Japan: The Top News Stories of 2023
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In the year Japan assumes the presidency of the Group of Seven, Prime Minister Kishida Fumio goes on a tour of France, Italy, Britain, Canada, and the United States from January 9 to 15. In a meeting with US President Joe Biden, the two leaders agree to reaffirm their countries’ alliance.
Eisai applies to the Japanese government on January 16 for approval of Lecanemab, its drug for treatment of Alzheimer’s. On December 13, an advisory panel to the Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare sets the annual cost of the drug at around ¥3.0 million per patient, and approves its use in the public health insurance system.
In his January 23 policy speech, Prime Minister Kishida says he wants to implement unprecedented measures to tackle the falling number of births in Japan. Health ministry statistics released on June 2 show that there were fewer than 800,000 births in the country in 2022, the lowest count since records began in 1899. On December 11, Kishida announces a ¥3.6 trillion package that includes expanded child allowances and free university education for households with three or more children.
The popular Ueno Zoo giant panda Xiang Xiang leaves Japan to return to China and find a breeding partner.
The next-generation H3 rocket launched from Tanegashima Space Center on March 7 by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries self-destructs with its payload, an earth observation satellite, after its second-stage engine fails to ignite.
On March 16, Prime Minister Kishida meets in Tokyo with South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol, marking the first summit in Japan between the two countries’ leaders since 2011. Kishida and Yoon agree on the revival of regular mutual visits, and the pair meet in Seoul on May 7, as bilateral ties improve. The two leaders join President Biden at Camp David on August 18, where they affirm a new era of partnership between their countries, outlining their future cooperation, and issuing a joint statement, in their first meeting that is not part of an international conference.
Prime Minister Kishida meets with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy during a surprise trip to Kyiv on March 21, where he pledges to supply Ukraine $30 million (¥4 billion) for the purchase of nonlethal equipment.
Japan defeats the United States 3–2 in the final of the World Baseball Classicl on March 21 in Miami to win the tournament for the third time. Ohtani Shōhei is chosen as the competition’s most valuable player.
Astellas Pharma announces on March 26 that its Japanese employee is being detained in China. The government says that China reported the man was being held for espionage. On April 1, Minister for Foreign Affairs Hayashi Yoshimasa meets his counterpart Qin Gang in China seeking an early release, but in October the man is formally arrested.
On March 27, the Riken research institute announces that it has started cloud operations of Japan’s first quantum computer.
Ueda Kazuo, an economist and former member of the Bank of Japan Policy Board, replaces Kuroda Haruhiko as the BOJ governor on April 10. At his opening press conference, he says that he will continue with fiscal easing.
A specialist MHLW subcommittee approves the manufacture and sale of an abortion pill for the first time on April 21. The pill can be used within the first nine weeks of pregnancy.
The government downgrades COVID-19 from category 2 to category 5 on May 8, placing it at the same level as seasonal influenza. The move eliminates legal constraints on activities, and measures to prevent infection are left to individuals to decide, allowing events like performances, sports, and festivals to return to normal.
On May 18, the kabuki actor Ichikawa Ennosuke and his parents are found collapsed at their home in Meguro, Tokyo. Ennosuke’s father, the kabuki actor Ichikawa Danshirō, and mother are pronounced dead from an overdose of psychotropic drugs. Tokyo police arrest Ennosuke on June 27, and he receives a suspended three-year sentence at the Tokyo District Court on November 17 for helping his parents to commit suicide.
The G7 Summit is held in Hiroshima from May 19 to 21. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy also attends the summit and meets with leaders. A joint statement affirms continued support for Ukraine and the strengthening of disarmament and nonproliferation efforts.
Yakusho Kōji wins the Best Actor award at the Cannes Film Festival on May 27 for his performance in Perfect Days, directed by Wim Wenders. Sakamoto Yūji wins the best screenplay award for Monster, directed by Koreeda Hirokazu.
The Fukuoka District Court rules on the constitutionality of banning same-sex marriage on June 8 in the fifth of five cases examined by district courts. Sapporo and Nagoya courts previously declared the law unconstitutional in contrast to the Osaka court, which declared it constitutional. Courts in Tokyo and Fukuoka ruled that the legal system was in “a state of unconstitutionality.”
After rising steadily from around 25,000 at the start of the year, the Nikkei index reaches a 33-year high of 33,772 on June 19.
The Japanese Trade Union Confederation (Rengō) releases figures on July 5 showing an average wage increase of 3.58% among its member unions following the spring wage offensive, the highest level since it hit 3.90% in 1993 and a rise of 1.51 percentage points over the previous year. The increase was 3.23% at smaller unions (with less than 300 members), up 1.27 points year on year.
