Asia: Japan in 2016
From the emperor to entertainment, Japan’s year was one of regular shocks and surprises
A series of earthquakes struck Kumamoto in Japan’s southwest in April, triggering fears of a repeat of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant disaster in 2011. Kumamoto city is located 115 kilometres (72 miles) from the Sendai nuclear power station, the only nuclear plant in operation at the time of the earthquake. The most recent temblors killed at least 50 people and severely damaged more than 40,000 buildings, including the historic Kumamoto Castle. According to the General Insurance Association of Japan, insurance payouts exceeded ¥362.1 billion by October, the second largest on record.
Japan’s legislature approved the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal on December 9, a move overshadowed by the vow by the President-elect of the United States, Donald Trump, to pull out of the deal on his first day in office. The Japanese government supports the TPP, ing it would help increase Japan’s GDP by nearly 2.6 percent and add nearly 800,000 new jobs but the absence of the U.S. would kill off the pact.
On August 8, Emperor Akihito hinted at a desire for retirement in a rare televised speech. Citing his gradually declining fitness, the 82-year-old emperor said it might become difficult for him to carry out his duties as head of state. Though opinion polls showed a majority of the public supports the emperor’s desire to step down there are no laws related to abdication.
The global success of the Pokémon Go “augmented reality” mobile game was initially good news for Japanese computer-games giant Nintendo. Its share price rose up to 50 percent after the game attracted 130 million downloads in its first month, but plunged just days later after Nintendo noted it had only a 32 percent stake in the game., made by U.S. company Niantic. However, the Pokémon Go surge benefited the wider market, and almost any company that made a deal related to the game or was otherwise connected, including fast-food chains, animation companies and mobile phone battery manufacturers.
A report released last year by the Japanese Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare in October showed one fifth of employees were at risk of death from overwork. The paper, the first of its kind, was the latest effort to curb the infamous “karoshi” phenomenon—deaths from strokes, heart attacks and suicide because of strenuous work. The suicide of a 24-year-old employee of advertising giant Dentsu in December 2015 triggered heated public discussion last year. According to the white paper, 22.7 percent of companies polled said some of their employees did more than 80 hours of overtime each month, the threshold at which the prospect of work-related death becomes serious.