AOYAMA VIEW 13.09.2019

Stormy weather: typhoon, traffic chaos and missiles from Korea

It‘s 36C out on streets when I‘m writing this after typhoon No.15 pounded Tokyo Sunday night, but it‘s September, so it must be autumn. It‘s sweaters and downjackets in Uniqlo stores, 2020 calendars already in book stores. Bric-brac shops have started to display Halloween masks and Christmas decorations are probably ready in store room waiting their turn from beginning of November.

This column is an update of topics mentioned and left unmentioned in the last column.


First, congrats to Finnair for securing the long sought-after slot at Haneda even if most of the 50 new daily slots went to domestic and US airlines. Or actually destinations: it is up to each country to decide which of its airlines will get them. As Helsinki got one Finnish and one Japanese slot, it is clear they will go to Finnair and JAL as they only fly there. As well, one given to Sweden and Denmark together will go to SAS and ANA – just unclear whether they will fly to Copenhagen or Stockholm.

Finnair Haneda flight will be a night flight departing after midnight and arriving Helsinki very early morning so that connecting passengers will have a wide array of morning departures to European destinations at their disposal. Sounds good to me even when going to just Finland: long day flight always feels much longer than night flight. Time difference works better, too: it‘s noon in your “head clock” when you arrive, so no problem to work all day.

Probably fits well Finnair, too: two daily departures from/to Narita with just 2 hours in-between is not an optimal choice for any company. Now it will be morning from Narita and evening from Haneda – a better choice for customers.

These colors will soon become more familiar for Haneda users too. (FCCJ)
Even if you could get to Narita by plane, continuing your
journey with other transport was not that easy. (ANNnews)

Finnair flight landed on Monday morning in schedule, one of the few who managed that, but to no avail for passengers: the airport was a mess with no land transport available. Train tracks were full of debris, power lines were broken and highway closed for continuing high wind. Chiba was the worst hit area – it took until Wednesday to have traffic back to normal there. Flights kept arriving and 5000 people were forced to spend the Monday night at terminals, by Tuesday night the number had grown to 17,000. Food, water and blankets were distributed, but non-Japanese language information was next to none, foreigners complained, just like in Kansai before. “When will they ever learn…”

Of course, those numbers pale in comparison to almost one million people without electricity in Chiba and 3 million people around the metropolis without train to work at 8 o’clock when train lines said they will resume traffic. They could not: lines circled around stations for hundred of meters for hours, but, luckily for locals, information flow was constantly updated on internet. It took a few more hours to clear up the tracks and many complained all trouble could have been avoided if train companies were not so cocksure to claim all will be OK at 8 o’clock, but only said each line will inform when they are ready to run.

Think we all here – both consumers and companies – are spoiled to expect things work orderly even amidst nature’s turmoils. Yet, finishing this article four days later, 400,000 homes and public buildings are still without electricity in Chiba, old people are dying for heat in hospitals and everybody is cut off from all communication. It’s not just about fixing a few wires here and there: the big towers of the main power line through the forests went down in the wind together with probably hundreds of concrete poles on municipal streets. Tokyo Power cannot say when it can get the lights on and machines working again there.

For many arriving tourists, especially first timers, it must have been a shock. Until now, all typhoons and earthquakes in Japan have been just pictures in TV – it is different when you are yourself in middle of it, outright terrifying or at least frustrating if you cannot grasp what’s happening and how it will all turn out. Much more needs to be done to service foreign travelers, but years of neglect to learn foreign languages takes long time to change.

In Chiba a fence of a sports facility also caused heavy
damage to nearby house (Asahi Shinbun)

Monday chaos was a healthy reminder for arrangers of Olympics next year. After finally finding that it’s pretty hot here and city traffic is congested indeed, IOC now understand that some competitions might have to be postponed or cancelled all together if a typhoon happens to pass by.

Rugby World Cup that starts at end of next week got the message in concrete with some of the arriving teams delayed at airport despite having their own transports fixed in advance. In contrast to Olympics, RWC will be played in multiple stadiums around the country to spread the message of the sport not that widely played in Japan. I think it’s a great idea; avoid Tokyo congestion and count on how fast and easy it is to move from one place to another in Japan. Same formula was used in FIFA World Cup 2002 here – even Korea was included then – and every World Cup elsewhere before it and after. But it all depends on weather gods being benevolent, trains running and planes flying.

RWC is a big global event – not much behind Olympics and World Cup even if practically unknown in places like Finland. Total of 20 nations qualified from 93 to participate and almost half a million fans are expected to arrive from overseas. The 12 selected stadiums range from Oita and Kumamoto in Kyushu to Kamaishi, a small Sanriku coast town in north almost totally destroyed in the 2011 megaquake. The final will be played at Yokohama stadium, same place as FIFA final 2002.

