An H-2A rocket carrying a high-speed Internet satellite named Kizuna was successfully launched from Tanegashima Space Center in Minami-Tanecho, Kagoshima Prefecture, at about 6 p.m. Saturday.

The satellite was developed by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency and the National Institute of Information and Communications Technology, and was launched by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd.

The launch schedule was changed three times due to strong winds and the intrusion of a fishing vessel into a sea area declared off-limits for the launch. The rocket was finally launched 95 minutes behind schedule.

The satellite separated from the rocket about 28 minutes after the launch, about 280 kilometers above the Pacific Ocean south of the Hawaii islands and was in an elliptical orbit around the Earth. It will go into its scheduled geostationary orbit in about 20 days.

Saturday’s H-2A launch, which cost about 10.9 billion yen, was the eighth consecutive launch of the domestically developed and manufactured rocket since February 2005.

The Kizuna measures three meters by two meters by eight meters and weighs about 2.7 tons. About 52.2 billion yen was spent on its development.

The satellite will be in orbit about 36,000 kilometers above the Earth. Its three antennas will enable Internet communication across about one-third of the Earth’s surface, including Japan and Southeast Asia. It is designed to be used in emergencies, such as when terrestrial communication facilities are damaged by a natural disaster, and in remote areas, such as isolated islands, where ordinary high-speed Internet communication facilities are unavailable.

Ninety-one technological demonstration experiments are planned to be carried out with the satellite.



Two fishermen were missing after a Maritime Self-Defense Force Aegis-equipped destroyer collided with a fishing boat in the Pacific off Boso Peninsula in Chiba Prefecture early Tuesday morning, the MSDF and the Japan Coast Guard said.

The 7,750-ton Atago plowed into the 7.3-ton Seitoku Maru 42 kilometers south of Nojimazaki cape at about 4:10 a.m., according to the officials.

As a result of the clash, the fishing boat’s hull was broken in two, the officials said.

Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda criticized poor communications within the ministry after learning that Defense Minister Shigeru Ishiba did not receive an initial report on the incident until 90 minutes had elapsed.

Among the MSDF’s five Aegis-equipped destroyers, the Atago, which was commissioned in March last year, is the latest version of the destroyer equipped with the advanced radar system, according to the MSDF.

The accident was the first major collision in 20 years between an MSDF vessel and a fishing boat since the Nadashio, an MSDF submarine, hit the Fuji Maru No. 1, a leisure boat carrying anglers, off Yokosuka Port, Kanagawa Prefecture, in July 1988, killing 30 people.

According to the Third Regional Coast Guard Headquarters, aboard the fishing boat were the captain, Haruo Kichisei, 58, of Katsuura, Chiba Prefecture, and his 23-year-old son, Tetsuhiro. Both were missing after the accident, the coast guard said.

JCG officials said they received a report on the incident from the Atago at 4:23 a.m., which reportedly said the Seitoku Maru had been sundered but was still floating. MSDF officers reportedly added that they were unable to locate any of the boat’s crew. It is believed the destroyer plowed into the side of the fishing boat. Abrasions believed to have been produced at the time of the collision were visible on the right side of the Atago’s bow from a Yomiuri Shimbun helicopter.

JCG officials attached a device called an airlifter to the disparate parts of the fishing boat to stop them from sinking, before searching the two interiors for survivors–a search that proved fruitless.

At the time of the accident, there reportedly was a north-northeast wind of about 7 meters per second, waves of about 50 centimeters, and clear visibility.

According to the Kawazu branch of Shin-Katsuura fishermen’s cooperative, the Seitoku Maru set off from Kawazu Port at about 2 a.m. Tuesday with seven other vessels to fish for tuna. The vessels planned to head for waters off Hachijojima island after fishing for mackerel off Izu-Oshima island to use as bait. They were scheduled to return to the port at about 9 to 10 p.m. later the same day.

When the fishermen’s cooperative contacted the Kinpei Maru, one of the other fishing boats, crew members reportedly said they had spotted an MSDF destroyer.

The MSDF Staff Office established a committee to investigate the accident the same day. MSDF officials said the Atago was on normal night duty at the time of the incident.

