Tag Archive: Tokyo


Japan’s music sensation: a band chosen by its fans

http://news.yahoo.com/japans-music-sensation-band-chosen-fans-071526524.html

TOKYO (AP) — AKB48 is not exactly a band. It’s an army of girls-next-door, ranked by its fans, and after taking Japan by storm it’s getting ready to go global.

More than 60 girls and young women, split into four teams, make up what is arguably Japan’s most popular pop group. It performs almost every day, has spawned affiliates across the country and has given rise to sister mega-groups in China, Taiwan and Indonesia.

AKB48’s big event is an annual vote — by almost 1.4 million fans this year — to determine who gets to record their next single, which inevitably becomes a hit. AKB48 raked in more than $200 million in CD sales last year alone.

The girls pranced and sang on stage before last week’s vote as their fans waved glow sticks and sang to familiar tunes. When the winners were announced, the girls cried, bowed deeply, thanked fans for their loyalty and promised to live up to their expectations.

Their singing and dancing aren’t always perfect, and the group’s ever-changing members are hard to keep track of. But fans are very forgiving to their flaws and view them as their friends or little sisters, not out-of-reach superstars.

There are other mass girl pop groups, such as South Korea’s Girls’ Generation and KARA, but they are more polished and have a set membership and no elections.

AKB is also much more accessible: Fans can visit their daily shows in downtown Tokyo, attend handshaking events or exchange messages via social media. After each show, all the girls line up outside the theater to see off the fans with high fives and exchange a few words.

“You get to watch them grow. In the beginning, perhaps they weren’t very good, but then later you see them evolve and shine on stage,” said Kao Yi-wen, a Taiwanese student who was among three overseas fans selected to attend last Wednesday’s election results at Tokyo’s Budokan hall.

Founder and producer Yasushi Akimoto formed the group in 2005, calling them “idols whom you can go and meet in person.”

Fans get to see a slice of their ordinary lives by reading each girl’s blog. The organizers have published DVDs showing backstage scenes, including personal struggles and conflicts among teams.

But performances can seem orchestrated. As the girls sing and dance in unison, fans follow a cheering formula, shouting “A! K! B! 48!” Fans know exactly when and what to do — like an experienced Kabuki audience that knows when to yell an actor’s name at the right moment during a play.

Now Akimoto is taking the enterprise abroad, creating what are essentially AKB48 clones in Jakarta (JKT48), Taipei (TPE48) and Shanghai (SNH48).

JKT48 is the farthest along. The Indonesian group follows the AKB routine exactly, down to the opening cheers, with the same songs and choreographed dancing. The only difference is the Indonesian translation of most lyrics.

“I wasn’t fully confident (AKB) could make sense to anybody but the Japanese, and I thought hurdles would be higher overseas,” Akimoto said in a recent TV interview. “But I want to tell everyone that ‘let’s have confidence.’ Today the world is watching Japan, and we are also watching the world.”

The main group got its name from the location of its theater in the downtown Tokyo district of Akihabara, sometimes called “Akiba,” the birthplace of Japanese “otaku,” or geek, subculture dominated by comics, anime and video games.

AKB is still shaped by those influences: Many of its members dress in schoolgirl uniforms like characters in comic books, and some members talk in a cartoon-like, high-pitched sweet voice.

Many Japanese, including self-described “geeks,” are not seeking a superstar like Lady Gaga, said Takuro Morinaga, an economist at Dokkyo University who is also an expert of Japan’s “otaku” culture.

“They are certainly cute, but not outstanding beauties,” he said. “You can probably find one in your classroom, and that’s what makes them likable.”

Core fans are mostly men, but AKB is gaining a following among teenage girls and older women.

Some critics say they come across as sex objects that encourage men to exploit young women. They sometimes perform in itty-bitty bikinis for video clips or pose for photo books.

But others say they have a positive, hard-working image: They are required to devote themselves to AKB, wash their own laundry and aren’t allowed to have boyfriends.

The group initially had three 16-member groups — Team A, Team K and Team B — hence the number 48 in its name. It has expanded to at least nine sister groups and teams of “interns” around the country — including SKE48, NMB48, and HKT48, representing various cities.

Only people who bought the latest AKB CDs or joined fan clubs are allowed to cast ballots, which can be done online.

People gathered in front of TV screens in downtown Tokyo for last week’s election. Morinaga said it “seems to be monitored even more closely than the real elections.”

The top 16 performers will record the next single, and the number-one vote getter sings in the center position. For most girls, the primary goal is simply to make the top 64, which brings more TV and other media exposure.

