A mix of scandals, achievements, political missteps and commemorations highlighted 2013. For a rundown of the quotations that shaped the Year of the Snake, let’s start at the top, with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
“Let me assure you the situation is under control,” Abe said in a speech on Sept. 7 in front of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in Buenos Aires. He was referring to the contaminated groundwater problem at the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant. Tokyo was awarded the 2020 Olympic Games following the speech.
Six days later, Tokyo Electric Power Co., the operator of the plant, disputed the prime minister’s claim at a meeting in Koriyama, Fukushima Prefecture.
“We regard the current situation as not being under control,” said Kazuhiko Yamashita, a senior official at Tepco.
Also in attendance was Hironori Nakanishi, director-general for energy and technology policy at the Agency for Natural Resources and Energy.
“From now on, we will work hard to control the situation,” he said.
Changing of the guard
“I know I’ve said I would retire many times in the past. Many of you must think, ‘Once again.’ But this time I am quite serious,” said famed director Hayao Miyazaki in September, speaking about his retirement from making feature films. The director’s “Kaze Tachinu (The Wind Rises)” topped Japan’s box office chart for the year.
The following month, Takashi Yanase, the author of the Anpanman picture book series, passed away. “Mr. Yanase was Anpanman,” said actress Keiko Toda, whose voice was used for the television version of the series. “He embraced us gently and taught us to share. We’ve lost a precious guiding post.”
In May, Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto suggested that the U.S. military utilize Japan’s legal sex service businesses.
“It is impossible to control the sexual energy of hot-blooded marines properly unless such places are officially made use of,” the Asahi Shimbun quoted the mayor as saying. “Principles aside, I ask you to make good use of such places.”
Expressing similar knowledge of the commercial sex trade was Tomonobu Togasaki, general manager of all-girl pop group AKB48. Weekly tabloid Shukan Bunshun in November photographed the general manager smoking drugs and rendezvousing with women identified as college students at a love hotel in Tokyo’s Minato Ward.
“The women are sex workers,” said Togasaki, who is married, when asked about whether he was engaging in affairs. “They are not amateurs. Is that adultery?”
The sporting scene
On the baseball diamond, two players had remarkable seasons. At the plate, Wladimir Balentien set the single-season home run record after hitting his 56th round-tripper in September.
“For me to do it, I can’t even explain what I’m feeling right now,” said the outfielder for the Yakult Swallows.
Meanwhile, pitcher Masahiro Tanaka led the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles to the Japan Series title in November after compiling a perfect 24-0 record during the regular season.
“I’d like to allow him to rest and eat his favorite food,” wrote Tanaka’s wife, Mai Satoda, on her blog.
Also deserving of some time off was mountaineer Yuichiro Miura. In May, the alpinist, then 80 years old, became the oldest person to reach the summit of Mount Everest.
“I could not move at all,” said Miura in explaining that his legs had become very weak after his ascent to the summit.
On the final day of the Kyushu Basho sumo tournament in November, Paul McCartney and his crew were in attendance as a part of a promotion for his latest album, “New,” which had been released the month before.
A spokesperson told the NME: “The match they went to was like the FA Cup Final or Wimbledon of sumo wrestling. Between rounds traditionally dressed Japanese people were carrying ‘New’ album cover artwork on bamboo billboards around the stadium!”
Spies like us
In July, Zhu Jianrong, a 56-year-old professor of international relations at Toyo Gakuen University, went missing after returning to his native China.
“We have no further information and his wife has lost contact with him,” a spokesperson for the university told AFP in September. “We are worried about him.”
Newspapers reported that Zhu, who appeared regularly on Japanese television, is being investigated by the Chinese ministry of state security for alleged espionage.
In October, an elementary school principal within the Osaka Board of Education denied charges of sexual harassment by claiming he was emulating a British spy.
“These were actions like 007,” Yoshida wrote in a letter to the board. “To get information from female spies, I showed them affection.” He resigned later that month.
The image factory
“Whatever we in the West know about Japanese film, and how we know it, we most likely owe to Donald Richie,” said director and screenwriter Paul Schrader in speaking of the movie critic (and longtime contributor to this newspaper) who passed away in February.
Meanwhile, “It’s very hard to see any diminution for the Japanese fondness for cuteness,” Ted Bestor, director of the Reischauer Institute of Japanese Studies at Harvard University told Bloomberg News in September.
Yin and yang
The restaurant industry had its ups and downs in 2013. In December, the Michelin guide awarded 14 restaurants in Tokyo with three stars, its highest designation. Though the figure is three less than that of two years ago it is still the most in the world.
“It’s getting harder to get three stars in the Tokyo area as Michelin is increasingly trying to evaluate the attractiveness of Japan as a whole country,” Kyoichiro Shigemura, an analyst at Nomura Holdings Inc., said to Bloomberg News. “So the competition will be more severe in the region in the future.”
