THE ARRIVAL of new variants has been seen as one of the major threats to the management of the COVID-19 crisis. A scientist has now warned that the R.1 variant of Japan should be monitored closely after it emerged the strain had a mutation known to evade immune defences.
TOKYO — The opening ceremony is Friday and the first competitions are Wednesday. But organizers of the Tokyo Olympics, delayed one year by the pandemic, are struggling to manage public anxiety about the Games after an outbreak of coronavirus cases that threaten to overshadow the festivities.
As about 20,000 athletes, coaches, referees and other officials have poured into Japan in recent days, more than two dozen of them have tested positive for the virus, including three cases within the Olympic Village. An additional 33 staff members or contractors who are Japanese residents working on the Games have tested positive.
The United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee confirmed Monday that an alternate on the women’s gymnastics team had tested positive for the coronavirus while in training in Chiba prefecture outside Tokyo.
Kara Eaker, 18, of Grain Valley, Mo., tested positive early Monday and began a 10 to 14 day quarantine, her coach, Al Fong, said in a text message later that day from Tokyo. He added that she “feels fine.” Last month, in a video call with reporters, Eaker said she had received the vaccine.
Fong also said that Leanne Wong, another alternate and Eaker’s teammate at his GAGE Center gym in Blue Springs, Mo., is also under quarantine because she is a considered a close contact. She is expected to remain in quarantine until about July 31, the coach said.
Wong, who is 17 and from Overland Park, Kansas, said at the Olympic trials earlier this month that she had not been vaccinated. Asked why she had made that choice, she said she wasn’t sure.
“I haven’t really talked to my parents about it much,” Wong said. “But I know they’re scientists, and they develop drugs as well, so they’re just waiting to get the vaccine.”
Olympics organizers have said their measures — including repeated testing, social distancing and restrictions on movement — would limit, but not eliminate, coronavirus cases. The Games, originally scheduled for 2020, were postponed a year in the hopes the pandemic would have eased by then and they would herald a triumphant return to normal.
Instead, they have become a reminder of the staying power of the virus and have fed a debate over whether Japan and the International Olympic Committee have their priorities straight.
Such is the unease that Toyota, one of the prime corporate sponsors of the Games, announced Monday it would not run any Olympic-themed television advertisements during them.
“There are many issues with these Games that are proving difficult to be understood,” Jun Nagata, the company’s chief communications officer, told reporters, according to The Associated Press.
The three people who tested positive inside the Olympic Village were from the South African soccer team, including two athletes and one official. They were isolated in a separate building while an additional 21 people in close contact with them are quarantining in their rooms.
Masa Takaya, a spokesman for the Tokyo organizing committee, said athletes who were in close contact with those who tested positive would be allowed to train if they otherwise follow the isolation restrictions. Athletes are tested daily and if they test negative within six hours of a competition, they will be allowed to play.
Another six athletes and two Olympics staff members from Britain were also isolating after they had been informed that they had sat near a person on their flight to Tokyo who had tested positive for the coronavirus at the airport.
The Associated Press reported that Ondřej Perušič’, a beach volleyball player competing for the Czech Republic, had also tested positive in the Olympic Village.
At a news conference over the weekend, Christophe Dubi, the International Olympic Committee’s sports director, said “there is no such thing as zero risk,” adding that through testing and rigorous contact tracing and quick isolation, the Olympic Village would be “a Covid-safe environment but not Covid free.”
The Japanese public remains anxious about the staging of the Olympics amid a slow rollout of vaccines and a recent rise in coronavirus cases in the capital. Daily case counts have exceeded 1,000 for several days for the first time since mid-May. Tokyo is under a state of emergency. A poll by the Kyodo News, a wire service, released over the weekend showed 87 percent of those surveyed said they were worried about hosting the Olympics during the pandemic.
The Summer Olympics always start a couple of days before the opening ceremony, which is Friday.
The Games even have a nomenclature for these early bird events. Saturday, when the Olympics really get going, is officially Day 1; the opening ceremony takes place on Day 0, and the earlier competitions are Days -1 and -2.
So here’s what’s on tap for Day -2, better known as Wednesday (or Tuesday night in the Eastern United States).
The Games begin at 9 a.m. Tokyo time (8 p.m. Eastern on Tuesday) when Australia and Japan play the first game of a softball triple header. The United States, which plays Italy three hours later, is the heavy softball favorite, but Japan is considered to have the best chance to upset the Americans.
Later in the day, six women’s soccer games will get underway, including the World Cup champion, the United States, against Sweden at 5:30 p.m. (4:30 a.m. Eastern for the early birds).
On Day -1, or Thursday if you insist, men’s soccer and softball games are scheduled. The U.S. softball team plays its second game of the tournament, against Canada, after which the favored home team Japan takes on Mexico. (The baseball tournament starts July 28 with the U.S. team playing its first game on July 30; an earlier version of this article erroneously stated that the U.S. baseball team begins play on Thursday.)
In men’s soccer, one of the marquee matches of pool play will match two of the favorites: Germany and Brazil.
Two more sports get underway on Friday, Day 0, before the opening ceremony at 8 p.m. Tokyo time (7 a.m. Eastern). There are several heats in rowing, and an archery round that serves to rank the competitors for the later knockout stages.