The Boy and the Heron, Miyazaki Hayao’s first film for a decade, is released in Japan on July 14. It opens in the United States and Canada on December 8, and tops the box office rankings on its first weekend.
Nissan and Renault sign an agreement on July 26 over a review of their capital relationship that will see Renault reduce its stake in the Japanese company from 43% to 15% during this fiscal year to match Nissan’s stake in the French automaker.
On July 28, the Bank of Japan announces it will take a more flexible approach to adjusting interest rates, lifting its cap on long-term interest rates from 0.5% to 1.0%. At its meeting on October 31, it decides to make the cap more flexible, allowing yields to rise above 1%.
Nadeshiko Japan loses to Sweden 2-1 in the quarterfinals of the FIFA Women’s World Cup on August 11. Miyazawa Hinata wins the Golden Boot after finishing as top scorer with five goals.
On August 24, Tokyo Electric Power Company begins discharging treated wastewater from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station. This follows a July 4 report from the International Atomic Energy Agency saying that the plan is “consistent with international safety standards.” China responds to the release by announcing a total ban on seafood imports from Japan.
On September 1, the Japan Meteorological Agency reports that the country experienced its hottest summer since records began in 1898. It was 1.76°C hotter than the average for 1991 to 2020.
President Julie Fujishima of Johnny and Associates announces her resignation on September 7, acknowledging sexual abuse by late agency founder Johnny Kitagawa and offering an apology. She is succeeded by singer and actor Higashiyama Noriyuki. The company changes its name to Smile-Up on October 17 with plans to dissolve after it has completed paying compensation to abuse victims.
Prime Minister Kishida reshuffles his cabinet and the LDP leadership on September 13. New Minister for Foreign Affairs Kamikawa Yōko, who previously served as minister of justice, is among a record-equaling five women in the cabinet.
Japan’s hopes of making the quarterfinals of the Rugby World Cup are dashed with a 39–27 loss to Argentina in its final match of the Rugby World Cup pool stage on October 8. The Brave Blossoms finish third in Pool D with two wins and two losses.
On October 11, Sapporo and the Japan Olympic Committee announce the withdrawal of the city’s bid to host the 2030 Winter Olympics, citing difficulty in winning public support following corruption and bid-rigging scandals connected to the Tokyo Olympics.
Fujii Sōta wins the Ōza tournament on October 11 to become the first shōgi player ever to hold all eight titles.
The Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology requests a court order on October 13 to disband the Unification Church due to its illegal acts under the Civil Code. It follows seven rounds of questioning by the Cultural Affairs Agency, while the church has paid 1,550 people a total of ¥20.4 billion in compensation. On December 13, the Diet enacts a law that aims to provide relief to victims, while more closely monitoring the church’s assets.
There are 2,516,500 international visitors to Japan in October, an increase of 0.8% compared with October 2019, marking the first time monthly totals exceed pre-pandemic figures from 2019.
The yen remains weak in 2023, generally staying between 140 and 150 to the dollar, but rising above 150 from late October into November.
The cabinet approves a ¥17 trillion package of economic measures on November 2, including payments to low-income households and temporary cuts in income and residence tax. On November 29, the Diet approves a ¥13.2 trillion supplementary budget for fiscal 2023 to support these measures.
The Hanshin Tigers defeat the Orix Buffaloes 7–1 in game seven of the Japan Series on November 5, giving the club its first championship in 38 years.
A government panel proposes that foreign workers in a planned replacement system for the technical trainee program should in principle be allowed to change employers after one year. The new system will prioritize securing labor and use the word “worker” instead of “trainee.”
Ohtani Shōhei signs a 10-year, $700 million contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers on December 11. This follows a season with the Los Angeles Angels in which he was chosen unanimously as the American League MVP for the second time, as he scored 44 home runs and recorded 10 wins as a pitcher.
On December 12, Tokyo District Court sentences Mori Yasuo of the Tokyo 2020 organizing committee to two years in prison, suspended for four years, for bid-rigging.
After a scandal emerges over Liberal Democratic Party lawmakers in the faction formerly led by the late Abe Shinzō receiving kickbacks from sales of tickets for fundraising parties, Prime Minister Kishida makes four changes in his cabinet on December 14. This includes the replacement of Matsuno Hirokazu as chief cabinet secretary by former Minister for Foreign Affairs Hayashi Yoshimasa.
A summit marking 50 years of friendly ties between Japan and ASEAN takes place in Tokyo from December 16 to 18.
Toshiba is delisted from the Tokyo Stock Exchange on December 20, after it was acquired by private equity firm Japan Industrial Partners in September.
(Originally written in English. Banner photo: Julie Fujishima [second from right] announces her resignation as president of Johnny and Associates in Tokyo on September 7, 2023. © Jiji.)