As we prepare to bid farewell to another year, Tokyo Weekender is looking back at the past 12 months with our A-Z of Japan’s biggest news stories in 2023.

Assassination Attempt on Kishida  

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida was about to give a stump speech at a fishing port in Wakayama city in April when a man threw a homemade pipe bomb in his direction. The assailant, Ryuji Kimura, was subdued by local fishermen before being arrested. Fortunately, Kishida was uninjured. The incident, though, did raise concerns about security ahead of the G7 Hiroshima Summit.  

#nobarbenheimer barbenheimer, Japan's biggest news 2023

Barbenheimer Memes Criticized in Japan  

The hashtag #nobarbenheimer was trending in Japan in August in response to the so-called Barbenheimer memes that featured mashups of the hugely contrasting films Barbie, starring Margot Robbie, and Oppenheimer, in which Cillian Murphy plays the “father of the atomic bomb,” J. Robert Oppenheimer. Some people here felt the memes trivialized the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. 

China Bans Japanese Seafood Following Fukushima Wastewater Release 

After getting approval from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Japan began releasing treated radioactive water from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant in August. The controversial move was criticized by several groups, including local fishermen and neighboring countries. China reacted by banning imports of all seafood products from Japan. Russia followed suit in October.  

Japan's biggest news 2023


DJ Soda Molested at Osaka Festival  

South Korean performer Hwang So-hee, better known as DJ Soda, said she was “shocked and scared” after being groped at a festival in Osaka in August. She claimed that “not one, but several people” touched her chest and that she was “helplessly sexually harassed by them.” A criminal complaint against three audience members was dropped after they apologized.  

Eddie Returns  

After a disastrous Rugby World Cup with the Wallabies, Eddie Jones decided to return to his former job as Japan’s head coach, despite previously denying he was interviewed for the position. The Australian famously led the Brave Blossoms to a stunning 34-32 victory over South Africa in 2015. He officially takes over from Jamie Joseph in January.  

Funding Scandal Embarrasses LDP  

Four Cabinet ministers, including Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno, resigned in December due to a funding scandal that continues to rock the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). According to investigative sources, the party’s largest faction, previously led by former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, accumulated a slush fund worth approximately ¥500 million. Seven senior vice ministers and aids also quit.  


Ginza Heist Highlights ‘Dark Part-Time Work’ Trend 

It was a robbery so brazen, passersby thought it was a film shoot. In May, three masked teenage assailants stole around 70 watches worth ¥250 million from a Rolex specialty store in Ginza as stunned onlookers filmed them on their phones. They were all reportedly recruited for yami baito, which literally translated means “dark part-time work.”

Headless Body Discovered in Hokkaido Love Hotel  

In July, the headless body of a man, later identified as Hitoshi Ura, was discovered at a love hotel in Sapporo’s Susukino district. According to forensics, he died of hemorrhagic shock caused by blood loss. Police suspect he was killed by Runa Tamura, whose parents were also arrested in connection with the case. Ura’s decapitated head was discovered at their home. 


Ichikawa Ennosuke Arrested Following Parents’ Death  

Kabuki actor Ichikawa Ennosuke was charged with assisting suicide in July. He admitted to supplying his parents with prescription sleeping pills and covering their heads with plastic bags. They were found dead in their house two months earlier. Ennosuke was unconscious at the scene. That same day, he was accused of sexual and power harassment in a magazine article. 

Johnny Kitagawa’s Abusive Past Exposed by the BBC 

BBC documentary on Johnny Kitagawa in March investigated accusations of sexual assault made against the late music mogul by, then, minors two decades ago. Following the expose, several former members of the talent agency came forward with their stories, including Kauan Okamoto, who said he was molested between 10 and 15 times. By October, 478 victims had requested compensation.  

Kishida’s Son Forced to Resign Over Inappropriate Behavior 

Shotaro Kishida, the son of the Japanese prime minister, was forced to resign from his role as his father’s executive secretary for political affairs in June after photos emerged of a party he hosted at the PM’s official residence. Earlier in the year, he was reprimanded for using an embassy car to engage in some sightseeing in Paris and London.  

Japan's biggest news 2023


Luffy Robbery Suspects Deported Back to Japan  

The four alleged ringleaders of the so-called “Luffy” robberies were deported back to Japan from the Philippines in February. Running the operation remotely using an encrypted messaging app, they were believed to be the masterminds of more than 50 robberies in various prefectures throughout Japan. Instructions were sent using the pseudonyms “Luffy” and “Kim.” 

Mysterious Dead Fish in Hokkaido Not Linked to Fukushima Say Experts  

In December, 1,200 tons of dead sardines and mackerel mysteriously washed up on the coast of Hakodate city. The mass fish death stumped locals and led to some Western media outlets speculating about possible links to the release of wastewater from the stricken Fukushima nuclear plant. Experts, though, were quick to dismiss that theory. 

