Japan Timeline

Timeline for December 2016

Prime Minister Abe visits Pearl Harbor, an Osprey crash-lands off Okinawa, and the House of Representatives passes casino legislation. Look back at the key Japan-related stories of December 2016.


Prime Minister Abe Shinzō becomes Japan’s fourth-longest-serving postwar leader. He has served a total of 1,807 days during his first term (2006–7) and his current term, which began in December 2012.

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IT giant DeNA shuts down 10 of its information websites following repeated criticism for their inclusion of information that is inaccurate or taken without permission from other sources. The media focus on this issue prompts other IT companies including Recruit and Yahoo to remove articles from their websites.


The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development announces the results of its Program for International Student Assessment survey conducted on over 500,000 15-year-old students in 72 countries and regions. Japanese students’ average score for science is second-highest worldwide, rising two places from the previous survey in 2012. The Japanese math average also rises two places to fifth, but the average for reading falls four places to eighth.


The Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry states that it has almost doubled its estimate for cleanup and related costs for the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster to ¥21.5 trillion from ¥11 trillion. Part of the bill will be shouldered by new electricity companies established following April’s liberalization in the industry.

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The House of Councillors ratifies the Trans-Pacific Partnership and related laws, despite the stated intention of US President-elect Donald Trump to withdraw from the agreement. Prime Minister Abe says before the upper house meeting that it is important to convey a message about the need for regional free trade.

The Kōnotori supply vessel is launched from the Tanegashima Space Center in Kagoshima Prefecture. It arrives at the International Space Station on December 13. From late January to early February 2017, it will conduct experiments on clearing up space junk by pushing it toward the Earth’s atmosphere to burn it up.


A rail link damaged by the 2011 tsunami reopens over five years later. The section of track is on the Jōban Line between Sōma, Fukushima Prefecture, and Hamayoshida, Miyagi Prefecture. Three stations were moved up to 1.1 kilometers inland and the track elevated to protect them from future disasters.

A train passes newly constructed houses in Yamamoto, Miyagi Prefecture, traveling along an elevated track on the restored Jōban Line on December 10, 2016. The Pacific Ocean is a short distance away in the background. (© Jiji)

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At the award ceremony in Stockholm, King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden presents an official medal and diploma to Ōsumi Yoshinori, the winner of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.

Ōsumi Yoshinori, honorary professor at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, holds his Nobel medal after the award ceremony in Stockholm, Sweden, on December 10, 2016. (© Jiji)

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A ceremony is held to mark the start of construction of the new National Stadium, the main stadium for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics. Work had been planned to begin on the original design by Zaha Hadid in October 2015. Spiraling costs, however, led the government to select a new design by the architect Kuma Kengo. It is scheduled to be completed in November 2019, eight months before the games take place.

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An MV22 Osprey belonging to the US Marines crash-lands off the coast of Okinawa near Camp Schwab in Nago. All five crew members are rescued. It is the first serious accident involving the aircraft to take place in Japan. The US military suspends Osprey flights on December 14, following calls to do so from Defense Minister Inada Tomomi. Flights resume, however, on December 19.

Wreckage of the MV22 Osprey near Nago in Okinawa on December 15, 2016. (© Jiji)

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The House of Representatives passes legislation allowing for construction of “integrated resorts,” paving the way for the introduction of casinos as part of multi-use facilities including hotels and meeting rooms. The government will announce further necessary legislation.

Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a summit with Prime Minister Abe Shinzō on December 15 and 16 in Nagato, Yamaguchi Prefecture, and Tokyo. While the meeting fails to resolve the Northern Territories issue, the two leaders announce an agreement to begin talks on joint economic activities in the disputed territories as an important first step toward concluding a peace treaty.

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Real Madrid defeat Kashima Antlers 4-2 after extra time in the Club World Cup final in Yokohama. Midfielder Shibasaki Gaku scores the goals for the Antlers, representing Japan, who are the first Asian team to reach the final of the competition.


The government formally decides to decommission the Monju fast-breeder reactor, operated by the Japan Atomic Energy Agency, in Tsuruga, Fukui Prefecture. It will maintain its fuel-recycling policy and aim to develop a new fast reactor.

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A South Korean foundation, established following the December 2015 “comfort women” agreement between Japan and South Korea, announces that by the end of the year 31 surviving victims will have received payments of 100 million won (around ¥10 million) each. This means that approximately two in three of the 46 surviving women have accepted payments from funds set up using ¥1 billion provided by the Japanese government.


The government approves a ¥97.5 trillion budget for fiscal 2017, setting a record high for the fifth consecutive year. It will submit the budget in the ordinary Diet session beginning in January 2017 and aims to have it approved during fiscal 2016, which ends on March 31.

Some 150 buildings are destroyed by a fire that starts around half past ten in the morning at a ramen shop in Itoigawa, Niigata Prefecture. The blaze spreads over 40,000 square meters of the city before it is finally contained on the afternoon of December 23. There are no casualties.

A man searches the wreckage of his home on December 26, 2016, following a major fire in Itoigawa, Niigata. (© Jiji)

The US government returns 4,000 hectares of land in Okinawa to the Japanese government. The land comprises more than half of the Northern Training Area, also known as Camp Gonsalves, which is the largest US military facility in the prefecture. Governor Onaga Takeshi does not attend the reversion ceremony in protest at Osprey flights from helipads in the remainder of the training area.


The Chinese aircraft carrier Liaoning and other vessels enter the western Pacific through waters between Okinawa’s main island and Miyakojima. This is the first confirmed deployment of a Chinese aircraft carrier in the western Pacific.
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Prime Minister Abe Shinzō travels to Hawaii to meet with outgoing US President Barack Obama and pay his respects at Pearl Harbor. Abe, while not the first prime minister to visit this part of Oahu, is the first Japanese head of government to participate in a public ceremony with an incumbent US president at the site of Japan’s surprise attack 75 years earlier, as well as the first to visit the USS Arizona Memorial.
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The Tokyo Stock Exchange closes the trading year with the Nikkei average at 19,114.37, a rise of 80.66 from the close of 2015. This marks the fifth straight annual rise in year-end values, but the 0.42% increase is significantly lower than the 9.1% increase in 2015.

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