Typhoon bears down on Tokyo and northeast Japan coast, flights disrupted

Passersby using an umbrella struggle against a heavy rain and wind as Typhoon Shanshan approaches Japan's mainland in Tokyo, Japan August 8, 2018. REUTERS/Toru Hanai

TOKYO (Reuters) – A powerful typhoon was approaching Tokyo on Wednesday evening, threatening Pacific coastal regions to the northeast of the capital with heavy rains and high winds, leading to flight cancellations and evacuation advisories in some areas.

The center of typhoon “Shanshan”, a Chinese girl’s name, was located 200 km (125 miles) southeast of Tokyo as of 9:00 p.m. (8.00 a.m. ET), and is expected to move north along the east coast of Japan’s main island on Thursday, possibly snarling the morning rush hour.

The Japan Meteorological Agency warned that Tokyo and surrounding areas could get as much as 300 mm (12 inches) of rain in the 24 hours to 6:00 p.m. on Thursday, with winds gusting as high as 180 kmh (111 mph).

Shanshan is expected to move slowly, meaning heavy rain may fall in one area for an extended period, the agency said.

The city of Mobara, east of Tokyo, issued an evacuation advisory for its entire population of about 90,000 people.

Several other municipalities near Tokyo also issued evacuation advisories for some residents, bringing the total number of people affected to more than 100,000, according to public broadcaster NHK.

NHK also said airlines had canceled more than 160 flights.

The western Japan regions hit by deadly floods in July look set to be spared any damage from the typhoon as it winds its way up the northeastern coast.

Japan has experienced one weather disaster after another since the start of July, including a record-breaking heatwave that saw temperatures surge to 41.1 Celsius (106 Fahrenheit) and had killed at least 132 people as of August 5.

(Reporting by Elaine Lies, Kiyoshi Takenaka; Editing by Michael Perry and Hugh Lawson)

‘Makes me shake with rage’: Japan probe shows university cut women’s test scores

Tetsuo Yukioka (L), Managing Director of Tokyo Medical University and Keisuke Miyazawa, Vice-President of Tokyo Medical University, bow as they attend a news conference in Tokyo, Japan August 7, 2018. REUTERS/Toru Hanai

By Elaine Lies

TOKYO (Reuters) – A Japanese medical school deliberately cut women’s entrance test scores for at least a decade, an investigation panel said on Tuesday, calling it a “very serious” instance of discrimination, but school officials denied having known of the manipulations.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has made a priority of creating a society “where women can shine”, but women in Japan still face an uphill battle in employment and face hurdles returning to work after childbirth, a factor behind a falling birthrate.

The alterations were uncovered in an internal investigation of a graft accusation this spring regarding the entrance exam for Tokyo Medical University, sparking protests and anger.

Lawyers investigating bribery accusations in the admission of the son of a senior education ministry official said they concluded that his score, and those of several other men, were boosted “unfairly” – by as much as 49 points, in one case.

They also concluded that scores were manipulated to give men more points than women and thus hold down the number of women admitted since school officials felt they were more likely to quit the profession after having children, or for other reasons.

“This incident is really regrettable – by deceptive recruitment procedures, they sought to delude the test takers, their families, school officials and society as a whole,” lawyer Kenji Nakai told a news conference.

“Factors suggesting very serious discrimination against women was also part of it,” added Nakai, one of the external lawyers the university hired to investigate the incident.

The investigation showed that the scores of men, including those reappearing after failing once or twice, were raised, while those of all women, and men who had failed the test at least three times, were not.

The lawyers said they did not know how many women had been affected, but it appeared that women’s test scores had been affected going back at least a decade.

At a news conference, senior school officials bowed and apologized, pledging to “sincerely” consider their response, such as possible compensation. However, they said they had been unaware of the manipulation.

“Society is changing rapidly and we need to respond to that and any organization that fails to utilize women will grow weak,” said Tetsuo Yukioka, the school’s executive regent and chair of its diversity promotion panel.

“I guess that thinking had not been absorbed.”

No immediate comment was available from the government or the education ministry official who figures in the case.

Entrance exam discrimination against women was “absolutely unacceptable”, Education Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi told reporters last week.