Under law, to avoid collisions at sea, vessels are supposed to keep to their respective starboard sides, in principle, when cutting across each other. When planned routes mean that crossing paths is inevitable, the vessel that sees the other on its starboard side is required to change its course to avoid a clash.

However, because an operational fishing boat always takes priority, other vessels must move to accommodate the fishing boat.

It is considered highly likely the Atago bore the responsibility to change direction to avoid a collision at the time of the accident. Usually, a ship taking such action would sound its horn as a warning while steering away from the approaching vessel.

But the crew members of the seven fishing boats sailing with the Seitoku Maru said they did not hear a horn sound before the collision occurred.

The Atago, which is 165 meters long and 21 meters wide, has a crew of about 300.

After leaving the MSDF’s Maizuru base in Kyoto Prefecture on Oct. 25, the Atago arrived in waters off Hawaii on Nov. 8. After test-firing SM-2 interceptor missiles, the destroyer headed for Japan and was scheduled to arrive in Yokosuka on Tuesday.

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TOKYO — Three people were found dead at a home in Tokyo’s Adachi Ward on Monday afternoon, while a 15-year-old boy found at the scene with his hands cut off at the wrist and the back of his head caved in has fallen into a coma after being rushed to a hospital, police said.
The three are believed to be Toru Sasaki, 52, his wife Kazuko, 49, and Sasaki’s mother Tokuko, 84, while the boy is Sasaki’s son, who is a first-year student in high school, police said.

All were found bleeding, and a bloodstained ax was discovered in the house, according to police.

The boy was quoted as telling the police before he lost consciousness, “My father did it to me,” while a note with blood, believed to have been written by Sasaki, was found in the house, which suggested he would commit murder-suicide.




A growing number of pet owners are turning to legal experts for advice on drawing up wills that ensure their beloved companions are looked after in the event of their death.

Under the Civil Code, people cannot directly bequeath assets to pets, so owners have been making wills leaving their estates to nonfamily members on the condition they take care of their pets.

With more pet lovers living alone because of the declining birthrate and aging population, interest in the issue of “asset succession” to pets is expected to grow.

“For some people, a pet is more important than their family,” administrative scrivener Hiroshi Ito said. “There’s extremely high interest in [such] wills.”

Ito, of Taito Ward, Tokyo, says he first had someone call on him over drawing up a will to benefit their pets five years ago. Since then, he has spoken with about 50 people in similar cases.

Under the Civil Code, pets are deemed to be objects, and may not inherit assets. “It’s possible to bequeath assets to pets using the ‘onerous bequest’ system,” Ito said.

An onerous bequest is a method for creating wills for situations such as leaving an estate to a person, but with certain conditions, such as having a person look after parents, or leaving them land in return for taking over a farm.

This method can also be used for pets, and three people to date have drawn up wills in this way.

One was a widow in her 70s who left 15 million yen to an old friend in her neighborhood on condition the friend took care of her dog.

“I feel a great weight lifted from my shoulders,” said the woman, who has lived alone since the death of her husband. “[The dog] will be all right if anything happens to me.”

The other two were also elderly people who made wills leaving assets of between 3 million yen and 5 million yen to people on conditions they look after their pets.

To avoid problems, these people had their wills notarized, rather than just drawing up the wills themselves.

They also gave a “memorandum” to the beneficiary of the will setting specific instructions for looking after the pets. These notes state matters such as the number of times a day they should be fed and how often they should be taken for walks.

“With an increase in the number of elderly people living alone with their pets, the sudden death of the owner could, in a worst case scenario, lead to the animal being put down,” Ito said. “Drawing up a will [to care for the pet] would give the owner peace of mind and be good for the pet, too.”

But it is not only elderly people who are consulting legal experts on such matters.

An administrative scriveners office in Kumamoto that has an online consultation service for pet-related inquiries has received requests from two single women in their 30s to draw up draft wills.

One of the women has a dozen or so dogs, and has reportedly made a will entrusting care of several dogs each to a number of friends and colleagues.

But problems are forecast over issue of the actual inheritance.

