Originally published on metropolis.co.jp on September 2009

SIC TRANSIT
  • A 27-year-old JR West train driver in Shiga Prefecture “released his hands from the brake handle for about seven seconds” so that he could snap photos of a pair of women sitting behind him—while his train was traveling at 120kph. The man said he took the pics because the women were “very attractive.”
  • A group of 40 junior high and high school students on their way to class in Kyoto’s Sakyo Ward were attacked by a swarm of “angry” wasps.
  • A German railway operator is deciding whether to seek compensation from a Japanese tourist who chained a piece of luggage to a train station bench before going sightseeing in Hamburg. The suspicious bag caused officials to evacuate the station, resulting in the cancellation of two trains and the delay of another 40.
  • The Japanese government is demanding an explanation from China after a Chinese ship was spotted “conducting activities” in the Shirakaba gas field in the East China Sea.
  • Tokyo subways temporarily halted service last month after an early-warning system predicted a strong earthquake would strike the city. Meteorological Agency officials were forced to apologize when the quake turned out to be much weaker than expected.
BY THE NUMBERS
  • The Japanese Automobile Foundation said that 5,693 vehicles broke down on the nation’s expressways during last month’s Obon holiday. The two most common causes were flat tires (1,474) and running out of gas (758).
  • 806-SPFamily Mart announced that, for the first time, the number of its stores overseas (7,598) outnumbers those in Japan (7,581).
  • A land ministry survey found that 250 municipalities around the country are concerned about gomi yashiki—homes where residents “collect junk until it becomes a public nuisance.”
HERE & THERE
  • The UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women decried Japan’s woeful record on gender issues, saying the country should “abolish [the] six-month waiting period required for women but not men before remarriage and… adopt a system allowing for the choice of surnames for married couples.”
  • A research team led by scientists at the University of Nagoya has added a gene to high-yield rice plants that can help them survive in deep-water conditions.
  • The Maharaja Fukuoka disco—a major symbol of the Bubble Era—closed its doors after unsuccessfully staging a comeback bid two years ago.
  • Headline of the Week: “‘Solar UFOs’ enlisted to clean water in Osaka” (via The Mainichi Daily News).
  • Renowned German soprano Hildegard Behrens, who was described as “one of the finest Wagnerian performers of her generation,” died of an aneurism while visiting Tokyo. She was 72.
  • It was announced that the public bathhouse featured in the Oscar-winning film Departures is due to be shut down. “The water stoves are old now, so it’s time for our business to ‘die full of years’,” said the 67-year-old proprietor of Tsurunoyu in Yamagata.
  • Prince Tomohito, the 63-year-old cousin of Emperor Akihito, was treated for alcoholism during a six-day stint at the Imperial Household Hospital.
SCHOOL DAZE
  • A 58-year-old ice skating coach who is on trial in Nagoya for raping one of his 13-year-old students also stands accused of forcing the alleged victim and her elementary school-age sister to drink plum sake.
  • A junior high school teacher in Yokohama who stole 13 musical instruments and 82 other pieces of equipment said he did it as “a prank.”
  • A middle school student in Saitama was scammed out of ¥150,000 after receiving an email on his cellphone saying he owed money for using an anime website.
  • After Brazilian expats in Shizuoka experienced “difficulties and confusion” during the strong earthquake that hit the area last month, local governments have undertaken a project to make emergency information available in Portuguese.
THE CRIME FILES
  • Two Chinese nationals in Osaka were busted for forging pay slips to receive public assistance, leading cops to suspect an organized crime ring is scamming welfare benefits in the city.
  • A 68-year-old man who worked as a caregiver in Kanagawa received a seven-year prison sentence for raping a mentally retarded woman. The man also admitted his involvement in “about 30” other molestations.
  • The Japan Travel Bureau suspects that 1,500 forged versions of its “JTB Nice Gift” coupons have been circulating around Tokyo. The coupons, which can be used as a substitute for cash at shops, department stores, hotels and restaurants, are worth ¥5,000 each.
  • A 51-year-old hunter on an expedition to cull wild monkeys in Chiba accidentally shot a 72-year-old companion to death.
LET ME SEE IF I’VE GOT THIS STRAIGHT
  • It was reported that officials in the UAE seized a ship bound for Iran carrying North Korean weapons. The ship was owned by an Australian firm that’s controlled by a French conglomerate, and the export was arranged by the Shanghai office of an Italian company.
  • During the run-up to the Lower House elections last month, a Democratic Party of Japan candidate from Fukuoka got into hot water when he created “a makeshift party banner” by stitching two Hinomaru flags together.
  • One man unable to vote in the election was Toshikazu Sugaya, who was released from prison in June after spending 17 years behind bars for a murder of a 4-year-old girl that he didn’t commit. Japanese convicts can’t vote, and Sugaya won’t officially be cleared of his crime until after a retrial scheduled for later in the year.
  • For some reason, it was reported that a group of students at an agricultural and forestry high school in Maebashi have developed a soybean roasting machine.
ON THE RETAIL FRONT
  • When it opens in spring 2011, the Isetan Mitsukoshi in Osaka will have the largest men’s department in Japan, at over 5,000m2.
  • Sony said it would cut the price of its PS3 console by some 60 percent to make it more competitive with its main rivals, the Xbox 360 and the Wii.
  • Analysts predict that the discount will boost sales of the PS3 by as much as 60 percent.
  • It was reported that following a series of major earthquakes which hit Japan recently, the number of insurance policies guarding against temblors has reached an all-time high.
  • On a trip to Tokyo, Peru’s transport and communications minister said that his country would work “to promote the adoption in Latin America of Japan’s technological specifications for terrestrial digital TV broadcasting.”
THE WAR ON DRUGS
  • The National Police Agency said that 1,446 people were arrested for “possessing, using or trafficking in marijuana” in the first six months of 2009. That’s up 21.3 percent from last year.
  • The NPA also said that about two-thirds of those busted were in their 20s or younger, indicating that pot use is becoming more popular among the young ’uns.
  • Meanwhile, 104 people were arrested for growing pot—a 40.5 percent increase from last year.
  • It was reported that Shofukutei Komatsu, a 52-year-old former rakugo comedian, was arrested for stimulant use. Besides his renown as a comic, Komatsu was famous for a nationwide series of performances he gave in hospital cancer wards in the late ’90s.

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