Reports of the incident set off a furor in which women recounted their own experiences of discrimination on social media with the hashtag, “It’s okay to be angry about sexism.”

Some referred to the potential costs exacted in a rapidly aging society.

“I’m 29 and will probably never get married,” said one poster.

“Women are pitied if they don’t, but Japanese women who are married and working and have kids end up sleeping less than anybody in the world. To now hear that even our skills are suppressed makes me shake with rage.”

Another said, “I ignored my parents, who said women don’t belong in academia, and got into the best university in Japan. But in job interviews, I’m told ‘If you were a man, we’d hire you right away.’

“My enemy wasn’t my parents, but all society itself.”

(Reporting by Elaine Lies, additional reporting by Tim Kelly; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

Japan’s heat wave drives up food prices, prison inmate dies

A woman uses a parasol on the street during a heatwave in Tokyo, Japan July 25, 2018. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

TOKYO (Reuters) – Vegetable prices in Japan are spiking as much as 65 percent in the grip of a grueling heat wave, which drove temperatures on Wednesday to records in some areas hit by flooding and landslides, hampering clean-up and recovery efforts.

As many as 65 people died in the week to July 22, up from 12 the previous week, government figures show, while a prisoner in his forties died of a heat stroke in central Miyoshi city, amid what medical experts called an “unprecedented” heat wave.

An agriculture ministry official in Tokyo, the capital, warned against “pretty severe price moves” for vegetables if predictions of more weeks of hot weather held up, resulting in less rain than usual.

“It’s up to the weather how prices will move from here,” the official said. “But the Japan Meteorological Agency has predicted it will remain hot for a few more weeks, and that we will have less rain than the average.”

The most recent data showed the wholesale price of cabbage was 129 yen ($1.16) per kg in Tokyo on Monday, the ministry said, for example, an increase of 65 percent over the average late-July price of the past five years.

Temperatures in Japan’s western cities of Yamaguchi and Akiotacho reached record highs of 38.8 Celsius (101.8 Fahrenheit) and 38.6 C (101.5 F), respectively, on Wednesday afternoon.

In Takahashi, another western city and one of the areas hit hardest by this month’s flooding, the mercury reached 38.7 C (101.7 F), just 0.3 degrees off an all-time high.

In Miyoshi, where the prisoner died after a heat stroke, the temperature on the floor of his cell was 34 degrees C (93 F) shortly before 7 a.m. on Tuesday. The room had no air-conditioning, like most in the prison.

Authorities who found him unresponsive in his cell sent him to a hospital outside the prison, but he was soon pronounced dead, a prison official said.

“It is truly regrettable that an inmate lost his life,” Kiyoshi Kageyama, head of the prison, said in a statement. “We will do our utmost in maintaining (prisoners’) health, including taking anti-heat stroke steps.”

On the Tokyo stock market, shares in companies expected to benefit from a hot summer, such as ice-cream makers, have risen in recent trade.

Shares in Imuraya Group, whose subsidiary sells popular vanilla and red-bean ice cream, were up nearly 10 percent on the month, while Ishigaki Foods, which sells barley tea, surged 50 percent over the same period.

Kimono-clad women using sun umbrellas pause on a street during a heatwave in Tokyo, Japan July 25, 2018. REUTERS/Issei Kato

Kimono-clad women using sun umbrellas pause on a street during a heatwave in Tokyo, Japan July 25, 2018. REUTERS/Issei Kato

In neighboring South Korea, the unremitting heat has killed at least 14 people this year, the Korea Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention said.

The heat wave was at the level of a “special disaster”, South Korean President Moon Jae-in said on Tuesday, as electricity use surged and vegetable prices rose.

(Reporting by Kiyoshi Takenaka in Tokyo and Jeongmin Kim in SEOUL; Additional reporting by Ritsuko Ando and Aaron Sheldrick in TOKYO; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

Heatwave blankets Japan, kills 14 people over long weekend

FILE PHOTO: A volunteer, for recovery work, wipes his sweat as he takes a break in a heat wave at a flood affected area in Kurashiki, Okayama Prefecture, Japan, July 14, 2018. REUTERS/Issei Kato/File Photo

TOKYO (Reuters) – An intense heatwave killed at least 14 people over a three-day long weekend in Japan, media reported on Tuesday, and high temperatures hampered the recovery in flood-hit areas where more than 200 people died last week.