Yuko Oshima, the winner two years ago, returned to the top seat with 108,837 votes.

“I really wanted to be up on this stage again,” the tearful 24-year-old said. “I was under enormous pressure (to win).”

She praised the younger girls for their ambition and said “that is what will keep us going.”

Many of the performers — aged 14 to 26 — said they have “no special talents” but vowed to improve and continue to pursue their dreams to become a top singer, dancer or actress, and eventually “graduate” from the group to go solo.

So far, no AKB alumna has made it big on her own.

Joseph Salmingo of El Monte, California, found AKB48 through the Internet while studying Japanese. He was among the three overseas guests who won tickets to the election by submitting what’s considered the most enthusiastic cheers for the girls.

He said he enjoys the drama that he sees in the group — friendships, rivalries and dreams.

“There’s just so many of them and each one has their own story,” he said. “It’s kind of like a reality show.”

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Radioactive water leaks from Japan’s damaged plant

An aerial view shows Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in FukushimaAn undated composite montage image of laser scan data and construction data shows the damaged No. 1 reactor of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power planthttp://beta.news.yahoo.com/radioactive-water-leaks-tepco-plant-070542086.html

TOKYO (Reuters) – Tons of radioactive water were discovered on Tuesday to have leaked into the ground from Japan’s Fukushima nuclear plant, the latest in a series of leaks at the plant damaged in a March earthquake and tsunami, the country’s nuclear watchdog said.

More than three months after the disaster, authorities are struggling to bring under control damaged reactors at the power plant, 240 km (150 miles) north of Tokyo.

About 15 tonnes of water with a low level of radiation leaked from a storage tank at the plant on the Pacific coast, the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency said.

Plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co (Tepco) said it was investigating the cause of the leak which was later repaired.

Vast amounts of water contaminated with varying levels of radiation have accumulated in storage tanks at the plant after being used to cool reactors damaged when their original cooling systems were knocked out by the March 11 disaster.

Dealing with that radioactive water has been a major problem for Tepco, which is trying to use a decontamination system that cleans water so it can be recycled to cool the reactors.

But the system has encountered technical glitches and officials have said the water could spill into the Pacific Ocean unless the system was operating properly.

The system was halted an hour and a half after it started on Monday because of a water leakage.

Tepco fixed the problem and restarted the system on Tuesday afternoon, said Junichi Matsumoto, an official at the utility.

(Reporting by Shinichi Saoshiro and Yoko Kubota; Editing by Michael Watson and Robert Birsel)

 

Japanese Prime Minister Kan leaves a gathering with members of his ruling Democratic Party of Japan in Tokyohttp://beta.news.yahoo.com/japan-pm-kan-says-wants-3-bills-passed-132108781.html

 

TOKYO (Reuters) – Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan said on Monday he wanted to oversee the passage of a small extra budget to help finance post-disaster reconstruction, a bill on deficit financing bonds and a law on renewable energy before stepping down.

Kan, under fire for his response to a March 11 earthquake and tsunami and ensuing nuclear crisis, pledged early this month to step down to quell a rebellion in his party and survive a no-confidence vote, but has declined to say when he will go.

(Reporting by Yoko Kubota, writing by Tomasz Janowski)

 

 

Japan admits being unprepared for nuclear disaster

Banri Kaiedahttp://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20110607/ap_on_re_us/as_japan_earthquake

By MARI YAMAGUCHI, Associated Press Mari Yamaguchi, Associated Press 2 hrs 1 min ago

TOKYO – Japan admitted Tuesday it was unprepared for a severe nuclear accident like the tsunami-caused Fukushima disaster and said damage to the reactors and radiation leakage were worse than it previously thought.

In a report being submitted to the U.N. nuclear agency, the government also acknowledged reactor design flaws and a need for greater independence for the country’s nuclear regulators.

The report said the nuclear fuel in three reactors likely melted through the inner containment vessels, not just the core, after the March 11 earthquake and tsunami knocked out the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant’s power and cooling systems. Fuel in the Unit 1 reactor started melting hours earlier than previously estimated.

The 750-page report, compiled by Japan’s nuclear emergency taskforce, factors in a preliminary evaluation by a team from the International Atomic Energy Agency and was to be submitted to the IAEA as requested.

“In light of the lessons learned from the accident, Japan has recognized that a fundamental revision of its nuclear safety preparedness and response is inevitable,” the report said. It also recommended a national debate on nuclear power.

