Originally published on metropolis.co.jp on October 2010

Kawaii diplomacy

  • Officials in Hikone, Shiga Prefecture, were beaming after Hikonyan, a “samurai cat” that serves as the city’s mascot, was chosen as the favorite character at the Japan Expo in France.
  • A Japanese woman was one of six people selected to become a temporary panda keeper in China’s Sichuan province.
  • A Toyama-based NPO called Dream of the Earth has embarked on an 18-month project to teach fishermen in southern Sri Lanka “a traditional Japanese fishing method using fixed nets.”
  • In an unusually poetic turn of phrase, a Fuji TV newscaster described the scene at last week’s rescue of miners in Copiapo, Chile, as kisu no arashi—“a storm of kisses.”
  • Meanwhile, Japan’s space agency revealed it had sent the miners a care package that included “antibacterial underwear” and brown-sugar candies that are used for “space food.”

Welcome to the 21st century

  • For the first time ever, Japan granted refugee status to an Ethiopian national. The 29-year-old woman had been arrested twice in her homeland for activities as a member of an opposition political party.
  • US Ambassador to Japan John Roos got into the digital spirit by signing up on Twitter. His first tweet: “Happy to be joining millions of Japanese friends on Twitter!”
  • Researchers at Keio University have devised a way of helping stroke victims move their paralyzed limbs by scanning their brainwaves using a method called brain-machine interface, or BMI.
  • Panasonic has developed a robot that can wash hair for use at nursing homes and hospitals.

The crime files

  • A 47-year-old German man who was nabbed at Hiroshima airport for attempting to smuggle 2.2kg worth of drugs concealed in a double-bottomed suitcase claimed “he had no knowledge of the stimulants.”
  • Tokyo police busted nine people for attempting to sell a stuffed tiger, two stuffed tiger cubs and a tiger skin—the first such arrests in Japanese history.
  • The MPD found that the Society for Preservation of Japanese Art Swords was in possession of some 400 weapons that weren’t properly registered under the Swords and Firearms Control Law.
  • The National Police Agency announced that it would start paying a ¥3 million bounty for “information leading to the arrest of suspects wanted for serious crimes.” There are currently eight people on Japan’s most wanted list, including three members of the Aum Shinrikyo cult.

Foreign intrigue

  • For the first time since annual investigations began in 1981, Japan and China have failed to find any Japanese orphans who were left behind in China in the aftermath of World War II. Prior to last year, some 2,816 men and women had been so recognized.
  • In what is believed to be a move aimed at avoiding US sanctions, the government has put the brakes on an oil field development project in Azadegan, Iran.
  • After 100 members of the hard-line Islamic Defenders’ Front protested outside the Japan Foundation’s headquarters in Jakarta, the organization decided to halt screenings of movies it had entered in a local gay film festival.
  • Three mountain climbers from Tokyo and their Sherpa guide went missing after an avalanche on Mt. Dhaulagiri in central Nepal.

Only in Japan

  • Police in Niigata are on the lookout for two door-to-door futon salesmen who are accused of swindling a 75-year-old woman out of ¥10 million.
  • A group of Japanese researchers who used “slime molds for determining the optimal routes for railroad tracks” were among the winners of this year’s Ig Nobel Prizes.
  • Two men and a woman in London were sentenced to prison for committing over 100 thefts from Japanese tourists.
  • It was reported that Utsunomiya University will start a course in wildlife management to help farmers keep animals out of their fields.
  • Headline of the Week: “Nurse’s Acquittal Finalized over Patients’ Nail-clipping Injuries” (via The Mainichi Daily News)

Sic Transit

  • The Fukuoka City Taxi Association has hired 78 quadrilingual women to help international travelers communicate with local cabbies.
  • Officials at Mitsubishi Aircraft Corp. say they hope their new small jet will “help the Japanese aircraft industry emerge from the shadow” of the US and Europe.
  • The transport ministry said it would try to raise revenue by allowing private companies to “utilize the space above roads and underneath elevated ones.”
  • Officials were mystified by the crash of a Ground Self-Defense Force helicopter near its home base in Osaka. One of the four crewmen aboard suffered serious injuries.

Here & There

  • The foreign ministry ordered an inquiry after NHK reported that Japanese and West German officials held a secret meeting in Hakone in 1969 to discuss Japan acquiring nuclear weapons.
  • KDDI announced the launch of a smartphone that will be able to handle e-money purchases using the WAON, Suica, Edy, Quicpay and Nanaco payment methods.
  • Ichibata Railway Co. in Shimane announced that it will begin a special round-trip service along Lake Shinji in Matsue City—and that a penguin will serve as the train’s conductor.
  • Following the environment ministry’s first survey of national parks in 39 years, it was found “that 18 locations in Japan need to see a greater degree of environmental protection.”
  • The meteorological agency has discredited a claim that temperatures in Kyoto reached a record 39.9C (103.8F) on September 5. It’s suspected that faulty equipment led to a misreading.

Compiled from reports by Bloomberg, Jiji, AP, Japan Today, The Japan Times, International Herald Tribune/The Asahi Shimbun, The Mainichi Daily News, The Tokyo Reporter, The Daily Yomiuri and Kyodo