Temperatures on Monday, a national holiday, surged above 39 degrees Celsius (102.2 Fahrenheit) in some inland areas and combined with high humidity to produce dangerous conditions, the Japanese Meteorological Agency (JMA) said.

At least 14 people died from the heat over the long weekend, media reports said, including a woman in her 90s who was found unconscious in a field. Thousands more were treated in hospitals for heat-related conditions.

The heat was most intense in landlocked areas such as Gifu prefecture, where it soared to 39.3 Celsius (102.7 F) in the town of Ibigawa on Monday – the hottest in the nation. The capital Tokyo recorded a high of 34 Celsius on Monday.

Temperatures in parts of western Japan hit by deadly floods reached a high of 34.3 Celsius by midday on Tuesday, creating dangerous conditions for military personnel and volunteers clearing mud and debris.

“It’s really hot. All we can do is keep drinking water,” one man in Okayama told NHK television.

Temperatures of 35 or above – known in Japanese as “intensely hot days” – were recorded at 200 locations around Japan on Sunday, the JMA said, which is unusual for July but not unprecedented.

Similar scorching temperatures were reported from 213 locations on a July day in 2014.

Last year, 48 people died from heat between May and September, with 31 deaths in July, according to the Fire and Disaster Management Agency.

The current heatwave was due to the layering of two high pressure systems over much of Japan and is expected to continue for the rest of the week if not longer, the JMA said.

(Reporting by Elaine Lies; Editing by Darren Schuettler)

Japan faces ‘frequent’ disasters as flood toll reaches 200

Rescue workers search for missing people at a landslide site caused by heavy rain in Kumano Town, Hiroshima Prefecture, Japan July 11, 2018. REUTERS/Issei Kato

By Kiyoshi Takenaka and Issei Kato

KURASHIKI, Japan (Reuters) – Japan risks more severe weather and must find ways to alleviate disasters, a government spokesman said on Thursday, as intense heat and water shortages raised fear of disease among survivors of last week’s floods and landslides.

Torrential rain in western Japan caused the country’s worst weather disaster in 36 years, killing 200 people, many in communities that have existed for decades on mountain slopes and flood plains largely untroubled by storms.

Rescue workers and Japan Self-Defense Forces soldiers search for missing people at a landslide site caused by heavy rain in Kumano Town, Hiroshima Prefecture, Japan July 11, 2018. REUTERS/Issei Kato

Rescue workers and Japan Self-Defense Forces soldiers search for missing people at a landslide site caused by heavy rain in Kumano Town, Hiroshima Prefecture, Japan July 11, 2018. REUTERS/Issei Kato

But severe weather has been battering the country more regularly in recent years, raising questions about the impact of global warming. Dozens of people were killed in a similar disaster last year.

“It’s an undeniable fact that this sort of disaster due to torrential, unprecedented rain is becoming more frequent in recent years,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a news conference in Tokyo.

Saving lives was the government’s biggest duty, he said.

“We recognize that there’s a need to look into steps we can take to reduce the damage from disasters like this even a little bit,” he said.

He did not elaborate on what steps the government could take.

More than 200,000 households had no water a week after disaster struck and many thousands of people were homeless.

With temperatures ranging from 31 to 34 Celsius (86 to 93 Fahrenheit) and high humidity, life in school gymnasiums and other evacuation centers, where families spread out on mats on the floors, began to take a toll.

Television footage showed one elderly woman trying to sleep by kneeling across a folding chair, arms over her eyes to keep out the light.

With few portable fans in evacuation centers, many survivors waved paper fans to keep cool.

Tight water supplies meant that people were not getting enough fluids, authorities said.

“Without water, we can’t really clean anything up. We can’t wash anything,” one man told NHK television.

Local residents try to clear debris at a flood affected area in Mabi town in Kurashiki, Okayama Prefecture, Japan, July 12, 2018. REUTERS/Issei Kato

Local residents try to clear debris at a flood affected area in Mabi town in Kurashiki, Okayama Prefecture, Japan, July 12, 2018. REUTERS/Issei Kato

The government has sent out water trucks but supplies remain limited.