Also listed on the schedule are “pre-event training” in shooting and a “horse inspection” for equestrians.
One thing all these preamble events have in common: None will eliminate any athletes or teams. When the opening ceremony begins, everyone will still theoretically have a shot at gold.
TOKYO — It is almost too hot for beach volleyball.
The Summer Olympics are expected to be the hottest on record, and the potentially dangerous heat is already having an impact days before Friday’s opening ceremony.
Tokyo citizens this week are being warned not to exercise outside, but Olympic athletes have little choice but to confront the city’s wicked — and sometimes deadly — combination of heat and humidity.
At outdoor venues around the city, like Shiokaze Park, home of beach volleyball, last-minute preparations are being made to protect athletes, officials and volunteers.
During training sessions on Monday morning, volleyball players found the sand too hot for their feet. Workers hosed down the sand to make it palatable, and athletes huddled under umbrellas to hide from the searing sun.
Japan’s Ministry of the Environment uses a color-coded scale to warn residents about the dangers. Much of Monday in Tokyo was categorized as “orange (severe warning),” because of temperatures 82.4 to 87.8 degrees Fahrenheit (28 to 31 degrees Celsius).
“Heavy exercise prohibited,” the warning stated.
In some parts of central Tokyo, afternoon temperatures over 88 degrees (31 Celsius) elicited a higher warning: “Exercise prohibited.”
In Hachioji, a suburb west of Tokyo, up to 32 people were hospitalized Monday with heatstroke, according to a local television report.
Japan takes the heat seriously. In 2018 and 2019, more than 1,000 people died of heat-related illnesses, the government reported.
The worry grows with global warming, but it is not new. Tokyo held the 1964 Summer Games in October largely to avoid the midsummer heat, but never pitched the 2020 Olympics outside of the July and August time frame that the International Olympic Committee and broadcast partners like NBC prefer. Concerns over heat danger were raised in 2013 when the city was awarded the 2020 Summer Games.
Tokyo vowed to install all sorts of cooling measures, from the practical to the whimsical.
The proposed marathon course was coated with a heat-reflecting material in 2019, but the race was eventually moved to Sapporo, about 500 miles away and usually cooler than Tokyo. (On Monday, Sapporo was expected to reach 91 degrees Fahrenheit.)
Other plans are being put into place, including extra cooling tents, misting fans and ice-packed vests for officials. Some events will have air-conditioned lounges and ice baths available for athletes. Equestrian will have a shaded “horse cooling station.”
While heat-index monitors will track conditions at the venues, it is unclear what thresholds must be reached to stop or postpone events.
One big worry for the past few years has been protecting hundreds of thousands of fans — an issue that was erased by the pandemic, as events will be contested in mostly empty venues.
The forecast for the rest of this week suggests no relief on the way.
Some events were intentionally scheduled during cooler hours. The sun sets around 7 p.m., and temperatures tend to fall overnight to about 75 degrees Fahrenheit. But with sunrise well before 5 a.m., temperatures typically rise quickly in the morning.
Road cycling, for example, on a 151-mile course, will hold its men’s event on Saturday beginning at 11 a.m. local time, in the midday heat.
Beach volleyball begins Saturday, too, with matches scheduled all day. The forecast: hot sand and ample concern.
Toyota said on Monday that it had decided against running Olympics-themed television advertisements in Japan, a symbolic vote of no confidence from one of the country’s most influential companies just days before the Games begin amid a national state of emergency.
The Japanese public has expressed strong opposition to the Games — delayed for a year because of the pandemic — with many worrying that the influx of visitors from around the world could turn it into a Covid-19 superspreader event, undoing national efforts to keep coronavirus levels low.
Toyota will refrain from airing television ads at home during the Games, and its chief executive, Akio Toyoda, will not attend the opening ceremony, a company spokesman told local news media during an online news conference.
“Various aspects of this Olympics aren’t accepted by the public,” said the spokesman, Jun Nagata, according to the business daily Yomiuri Shimbun.
The ads will still be shown in other markets, Toyota Motor North America said in a statement. “In the U.S., the campaign has already been shown nationally and will continue to be shown as planned with our media partners during the Olympic and Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020,” the statement said.
The company had prepared ads for the event but will not air them because of concerns that emphasizing its connection to the Games could create a backlash, said a person familiar with the company’s thinking, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly.
Toyota will continue its commitments to supporting Olympic athletes and providing transportation services during the Games, a spokesman said.
The company’s decision is “a big body blow to the Olympics,” said David Droga, the founder of the Droga5 ad agency.
“You’d think that Toyota would be through thick and thin all in, but obviously the situation is more polarizing than we realize,” he said.
The vast majority of the Japanese public is opposed to holding the Games — set to begin on Friday — under current conditions, polling shows, with many calling for them to be canceled outright.
The Japanese authorities and Olympic officials have played down the concerns, saying strict precautions against the coronavirus will allow the Games to be held safely.
Anxieties have continued to mount, however. This month, Tokyo entered its fourth state of emergency in an effort to stop a sudden rise in virus cases as the country faces the more contagious Delta variant. Cases, which remain low in comparison with many other developed nations, have exceeded 1,000 a day in the city, raising apprehension that measures that had succeeded in controlling the spread of the coronavirus could be losing their effectiveness.
