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Top 10 Japanese News Events of 2023 Selected by Yomiuri Shimbun Readers

AP
Team Japan celebrates after winning the World Baseball Classic final game against the United States on Tuesday in Miami.

Top 10 Japanese News Events of 2023 Selected by Yomiuri Shimbun Readers

Samurai Japan winning the WBC title tops this year’s list of the top 10 Japanese news events. Shohei Ohtani’s home run achievement in the United States, a talent agency’s sexual abuse, shogi, and treated water from the Fukushima plant also feature on the list chosen by Yomiuri Shimbun readers. Some 25,304 people provided valid responses to a Yomiuri Shimbun poll conducted from Dec. 2 to Dec. 18. Nineteen responses correctly predicted the final result.

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1. Samurai Japan win 1st WBC title in 14 years

Japan’s national baseball team Samurai Japan led by manager Hideki Kuriyama won the World Baseball Classic (WBC), beating the United States — the defending champion — in the March 21 final, and securing its third WBC title after 14 years.

The triumphant team comprised major leaguers, including Shohei Ohtani, Yu Darvish and Lars Nootbaar, as well as players from Japanese professional baseball teams such as Munetaka Murakami of the Tokyo Yakult Swallows and Kazuma Okamoto of the Yomiuri Giants. Given its pedigree, the team was touted as the “strongest ever.”

The 2023 WBC drew a record number of spectators, with over 1.3 million attending, and excitement rippling worldwide. Ohtani was named as the competition’s Most Valuable Player.

AP
Japan player Shohei Ohtani (16) celebrates with his teammates after defeating the United States in World Baseball Classic championship game, Tuesday, March 21, 2023, in Miami.

2. Ohtani collects home run honor

Shohei Ohtani of the Los Angeles Angels hit 44 home runs during the season and became the first Japanese player to bag the American League’s home run title on Oct. 1. Ohtani’s season ended on Sept. 3 due to a right elbow injury, among other reasons. But having notched five more home runs than his closest rival, his total remained unsurpassed. Ohtani also recorded 10 wins as a pitcher during the season, and achieved a league first by logging double digits in wins and home runs for two consecutive years.

On Nov. 16, Ohtani was unanimously named the American League’s Most Valuable Player, becoming the first two-time unanimous MVP. Echoing 2021, all 30 Baseball Writers’ Association of America reporters with voting rights placed Ohtani at the top of their respective ballots.

At the end of the season, Ohtani became a free agent, triggering speculation about his next move. On Dec. 9, he announced his intention to join the Los Angeles Dodgers on a 10-year, 700 million dollars contract (about 101.5 billion yen), marking the largest contract in sports history.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Shohei Ohtani, wearing his new uniform, poses with Los Angeles Dodgers manager Dave Roberts at a press conference Thursday at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles.

3. Johnny’s sexual abuse scandal

On Sept. 7, Japanese talent agency Johnny & Associates Inc. held a press conference to officially acknowledge and apologize for sexual abuse carried out by the company’s founder, Johnny Kitagawa. The scandal attracted considerable attention, spotlighting sexual violence against men, children and young people, while raising serious questions regarding harassment within the entertainment industry and media responses to the scandal.

Johnny & Associates President Julie Keiko Fujishima resigned to take responsibility for the scandal, with former Johnny’s performer Noriyuki Higashiyama taking over as the firm’s new head. The talent agency announced in October that it would cease trading under its current name after fully compensating victims. The company subsequently renamed itself “Smile-Up.”

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Noriyuki Higashiyama, left, and Julie Keiko Fujishima attend a press conference in Tokyo on Thursday afternoon.

4. Ryuo titleholder Fujii wins Oza title to become 1st holder of all 8 major shogi titles

On Oct. 11, the fourth game of the shogi Oza title match was held in Kyoto. The challenger Sota Fujii — who held the Ryuo, Meijin, Oi, Eio, Kio, Osho and Kisei titles — defeated the titleholder Takuya Nagase, becoming the first to hold all eight major shogi titles at once. The match with Nagase is shown in this photo courtesy of the Japan Shogi Association.

Fujii became the holder of all eight major titles at age 21 years and 2 months, and in November he successfully defended his Ryuo title for a second time.