The report said the flaws in basic reactor design — the Mark-1 model developed by General Electric — included the venting system for the containment vessels and the location of spent fuel cooling pools high in the buildings, which resulted in leaks of radioactive water that hampered repair work.

GE’s website says 32 Mark-1 reactors, designed 40 years ago and upgraded since, still operate around the world.

Japan’s report also noted that the six-reactor Fukushima plant paired up two reactors to share some facilities and equipment, also delaying the accident responses.

The report said the vents lacked filtering capability, causing contamination of the air, and the vent line interfered with connecting pipes.

Desperate attempts by plant workers to vent pressure to prevent the containment vessels from bursting repeatedly failed. Experts have said the delay in venting was a primary cause of explosions that further damaged the reactors and spewed huge amounts of radiation into the air. The report also noted the outermost containment buildings should have had vents to prevent a series of explosions at three units.

The melted cores and radiation leaks have irradiated workers, including two control room operators whose exposures have exceeded the government limit.

Earlier Tuesday, the Health and Labor Ministry inspectors visited the plant to investigate if TEPCO used adequate caution.

Lack of protection for plant workers early in the crisis and inadequate information about radiation leaks were also a problem, nuclear crisis taskforce director Goshi Hosono said.

The report acknowledged a lack of independence for Japan’s nuclear regulator, the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, and pledged to improve safety oversight, as recommended in the IAEA report last week. Bureaucracy and division of responsibility by several government agencies also delayed decision-making, the report said.

The report also said accident management measures, which are left up to operators’ voluntary effort, should be made legally binding. Accident management guidelines have not been reviewed or improved since being introduced in 1992, it said.

Trade and Industry Minister Banri Kaieda promised to share all available data about the accident and cooperate with the IAEA.

“Our country bears a serious responsibility to provide data to the international community with maximum transparency and actively contribute to nuclear safety,” he said.

The report comes a day after NISA said twice as much radiation may have been released into the air as earlier estimated. That would be about one-sixth of the amount released at Chernobyl instead of the earlier estimate of one-tenth.

NISA said its analysis used a different method than had been employed by the plant’s operator last month and is believed to “better reflect reality.”

After Chernobyl, Japan stepped up nuclear safety measures but that effort did not last long, Hosono acknowledged.

“We should never repeat the same mistake,” he said.

 

How one Japanese village defied the tsunami

In this photo taken Tuesday, April 26, 2011, a construction worker walks on Fudai flood gate in Fudai town, Iwate Prefecture, northeastern Japan. The http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20110513/ap_on_re_as/as_japan_village_that_survived

By TOMOKO A. HOSAKA, Associated Press Tomoko A. Hosaka, Associated Press Fri May 13, 2:04 pm ET

FUDAI, Japan – In the rubble of Japan’s northeast coast, one small village stands as tall as ever after the tsunami. No homes were swept away. In fact, they barely got wet.

Fudai is the village that survived — thanks to a huge wall once deemed a mayor’s expensive folly and now vindicated as the community’s salvation.

The 3,000 residents living between mountains behind a cove owe their lives to a late leader who saw the devastation of an earlier tsunami and made it the priority of his four-decade tenure to defend his people from the next one.

His 51-foot (15.5-meter) floodgate between mountainsides took a dozen years to build and meant spending more than $30 million in today’s dollars.

“It cost a lot of money. But without it, Fudai would have disappeared,” said seaweed fisherman Satoshi Kaneko, 55, whose business has been ruined but who is happy to have his family and home intact.

The floodgate project was criticized as wasteful in the 1970s. But the gate and an equally high seawall behind the community’s adjacent fishing port protected Fudai from the waves that obliterated so many other towns on March 11. Two months after the disaster, more than 25,000 are missing or dead.

“However you look at it, the effectiveness of the floodgate and seawall was truly impressive,” Fudai Mayor Hiroshi Fukawatari said.

Towns to the north and south also braced against tsunamis with concrete seawalls, breakwaters and other protective structures. But none were as tall as Fudai’s.

The town of Taro believed it had the ultimate fort — a double-layered 33-foot-tall (10-meter-tall) seawall spanning 1.6 miles (2.5 kilometers) across a bay. It proved no match for the tsunami two months ago.

In Fudai, the waves rose as high as 66 feet (20 meters), as water marks show on the floodgate’s towers. So some ocean water did flow over but it caused minimal damage. The gate broke the tsunami’s main thrust. And the community is lucky to have two mountainsides flanking the gate, offering a natural barrier.

The man credited with saving Fudai is the late Kotaku Wamura, a 10-term mayor whose political reign began in the ashes of World War II and ended in 1987.