Hundreds of mainstream eateries found themselves embroiled in a nationwide scandal over the mislabeling of ingredients in dishes listed on menus.
“It appears our employees were touting the sauce as handmade because they thought that would make the (item) sound more attractive,” said Masanobu Morimoto, the board director of Hankyu Hanshin Hotels Co., which had made fraudulent claims about the ingredients of a number of its dishes, including those containing chocolate and fish.
Cheers from abroad
Staying with the subject of food, washoku, or traditional Japanese cuisine, was added to UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage list. Kiyotoshi Tamura, an official in the Organization to Promote Japanese Restaurants Abroad, welcomed the accolade but cautioned that Japanese food is not just about kaiseki multicourse meals.
“We include takoyaki (octopus dumplings), ramen, gy?don (beef on rice) and other reasonably priced foods among Japanese foods, and we want to promote them,” said Tamura in December. “We want to turn people into fans of Japan and Japanese food.”
In June, the same organization designated Mount Fuji a World Heritage Site. Hidetada Sudo, the mayor of Fujinomiya City, Shizuoka Prefecture, said the commendation would provide a boost to tourists.
“I expect many people will visit us,” the mayor said. “This is a huge step for our city’s development.”
Foot in mouth disease
In April, then-Tokyo Gov. Naoki Inose criticized the infrastructure of Madrid and Istanbul, the two cities that had been in competition with Japan’s capital to host the 2020 Games, in an interview with the New York Times.
The governor then said of Islamic nations, “The only thing they share in common is Allah and they are fighting with each other, and they have classes.” Inose later apologized for his remarks. The governor resigned Thursday over a funding scandal involving medical facilities company Tokushukai.
In May, Hideaki Ueda, Japan’s envoy to the United Nations on human rights issues, told members of the U.N. Committee Against Torture in Geneva to “Shut up!” Ueda was responding to laughter heard within the committee after he had defended Japan’s judicial system. He resigned from his post in September.
In July, Taro Aso, the minister of finance, ruffled feathers abroad by invoking Nazi Germany during a speech in which he discussed revising the war-renouncing Article 9 of Japan’s Constitution.
“(The Nazis) did it in a ‘let’s-keep-it-quiet’ manner, and the Weimar Constitution was changed almost before people realized it,” Aso said. “Why don’t we learn from that method?”
I’ve got a secret
Speaking of keeping it quiet, the Diet passed the controversial state secrets bill into law in December. Prior to its passage, Liberal Democratic Party Secretary-General Shigeru Ishiba found displeasure with street protests against the legislation.
“If you want to realize your ideas and principles, you should follow the democratic principles, by gaining as much support as you can,” Ishiba wrote on his blog in November. “I think the strategy of merely shouting one’s opinions at the top of one’s lungs is not so fundamentally different from an act of terrorism.”
Polls taken after the bill’s passage showed that Abe’s support rating ? buffeted largely by his economic stimulus measures dubbed “Abenomics” ? had dropped, with Kyodo News reporting a fall of 10.3 percentage points to 47.6 percent.
“We must sincerely and humbly accept the people’s harsh criticism,” said Abe, according to the Wall Street Journal. He added, “I myself should have taken more time to carefully explain” the bill.
In November, Matsutane Hamada, the former president of Akafuku, a traditional confectioner at the Ise Grand Shrine in Mie Prefecture, said that he did not mean to imply that foreigners are not welcome to the area.
“For Japanese people, Ise is the spiritual homeland,” he said when asked by the Mainichi Shimbun to clarify his remarks. “I want to make it a place that is pleasing to the people of Japan.”
According to the original Mainichi article, Hamada had said: “I don’t want to see foreigners coming into Okage Yokocho,” referring to the shopping area by the shrine. “It’d be strange to see them there, don’t you think? I’m aware that we can’t come out and say, ‘Don’t come here,’ but we shouldn’t be posting signs in English and the like to make things more welcoming for them.”
Preceding Abe in speaking before the IOC in Buenos Aires in September was television announcer Christel Takigawa. In her speech, Takigawa slowly pronounced each syllable of omotenashi, meaning hospitality, in an effort to highlight a positive aspect of Tokyo.
Popularity of the word subsequently spread like wildfire, and publishing house Jiyukokuminsha included the term as one of the top buzzwords of the year. But by November, Takagawa indicated she was a bit tired of the fad.
“I’ve had enough,” she said. “I’m happy to watch others (pronounce the term).”
Brett Bull is the editor-in-chief of The Tokyo Reporter news site (www.tokyoreporter.com). Translations from various English media, The Tokyo Reporter and Durf.org. Send your comments and ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org.