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    Japan odds and ends

    There have been some updates to ongoing stories here:

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    The president of JR East has reportedly hinted that he will resign. It kind of seems a shame, because for once, we may be looking at a genuine freak accident:

    The sources said the Construction and Transport Ministry’s Aircraft and Railway Accidents Investigation Commission believes a microburst may have caused the accident mainly because an anemometer placed near the accident site had recorded winds of only 72 kph at the time an express train on East Japan Railway Co.’s Uetsu Line derailed.

    A microburst produces winds of 252 kph or greater in small areas with a radius of only several hundred meters to two kilometers.

    According to investigations by the commission and other parties, a cold front was passing through the Shonaimachi area, generating thunderclouds at the time of the accident. Thunderclouds are thought to cause microbursts–a phenomenon in which cool air rushes to the surface in an intensely localized area, resulting in strong downdrafts.

    Aviation weather experts have paid more attention to the sudden gusts, as they have led to fatal airplane crashes during takeoff or landing. But because a microburst is locally formed and does not last long, they prove difficult to predict.

    There seems to be evidence that the bridge and artificial embankment were constructed in such a way as to force the air through in a sort of wind-tunnel effect; but at the same time, the driver was going well below the speed limit for that stretch of rail in those reported conditions. It’s good to see JR East talk about installing new meters in the area, but if we’re talking about something akin to wind shear in airline flights, perfect safety is going to be impossible to achieve.

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    It’s a bit late in the game, but two DPRK agents with major involvement in the 1970s abductions of Japanese citizens from beaches have been identified:

    Two North Korean agents have been identified as the perpetrators responsible for abducting two couples who have since been repatriated to Japan, sources said Friday.

    North Korean leader Kim Jong Il said some people in the intelligence agency “fell into blindly motivated patriotism and heroism,” when he admitted in September 2002 that North Korea was responsible for abducting Japanese.

    However, police authorities suspect that some of the abductors held important positions that could influence the agency’s decision-making, because Sin, who was arrested in South Korea in February 1985 and then transferred to Pyongyang in September 2000, has been treated as a hero at home.

    According to Hitomi Soga, 46, who was repatriated along with the couples, Sin served as a tutor for her and her fellow abductee Megumi Yokota. Soga and Yokota were forcibly taken to North Korea in August 1978 and November 1977, respectively.

    Hitomi Soga, of course, is the wife of US Army deserter Charles Jenkins.

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    The man whose wife and two sons were killed by toxic hydrogen sulfide gas at an Akita Prefecture hot spring resort area has died. He never regained consciousness.

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    Oh, and I don’t think I mentioned this yet, did I? The government is freaking because the population of Japan has begun to decline earlier than had been projected:

    The Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications on Tuesday confirmed what could be the start of a prolonged crisis for Japan: The nation’s population is already shrinking.

    The ministry released provisional figures that show the population on Oct. 1 was about 19,000 fewer than the estimated 127.776 million of October 2004.

    Populations in 32 of the 47 prefectures fell since the last official count. Nine prefectures–Nara, Fukui, Nagano, Ishikawa, Yamanashi, Ibaraki, Miyagi, Gifu and Gunma–recorded gains between 1995 and 2000, but this time around, all nine prefectures saw population decreases. Akita Prefecture had the biggest drop, at 3.7 percent from the level five years ago.

    The census results showed a trend toward population shifts to major metropolitan areas.

    Tokyo had the biggest population gain, at 510,000, a 4.2-percent rise over the last census. Kanagawa Prefecture recorded a gain of 300,000, or 3.5 percent more, and Aichi Prefecture an increase of 210,000, or 3 percent more people.

    Other prefectures boasting larger populations were Okinawa, with a 3.2-percent rise thanks mainly to a large number of births, and Shiga, with a 2.8-percent rise because of an increase in commuters to the Osaka and Kyoto areas.

    The country gained 2.47 million households in the period, or 5.2 percent, to reach a total 49.53 million.

    While there were more households in all 47 prefectures, the average number per household fell to 2.58, from 2.7 in the 2000 census.

    The increase in metro area populations is actually rather interesting; given the much-publicized J-turn phenomenon of the 90s, it likely means not that people are moving into urban cores but that they’re moving into bed towns that are part of contiguous areas of high population density.

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