Further complicating the situation is a steady drip of news reports about Olympic staff and athletes testing positive for the illness after arriving in Japan.
Toyota became a top Olympic sponsor in 2015, joining an elite class of corporate supporters that pay top dollar for the right to display the iconic rings of the Games in their advertising.
Until the pandemic hit, the company was one of the most visible supporters of the Olympics. In the run-up to the event, much of Tokyo’s taxi fleet was replaced with a sleek, new Toyota model prominently featuring the company’s logo alongside the Olympic rings. And the company pledged to make the event a showcase for its technological innovations, including self-driving vehicles to ferry athletes around the Olympic Village.
Toyota’s move could prompt other brands to follow suit, but several advertising experts do not expect a ripple effect.
“If you’re a Coca-Cola type, I don’t think it’ll be a retreat — the benefits of being a global sponsor will still work its magic in the U.S. and all the other countries,” Mr. Droga said. “It’s different when you’re in the center, actually in Japan, because that’s where the biggest contrast is going to be, where the Olympics aren’t like previous Olympics.”
Many companies are afraid of sacrificing more exposure, said Rick Burton, a sports management professor at Syracuse University and the chief marketing officer for the U.S. Olympic Committee at the Beijing Summer Olympics in 2008.
“My guess is that they’re going to try and push through so that they don’t lose the investment completely,” he said. “There’s an interesting calculus: If I pull out, how does that get translated in every language? In certain countries, it could seem like I did the right thing, but in others, it could be that I abandoned the one thing that gave the world hope.”
SEOUL — South Korea said on Monday that its president, Moon Jae-in, will not visit Tokyo during the Olympics, scrapping plans for his first-ever summit meeting with Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga of Japan.
The decision came days after a senior Japanese diplomat in Seoul was accused of making a belittling comment against Mr. Moon. The diplomatic squabble was likely to further inflame relations, despite Washington’s hopes that its two most important allies in East Asia would overcome their historical disputes and work closer together to counter North Korea and China.
The talks between Seoul and Tokyo to arrange an Olympics summit meeting had made significant progress, Seoul officials said. But they unraveled after JTBC, a South Korean cable channel, reported on Friday that Hirohisa Soma, deputy chief of mission at the Japanese Embassy in Seoul, ridiculed Mr. Moon with a lewd comment during a meeting with one of its reporters.
Mr. Moon’s diplomatic overtures toward Japan are tantamount to “masturbating” because Japan “does not have the time to care about bilateral relations as much as South Korea hopes,” Mr. Soma was quoted as saying.
Koichi Aiboshi, the Japanese ambassador to Seoul, said Mr. Soma’s comment, although “inappropriate,” was not directed against Mr. Moon. During a regular press briefing in Tokyo on Monday, Katsunobu Kato, the chief cabinet secretary, also called Mr. Soma’s remark “inappropriate” and “very regrettable.”
But the damage was done.
On Monday, Park Soo-hyun, a senior press secretary for Mr. Moon, said the South Korean leader has decided not to visit Tokyo, considering “various circumstances.”
“We wish Japan a safe and successful Olympics,” Mr. Park said. Under Mr. Moon, relations between the neighboring countries have sunk to one of the lowest points in recent decades, as mutual animosity deepened over issues rooted in Japan’s colonial rule of Korea from 1910 to 1945, such as “comfort women” sex slaves and wartime forced labor.
Mr. Moon’s canceled trip dashed hopes that the Tokyo Games might offer the rivals an opportunity for a fresh start.
“Seoul and Tokyo have put pride and domestic politics above the Biden administration’s appeals for strategic alignment,” said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor of international studies at Ewha Womans University in Seoul. Even before Mr. Soma’s comment, public opinion polls showed that most South Koreans did not want Mr. Moon to visit Tokyo.
South Korean athletes in the Olympic Village in Tokyo unfurled banners at their balconies this month that referred to a 16th-century war between Korea and Japan. Right-wing Japanese commentators took umbrage.
On Saturday, the South Korean Olympic committee said it removed the banners, but not before receiving a promise from the International Olympic Committee that the Japanese “rising sun” flag will be barred at Olympic venues. Koreans resent the flag, portraying a red sun with rays extending outward, as a symbol of Japan’s wartime aggression.
The composer of music for the Olympics opening and closing ceremonies resigned on Monday after acknowledging that as a student he had bullied his disabled classmates.
Keigo Oyamada, 52, who uses the stage name Cornelius, announced on Twitter that he had handed in his resignation to the Tokyo organizing committee just four days before he was to oversee music for the opening ceremony.
Shortly after the announcement, parts of interviews he had given in the 1990s to a Japanese magazine, in which he described how he had abused classmates years earlier, surfaced on social media.The interviews quoted Mr. Oyamada saying that he had taunted children with Down syndrome, stripped classmates naked and forced them to masturbate.
With pressure building and a petition calling for his resignation, Mr. Oyamada said he had grown “keenly aware that I lacked consideration of many people when I accepted the offer to participate” in the Olympic ceremonies.
