Prime Minister Hatoyama Resigns
Eight months after taking office, Japan's Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama announced his resignation on Wednesday. When the left-leaning, Hatoyama-led Democratic Party of Japan came into office last September, it was the first time in decades the parliamentary majority didn’t go to the center-right Liberal Democratic Party. He promised large-scale change in Japan’s foreign and domestic policies -- most notably to move a U.S. military base called Futenma on the southern island of Okinawa. When the debate over the base stalemated, and it was decided to leave it where it was, lawmakers within the Democratic Party as well as the Japanese public called for his resignation. However, because the Democratic Party still has a commanding majority in Parliament, Hatoyama’s resignation won’t force another election. A new prime minister will be announced Friday.
American military presence is concentrated on the southern island of Okinawa where Futenma hosts about 47,000 U.S. troops. The base, a reminder of post-war American occupation, is a controversial topic for many Okinawans. On May 17th, a reported 17,000 protesters formed a human chain around the base. A good overview of the debate, with many interesting testimonials from Okinawans, can be found here, and an American soldier based in Okinawa gives his side here.
Astronaut Soichi Noguchi returned to Earth on Wednesday. He stayed on the International Space Station for 163 consecutive days -- the longest stint for any Japanese astronaut. "The air on Earth tastes good," he said when he touched down in Kazakhstan. "I can powerfully smell grass and soil." While in space, Noguchi took part in a number of experiments, and built and installed a robotic arm in Japan’s Kibo module. When he had a free moment, he posted incredible images from space on from his Twitter account, @astro_soichi.
Japan at World Cup 2010
Japan World played its penultimate warm-up match for the 2010 World Cup in Austria on May 31. They were defeated by England, 2-1, but remain upbeat for their prospects for the actual thing in South Africa. Goalie Eiji Kawashima said, "Everyone was a bit down in the dressing room but we have another warm-up (against Cote d'Ivoire in Switzerland on Friday) coming up and there is still time to turn things around." Follow Team Japan’s travails at their team blog.
Japanese Summer Blockbusters
The summer blockbuster season is in full swing in Japan as well. Big releases include: Shodo Girls (trailer), about a girls’rural high school calligraphy team; Zebraman 2 (trailer), Takashi Miike’s new movie about a cosplay-superhero in a future totalitarian Japan; and My Darling is a Foreigner (trailer), about a young Japanese woman who finds love with a scruffily bearded American.
Related, Japan's top blockbusters and indie smashes from the last 10 years land in New York City July 1 at Japan Society's fourth annual JAPAN CUTS festival of contemporary Japanese cinema. Tickets go on sale June 10!
Nobuyoshi Araki’s Bday
Bad-boy photographer Nobuyoshi Araki celebrated his koki, or 70th birthday, on May 25th. The Japan Times' Jae Lee sat down with Araki at his favorite Shinjuku bar. Araki speaks about the plastic dinosaurs he considers his alter-egos, the death of his cat, photographing Lady Gaga, and his favorite subject matter: women. Says Araki: "I see women as female gods who protect me from the God of Death." There’s currently an exhibition of Araki’s work at Taka Ishii Gallery in Tokyo -- check out some images here [link contains some explicit material].