Masumi Yoshida, a professor at Obihiro University of Agriculture and Veterinary Medicine and a lawyer with expertise in legal issues regarding pets, says various problems may ensue.

According to Yoshida, people may accept the assets, but not look after the pets; legal heirs and other people may have objections; or the pets may fail to become attached to their new owners.

One measure to counter this may be to specify a testamentary executor who is authorized in advance to make sure the will is adhered to.

The testamentary executor will be able to nullify the bequest if an heir does not keep a promise or if the type of care the heir is requested to give is unreasonable.

However, the definition of “care” is ambiguous.

“It’s true that there is an increased need for [such wills], but people should refrain from drawing up wills irresponsibly,” Yoshida said. “As well as properly checking out beforehand whether a person can really take care of pets, it’s necessary to decide beforehand the details of care [in the will], including what to do if a pet falls sick or there’s an emergency.”


TOKYO (AP) — Grand champion Asashoryu of Mongolia beat compatriot Tokitenku on Sunday to win a one-day sumo tournament.

Asashoryu overpowered Miyabiyama in the semifinals before facing Tokitenku in the final at Ryogoku Kokugikan.

Asashoryu lost to compatriot Hakuho on the final day of the New Year Grand Sumo Tournament last month in his return to sumo after serving a two-tournament suspension for playing in a charity soccer tournament in Mongolia.

Asashoryu, who has won 21 Emperor’s Cups, became the first wrestler to win the annual one-day event three times in a row.

Hakuho started the one-day event from the second round but made an early exit after losing his first bout to Tokitenku, who defeated Bulgarian ozeki Kotooshu in the semifinals.



Yokozuna Asashoryu made time in between interviews with TV “personality” Mina Monta to beat fellow Mongolian Tokitenku in the final of the 32nd Japan Ozumo Tournament at Ryogoku Kokugikan on Sunday.

The yokozuna had a relatively straightforward route to the 2.5 million yen first prize, helped by yokozuna Hakuho’s loss to Tokitenku–a No. 1 maegashira at the New Year basho–in the second round.

(Feb. 11, 2008)

Religion gets personal

February 9, 2008

Japanese attitudes toward religion have often been considered something of a paradox–most Japanese consider themselves nonreligious but still visit religious facilities. In this installment of the “Currents” series, The Daily Yomiuri examines what religion means to the Japanese.

In a sun-filled, spacious “house” replete with refined European furniture, the former beauty queen’s grandchildren sang the heartwarming “Shiki no Uta” (Song of Four Seasons), the family’s favorite song. The family watched home videos, often chuckling as they recalled lighthearted moments and events that had slipped from memory over the years.

It was a pleasant family gathering on a pleasant day. And as they said their final goodbyes to the 88-year-old woman, her funeral came to an end.

Rather than following traditional funeral rituals, her relatives had opted for a more personal ceremony that they thought reflected the closeness of the family.

Witnessing this funeral service four years ago convinced Kenichi Nitto, the general manager of funeral company Kansai Shinseikatsu Gojokai, that he had been right to foresee a growing demand for such personalized rites in which families have more input in the proceedings.

When Nitto entered the funeral business about 30 years ago, he took it for granted that Buddhist rituals would be an integral part of any funeral. But when Nitto looked ahead to his own funeral, he realized he wanted a personal ceremony with a more homey feel that would assuage his family’s grief.

The result was Memorial House Keyakinomori funeral hall in Sanda, Hyogo Prefecture. Furnished with a stylish bathroom, beds, a kotatsu and even a kitchen, Keyakinomori is a far cry from the conventional funeral halls where Buddhist monks chant sutra before a wooden altar adorned with rows of chrysanthemums and other flowers.

Funerals held there since it opened in 2003 have catered to personal preferences and often are largely free of religious influence.

“More and more people are stepping away from the preconception that funerals require monks,” Nitto said. “At first, we were very worried whether people would accept such an extraordinary idea. But it turned out to be just what people wanted.”

Many Japanese people still associate funeral services with Buddhism. But this religion–in its original form–did not attach much importance to funeral services.

Instead, Shintoism–the indigenous religion of Japan–has influenced funeral traditions and rituals, said Sachiya Hiro, who has written many books on religion.