Last week, in a earlier statement issued on Twitter, Mr. Oyamada attempted to diffuse growing criticism over the interviews with an apology.He said many parts of the articles “deviate from the truth.” But, he added, “there is no doubt that my classmates were hurt by my words and conduct.”
“I am deeply sorry for how my words and actions hurt my classmates and their parents,” he wrote. “I regret and take responsibility being in a position where I hurt others rather than being a friend during my school years.” He added that he had taken time to “reflect” and “reconsider.”
The organizers of the Tokyo Olympics released a statement saying that they had accepted his resignation. Initially the organizers had said that they hoped to keep working with Mr. Oyamada, despite his “unacceptable” actions.
“In light of his sincere apology, we expressed a willingness to allow Mr. Oyamada to continue his work on preparations in the short time remaining before the Opening Ceremony,” the statement said. “However, we have come to believe that this decision was wrong, and we have decided to accept his resignation. We offer our deepest apologies for the offense and confusion caused to so many during this time.”
Mr. Oyamada is the third person associated with the organizing committee to step down after a scandal in recent months.
In March, Yoshiro Mori, the former president of the Tokyo organizing committee, resigned after he suggested women talk too much in meetings, unleashing an anti-sexist firestorm.
The same month, Hiroshi Sasaki, the original creative director of opening ceremonies, was forced out after word leaked out that he had called a popular comedian and plus-size fashion designer, Naomi Watanabe, an “Olympig.”At the time, he was describing a role for her in the opening ceremonies in which she would tumble from the sky decked out in pig ears.
The ceremony on Friday at the new Olympic stadium in Tokyo is likely to be a diminished version of the original plan,given coronavirus restrictions and the absence of spectators. Organizers are struggling to combat growing public anxiety as more athletes and Olympics personnel test positive for the coronavirus.
In the middle of the night nearly two years ago, construction crews resurfaced a 26.2-mile marathon course in Tokyo with a shiny, reflective coating meant to bounce the heat away.The worry was that the city’s brutal summer temperatures would sicken athletes as it had in test events.
Two months later, officials moved the marathon course 500 miles north to Sapporo, which has cooler weather. Left behind was the meandering stripe through central Tokyo, a sign of the sometimes futile and farcical lengths taken to put on the biggest show in sports.
Six months after that, the coronavirus pandemic postponed the 2020 Tokyo Games for a year. Many Japanese wondered if the bloated sports festival was worthwhile anymore, worth the risks to public health or the billions spent on venues and stagecraft and other concessions to the International Olympic Committee.
Too late. The Summer Olympics are happening, amid a spiking pandemic and in mostly empty venues. The opening ceremony on Friday will raise a question that might be aimed not just at the Tokyo Games, but at the entire Olympic movement: Just what in the world are we doing here?
To the fans of the Olympics, the positives outweigh the negatives. Most who tune in for the sporting event every couple of years love the suspense, even if they know, in the recesses of their minds, that the spectacle disguises a rusty and corrupt system, prone to vote buying in the selection of host cities (including Tokyo), appeasement of dictators and unkept promises.
A poll released last week found that 52 percent of Americans believe the Tokyo Games should happen. Only 22 percent of the people in Japan feel that way.
“Most people only care about watching the Olympics every four years and could care less about how it operates,” said Edwin Moses, the two-time gold-medalist in track who has since worked in roles across the Olympic spectrum.
But those who analyze the Olympics more broadly see the balance in reverse. They may appreciate the athletic achievements, but not enough to outweigh concerns about damage inflicted by the Olympics.
Interviews with Olympic historians, academics, athletes, officials yield at least one consensus: No one thinks the Olympics operate just fine the way they are.Key complaints fall mostly into three categories: corruption in host bidding, a lack of I.O.C. accountability and a dearth of athlete rights.
“The Olympics are unreformable, and I think on balance, they do more harm than good,” said David Goldblatt, author of “The Games: A Global History of the Olympics.”
The Olympics are an easy target for criticism, never more than now. Do they still matter? Or have they lost their way and strayed from whatever ideals they purport to embody?
Competitors arriving at the Tokyo Olympics have discovered something unusual about the beds in the athletes’ village: They’re made of cardboard.
Some have shared images on social media of the modular bed frames, which are made by the Japanese company Airweave and are recyclable. Organizers say it is the first time that the beds at the Games will be made almost entirely out of renewable materials.
But in the time of the coronavirus, when Olympic organizers worried about transmission are trying to discourage close contact as much as possible, the unusual bed frames have led some to suggest there’s another motive behind them.
Paul Chelimo, an American distance runner, speculated on Twitter that the beds were unable to support more than one person and were “aimed at avoiding intimacy among athletes.” Soon the beds were being labeled on social media as “anti-sex.”
Rhys McClenaghan, a gymnast from Ireland, called the claim “fake news.” A video he posted on Twitter showed him jumping on his bed to demonstrate that it would hold up against vigorous activity. The official Olympics Twitter account reposted Mr. McClenaghan’s video, adding: “Thanks for debunking the myth.”
SUKAGAWA, Japan — More than 70,000 fans in the National Olympic Stadium — and millions more watching on television — roared as Kokichi Tsuburaya ran on to the track, one lap from securing a silver medal at the 1964 Tokyo Games. The Japanese had not won a medal in track and field, and now Tsuburaya was about to make history.