Fudai, about 320 miles (510 kilometers) north of Tokyo, depends on the sea. Fishermen boast of the seaweed they harvest. A pretty, white-sand beach lures tourists every summer.

But Wamura never forgot how quickly the sea could turn. Massive earthquake-triggered tsunamis flattened Japan’s northeast coast in 1933 and 1896. In Fudai, the two disasters destroyed hundreds of homes and killed 439 people.

“When I saw bodies being dug up from the piles of earth, I did not know what to say. I had no words,” Wamura wrote of the 1933 tsunami in his book about Fudai, “A 40-Year Fight Against Poverty.”

He vowed it would never happen again.

In 1967, the town erected a 51-foot (15.5-meter) seawall to shield homes behind the fishing port. But Wamura wasn’t finished. He had a bigger project in mind for the cove up the road, where most of the community was located. That area needed a floodgate with panels that could be lifted to allow the Fudai River to empty into the cove and lowered to block tsunamis.

He insisted the structure be as tall as the seawall.

The village council initially balked.

“They weren’t necessarily against the idea of floodgates, just the size,” said Yuzo Mifune, head of Fudai’s resident services and an unofficial floodgate historian. “But Wamura somehow persuaded them that this was the only way to protect lives.”

Construction began in 1972 despite lingering concerns about its size as well as bitterness among landowners forced to sell land to the government.

Even current Mayor Fukawatari, who helped oversee construction, had his doubts.

“I did wonder whether we needed something this big,” he said in an interview at his office.

The concrete structure spanning 673 feet (205 meters) was completed in 1984. The total bill of 3.56 billion yen was split between the prefecture and central government, which financed public works as part of its postwar economic strategy.

On March 11, after the 9.0 earthquake hit, workers remotely closed the floodgate’s four main panels. Smaller panels on the sides jammed, and a firefighter had to rush down to shut them by hand.

The tsunami battered the white beach in the cove, leaving debris and fallen trees. But behind the floodgate, the village is virtually untouched.

Fudai Elementary School sits no more than a few minutes walk inland. It looks the same as it did on March 10. A group of boys recently ran laps around a baseball field that was clear of the junk piled up in other coastal neighborhoods.

Their coach, Sachio Kamimukai, was born and raised in Fudai. He said he never thought much about the floodgate until the tsunami.

“It was just always something that was there,” said Kamimukai, 36. “But I’m very thankful now.”

The floodgate works for Fudai’s layout, in a narrow valley, but it wouldn’t necessarily be the solution for other places, Fukawatari said.

Fudai’s biggest casualty was its port, where the tsunami destroyed boats, equipment and warehouses. The village estimates losses of 3.8 billion yen ($47 million) to its fisheries industry.

One resident remains missing. He made the unlucky decision to check on his boat after the earthquake.

Wamura left office three years after the floodgate was completed. He died in 1997 at age 88. Since the tsunami, residents have been visiting his grave to pay respects.

At his retirement, Wamura stood before village employees to bid farewell: “Even if you encounter opposition, have conviction and finish what you start. In the end, people will understand.”

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Follow Tomoko A. Hosaka at http://twitter.com/tomokohosaka

Japan utility delays decision on halting reactors

A police officer walks in rubble at recovery operation in the area destroyed by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami in Kesennuma,  Miyagi Prefecture,http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20110507/ap_on_bi_ge/as_japan_earthquake

By MARI YAMAGUCHI, Associated Press Mari Yamaguchi, Associated Press 1 hr 48 mins ago

TOKYO – A Japanese power company postponed its decision Saturday on a government request that it halt three reactors at a coastal nuclear plant until safety measures can be improved to guard against future earthquakes and tsunamis.

Shutting down the reactors would likely worsen power shortages expected this summer.

On Friday, Prime Minister Naoto Kan said he had asked Chubu Electric Power Co. to suspend operation of the reactors at the Hamaoka Nuclear Power Station in Shizuoka prefecture until a seawall is built and backup systems are improved. Though not legally binding, the request is a virtual order.

The government is reviewing the safety of the country’s 54 atomic reactors since a March 11 earthquake and tsunami crippled the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant in the north. The disaster left more than 25,000 people dead or missing on the northeast coast.

The Hamaoka plant, which is about 125 miles (200 kilometers) west of Tokyo in an area where a major quake is expected within decades, has been a major concern for years.

Chubu Electric executives failed to reach a decision after discussing the request Saturday afternoon and decided to meet again after the weekend, company official Mikio Inomata said.

