Japan Timeline

Timeline for May 2017

Princess Mako’s engagement is announced, Prime Minister Abe faces scrutiny over accusations of using his influence inappropriately, and anticonspiracy legislation makes it through the lower house. These are the top Japanese news stories of May 2017.


The Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force helicopter carrier Izumo is sent to escort a US supply ship off of Chiba Prefecture’s Bōsō Peninsula, in the first application of new security legislation giving Japan’s forces a greater role.


Japan marks 70 years since the enactment of its postwar Constitution. Prime Minister Abe Shinzō sends a video in his capacity as Liberal Democratic Party president to a meeting of a group that aims to revise the document. He sets 2020 as a target year for enforcing a revised Constitution that clarifies the existence of the SDF in the war-renouncing Article 9.

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The Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications announces that the total population of children under 15 was 15.71 million as of April 1, 2017, falling 170,000 from the previous year. The figure has dropped annually since 1982.

An exhibition of the works of Comme des Garçons fashion designer Kawakubo Rei opens at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. It is only the second time the museum has dedicated an exhibition to a single contemporary designer, following a Yves Saint Laurent show in 1983. The event continues until September 4.

The press viewing of the Kawakubo Rei exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York on May 1, 2017. (© Jiji)


The International Council on Monuments and Sites, a UNESCO advisory panel, recommends adding the sacred island of Okinoshima to the World Heritage list. It rejects, however, other sites in Fukuoka Prefecture nominated by the Japanese government in the same proposal. The listing is expected to be formally endorsed in July.

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The Ministry of Finance announces that Japan’s government debt reached ¥1,072 trillion as of the end of fiscal 2016. The new record high was up ¥22.2 trillion from the previous year.

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Prime Minister Abe talks for around 25 minutes by telephone with new South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who was elected on May 10. He prods Moon on the 2015 bilateral agreement on the comfort women issue: “It is important to responsibly implement the agreement, which has been highly praised by the international community.” The two leaders agree to cooperate closely in responding to the increasingly tense situation in North Korea.

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Toshiba announces a provisional expected loss of ¥950 billion in a balance sheet for the year ending March 31, 2017, that had not yet received auditor approval. This was due mainly to its heavy losses in its troubled nuclear business following the filing for bankruptcy by its US subsidiary Westinghouse.

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It is announced that Princess Mako, one of Emperor Akihito’s granddaughters, will be engaged to a former classmate, Komuro Kei, who now works at a Tokyo law firm. The wedding is expected to take place next year. Under the Imperial House Law, she will lose imperial status after she is married.

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Allegations arise that Prime Minister Abe wielded his influence inappropriately after the Asahi Shimbun reports that his backing helped the educational organization Kake Gakuen get permission to build a new veterinary school in a specially designated strategic district. On May 19, Minister of Education Matsuno Hirokazu denies the alleged existence of documents with instructions from the Cabinet Office. However, on May 25 Maekawa Kihei, a former administrative vice education minister, tells a press conference that the documents are real. Abe himself denies he exerted pressure at a House of Councillors committee meeting on May 29.

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The cabinet approves special legislation that would allow Emperor Akihito to abdicate. It is expected to be passed before the close of the ordinary Diet session in June. The government is considering timing the abdication and the accession of Crown Prince Naruhito to the throne for December 2018.

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The Japan National Tourism Organization announces that 9.1 million foreign visitors came to the country between January and April, up 16.4% compared with the same period in 2016. JTA Commissioner Tamura Akihiko tells reporters that the figure reached 10 million on May 13, which is the earliest day in the year this landmark has ever been reached.

Studio Ghibli begins seeking people to work on a new feature-length animation, due to director Miyazaki Hayao going back on his plan to retire. “Having found a subject worth filming, there was nothing else he could do. Considering his age, this time it really is likely to be the director’s final film,” the studio states.

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The Softbank Group announces the establishment of a $93 billion tech investment fund. Apart from Softbank, the Saudi Arabian government, Apple, semiconductor giant Qualcomm, Taiwan’s Foxconn, and Sharp have all contributed to the fund.


Following the withdrawal from the United States from the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership, representatives of the remaining 11 countries meet in Hanoi, Vietnam, to discuss reviving the deal. Officials will meet again in Japan in July with the aim of achieving broad agreement before November’s Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting.

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A bill expanding crimes classed as “conspiracies” in organized crime legislation to include planning of terrorist acts passes the House of Representatives with the support of the ruling LDP-Kōmeitō coalition and other lawmakers. The government positions the move as part of the measures needed to prevent terrorism at the Tokyo Summer Olympics and Paralympics in 2020 and as a preparatory step for ratifying the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime. Opposition parties warn that the move could lead to arbitrary searches against ordinary citizens.


Prime Minister Abe meets French President Emmanuel Macron for the first time following Macron’s election on May 7. At the Group of Seven summit in Taormina, Italy, the two leaders agreed to cooperate to maintain security in the Asia-Pacific region. Macron accepts Abe’s invitation to make an early visit to Japan.

The last 40 or so Ground SDF troops deployed as part of peacekeeping operations in South Sudan withdraw after five years and four months.

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Having spent a total of 1,981 days in office, Prime Minister Abe overtakes Koizumi Jun’ichirō to become Japan’s third-longest-serving postwar premier.

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Satō Takuma, driving for Andretti Autosport, becomes the first Japanese driver to win the Indianapolis 500 in his eighth attempt. The 200-lap race is held at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Indiana.

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Miyazato Ai announces her retirement from professional golf at the end of the current season, citing a difficulty in maintaining motivation. The formerly top-ranked player in women’s golf won the Ladies Professional Golf Association Tour 9 times and the LPGA of Japan Tour 15 times.


The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare announces that the ratio of active job openings to applicants for April rose by 0.03 from the previous month to 1.48. This is the highest the ratio has reached in over 40 years, topping the 1.46 level it reached at the peak of the bubble era in 1990.


The Japan Sumō Association announces that rikishi Takayasu will be promoted to the second-highest ōzeki level after 34 victories in his last three tournaments. With his addition to the top ranks, there will be four yokozuna and three ōzeki for the first time since 2000.

Takayasu (front center) holds a celebratory tai (sea bream) after a formal ceremony to tell him of his promotion in Tokyo on May 31, 2017. Takanotsuru (seated at right) is the head of his Tagonoura stable. His father Eiji (back row, third from right) and Filipina mother Bebelita (back row, center) also look on. (© Jiji)

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