“Today’s funerals are actually shaped by Shintoism,” Hiro said. “Buddhism doesn’t have a conventional role in funerals. Buddhist thinking follows that whatever happens after people die should be left alone.”

Buddhism came to play a big part in funeral services in Japan in the late Edo period (1603-1867) at the politically motivated instruction of the shogunate. Before that, community leaders had conducted rituals in accordance with Shinto-influenced customs when a member of their community died.

In an attempt to stamp out Christianity, the shogunate required all families to register with a temple and placed the Buddhist institution in charge of ritual care of the dead. With the funeral being such an important Christian rite, the shogunate could deduce that anyone who did not follow the Buddhist service after death was likely to be a Christian.

“The monks were ordered to conduct funerals for common people. Until then they had never arranged such rituals,” Hiro said. “So they simply copied the rituals they had performed for funerals of their fellow monks.”

The practice of giving kaimyo–posthumous names to go to the spirit world–also spread to commoners at this time, according to Hiro.

After the sweeping reforms led by the GHQ of the Allied Occupation of Japan after World War II, temples were stripped of the income from their large land holdings, and had little option but to rely on funerals or anniversary memorial services as a way of generating revenue, he said. About the only other recourse available was to transform themselves into tourist attractions to stay afloat.

As illustrated by the services offered at Keyakinomori, however, a growing number of people are opting for funerals that they feel better accommodate their personal preferences.

A quiet change is also afoot in funeral practices.

Since the early 1990s, the practice of scattering ashes, called sankotsu, which was not uncommon before the Edo period, has gained growing acceptance, particularly among people uncomfortable with the manner and cost of conventional funerals and those who do not want to burden their family with the responsibility of looking after an ancestral tomb. For example, the Grave-Free Promotion Society, a nonprofit organization, has performed such “natural funerals” for more than 2,200 people on nearly 1,300 occasions since 1991.


Changing perceptions?

Recent trends indicate a diluted embrace of organized religion with regard to funerals, but what about Japanese consciousness of religion overall?

In recent years, more and more Japanese have considered themselves nonreligious. According to a 2005 Yomiuri Shimbun survey, 75 percent of respondents said they did not really believe in any religion.

But scholar Tetsuo Yamaori brushes off the argument that Japanese are nonreligious, saying Japanese simply do not follow specific faiths in the same way as followers of monotheistic faiths. He blames the post-Meiji education system’s fixation with modernization for causing the Japanese to misunderstand their indigenous religion.

Since the reintroduction of Western religions shaped intellectuals in the Meiji era (1868-1912) and influenced the definition of the term “religion,” Japanese have fallen into the habit of viewing their indigenous faith from the viewpoint of monotheistic religions such as Christianity, which believe there is only one god, said Yamaori, a professor emeritus of the International Research Center for Japanese Studies.

“For more than 100 years, we have identified our own faith through the framework of monotheistic religions,” he said. “We’ve come to think that our own religion is primitive and less sophisticated and it’s not what a religion should be.”

According to Yamaori, Japanese religion is polytheistic and tolerant of other religious beliefs, and evolved around nature worship, which he calls season religion, and the concept of “mu,” or nothingness.

Japanese people have long appreciated seasonal change, such as the blooming of cherry blossoms or the arrival of autumn foliage, and sensed the existence of many gods in nature. At the same time, Japan’s vulnerability to natural disasters cultivated feelings of awe toward the environment. Tenets of Buddhist belief, such as that nothing remains unchanged and everyone that is born must die, fit snugly with this sentiment.

The claim that many Japanese are nonreligious seems to come unstuck when one considers the number that still feel a connection to religious sites.

In the 2005 Yomiuri survey, more than 80 percent of respondents said they had visited a shrine, temple or church at some time during the past year. The survey also found many seek divine help when trouble strikes. And just last month, the National Police Agency said 98.2 million people visited shrines or temples across the country in the first three days of 2008–the highest number since 1974.

This paradox–in which many Japanese regard themselves nonreligious but still visit religious facilities–has intrigued observers.