At issue is how to make up for the power shortages that would result from the shutdown of the three reactors. Inomata said they account for more than 10 percent of the company’s power supply.

Chubu Electric has estimated maximum output of about 30 million kilowatts this summer with the three Hamaoka reactors running, with estimated demand of about 26 million kilowatts.

“It would be tight,” Inomata said, adding that officials are discussing the possibility of boosting output from gas, oil and coal-fueled power plants and purchasing power from other utility companies.

Kan said the shutdown request was for the “people’s safety.”

“If an accident occurs at Hamaoka, it could create serious consequences,” he said Friday.

He noted that experts estimate there is a 90 percent chance that a quake with a magnitude of 8.0 or higher will strike the region within 30 years.

Since the March 11 disasters, Chubu Electric has drawn up safety measures that include building a 40-foot-high (12-meter-high) seawall nearly a mile (1.5 kilometers) long over the next two to three years, company officials said. The company also promised to install additional emergency backup generators and other equipment and improve the water tightness of the reactor buildings.

The plant does not have a concrete sea barrier now. Sand hills between the ocean and the plant are about 32 to 50 feet (10 to 15 meters) high, deemed enough to defend against a tsunami around 26 feet (8 meters) high, officials said.

Shizuoka Gov. Heita Kawakatsu called Friday’s government request “a wise decision” and vowed to secure alternative sources of energy.

Residents of Shizuoka have long demanded a shutdown of the Hamaoka reactors. About 79,800 people live within a 6-mile (10-kilometer) radius of the plant.

The Hamaoka plant provides power to around 16 million people in central Japan including nearby Aichi, home of Toyota Motor Corp.

Automakers and other industries have had troubles with interrupted supply lines, parts shortages and damage to manufacturing plants because of the March 11 disasters.

The nationwide newspaper Yomiuri welcomed the government request to shut down the reactors despite concerns about a power crunch.

“The idea is to use the lesson we learned (from Fukushima),” the Yomiuri said, urging other utilities to also improve safety. “An accident and subsequent release of radiation could paralyze the entire country.”

Thousands of people joined an anti-nuclear march Saturday in Tokyo’s crowded Shibuya shopping and entertainment district, chanting “No nuke plants!”

The Fukushima Dai-ichi plant lost its power and cooling systems in the magnitude-9.0 earthquake and ensuing tsunami, triggering the world’s worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl.

Radiation leaks have forced 80,000 people living within a 12-mile (20-kilometer) radius of the plant to leave their homes.

Since the Fukushima crisis unfolded, officials have acknowledged that tsunami safety measures at Japanese nuclear power plants are insufficient.

Tokyo Electric Power Co., operator of the Fukushima plant, has said the tsunami that wrecked critical power and cooling systems there was at least 46 feet (14 meters) high.

It said radioactivity inside the No. 1 reactor building has fallen to levels deemed safe for people wearing protective suits to enter after workers rapidly installed air filtering equipment Thursday — their first entry since shortly after the tsunami. Workers are to begin preparations as early as Sunday to install a cooling system.

___

Associated Press writer Shino Yuasa contributed to this report.

Workers enter Japan nuclear reactor building

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20110505/ap_on_re_as/as_japan_earthquake

By TOMOKO A. HOSAKA, Associated Press Tomoko A. Hosaka, Associated Press 2 hrs 10 mins ago

TOKYO – Workers entered one of the damaged reactor buildings at Japan’s stricken nuclear power plant Thursday for the first time since it was rocked by an explosion in the days after a devastating earthquake, the plant’s operator said.

Tokyo Electric Power Co. said workers connected ventilation and air filtration equipment in Unit 1 in an attempt to reduce radiation levels in the air inside the building.

The utility must lower radiation levels before it can proceed with the key step of replacing the cooling system that was knocked out by the March 11 quake and subsequent tsunami that left more than 25,000 people dead or missing along Japan’s northeastern coast.

Workers have not been able to enter the reactor buildings at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant, about 140 miles (230 kilometers) northeast of Tokyo, since the first days after the tsunami. Hydrogen explosions at four of the buildings at the six-reactor complex in the first few days destroyed some of their roofs and walls and scattered radioactive debris.

TEPCO spokesman Junichi Matsumoto called Thursday’s development “a first step toward a cool and stable shutdown,” which the utility hopes to achieve in six to nine months.

In mid-April, a robot recorded radioactivity of about 50 millisieverts per hour inside Unit 1’s reactor building — a level too high for workers to realistically enter. Readings taken later in April in another part of the building were as high as 1,200 millisieverts.

