Safety, peace of mind badly shaken, but sports brought welcome respite

A former prime minister was gunned down in broad daylight, and a tragedy occurred in a tourist area. The economy is increasingly uncertain. The year now ending has been one in which the safety and peace of mind that people once took for granted have been shaken.

Ranking first in the top 10 news stories related to Japan as chosen by Yomiuri Shimbun readers in this year’s poll was “former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s shooting death and the state funeral in September.” Abe was shot with a homemade gun by a man who had been loitering nearby during a speech in Nara, revealing the inadequacies of the security system around him.

Shocking video images of the incident spread around the world through social media, undermining the “safety myth” of Japan. Many people must have felt a sense of crisis over the current situation in which guns can be made by following instructions found on the internet.

The incident also highlighted the social problem of damage caused by big donations to the Unification Church, officially known as the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification. Such damage ranked as the year’s eighth biggest story in the poll. A new law was enacted to remedy and prevent damage to followers and their families.

Ranked third was the sinking of a sightseeing boat off the Shiretoko Peninsula in Hokkaido. Sloppy safety management was revealed, including the failure to replace deteriorating parts on the ship and continuing to operate the vessel in bad weather. The grief and anger of the bereaved families must be more than one can imagine.

The economy also experienced major changes this year. Due to differences in monetary policy between Japan and the United States, “the yen weakened to the lowest level in 32 years in October, past ¥150 to the dollar,” ranking as the year’s sixth top story. Ranking 11th was the subsequent “soaring prices and a series of price hikes.”

The factors behind the high prices include the invasion of Ukraine by Russia, which renewed awareness of the preciousness of peace.

Amid the continuing sad news, many people must have found hope in the great achievements in the world of sports.

“Japan’s superb performance at the soccer World Cup” ranked second. The team’s victories over the soccer powerhouses of Germany and Spain stunned the world and cheered up the nation.

Ranking fourth was the achievement of two-way Major League star Shohei Ohtani in becoming the first player since Babe Ruth to record both double-digit wins as a pitcher and double-digit home runs as a batter. In the fifth-ranking story, Munetaka Murakami of the Tokyo Yakult Swallows hit 56 home runs for the season in Japan, surpassing legendary slugger Sadaharu Oh and becoming the youngest player to earn the honor of the Triple Crown.

The success of the younger generation is not limited to sports. Shogi player Sota Fujii continued to show his strength this year, becoming the youngest player to hold five major titles. His story ranked ninth.

Ranked seventh is Japan’s record medal haul of 18 at the Beijing Winter Olympics in February. On the other hand, there was also the revelation of a bribery scandal involving the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics held last year, ranking at 13th. The two news stories highlighted bright and dark sides of the Games.

Next year, the COVID-19 pandemic will enter its fourth year. It is hoped that social and economic activities will recover to pre-pandemic levels next year and be developed further.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Dec. 27, 2022)