also gain a proportional representation seat, while five regions would lose one each.


In Japan’s worst bus accident in 30 years, 15 people are killed as a tour bus crashes through the guardrail on National Route 18 near Karuizawa, Nagano Prefecture. The fatalities include both drivers, as well as 13 university students. This accident draws fresh attention to the danger posed by overworked, undertrained drivers following deregulation that has driven prices down in recent years.


Mourners in Kobe and other areas affected by the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake hold ceremonies marking 21 years since the disaster, in which over 6,000 people were killed.


The 154th Akutagawa Prize is jointly awarded to Takiguchi Yūshō for “Shindeinai mono” (Those Who Are Not Dead) and Motoya Yukiko for “Irui kon’intan” (A Tale of Marriage to a Different Kind). Aoyama Bunpei wins the 154th Naoki Prize for Tsuma o metoraba (If You Should Take a Wife).

The Japan Tourism Agency announces that 19.7 million foreign travelers visited the country in 2015. The 47% increase from 2014 sets a new record and includes almost 5 million tourists from China alone.


Stock prices at the TSE continue their downward trend since the start of the year as the Nikkei index falls 632.18 to 16,416.19. This is its lowest level since the Bank of Japan announced further quantitative easing on October 31, 2014.


In his policy speech for 2016, Prime Minister Abe announces that the government will work to ensure equal treatment for nonpermanent and permanent employees. The speech also focuses on issues related to economics, regional revitalization, engagement of all citizens, and diplomacy.


The Ministry of Justice announces that a record 7,586 people applied for asylum in 2015. Most of the applicants were from Asia, including four from Syria. Just 27 of the applicants were recognized as refugees.


Sakima Atsushi is reelected as the mayor of Ginowan, Okinawa Prefecture, the current location of the US Marine Corps Air Station Futenma. Sakima, backed by the Liberal Democratic Party, defeats Shimura Keiichirō, supported by Governor Onaga Takeshi. The central government’s planned relocation of the base to Henoko has met with fierce opposition from Governor Onaga.

Kotoshōgiku wins the New Year Tournament to become the first Japan-born champion at a sumō tournament since 2006. The last Japanese citizen to win a basho was Mongolian-born Kyokutenhō in 2012.

Kotoshōgiku (left) receives the Prime Minister’s Trophy at the Ryōgoku Sumō Hall on January 24, 2016. (© Jiji)

Heavy snow and low temperatures in western and central Japan cause five fatalities. The island of Amami Ōshima, Kagoshima Prefecture, experiences its first snow since 1901 and the city of Nago on the island of Okinawa, Okinawa Prefecture, records sleet—categorized as snow—for the first time ever.


Japan’s men’s soccer team qualifies for the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, later this year with a 2–1 victory over Iraq in the semifinal of the Asian Football Confederation Under-23 Championship in Doha, Qatar. On January 30, it defeats South Korea 3–2 in the final match of the tournament.

Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko lay flowers at the Rizal Monument in Manila on January 27, 2016. (© Jiji)

Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko depart on an official visit to the Philippines lasting through January 30. They visit both the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and a cemetery for Japanese soldiers who died during World War II. At a banquet hosted by Philippine President Benigno Aquino III, Emperor Akihito says of the injuries and loss of Phillipine lives caused by battles between Japanese and American forces, “This is something we Japanese must never forget.”


Minister for Economic Revitalization Amari Akira announces his resignation following allegations that he had received bribes from a construction company. At a press conference, he denies personally taking bribes, but admits that a secretary spent ¥3 million received from the company.


The Bank of Japan announces that it will apply a maximum interest rate of –0.1% on funds deposited by commercial banks after its board votes 5–4 in favor of the decision. The imposition of negative interest rates for the first time ever in Japan aims to encourage banks to lend their excess funds.

Kansai Electric Power Co. restarts Reactor 3 at the Takahama Nuclear Power Plant in Takahama, Fukui Prefecture, almost four years after it was shut down. It is the third reactor to restart under the new safety regime adopted after the Fukushima Daiichi disaster of March 2011, following two reactors at the Sendai Nuclear Power Plant in Kagoshima Prefecture.

Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake Bank of Japan tourism Olympics Tokyo Stock Exchange refugees SMAP Kotoshogiku Emperor Akihito Amari Akira