The decision to send the workers in was made after robots last Friday collected fresh data that showed radiation levels in some areas inside the building were safe enough for workers to enter, said Taisuke Tomikawa, another TEPCO spokesman.

Two utility workers, wearing a mask and air tank similar to those used by scuba divers, entered the reactor building for about 25 minutes to check radiation levels. They were exposed to 2 millisieverts during that time, Tomikawa said. Outside the building, the utility erected a temporary tent designed to prevent radioactive air from escaping.

Later, 11 other workers — two from TEPCO and nine from its subcontractors — wearing similar gear went into the reactor building to install ducts for the air filtering equipment. Twenty other workers provided help from outside.

The utility hopes to start allowing workers into the building to set up a cooling system around mid-May. In addition to reducing radioactivity with the new air filtering system, it hopes to reduce it further by removing or covering up contaminated debris inside the building, Matsumoto said.

TEPCO is proceeding with a plan to fill the Unit 1 containment vessel with water to soak the core and cool it, and also plans to install big fans as an external cooling system, he said. TEPCO hopes to take similar steps at Units 2 and 3 but is struggling with tougher obstacles such as contaminated water leaks and debris.

Radiation leaking from the Fukushima plant has forced 80,000 people living within a 12-mile (20-kilometer) radius to leave their homes. Many are staying in gymnasiums and community centers.

___

Associated Press writer Mari Yamaguchi contributed to this report.

Japan PM under pressure after party falters in local

A reporter raises his hands to ask Japan's Prime Minister Naoto Kan a question in Tokyohttp://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20110425/wl_nm/us_japan_politics

By Shinichi Saoshiro and Linda Sieg Shinichi Saoshiro And Linda Sieg 35 mins ago

TOKYO (Reuters) – Unpopular Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan is likely to face fresh pressure to quit after his ruling party’s poor performance in local elections on Sunday, weakening his clout as he struggles to contain a nuclear crisis and find ways to finance rebuilding from a massive earthquake and tsunami.

Kan is unlikely to step down easily, but the outcome of the polls will likely make it harder to get opposition cooperation in figuring out how to fund rebuilding from disasters that caused up to $300 billion in damage, a tough task given a public debt twice the $5 trillion economy.

Such cooperation is vital given a divided parliament.

“I don’t think the results of the elections will lead to any quick resolution, but it is true that the opposition parties will feel emboldened to be obstructionist,” said Sophia University professor Koichi Nakano.

Japan’s Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) lost six out of nine mayoral races in which it faced off directly against its main opposition, the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), and lagged behind in a spate of city assembly elections across the country, Japanese media reported, although the LDP itself lost seats.

An LDP candidate also romped to victory in a lower house by-election in the former Democratic Party stronghold of Aichi, central Japan, after the DPJ failed even to field a contender.

“The election results show that (voters) have filed a huge complaint against the Kan cabinet over its handling of the disasters,” LDP President Sadakazu Tanigaki told a late night news conference. “This shows that many voters are worried whether he is really capable.”

DECLINING CLOUT, CONTINUING DEADLOCK

Kan brushed aside criticism of his handling of the disasters.

“We must accept the results (of the election) sincerely, but as for disaster response, the government as a whole is doing what needs to be done,” he told a parliamentary panel.

Kan’s critics in the DPJ were also expected to step up their attacks, but the party has no obvious successor in sight. Japanese media said the LDP was considering submitting a no-confidence motion against Kan in coming months — but more than 70 DPJ lawmakers would have to back the motion for it to pass.

“It is certain that Kan’s clout has declined. It has become clear to the DPJ that they cannot fight the next general election under Kan,” said independent analyst Minoru Morita.

No general election is mandated until 2013, and the crisis has muted opposition calls for an early vote for parliament’s powerful lower house.

“But while there are those (in the DPJ) who speak about a no-confidence vote, that would be very difficult,” Morita added. “Unless Kan makes a fresh gaffe or a cabinet member quits … it would be hard to move to that stage. So unless Kan resigns on his own, the situation will remain deadlocked.”

Public opinion polls have shown that most Japanese want a new prime minister, but many would prefer Kan to stay until the crisis at Tokyo Electric Power Co’s quake-crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant is resolved. When that will be is uncertain but it is likely to take many more months at least.