Abebe Bikila, the Ethiopian who had captured the gold medal in Rome in 1960, finished four minutes earlier, setting a world record.
Tsuburaya, a farm-boy-turned soldier, headed to the finish line looking exhausted and pained. He was running in just his fourth marathon, and his gutsy effort would reaffirm the widely held belief in Japan that perseverance and mental toughness can overcome deficiencies in raw talent.
For many Japanese, Tsuburaya’s success in the most grueling of races spoke to the nation’s collective sacrifice as it emerged from the devastation of World War II.
The celebration was premature.
Basil Heatley, whose world record Bikila had just smashed, ran on to the track just 40 yards behind the Japanese runner. The Englishman quickly closed that gap and surged past Tsuburaya, finishing four seconds ahead of him. Tsuburaya saw his silver medal turn to bronze.
To this day, Tsuburaya’s journey to Olympic fame remains a model for schoolchildren. Yet his failure to meet his — and the country’s — high standards is also a cautionary tale.
After he crossed the finish line, the stunned silence turned to cheers as the crowd hailed Tsuburaya’s extraordinary achievement. When Bikila and Heatley left the podium, he stood alone showered in cheers. He held his medal aloft and bowed to the fans and toward the box where the crown prince and princess sat.
But inside, Tsuburaya burned with shame. To a soldier who felt as if he were running on behalf of the country, letting the silver medal slip away as the whole nation watched was humiliating.
“I committed an inexcusable blunder in front of the Japanese people,” he later told his teammate Kenji Kimihara. “I have to make amends.”
Two athletes from the same country and competing in the same sport staying in the village in the Harumi waterfront district tested positive for the virus, organisers said without offering additional details. Organisers today reported 10 new cases connected to the Olympics, including a third athlete not staying in the village, down from 15 new cases a day earlier.
South Africa also reported three positive cases in its soccer squad – two players and an analyst.
It was not immediately clear if those cases were identified as part of the same testing programme.
An International Olympic Committee member from South Korea tested positive for the coronavirus on landing in Tokyo.
Ryu Seung-min, a former Olympic athlete, is double-jabbed, underlining the infection risk even from vaccinated attendees.
And on Friday it was announced a Nigerian delegate to the Olympics had become the first visitor to be admitted to hospital with COVID-19, broadcaster TV Asahi said on Friday.
The new infections are testing the layered testing regime designed to ensure Covid cases are quickly caught and isolated. Proponents argue that the growing number of cases underscores the strength of the testing system.
JUST IN: Vaccine ‘shortage’ blamed for delay to offer children Covid jabs
Mr Suga has said Japan would take thorough steps to strengthen border controls against the coronavirus.
Public support for his cabinet has slid to 35.9 percent, a Kyodo poll showed on Sunday, the lowest since he replaced Shinzo Abe as the country’s leader in September.
A mere 29.4 percent think the fourth state of emergency, which began last Monday, is effective, according to the poll.
The rainy season ended in Tokyo on Friday, bringing blue skies and intense heat, another potential problem for organisers.
The burden on participants has been increased by virus countermeasures like masking.
David Hughes, chief medical officer at the Australian Olympic Committee, said: “While we have been dealing with Covid matters, we haven’t taken our focus off the heat.”
Officials point to heat countermeasures including the distribution of drinks and salt tablets and the use of misting towers and cooling vests.
The delayed Olympics was intended to showcase a modern, diverse Japan at a time of rising regional rivalries – but the pandemic has left the country hosting a pared-down event.
Athletes continue to question the compromises organisers have made, with Maya Yoshida, captain of Japan’s soccer team, calling for the decision to hold the Games behind closed doors to be reconsidered.
Postponed last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Summer Olympics have little public support in Japan amid widespread fears about a further spread of the coronavirus.
Critics on Thursday submitted a petition against the Games that has garnered more than 450,000 signatures this month.
Organisers have imposed Olympics “bubbles” to prevent further transmissions of COVID-19, but medical experts are worried they might not be sufficiently tight.
Annual defence report calls on Japanese government to pay attention to US-China tensions over Taiwan with ‘a sense of crisis more than ever before’.
Japan, in its annual defence white paper, has warned growing military tensions around Taiwan, as well as economic and technological rivalry between China and the United States, could threaten peace and stability in East Asia.
This marked the first time that the report (PDF) – which was approved by Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s government on Tuesday – took up the issue of stability around Taiwan.
“China has further intensified military activities around Taiwan including Chinese aircrafts’ entering the southwestern airspace of Taiwan,” the report said in its new section on Taiwan. “In the meantime, the United States has demonstrated a clear stance of supporting Taiwan in military aspects, such as transits by US vessels through the Taiwan Strait and weapon sales.”
Stabilising the situation surrounding Taiwan, it said, was important for Japan’s security and also the stability of the international community.
“Therefore, it is necessary that we pay close attention to the situation with a sense of crisis more than ever before,” it said.
For Japan, Beijing’s recent uptick in military activity around Taiwan is worrying since the self-ruled island lies close to the Okinawa chain at the western end of the Japanese archipelago.
Beijing claims Taiwan as its own territory, and has never ruled out the use of force to retake the island.
