“When I heard my name called, I was happy—but I also wondered if I deserved this because the other finalists were great.”
—Takehiro Mouri, a sophomore at International Christian University, on winning an English speech contest co-sponsored by the Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office

FREAKY DEAKY

  • This year’s Coming of Age Day fell on January 12—exactly 2,020 days before the start of the 2020 Olympics.
  • A survey by a Tokyo publisher found about 20 percent of all municipalities around Japan lack a bookstore that actually sells new books.
  • Staff at Tokyo Sea Life Park in Edogawa-ku are at a loss to explain the mysterious ailment that has killed off their entire population of bonito.
  • Sentence of the Week: “More companies and local governments are facing customer-turned-stalker problems, where customers follow around workers at stores or government offices, complaining about their services while hiding romantic feelings to avoid being reported to police.” (via Mainichi Japan)

SPANNING THE GLOBE

  • The government’s fiscal 2015 budget allocates funds for establishing new embassies in Barbados, the Maldives, Moldova, Solomon Islands, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan.
  • And, for the first time since 2008, the budget authorizes money for new consulates, which this time will be set up in the central Mexican city of Leon and Hamburg in northern Germany.
  • Crown Prince Naruhito traveled to Saudi Arabia to greet King Salmanoffer, who assumed the throne after King Abdullah’s death last month.
  • The weak yen is being credited with a dramatic rise in the number of foreign visitors to the Niseko ski resort in Hokkaido.

¥17.5 billion

  • Losses suffered by elderly people in 2014 as a result of so-called ore-ore scams, in which fraudsters pose as family members and ask for money

80.3

  • Percent of people in Japan who support the death penalty, according to a Cabinet Office survey

~30

  • Percent of mothers in Japan who allow their 2-year-olds to watch at least two hours of TV a day, according to a survey by the environment ministry

ROCK STEADY

  • Officials at JAXA are trying to come up with a snappier name for asteroid 1999JU3, which is the destination of the Hayabusa2 space probe.
  • But the new moniker must conform to International Astronomical Union guidelines, which state that the names of asteroids must be easy to pronounce, have 16 letters or less and abide by “public standards of order and decency.”
  • Officials in Taito-ku are offering foreign tourists the opportunity to rent smartphone-connected bicycles.
  • The bikes suggest routes based on individual preferences, including “avoid uphill slopes.”

OOPS

  • Staff at the Cultural Affairs Agency say they can’t determine the whereabouts of 180 artifacts that the government has classified as national treasures or important cultural properties.
  • Included among that total are 86 swords, 17 sculptures and 11 “ancient documents.”
  • Officials at the environment ministry say the number of people injured by wild bears between last April and November—121—was the third highest in the past 35 years.
  • Authorities at the All Japan Air Transport and Service Association believe the prohibitive costs of obtaining a pilot’s license—as much as ¥10 million—contributes to the lack of personnel available for helicopter rescue missions.

AFTERSHOCKS

  • JR East has begun operating a bus service that passes through the no-go zone near the Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear plant.
  • As a precautionary step, the drivers are equipped with dosimeters.
  • A court in Sendai ordered a driving school to pay ¥1.9 billion to the families of 25 students and staff who died in the March 11 disaster.
  • The court found that the victims were told to stay at the school even after authorities issued an evacuation alert.

Compiled from reports by AP, Japan Today, The Japan Times, Jiji, The Tokyo Reporter, The Mainichi, The Japan News, AFP, Reuters and Kyodo