The Japan Times newsroom selected the following domestic news stories as the most important of 2018.
1. Help wanted: The Diet passed a controversial bill on Dec. 8 to overhaul the immigration control law, paving the way for an influx of an estimated 345,000 foreign workers in the five years after the new visa system comes into effect in April. Passions raged on both sides of the debate with protests breaking out in Tokyo.
2. Hippocratic oafs: Tokyo Medical University admitted in August to having manipulated entrance exam scores for years to curb female enrollment. The move was aimed at preventing a shortage of doctors at affiliated hospitals, on the grounds that women tend to resign or take leaves of absence after getting married or giving birth.
3. Aum executions: All 13 former Aum Shinrikyo cult members on death row, founder Shoko Asahara among them, were hanged for their crimes, including the 1995 sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway system that killed 13 people and injured thousands of others.
4. The long game: Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was re-elected to a third term as Liberal Democratic Party president on Sept. 20, setting him on a course to become the nation’s longest serving prime minister ever. He has expressed his resolve to revise the war-renouncing Constitution during his term through September 2021.
5. Weather woes: More than 200 people died from torrential rain that wreaked havoc across western Japan in July, causing floods and triggering landslides in prefectures including Hiroshima and Okayama. Heat waves that followed hindered reconstruction efforts by local residents and volunteers.
6. Terrifying temblor: A magnitude 6.7 earthquake — reaching the maximum 7 on Japan’s seismic intensity scale in some areas — hit Hokkaido, causing landslides that destroyed homes on Sept. 6. The morning quake also cut power to nearly 3 million homes, preventing local residents from getting emergency information.
7. No place like home: Journalist Jumpei Yasuda, who was captured by an armed group in Syria three years ago, returned to Japan in October after a Turkish-Qatari deal enabled his release. He later said he was confined in a small room where he was barely able to move and was forced to listen to other hostages being tortured.
8. Doctored documents: The Finance Ministry admitted in March that its officials doctored documents over the Moritomo Gakuen purchase deal, causing former senior ministry official Nobuhisa Sagawa, who oversaw the ministry bureau responsible for the scandal at the time, to resign as National Tax Agency chief.
9. Fish story: After 83 years of operation, the Tsukiji fish market was relocated to Toyosu in October. Having delayed the move for two years due to concerns over contamination, Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike declared the new site safe in July. The new market is open to tourists, and its iconic tuna auction should go public in January.
10. Last dance: Pop star Namie Amuro gave her final concert on Sept. 15 in her home prefecture of Okinawa. Dominating the spotlight since the 1990s in music, dance and fashion, for many her retirement symbolized something of an end to the Heisei Era, which officially comes to a close on April 30, 2019.