Earlier this month, Chinese President Xi Jinping pledged to complete the “reunification” with Taiwan, while the Chinese military in June branded the US as the region’s “greatest creator of risks” when a US warship transited the narrow waterway that separates Taiwan from the Chinese mainland.
As tensions grow, Tokyo has become more outspoken on the issue, with the Japanese Deputy Prime Minister Taro Asa saying earlier this month that Japan should join forces with the US to defend Taiwan from any invasion.
Aso’s comments immediately prompted a sharp rebuke from Beijing, with a foreign ministry spokesman saying they “harmed the political foundation of China-Japan relations”.
Aso later clarified his comments saying that any contingency over Taiwan should be resolved through dialogue.
The Japanese defence white paper also identified the South China Sea as another domain that is key in the US-China rivalry.
“In the South China Sea, China is expanding its military activities, including ballistic missile launches and military exercises involving aircraft carriers,” the paper said.
“Meanwhile, in July 2020, the United States criticized China’s claims of maritime interests as being illegal, and toughened its stance against China further by implementing Freedom of Navigation Operations and military exercises involving aircraft carriers.”
Therefore, it added, it was necessary to pay greater attention to the military trends of the two superpowers in both Taiwan and the South China Sea.
The defence paper, also for the first time, included a section on threats posed by climate change, which it says will increase competition for land and resources, and may trigger the mass movement of climate refugees.
An increase in disasters linked to global warming could also stretch military capabilities, it added, while Arctic Sea ice melting could lead to the militarisation of northern waters.
(CNN) — If there was an Olympics of passports, Japan wouldn’t just be hosting it — it’d be winning the whole competition.
The Henley Passport Index, which has been regularly monitoring the world’s most travel-friendly passports since 2006, has released its latest rankings and analysis.
As the index doesn’t take temporary restrictions into account, Japan is once again top of the leaderboard, with its passport offering visa-free or visa-on-arrival access to 193 destinations around the world.
However, the Henley & Partners report says, in the first quarter of 2021 international mobility was still only 12% of its pre-pandemic levels, meaning “the gulf between theoretical and actual travel access offered by even high-ranking passports remains significant.”
In the real world, holders of Japanese passports theoretically have access right now to fewer than 80 destinations — about the same as the index ranking of Saudi Arabia, which sits down in 71st place (while Saudis currently have actual travel access to just 58 destinations).
The passport top 10 remains virtually unchanged as we enter the second half of the year, with Singapore remaining in second place (with a score of 192) and South Korea tying with Germany in third place (with a score of 191).
Again, in real-world terms, it’s a little different. Holders of Singaporean passports can right now access fewer than 75 destinations (equivalent to the index ranking of Kazakhstan, which is down in 74th place).
China and UAE biggest climbers
Even countries with highly successful Covid-19 vaccine rollouts are still bound by travel restrictions. The US and the UK are in joint seventh place on the index, alongside Switzerland, Belgium and New Zealand — having both steadily declined in passport power since holding the top spot together in 2014.
In theory, US and UK passport holders are able to access 187 destinations around the world, but the reality is that doors are only open to UK travelers in fewer than 60 destinations, while the US is just ahead at 61. That puts them on a par with Uzebkistan and Rwanda’s index rankings respectively.
As usual, most of the remaining top 10 spots on the index are held by EU countries. Finland, Italy, Luxembourg, Spain are in fourth place; Austria, Denmark are at number five; while France, Ireland, Netherlands, Portugal and Sweden are together at number six. In terms of travel freedom, the big success stories of the past decade have been China and the United Arab Emirates.
Since 2011, China has climbed 22 places — from 90th position to 68th — while the UAE has gone all the way from No. 65 to No. 15. Its work on strengthening diplomatic ties around the world now means that its citizens are allowed easy access to 174 destinations, compared to the 67 destinations of a decade ago.
Japan holds onto the top spot for 2021.
TOSHIFUMI KITAMURA/AFP/Getty Images
Christian H. Kaelin, chair of Henley & Partners, says that while we don’t know how long travel restrictions will continue, it’s clear that global mobility will be severely hampered for at least the rest of this year. “In many countries, serious doubts have arisen as to the ability to handle a global crisis, with the subsequent embrace of more inward-looking priorities.”
He adds, “Increasing isolationism and deglobalization will no doubt have profound consequences, among them further damage to the world’s economy (and) a significant reduction in global mobility.”
Henley has commissioned exclusive research and analysis, finding that international leisure travel remains less than 10% of pre-Covid levels and is largely regional.
There is also rising passport inequality in this new era.
Japanese passport holders have visa-free or visa-on-arrival access to 167 more destinations than citizens of Afghanistan, who are at the bottom of the ranking as they can only visit 26 places without needing a visa in advance. That’s the biggest gap between countries since the index began, says Henley & Partners.
The decade ahead
“Widespread adoption of Covid passports appears to be an imminent reality for those able to access them,” says Robert Maciejewski, CEO of SIP Medical Family Office in Switzerland, in Henley’s report.
“Even if a legal obligation to obtain a Covid passport is unlikely in most democratic countries, not having one will probably result in de facto restrictions of your freedom, whether it comes to travel or to daily routine activities.”