New Name for Johnny & Associates  

The fallout from the Johnny Kitagawa sexual abuse scandal continued throughout the year. His niece, Julie K. Fujishima, resigned as head of the talent agency. Former idol Noriyuki Higashiyama was named as the head of Smile-Up Inc., an organization created to compensate victims. In December, Johnny & Associates rebranded as Starto Entertainment, led by Atsushi Fukuda.  

Japan's biggest news 2023


Ohtani Signs Record-Breaking Deal With the Los Angeles Dodgers  

After winning his second MVP award in three years, Shohei Ohtani then had to decide who he would be playing for next season. In December came the announcement that he had chosen the Los Angeles Dodgers. He signed a 10-year deal worth $700 million. It’s believed to be the largest contract in professional sports history. 

Post Office Hostage Standoff  

Following an eight-hour standoff at a post office in Saitama Prefecture on October 31, Tsuneo Suzuki, 86, was arrested. Fortunately, the two women he took hostage were uninjured. Earlier in the day, he set fire to his apartment and fired shots at a hospital, wounding two people. He reportedly held a grudge against the postal services and a doctor.  

Quarterfinal Heartache for Nadeshiko Japan 

At the Women’s Soccer World Cup in Australia and New Zealand, Nadeshiko Japan were arguably the most impressive side in the early rounds. They hit 11 goals and conceded none in the group stages, including a 4-0 thumping of eventual winners Spain. After defeating Norway 3-1 in the second round, they were then disappointingly knocked out at the quarterfinal stage by Sweden.   

Japan's biggest news 2023


Rampage in Nagano Leaves Four Dead 

Two civilians and two police officers were killed during a violent rampage in Nakano city, Nagano Prefecture in May. The suspect, who used a knife and hunting rifle, was identified as Masanori Aoki, the son of an assembly speaker. He eventually surrendered after barricading himself in his parents’ home. Two women, including the assailant’s mother, escaped from the residence.

Sushi Terrorism Trend Sparks Fury in Japan 

The term “sushi terrorism” was trending in Japan early in the year. Videos of people engaging in unruly and unhygienic acts at conveyor belt sushi restaurants caused outrage and led to several arrests. They also negatively affected sales at those establishments. It included one teen who licked the top of a soy sauce bottle and an unused teacup.  

Tonikaku Delights BGT Judges with Naked Poses  

Japanese novelty act Shogo Yasumura, professionally known as Tonikaku, reached the final of the 16th series of Britain’s Got Talent. During his act, he whipped off his clothes down to his underwear before performing a series of poses that made it look like he was naked. Simon Cowell described him as, “the funniest contestant we’ve had on all year.”

Unification Church Dissolution, Japan's biggest news 2023


Unification Church’s Dissolution Request Order 

Following an 11-month investigation that involved collecting testimonies from more than 170 people, the Japanese government announced in October that it had requested a court order to dissolve the Unification Church. If approved, the church will still be able to engage in activities in Japan but will lose its tax benefits as a religious organization. 

Victory for Fujii Leads to Record-Breaking Eighth Title  

After almost 12 grueling hours and 138 moves, Sota Fujii finally became the first player in the history of shogi to secure all eight major titles. He did it by defeating Takuya Nagase in a best of five series. The pair were competing for the Oza championship, the only title that was missing from Fujii’s impressive collection.  

WBC Triumph for Japan  

In the end, it came down to the tournament’s two biggest names. Shohei Ohtani pitching against his then Los Angeles Angels teammate Mike Trout for the World Baseball Classic (WBC) title. With two outs and Japan leading 3-2, the two-way superstar hit his 10-time MLB All-Star opponent with 100-mph fastballs before finishing him off with an 87-mph slider. 

X Japan Bassist Heath Dies Aged 55  

After a battle with colorectal cancer, X Japan bassist Heath (real name Hiroshi Morie) died on October 29. He was 55. Heath joined the band in 1992 after Taiji left. Other famous Japanese musicians who passed away this year included Ryuichi Sakamoto and Yukihiro Takahashi of the legendary group Yellow Magic Orchestra and popular singer-songwriter Shinji Tanimura. 

Japan's biggest news 2023


YouTubers and Kick Streamers From Overseas Wreak Havoc in Japan

Foreign influencers made headlines for all the wrong reasons this year. First there was Kick streamer Johnny Somali, who harassed Japanese people on trains and was arrested twice for trespassing at a hotel construction site and causing a scene at a restaurant. There was then Fidias Panayiotou and his fellow YouTubers, who traveled up and down Japan without paying.

Japan's biggest news 2023

Zelda Live-Action Movie in Development

A statement from renowned video game designer Shigeru Miyamoto on X caused a sensation in November as he announced that he’s been working on a live-action Legend of Zelda film with Avi Arad (X-Men, Fantastic Four). The movie is to be co-financed by Nintendo and Sony Pictures Entertainment. It will be directed by Wes Ball.