2007: Japan Top Ten Year in Review

OK, fellow bloggers and Japan-watchers, I’d like to propose that we participate in the mass hysteria that is the year-end-review list. What media stories from or about Japan deserve our attention this year?Here are my top 10, organized roughly in chronological order (for lack of a more meaningful schema):

1. Ando Momofuku (1910-2007, also Go Pek-hok), inventor of Instant Ramen, died January 7, 2007. His origins in occupied Taiwan, entrepreneurial rise in Taibei and later Osaka, and of course the growth of his business from a local salt producer to national noodle maker to international tycoon is a perfect metaphor for the history of Japan in the 20th century.

2. Matsuzaka Daisuke started training with the Boston Red Sox in February, 2007. His six-year, fifty-two million dollar contract with the team that would go on to easily win the World Series (with significant participation from Matsuzaka) is a sign of the huge growth in value of top-flight Japanese players who choose to switch to U.S. baseball.

3. The Institute of Cetacean Research, Japan’s pseudo-scientific cover program for ongoing commercial whaling, called off whaling for the 2007 season in late March because of a fire on the Nisshin Maru. This issue seems to never go away.

4. Matsuoka Toshikatsu, Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries in the Abe cabinet, committed suicide on May 28, 2007 amidst a financial scandal. Looking back, this was perhaps a small sign of the imminent collapse of the Abe administration.

5. On the same day, Mori Riyo was crowned Miss Universe, inspiring new scrutiny of the beauty pageant industry in Japan and a new representative abroad. Particularly fascinating was Mori’s claim that she has “a samurai soul.”

6. On July 16, a magnitude 6.6 earthquake off the coast of Niigata prompted worry about and international attention to the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa Nuclear Power Plant. The plant, which can contribute up to 6% of Japan’s electrical energy, was shut down to allow safety inspections, which are ongoing.

7. Prime Minister Abe Shinzo resigned on September 12, 2007. The son of Abe Shintaro and the youngest postwar Prime Minister, Abe had come under increasing pressure from a divided Diet as well as strong criticism after poor election results, and himself seemed to suffer from worsening health. His administration lasted for less than a year.

8. Multiple members of Kigenkai, a religious cult, were arrested for murder after the beating death of a female member in September. Kigenkai, which was founded in 1970 and claims to be a traditional Shinto organization, produces Kigensui, a purified water that the sect claims can cure illness and disease.

9. English conversation school Nova filed for bankruptcy on October 26, letting go of more than 4,000 teachers and leaving hundreds of thousands of paid students without lessons. Some commentators cited Nova’s huge spending on marketing and advertising as the root cause; others pointed to the government’s cuts to vocational education funding in 2003.

10. As of November 20, all foreigners entering or living in Japan were required to undergo fingerprinting. This will, logically, prevent terrorism.


  1. Talent Higashikokubaru Hideo became the 17th governor of Miyazaki prefecture.
    His saying (宮崎を)どげんかせんといかん narrowly won the popular saying award of Jiyuukokuminsha, beating such other political favorites as:

    15~50歳の女性の数は決まっている。産む機械… from Yanagisawa Hakuo Min. Health

    水道はナントカ還元水というものを付けている from Matsuoka Toshikatsu Min. Agriculture

    原爆を落とされて…しょうがないなと思っている from Kyuma Fumio Min. Defense

    私をマダム・スシと呼んでみては? from Koike Yuriko replacement Min. Defense

    actually this could be a top-ten list on its own. どんだけぇ~??

  2. One thing that should seriously be in the top 10 (despite the facetiousness of my last comment) is 年金問題 €- in the news everyday now and almost every day since it first broke as a serious issue in contemporary Japanese society — it was a factor in the decline of Mr. Abe’s popularity, won the opposition a political victory in the Diet, and threatens Mr. Fukuda today. And a lot of old people are really, really angry.

    If I had to place my money on the issue that won the most media coverage in 2007, this would undoubtably be No. 1.

    The lost money would probably be less than the GDP generated by university students nursed by Instant Ramen. But it’s at least a close call. Higher than Matsuzaka’s salary for sure.

    No.2 would be bullying, which overtook schoolgirl dating, parricide, and suicide to become the national crisis of 2007. Monbusho finally defined it in January of 2007, and found 124,898 cases nationwide for their first study. It was all downhill from there.

  3. sorry to keep posting (when i click submit, new ideas pop up). mods plz add to prvs post.

    No. 3 – The city of Yubari in Hokkaido went BANKRUPT, and the gov. let them twist in the wind. This is only the beginning…(see Norimitsu Onishi “Tokyo Cuts Aid, and Hinterland Withers in Japan” in the New York Times, January 27, 2007).
    This is just beginning…

  4. Indeed, the most recent pension scandal, in which the pension records of approximately 50 million people have been lost or otherwise cannot be identified, has been rocking the government since the opposition Democratic Party of Japan revealed the problem in May. First Abe and now Fukuda have been struggling against extremely low poll numbers and a general lack of confidence. This is ironic because Fukuda was forced to quit as Koizumi’s chief cabinet secretary three years ago in May 2004 in the previous pension scandal, when it was revealed that he (and other top government officials) had not been paying into the national pension scheme.

    Here’s the Yomiuri Newspaper’s top 10 news stories of 2007:

    http://www.yomiuri.co.jp/feature/2007news10/index.htm (Japanese)
    http://www.yomiuri.co.jp/dy/editorial/20071225TDY04310.htm (English)

  5. I’m not sure if, as a group, they belongs in the top 10 but the multiple food scandals of 2007 deserve some mention. Reputable (Fuji-ya, McDonalds, Shiroi-koibito) and disreputable (Meat Hope!) companies alike were caught selling recycled or spoiled food products by maintaining a highly organized system of relabeling and redistribution. Meat Hope wins the prize both for grotesqueness and absurdity: it was mixing the flesh of cows, pigs, rabbits, and other animals only to package and sell it as “100% beef.” The president maintained a ridiculous defense of “ it was an honest mistake” and ignorance until his own son outted him on live TV. That was great!

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.