Due to the global disparities in terms of vaccine access and rollout programs,”Covid passports will no doubt further widen passport inequality worldwide,” says Henley’s Kaelin.
IATA, the global trade association for airlines, welcomes the move by many countries to let vaccinated travelers skip quarantine, but also warns that the freedom to travel is something that should be available to all.
Willie Walsh, IATA’s director general, says, “Data shows us that vaccinated travelers should not be restricted. And screening can safely open borders for those without access to vaccination.”
The Henley report also comments on the protectionist approach taken by many governments in response to the pandemic, and the adoption of inward-looking policies. It suggests that if more countries took a collaborative approach, it would have have more beneficial effects globally.
Greg Lindsay, director of applied research at Canada-based non-profit NewCities, says: “As global cities and nations alike grapple with the ramifications of Covid-19, it’s critical they realize the true nature of the threat — and opportunity — before them.
Rather than dwelling on wealthy former residents now working from their second or third homes, they must focus on restoring the flow of immigrants. The cities that make themselves most hospitable to new arrivals in the wake of the pandemic are poised to be the capitals of the new Roaring Twenties.”
Germany has the highest-ranking European passport.
Alex Grimm/Getty Images
The best passports to hold in 2021 are:
1. Japan (193 destinations)
2. Singapore (192)
3. Germany, South Korea (191)
4. Finland, Italy, Luxembourg, Spain (190)
5. Austria, Denmark (189)
6. France, Ireland, Netherlands, Portugal, Sweden (188)
7. Belgium, New Zealand, Switzerland, United Kingdom, United States (187)
8. Czech Republic, Greece, Malta, Norway (186)
9. Australia, Canada (185)
10. Hungary (184)
The worst passports to hold
Several countries around the world have visa-free or visa-on-arrival access to fewer than 40 countries. These include:
108. North Korea (39 destinations)
109. Nepal (38)
110. Palestinian territories (37)
111. Somalia (34)
112. Yemen (33)
113. Pakistan (32)
114. Syria (29)
115. Iraq (28)
116. Afghanistan (26)
Henley & Partner’s list is one of several indexes created by financial firms to rank global passports according to the access they provide to their citizens.
The Henley Passport Index is based on data provided by the International Air Transport Authority (IATA) and covers 199 passports and 227 travel destinations. It is updated in real time throughout the year, as and when visa policy changes come into effect.
Arton Capital’s Passport Index takes into consideration the passports of 193 United Nations member countries and six territories — ROC Taiwan, Macau (SAR China), Hong Kong (SAR China), Kosovo, Palestinian Territory and the Vatican. Territories annexed to other countries are excluded.
Its mid-2021 index has New Zealand in the top spot, with a visa-free/visa-on-arrival score of 136.
Taro Aso, Japan’s deputy prime minister, has said that the US and Japan would have to band together to shield Taiwan in an event of conflict, according to Kyodo News. Japan’s leading news agency reported that Taro Aso said a conflict over Taiwan could be devastating for Japan.
“If a major problem took place in Taiwan, it would not be too much to say that it could relate to a survival-threatening situation (for Japan),” he said.
“We are closely monitoring the situation.”
Tensions have been rising between China and Taiwan as Beijing has suggested the possibility of invading their island neighbour.
On Tuesday, Zhao Lijan, a spokesperson from China’s foreign ministry, warned “no one should underestimate the Chinese people’s staunch resolve, firm will, and formidable ability to defend national sovereignty.”
Last week, Nobuo Kishi, Japan’s Defence Minister, announced that the security of Taiwan is directly linked to Japan and stressed the importance of a Japanese intervention.
“The peace and stability of Taiwan are directly connected to Japan and we are closely monitoring ties between China and Taiwan, as well as Chinese military activity,” he told Bloomberg.
“As China strengthens its military, its balance with Taiwan is tipping heavily to the Chinese side.”
This follows reports the US and Japan have been uniting forces and preparing for a conflict with China, conducting joint military exercises and war games.
Serious preparations for a conflict with China began in the last year of Donald Trump’s administration.
The reunification of Taiwan has been in the works for a long time and Kevin Rudd, former Australian prime minister, is concerned about the global implications.
“I think what we’ll then be moving into is a period which China will be looking at its options to leverage Taiwan back into a form of a political union with China by the time we get to the late 2020s and into the 2030s,” Rudd told CNBC.
“And that’s when I believe it does get dangerous for us all.”
Japan’s deputy prime minister also shared his concerns that China could shift its interests to other islands as well.
“We need to think hard that Okinawa could be the next,” he said, talking about a Japanese prefecture where China claims a number of small uninhabited islands including the Senkaku island.
While it’s a relatively niche series, especially in the West, Valkyria Chronicles has a dedicated fanbase. With the original and Valkyria Chronicles 4 – which story-wise is around the same timeline as the first game – both available on Nintendo Switch, meanwhile, we’ve been able to enjoy this quirky take on turn-based strategy/combat.
Anyone unconvinced in Japan, or those that have a valid Nintendo Switch Online account for the country, will have the chance to try out the first game in a Trial from next week, between 5th – 11th July. After the trial concludes both the original and 4 will be discounted by a third on the Japanese eShop.