“If you are looking at the cognitive dimension of religion where you’re focusing on belief, it seems Japanese are rather less religious than, say, Americans,” said Mark Mullins, a professor of Japanese religion and society at Sophia University. “But if you look at ritual behavior and participation, all of a sudden, the population is actually fairly religious.

“You might say [hatsumode and doing things relating to the family and graves of ancestors] is just a custom. That may be, but they are going to a sacred place,” he said.

Mullins added that this kind of practice, however, only rarely translates into exclusive commitment or belonging to one religious organization, with survey research revealing that just under 10 percent of Japanese claim to belong to a religious organization.


Revival of spiritualism

Japanese culture, society and civilization have been predicated on religious beliefs, yet many Japanese have drifted away from these beliefs as negative images of organized religion have put down deep roots.

Many religious scholars say the 1995 subway sarin attack carried out by the Aum Supreme Truth cult accentuated negative attitudes and suspicions about religion, leading to what has been dubbed a Japanese “allergy” to organized religion.

However, Japanese religious behavior does not necessarily correspond to their cognitive-level beliefs.

Many people seem to be seeking alternative ways to find solace or peace of mind–on a spiritual level.

Fumio Kaneki of Yokohama travels to the trendy Tokyo district of Nishi-Azabu on Monday evenings. Shopping and a fancy dinner are not on his mind: rather, Kaneki makes his way to the heart of one of the world’s busiest capitals to find some quiet and peace of mind. Tucked away down a quiet side street, Chokokuji temple offers zazen meditation sessions.

“I’ve been coming here for about 20 years,” the 75-year-old said. “At first I would drop in after a day at the office, just to recharge my batteries.”

According to Shobo Shimizu, who is in charge of zazen at Chokokuji, the temple provides the sessions in the evening so people can come and unwind for an hour or two after work. When The Daily Yomiuri visited Chokokuji last month, about 65 people were attending the session. On average, about 40 to 70 people aged from their 20s to their 70s take part each week, with some coming from as far away as Saitama and Chiba prefectures, Shimizu said.

Naoki Kashio, Keio University associate professor, said spirituality is nothing new to Japanese.

“Spirituality has been at the core of religion since ancient times. But existing religions are no longer doing very well at inducing this sense of spirituality in people,” Kashio said. “Yet people still want to believe in the existence of a higher being and feel a connection with something intangible.”

In 2004, Kashio and some fellow researchers launched a Web site called “Spiritual Navigator,” aimed at improving understanding of religion. The site mainly attracts people in their 20s and 30s and receives 1 million hits a month.

Kashio’s assertion that people have a craving for a spiritual connection is being borne out by a recent spiritual boom.

Take, for example, spiritual counselor Hiroyuki Ehara, who has achieved almost rock-star status, appearing regularly on TV and in magazines. His books have sold more than 9 million copies, and the popularity of his late-night TV show saw it shifted to a prime-time slot.

“There are still people who are seekers for some kind of meaning or some kind of practice that makes life worth living or manageable,” Mullins said. “I think this reflects a new individualism and volunteerism in Japanese religiosity, more experimentation outside of institutional religion.”

(Feb. 9, 2008)

Dichlorvos, an organic phosphorus pesticide detected on the packaging of frozen gyoza linked to a food poisoning case in Fukushima Prefecture, is widely used in China, including for the production of bootleg liquor.

The pesticide is used by farmers to exterminate insect pests, and also as a domestic pesticide for killing mosquitoes and other insects.

According to reports in the Chinese press, there was a mass-poisoning case in the country’s northwestern Gansu Province in 2006 in which a middle school student was killed and three other children fell seriously ill after they mistakenly consumed the chemical.

In 2001, a woman in northeastern Heilongjiang Province mistakenly sprinkled the chemical, which was kept in a small bottle in her kitchen, on a plate of gyoza dumplings.

She fell ill after eating the gyoza and was treated in a hospital.

In China some believe that the chemical can be used to give home-distilled liquor a more punchy flavor.

There are media reports that a man developed poisoning symptoms after drinking liquor to which he had added dichlorvos.

In 2007, the authorities in Guizhou Province confiscated bottles of dichlorvos as well as syringes when they raided a factory producing bootleg mao-tai liquor.