(Reporting by Shinichi Saoshiro and Linda Sieg; Editing by Chris Gallagher)

Japan plans disaster budget, building 100K homes

Evacuees choose clothes distributed at an evacuation center in Fukushima City, Fukushima Prefecture, northeastern Japan, Friday, April 22, 2011. (AP Phttp://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20110422/ap_on_bi_ge/as_japan_earthquake

By RAVI NESSMAN and YURI KAGEYAMA, Associated Press Ravi Nessman And Yuri Kageyama, Associated Press 1 hr 29 mins ago

TOKYO – Japan’s government proposed a special $50 billion (4 trillion yen) budget to help finance reconstruction efforts Friday and plans to build 100,000 temporary homes for survivors of last month’s devastating earthquake and tsunami.

The twin disasters destroyed roads, ports, farms and homes and crippled a nuclear power plant that forced tens of thousands of more people to evacuate their houses for at least several months. The government said the damage could cost $309 billion, making it the world’s most expensive natural disaster.

Prime Minister Naoto Kan said he was moved by his conversations with victims during a recent tour of shelters.

“I felt with renewed determination that we must do our best to get them back as soon as possible,” he told reporters.

The extra $50 billion (4 trillion yen) the Cabinet approved is expected to be only the first installment of reconstruction funding. About $15 billion (1.2 trillion yen) will go to fixing roads and ports and more than $8.5 billion (700 billion yen) will go to build temporary homes and clearing rubble.

“This is the first step toward rebuilding Japan after the major disasters,” Finance Minister Yoshihiko Noda said. Parliament is expected to approve the special budget next week.

More than 27,000 people are dead or missing after the earthquake and tsunami hit northern Japan on March 11. About 135,000 survivors are living in 2,500 shelters, and many others have moved into temporary housing or are staying with relatives.

As part of the government’s recovery plan, it will build 30,000 temporary homes by the end of May and another 70,000 after that, Kan said.

Japan already was mired in a 20-year economic slowdown, Kan said, and he hoped the disaster recovery effort would help lift Japan economically. He urged Japanese to spend money during the upcoming Golden Week holidays to help spur the economy.

“People are feeling that we all must do something, and that will turn into a big strength,” he said. “And it will work to help the recovery, and we will overcome both crises.”

Recovery efforts have been complicated by the crisis at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant, which lost its power and cooling systems in the earthquake and tsunami, triggering fires, explosions and radiation leaks in the world’s second-worst nuclear accident.

Plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co., which said it will take six to nine months to bring the plant under full control, has been heavily criticized for its handling of the crisis.

TEPCO President Masataka Shimizu was received harshly when he toured a shelter of 1,600 people in Koriyama.

“We’re angry, angry, angry,” one man shouted at him, according to television footage.

“How about you spend a month here?” another shouted.

“Take your nuclear energy back to Tokyo with you,” a third said.

Shimizu apologized to the governor of Fukushima prefecture, Yuhei Sato, an outspoken critic of the response by the government and company to the nuclear crisis.

Sato bluntly told Shimizu the era of nuclear power plants in Fukushima had ended.

“No way. The resumption of nuclear power plants … no way,” he said.

Meanwhile, Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko visited Kita Ibaraki, a port wrecked by the tsunami about 100 kilometers (60 miles) north of Tokyo.

The royal couple surveyed the damage along the waterfront, where blocks of concrete were jumbled by the huge waves. When told that a man died there, they showed their respects with a deep bow toward the sea. They also visited an evacuation center.

An extra 250 police were sent to man roadblocks with flashing “Off Limits” signs Friday to stop some of the 80,000 evacuees from sneaking back to homes inside the now-sealed 12-mile (20-kilometer) evacuation zone around the stricken plant.

Authorities planned to erect fences on side streets, said Fukushima police spokesman Yasunori Okazaki. The order that took effect Friday is meant to limit radiation exposure and theft in the mainly deserted zone.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano appealed for residents of five areas with relatively high levels of radiation outside the sealed zone to prepare for evacuation within a month.

But Norio Kanno, chief of Iitate, a village of 6,200, questioned whether everyone would be able to move in time.

“It is really vexing. Just one nuclear accident is destroying everything,” he said.

Japan seals off no-go zone around nuclear plant

A man wearing a protective suite walks in the yard in the deserted town of Futaba, inside the 20-kilometer (12-mile) evacuation zone, in Fukushima Prehttp://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20110421/ap_on_bi_ge/as_japan_earthquake

By ERIC TALMADGE, Associated Press Eric Talmadge, Associated Press 19 mins ago

FUTABA, Japan – Japan sealed off a wide area around a radiation-spewing nuclear power plant on Friday to prevent tens of thousands of residents from sneaking back to the homes they quickly evacuated, some with little more than a credit card and the clothes on their backs.