We’re certainly fans of both games, though presumably due to porting challenges the newer title actually performs better on the Switch; that said, considering the genre you can certainly enjoy the original despite some occasionally choppy frames.
Of course, the game trials in Japan don’t always sync up with Western markets, though the trend often has a new offering following in Europe and North America a little while after the Japanese equivalent. We had a Descenderstrial in late April, so perhaps another one will be on the way soon.
Would you like Valkyria Chronicles to be the next Nintendo Switch Online trial outside of Japan, or do you have another choice? Let us know in the comments!
The games will bring thousands of foreign athletes, officials, sponsors and journalists to Japan during a pandemic, despite caution raised by experts.
TOKYO, Japan — Japan’s Emperor Naruhito is “extremely worried” that the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics could accelerate the spread of the coronavirus, the head of the Imperial Palace said Thursday with the games opening in one month.
The games will bring thousands of foreign athletes, officials, sponsors and journalists to Japan during a pandemic, despite caution raised by experts about the risk of infections and the public’s persistent calls for cancellation or further postponement.
Yasuhiko Nishimura, grand steward of the Imperial Household Agency, told a news conference that the Emperor has voiced concerns.
“His majesty is extremely worried about the current situation of the COVID-19 infections,” Nishimura said. “While there are voices of unease among the public, I believe (the emperor) is concerned that holding the Olympics and Paralympics … may lead to the expansion of the infections.”
The delayed games open July 23, and the Paralympics begin a month later.
Nishimura also urged the organizers to “take every possible anti-virus measures so as not to cause the spread of the infections at the Olympics and Paralympics, where the emperor serves the Honorary Patron.”
The emperor is the symbol of the state with no political power. But like his father, Naruhito has gained broad popularity and his words are highly respected.
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga is determined to hold the Olympics despite concerns from the public and public health experts.
Adding to their concern, officials in Izumisano, a western Japan town hosting the nine-member Ugandan Olympic team for training, said a second member of the team tested positive for the virus. The first, reportedly a coach, was detected upon arrival Saturday in Tokyo. The rest of the team have been isolating at an Osaka hotel.
Suga eased a third state of emergency in Tokyo that had been in place since late April and switched to less-stringent measures focusing on shorter bar and restaurant hours. But experts said Wednesday that infections are already bouncing back in the Tokyo region and could accelerate in coming weeks.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato, downplaying the impact of emperor’s concern, said he believed the grand steward expressed “his personal views.”
Naruhito, 61, also expressed his concern about the pandemic in his speech at an academic award ceremony Monday: “In order to overcome this challenge, it is important for all of us, in and outside of Japan, to bring our hearts together and cooperate.”
Under the plan before a one-year postponement, Naruhito was scheduled to declare the start of the Olympics at the opening ceremony, but details, including his presence at the games, are yet to be finalized, palace officials said.
The entire team had been vaccinated and had negative PCR tests before arriving in Japan.
TOKYO, Japan — A member of Uganda’s Olympic team has tested positive for the coronavirus and was barred entry into Japan, in the first detected infection among arriving athletes for the Tokyo Games opening in five weeks.
The eight other members of the team left early Sunday by chartered bus for host town Osaka, central Japan, where COVID-19 cases are still being reported.
Yasutoshi Nishimura, a minister in charge of economic policy, said on NHK TV Sunday that the government was looking into what had happened with border controls.
The athletes, arriving late Saturday at Tokyo’s Narita airport, were all fully vaccinated with the AstraZeneca jabs and had negative PCR tests before boarding, the Asahi newspaper reported, quoting an anonymous Cabinet Secretariat official.
The team member who tested positive was not identified.
Critics have raised serious question about the risks of holding the Olympics amid a pandemic. But the IOC, Tokyo organizers and Japanese government insist the Games can be held safely.
“Let’s all wait a minute,” opposition lawmaker Renho said on her Twitter account. “This time, nine people arrived. For the Olympics, 100,000 people will be arriving. This is no time to be talking about how this will be a moving experience for our children.”
Japan requires a two-week quarantine for overseas arrivals, but the Olympic team isn’t subject to the same border controls.
The organizers are expected to decide Monday on allowing some local fans in the stands. Plans for mass public viewing sites in Tokyo were canceled Saturday.
Fans from abroad were banned several months ago. Before the pandemic, Japan had been counting on the Olympics to deliver booming tourism and consumer spending.
The Ugandan team was the second, after the Australian women’s softball team, to arrive for the Olympics, which open July 23.
Uganda is seeing an alarming rise in COVID-19 variants and has just tightened lockdown measures. About 590 deaths have been reported, likely an undercount, given the scarcity of testing.
In Japan, a state of emergency to curb the spread of the virus in Tokyo, Osaka and other urban areas ends Sunday, although daily cases are still growing by several hundred.
There has been no lockdown in Japan. The so-called emergencies, which have lasted for most of this year, focus on having restaurants and stores close early, limiting crowd size at venues, and asking people to social distance, work from home and wear masks.
The vaccination rate in Japan is the slowest among developed nations, with about 6% of the population fully vaccinated. Although the rollout is gradually picking up, most people are unlikely to be fully vaccinated ahead of the Olympics.
More than 14,000 people have died from the coronavirus in Japan.