A man suspected of involvement in producing the liquor said the pesticide made the bootleg product very similar to genuine mao-tai.

There have also been reports of a pickle producer adding the pesticide to its products to keep them fresh, and a meat processor selling sausages that had been kept in a liquid solution of the chemical.

A 30-year-old farmer who lives near Tianyang Food Processing in Shijiazhuang, Hebei Province, whose products sparked the food poisoning scare in Japan, said he considers the chemical safe.

“I’d eat a tomato covered with dichlorvos after giving it a quick wipe with my hands. It would be all right as the pesticide is not a deadly poison,” the farmer added.


Employees investigated in China

By Satoshi Saeki

Yomiuri Shimbun Correspondent

BEIJING–Authorities in China’s Hebei Province, where the scandal-hit Tianyang Food Processing firm is located, confiscated company documents, including personnel records, as part of a probe into its employees, a Japanese government team that inspected the company said in Beijing on Wednesday.

According to the team, the authorities’ investigation is focusing on employees who worked at the factory during the period the gyoza packages tainted with chemicals were produced.

The team said the authorities seem increasingly inclined to believe somebody intentionally laced the products with chemicals, rather than being an incident caused by a failure of sanitary control.

(Feb. 8, 2008)

NAGOYA–A former sumo stablemaster was arrested Thursday on suspicionarrested sumo wrestlers of assault resulting in the death of a 17-year-old wrestler in June, police said.

The former Tokitsukaze stablemaster, whose real name is Junichi Yamamoto, was arrested along with three wrestlers from the stable over the death of Tokitaizan, whose real name was Takashi Saito, after apparent hazing. The three wrestlers are Yuichiro Izuka, 25 (known as Doto), Masanori Fujii, 22 (Tokiomaru), Masakazu Kimura, 24 (Akiyutaka).

Yamamoto, 57, became the first person to be arrested over a sumo-related incident that took place when he was a stablemaster.

According to the Aichi prefectural police and Inuyama Police Station, Yamamoto, the three arrested wrestlers and four others assaulted Saito during training sessions between 12:40 p.m. on June 25 and 11:30 a.m. on June 26 at the stable’s temporary lodgings in Inuyama, Aichi Prefecture, where they were staying ahead of the Nagoya Grand Sumo Tournament. Saito collapsed after full-contact practice called butsukarigeiko on June 26. He was sent to the hospital but died later the same day.

Yamamoto allegedly hit Saito over the head with a beer bottle on June 25 after the wrestler tried to flee the stable’s lodgings. Yamamoto also allegedly told the three wrestlers to assault Saito. During the butsukarigeiko, he allegedly hit Saito with a wooden stick.

According to the police, Yamamoto admitted to hitting Saito with a beer bottle, but he denied it was because Saito had tried to escape. Yamamoto also denied having instructed the wrestlers to assault Saito.

Izuka and Fujii basically admitted to the allegations, but Kimura said he believed he was disciplining Saito.

The police plan to send papers on four other wrestlers suspected of taking part in the assault.

The police initially said Saito died from illness, but an autopsy at Niigata University found he died from traumatic shock. Later, an examination by Nagoya University specialists of Saito’s body tissue also found a connection between the assault and his death.

Butsukarigeiko involves a wrestler repeatedly pushing an inert opponent, who is in a brace position, across the ring. It is designed to build stamina and usually occurs at the end of training sessions. Normally lasting for a maximum of five minutes, it is not uncommon for wrestlers to vomit after such training. Police say Saito was forced to undergo the training for about 30 minutes.

Yamamoto was dismissed by the Japan Sumo Association in October over the scandal.

JSA Chairman Kitanoumi lamented the arrest of Yamamoto and the three others Thursday night. “It’s so regrettable that sumo wrestlers have been arrested,” Kitanoumi said at a press conference held at Tokyo’s Ryogoku Kokugikan.

The chairman said he hoped the four would cooperate with the police investigation. Referring to a possible punishment by the JSA on the four, he said, “We’ll take measures that we think necessary while looking at a future judicial judgment.”

He added that the JSA committee set up after the incident to examine ways to prevent a recurrence will take measures to handle the case.