Fearing they might not see their homes again for months, evacuees raced into the deserted towns Thursday before the ban took effect to grab whatever belongings they could cram into their cars.

“This is our last chance, but we aren’t going to stay long. We are just getting what we need and getting out,” said Kiyoshi Kitajima, an X-ray technician, who dashed to his hospital in Futaba, a town next door to the plant, to collect equipment before the order took effect at midnight.

Nearly 80,000 people were hurriedly evacuated from a 12-mile (20-kilometer) zone around the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant on March 12, after an earthquake and a tsunami destroyed its power and cooling systems. The order had no teeth, however, and people began increasingly returning to check on the remains of their lives. Some had stayed all along.

With ongoing concerns about radiation exposure — as well as theft in the mainly deserted zone — government officials imposed the formal closure barring anyone from entering the area.

Under a special nuclear emergency law, people who enter the zone will now be subject to fines of up to 100,000 yen ($1,200) or possible detention for up to 30 days. Until now, defiance of the evacuation order was not punishable and the police manning the roadblocks had no authority to stop people from entering.

“We beg the understanding of residents. We really want residents not to enter the areas,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano told reporters.

The order angered some residents who had fled nearly empty-handed when told to evacuate.

“I initially thought we would be able to return within a few days. So I brought nothing except a bank card,” said Kazuko Suzuki of Futaba.

“I really want to go back. I want to check if our house is still there,” said the 49-year-old woman, who fled with her teenage son and daughter. “My patience has run out. I just want to go home.”

With the deadline approaching for the area to be sealed off, evacuees ventured into the evacuation zone, some in white protective suits and others in face masks and rain gear they hoped would protect against radiation. Most raced through the zone with car windows closed, their vehicles stuffed with clothing and valuables.

While the levels of radioactivity in the evacuated area have been quite low, the government wants to keep people away out of concerns that long-term exposure can be dangerous.

As of Thursday night, about 40 people remained in the area, many of them dairy farmers who are refusing to leave their cattle, and elderly people who cannot move, the government said. Local officials were working to persuade them to leave, rather than punishing them, according to Kenji Kawasaki of Japan’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency.

About 3,400 cows, 31,000 pigs and 630,000 chickens were left in the zone, according to government figures, though most were assumed to have died by now.

The no-go order was not issued because of any particular change in plant conditions, which appear to have somewhat stabilized. Even under the best-case scenario, however, the plant’s operator says it will take six to nine months to bring its reactors safely into a cold shutdown.

Equipment damage and glitches, high radiation inside the facility and powerful aftershocks have frequently stymied the work. The latest strong aftershock Thursday registered 6.1 magnitude, but Kyodo News Agency reported no apparent damage.

In a visit to the region, Prime Minister Naoto Kan said the government would do everything possible to speed up the timetable of shutting down the reactors. Kan also gave a pep talk to workers at a nuclear crisis management center in Fukushima.

Edano said in the next month or two, authorities would allow one person per household to return to the area by bus for a maximum of two hours to collect necessary belongings. Participants would have to go through radiation screening, he said.

Residents chafed at the limit of one person per household.

Details were still being worked out, but Edano said when the situation stabilizes, families will be allowed further visits.

No visits will be allowed in the two-mile (three-kilometer) area closest to the plant, said Hidehiko Nishiyama of the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency.

Katsunobu Sakurai, mayor of Minami Soma, where about half the 71,000 residents lived in areas that are now off-limits, questioned the rationale for the way the evacuation zone was decided.

“It feels like some outsider who doesn’t know anything about our geography sat at a desk and drew these circles,” Sakurai said. “The zones have zero scientific basis. Radiation doesn’t travel in neat circles. Just putting up circles around the plant is unreasonable.”

Fukushima’s governor, who has been critical of the government’s performance, said he urged Kan to ensure the government properly handles the disaster and related compensation issues.

“I told the prime minister that I strongly hope that evacuees can return home as early as possible,” said the governor, Yuhei Sato.

Meanwhile, new police data showed that at least 65 percent of the 11,108 identified victims from the earthquake and tsunami were aged 60 or older and almost all of them had drowned. Another 1,899 victims were of unknown age.

Adding those still missing, the twin disasters killed an estimated 27,500 people. The police agency said nearly 93 percent of the victims had drowned. Others perished in fires, were crushed to death or died from other causes.

The northeastern coast hardest hit by the disasters had a high concentration of elderly residents.

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Associated Press writers Jacob Adelman, Shino Yuasa and Mari Yamaguchi in Tokyo contributed to this report.

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