Rather than for the team shirt, Abe is probably smiling when thinking about
the boost to tourism RWC might bring. (首相官邸ホームページ [CC BY 4.0 (
Yokohama Stadium has a capacity of more than 70,000 people...
that will mean quite many thirsty fans. (Wikimedia Commons)

Rugby fans are known to be colorful and noisy so it will be quite an international experience for the local hosts – healthy again. While the stadiums have been all tested and approved by the Rugby Federation, it will be also a test for local pubs as rugby fans are known to consume copious amounts beer. In fact, there has been fears  among the visitors that the amber liquid will run out at stadiums and pubs as it has done before in smaller tournaments in elsewhere in Asia – Japan RWC is the first Big One of its kind outside rugby’s heartlands. All fans support each of their own teams frenzily and agree it would be nice to see Japan do well, too, but all that would be wasted without beer.

“There’s nothing worse in the world than a pub with no beer”, says the old Irish-Australian song. “No worries, mates” say Kirin, the official Heineken provider. “We’ve built extra lines to produce more close to each stadium.”

Bet you that big number of visitors plus local fans in follow can consume so much that they cover the drop in Korean exports caused by anti-Japan boycott there.


Our friendly neighbors have been busy greeting us with missiles: real rockets from North and verbal, legal types from the South. Mr. Kim has been testing new Iskander-type intermediate range missiles with Russian technology that can fly low to avoid being shot down by any anti-missile system that Japan is spending billions to buy from US possibly rendering them useless before they are even installed. They are of no concern to US president as they cannot reach USA – he rather talks about love letters he keeps receiving from Kim and remains confident he can “make a deal” with his friend on whatever conditions North demands before US elections roll around – same as in Afghanistan. Re-election and Nobel Peace prize must be in Trump’s dreams constantly. 

For his turn, Mr. Moon never fails to come with new ideas and insults that would rub Japan’s nose. Almost every day we can see him standing with hand on heart listening to national song with his ministers on live-TV before another new announcement. So far, we’ve got new condemning statements of past history, military exercises around the disputed rocks half-way to Japan and crowds of parliamentarians to visit there, Japan sued to explain WTO its export procedures, withdrawal of Korean team from Olympics considered and IOC ban requested for Japanese fans fly Asahi flags in the games. One of his associates even declared that Tokyo 2020 is “nazi games” on parallel with Berlin 1936.

Showing contrasting cool head, Abe government has stayed away from taking any counter action, just commenting that Korean moves are deplorable.

Like with Trump, such frenzy of activity in foreign politics is partly to cover problems at home front. With his closest ally exposed hypocrite promising to clean up all dirty privileges for university entrance in the education crazy nation, then forced to admit he fraudulently got his own daughter into an elite school, students took to streets like they did against Park. Yet, despite 14 hours grilling in Korean parliament, Moon stayed his course to nominate the man Justice Minister, a position that will enable him to stop ongoing investigations into financial corruption that he’s said to been also involved in. Evidently, there’s a privileged leftist elite in Korea as there’s rich conservative elite. This was safe enough reason to get the conservative side of the divided nation to finally challenge Moon – until now the opposition had to tone down any criticism for fear of being stamped “Japan supporter” in the frenzied anti-Japan atmosphere whipped up by Moon party. Stay tuned for more from Korea.

It remains to be seen how long Cho Kuk will stay
as Justice Minister (대한민국 청와대 [KOGL Type 1 (
We have seen this so many times before: Japan's Cabinet
and its demographics (首相官邸ホームページ [CC BY 4.0

As expected, Shinjiro Koizumi got his first minister seat in Abe’s new minister line-up. He will be Environment Minister, a position that will put him into an interesting dilemma: he is anti-nuclear like his father, yet Abe policy is to restart as many as possible of the nuclear plants that lay idle ever since 2011. As well, Koizumi has to drum up Japan’s policy to reduce carbon emissions for UN meeting this month, impossible at short notice without more nuclear power rapidly started up. Furthermore, he has to explain to the nation and Fukushima residents that letting out to ocean all the cooling water held in tanks at the crippled nuclear plant is safe and the only possible way to get rid of it.

Then there’s Osaka G7 promises to clean up the ocean of plastic debris, boost up collection and recycling, follow others in banning plastic shopping bags etc. In wider terms, this means boosting circular economy, a Finnish initiative that is now officially shared by Japan. Would not be surprised to see Shinjiro in Finland in the next circular economy conference.

Despite all these daunted tasks, what Japanese public is most interested in is whether he will take father leave from work when his wife Christel will give birth to their baby. He said he would do that to show example of the new equal society and new wave of political leaders he is supposed to represent, so expectations are high.

Other than Shinjiro, a quick look at the new names – and a few old ones – shows there’s this time more heavyweights and Abe’s close associates than rewards for long service like the previous one line-up had. PM clearly prepares for fight to keep the economy going and people happy as well as to push forward his long-coveted change to Constitution, however small it looks now, to get his name into history. Japan’s old age shows right through: out of 19 ministers 6 are over 70 year old and only one is below 50: Koizumi (38). Furthermore, there’s only two women: so much for the push for equality. 

One of the two is Seiko Hashimoto as Minister for Olympics and Women Empowerement, another brilliant populist move by Abe in addition to Shinjiro Koizumi. Seven time Olympian skater and cyclist, who raised up family with 6 children – 3 of them her own: now who can deny this minister lacks expertise to know what she is talking about.

Timo Varhama

Tokyo, September 13, 2019