The Japan Times editors selected these domestic stories as the most important of 2014.
1. Collective self-defense: Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Cabinet adopts a resolution reinterpreting the Constitution as permitting the nation to act in collective self-defense. This paves the way for possible use of military force to repel aggression against allies even if Japan itself is not under direct attack.
2. Consumption tax: In April, cash registers begin adding 8 percent to the cost of purchases, up from 5 percent previously, dampening consumer demand and causing gross domestic product to shrink for two consecutive quarters. The impact is more sustained than expected. As a result, Abe in December postpones a hike to 10 percent, planned for October 2015, until April 2017.
3. Snap election: Abe dissolves the Lower House and calls a general election that he bills as a referendum on his economic policies. The Liberal Democratic Party and Komeito secure a landslide and their coalition ends up in control of more than two-thirds of the seats. But voter turnout hits a record low, with many people citing a lack of viable alternatives. Even Banri Kaieda, the head of the Democratic Party of Japan, is ousted from his Tokyo seat.
4. STAP scandal: Research that makes headlines worldwide is soon revealed to be unreliable, and possibly faked. The respected international science journal Nature retracts two papers about a purportedly simple way to generate stem cells. Efforts to replicate the work fail, and the lead author of the papers, Haruko Obokata, resigns from the Riken institute.
5. Asahi’s “comfort women” apology: The left-leaning Asahi Shimbun retracts past stories about the coercion of women into military brothels during World War II, admitting — years after the fact — that an eyewitness it cited is now considered unreliable. The Asahi also retracts an allegation that workers fled the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant in panic during the meltdowns in March 2011. The newspaper’s president resigns.
6. Mount Ontake eruption: The volcano straddling Gifu and Nagano prefectures erupts in September, leaving 63 people, mostly hikers, dead or missing. Many were bludgeoned to death by falling rocks and hot ash in an eruption that seismologists did not predict. The nation’s worst postwar volcanic death toll was a reminder of some of the uncertainties Japan will always face from its seismically active islands.
7. Arms exports: Abe’s Cabinet in April adopts a new set of principles that allows Japan to sell defense equipment to other countries, on condition that they are not actively involved in conflict, and that the exports contribute to international cooperation and national security.
8. Surprise monetary easing: The Bank of Japan shocks the market and confounds economists’ predictions at the end of October by expanding its already massive monetary easing, after economic growth and inflation fall short of expectations. The yen further weakens and stock prices head upward, pleasing exporters and investors.
9. Nobel Prize in physics: Three Japan-born professors — Isamu Akasaki of Meijo University, Hiroshi Amano of Nagoya University and Shuji Nakamura of the University of California, Santa Barbara — are honored for their work on blue light-emitting diodes. Their research is widely hailed as having paved the way for the production of energy-efficient white LEDs, which are fast replacing incandescent bulbs in lamps worldwide.
10. State secrecy law: Government officials and defense industry employees who leak information designated as a state secrets, and those who encourage such leaks, are threatened with prison sentences when a new law takes effect in December. Hundreds of people protest outside the prime minister’s office, saying the law undermines the public’s right to know. Journalists fear they could be prosecuted for trying to obtain data about, for example, nuclear accidents.
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