Critics say Kochi Shinkin Bank has lost its way and is acting more like an investment firm than a regional lender. Supporters say it shows that provincial banks can thrive in Japan even as their customer base shrinks, so long as they're prepared to adopt new business models. The bank's president, Kurumi Yamazaki, steers clear of the wider debate. Sitting in her office at the bank's headquarters -- a modern five-story building sheathed in glass and stone -- Yamazaki says she's focused on maximizing returns for customers. This means maintaining services and offering above-average interest on deposits.
Although traditionally seen as conductors of funerals or memorial services, some Buddhist monks in Japan are carving out a new niche as matchmakers for singles looking to marry. In a country where an increasing number of people are marrying relatively late in life or not tying the knot at all, some are coming to temples after trying online dating or other avenues without success. For one thing, in the traditional view, potential partners who consult monks for marriage advice are likely to be of good moral character, and the fact that monks tend to charge far less for their services than commercial matchmakers doesn't hurt either. Monks, in turn, are counting on the matchmaking business to provide a new stream of revenue at a time when religion is losing its appeal. On a weekend in early October, around 60 men and women in their 20s to 40s gathered at Tenryuin, a temple of the Rinzai school of Zen Buddhism in Tokyo's Taito Ward.
It was a jarring image; a group of Buddhist monks, with shaven heads and orange robes, sitting back in the soft-leather seats of an executive jet, passing luxury accessories among themselves. The video of the monk, now known by his pre-monk name, Wirapol Sukphol, went viral after being posted on YouTube in 2013. A subsequent investigation by the Thai Department of Special Investigations (DSI) uncovered a lifestyle of what appeared to be mind-blowing decadence. They tracked down at least 200 million Thai baht ($6m; £4.6m) in ten bank accounts, and the purchase of 22 Mercedes Benz cars. Wirapol had built a mansion in southern California, owned a large and gaudily-decorated house in his home town of Ubon Ratchathani, and had also constructed a giant replica of the famous Emerald Buddha statue in Bangkok's royal palace, which he claimed - falsely, as it turned out - contained nine tonnes of gold.
The year 2019 marks 50 years since the first humans landed on the moon in 1969 as part of NASA's Apollo 11 lunar mission. Former astronaut Naoko Yamazaki hopes to open Asia's first spaceport, which will serve as a hub for space planes for travelers, in Japan as early as 2021. She believes that a new age of space tourism where ordinary people, not only astronauts, will be able to travel beyond Earth is just around the corner. In July, she co-founded the Space Port Japan Association, an organization to support efforts to open spaceports in Japan through collaboration with companies, groups and government institutions. "There are rocket launching sites in Japan, but what we are envisioning is a spaceport where tourists will be able to leave for space, just like hopping onto an airplane to travel abroad, and return to Earth," Yamazaki, who is one of 11 Japanese astronauts who have been to space, told The Japan Times in a recent interview.
Justice has been a long time coming for Masanori Yamazaki, whose common-law wife was murdered by a drunk U.S. sailor in Yokosuka, Kanagawa Prefecture, 10 years ago, in an unprovoked assault. Yamazaki, 68, is refusing a U.S. government offer to settle over the death of Yoshie Sato, taking a stand at what he perceives as injustices under the Japan-U.S. Status of Forces of Agreement, the legal framework that sets out criminal procedures for U.S. military offenders in Japan. As work on possible revision of the 56-year-old legal framework gets underway, Yamazaki's case highlights how hard it can be for victims of crimes committed by troops or U.S. civilian workers to obtain closure. Sato, 56, was on her way to work at a bus company in Yokosuka on the morning of Jan. 3, 2006, when she was approached by William Reese, 21, an off-duty crew member of the aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk. Reese, who had been drinking, asked her directions to the base.