Fujii clinched his 19th straight win in title matches he took part in, tying the record for the most consecutive title wins with the 15th Meijin titleholder Yasuharu Oyama. Expectations run high that Fujii may break this record next year.

5. Hanshin Tigers win Japan Series for 1st time in 38 years

In Nippon Professional Baseball’s Japan Series, the Hanshin Tigers beat the Orix Buffaloes in Game 7, held on Nov. 5, winning the championship for the first time in 38 years and for the second time in their history.

During the season, Tigers manager Akinobu Okada — being tossed in the photo — often used the phrase “you know what” to refer to winning the Central League pennant, wanting to keep players from thinking too much about it. The phrase has caught on with the public.

6. ‘Luffy,’ a vicious crime group ringleader, arrested

The Metropolitan Police Department arrested four men, including key suspects Yuki Watanabe and Kiyoto Imamura — shown in the mug shot — in connection with a string of robberies committed in various locations by “Luffy” and others as ringleaders, who allegedly gave instructions to perpetrators. All four were deported from the Philippines between Feb. 7 and 9.

The four are believed to have been senior members of a group based in the Philippines, recruiting would-be perpetrators via what is dubbed “dark” part-time job offers on social media and giving them instructions to commit robberies.

7. Novel coronavirus downgraded to ‘Category 5’

On May 8, COVID-19 was downgraded to “Category 5” under the Infectious Diseases Control Law, the same as the seasonal flu.

The measures taken against COVID-19 that had been in place for more than three years were shifted into those implemented outside of a pandemic.

According to The Yomiuri Shimbun’s compilation, a cumulative total of about 33.83 million people in Japan had been infected with the novel coronavirus, and about 70,000 people died from COVID-19 by the time the transition in category was made.

8. Bigmotor Co. punished for making fraudulent claims

Bigmotor Co., a major used car dealer, was found to have made fraudulent auto insurance claims, with its employees having deliberately damaged the bodies of automobiles to extend the scope of repairs on cars entrusted to them by customers.

The company’s founder and president, Hiroyuki Kaneshige, in the photo, said on July 25 that he would resign to take responsibility for the irregularities.

Later, Giichi Shirakawa, president of Sompo Japan Insurance Inc., said he would step down to take responsibility for the insurer having resumed dealings with Bigmotor. He is suspected of having been aware of the possibility of fraudulent activities.

In November, the Financial Services Agency issued an administrative punishment to revoke Bigmotor’s registration as a damage insurance agency.

9. Record-high average temperature in summer

The Japan Meteorological Agency announced on Sept. 1 that the average temperature in Japan this summer — from June through August — was the highest since records began in 1898. The nation was also hit by a string of deaths considered to have been due to heat stroke.

The heat wave also affected the production of crops, sending the prices of vegetables and other plants soaring due to the poor harvest. The extreme heat continued beyond summer, with the average temperature for autumn — from September through November — also recorded as the highest since the statistics began.

10. Discharge of treated water from Fukushima plant begins

On Aug. 24, TEPCO started discharging treated water from the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant — seen in the photo — into the ocean in preparation for the plant’s eventual decommissioning. The discharge is expected to continue for about 30 years.

China has suspended the imports of Japanese marine products in protest, while ignoring scientific evidence. Japanese fishermen who exported seafood to China have been financially struck.

EXTRA: 4 Cabinet ministers replaced over hidden funds scandal

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
An Abe faction political fundraising party in Minato Ward, Tokyo, in May

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida replaced four Cabinet ministers, including Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno, and five state ministers on Dec. 14 over allegations that revenue from political fundraising parties was underreported by the Abe faction, the largest faction of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party.

All the replaced officials belong to the faction.

LDP Policy Research Council Chairperson Koichi Hagiuda was another top LDP official and faction member who resigned over the scandal.

The special investigation squad of the Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office raided offices of the Abe and Nikai factions on Dec. 19 on suspicion of violations of the Political Funds Control Law. The Abe faction allegedly failed to report about 500 million yen over the five years from 2018 to 2022, with dozens of lawmakers possibly involved.

The Nikai faction is suspected of underreporting at least 100 million yen in income from fundraising parties, and other factions are also believed to have underreported their revenue from such parties.

This news was not one of the choices in the Yomiuri Shimbun poll, but we have included it due to the magnitude of its impact.