In the hard-hit Mabi district of Kurashiki city in Okayama prefecture, piles of water-damaged refrigerators, washing machines and furniture lined the streets as residents used hoses to wash mud out of their homes.

Unable to join in the strenuous work Hisako Takeuchi, 73, and her husband, spent the past five nights at an elementary school that had been turned into a make-shift evacuation center.

“We only have each other and no relatives nearby. We aren’t able to move large things and we desperately need volunteer helpers,” said Takeuchi.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, on a visit to Kurashiki on Thursday, promised to provide help as soon as possible. He is set to visit two other hard-hit areas on Friday and the weekend.

More than 70,000 military, police and firefighters toiled through the debris in a search for bodies.

Teams used diggers and chainsaws to clear landslides and cut away wreckage of buildings and trees. Many areas were buried deep in mud that smelled like sewage and had hardened in the heat.

(Additional reporting by Kaori Kaneko; Writing by Elaine Lies; Editing by Darren Schuettler, Robert Birsel)

Rescuers race to find survivors after Japan floods kill at least 114

Rescue workers look for missing people in a house damaged by heavy rain in Kumano town, Hiroshima Prefecture, Japan, in this photo taken by Kyodo July 9, 2018. Mandatory credit Kyodo/via REUTERS

By Kiyoshi Takenaka and Issei Kato

KURASHIKI, Japan (Reuters) – Rescuers in Japan dug through mud and rubble on Monday, racing to find survivors after torrential rain unleashed floods and landslides that killed at least 114 people, with dozens missing.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe canceled an overseas trip to deal with Japan’s worst flood disaster since 1983, with several million people forced from their homes.

Officials said the overall economic impact was not clear.

Rain tapered off across the western region on Monday to reveal blue skies and a scorching sun that pushed temperatures well above 30 Celsius (86 Fahrenheit), fuelling fears of heat-stroke in areas cut off from power or water.

A helicopter flies over Mabi town which was flooded by the heavy rain in Kurashiki, Okayama Prefecture, Japan, in this photo taken by Kyodo July 9, 2018. Mandatory credit Kyodo/via REUTERS

A helicopter flies over Mabi town which was flooded by the heavy rain in Kurashiki, Okayama Prefecture, Japan, in this photo taken by Kyodo July 9, 2018. Mandatory credit Kyodo/via REUTERS

“We cannot take baths, the toilet doesn’t work and our food stockpile is running low,” said Yumeko Matsui, whose home in the city of Mihara, in Hiroshima prefecture, has been without water since Saturday.

“Bottled water and bottled tea are all gone from convenience stores and other shops,” the 23-year-old nursery school worker said at an emergency water supply station.

Some 11,200 households had no electricity, power companies said on Monday, while hundreds of thousands had no water.

The death toll reached at least 114, NHK public television said, with 61 people missing.

Though the persistent rain had ended, officials warned of sudden showers and thunderstorms as well as of more landslides on steep mountainsides saturated over the weekend.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said Prime Minister Abe had canceled his trip to Belgium, France, Saudi Arabia and Egypt because of the disaster. He had been due to leave on Wednesday.

Industry operations have also been hit, with Mazda Motor Corp saying it was forced to close its head office in Hiroshima on Monday.

The automaker, which suspended operations at several plants last week, said the halt would continue at two plants until Tuesday because it could not receive components, although both units were undamaged.

Daihatsu, which suspended production on Friday at up to four plants, said they would run the second evening shift on Monday.

Electronics maker Panasonic said operations at one plant remained suspended after the first floor was flooded.

A submerged Toyota Motor's car is seen in a flooded area in Mabi town in Kurashiki, Okayama Prefecture, Japan, July 9, 2018. REUTERS/Issei Kato

A submerged Toyota Motor’s car is seen in a flooded area in Mabi town in Kurashiki, Okayama Prefecture, Japan, July 9, 2018. REUTERS/Issei Kato

GRIM RECOVERY

Refineries and oil terminals were not affected but blockages in roads leading to one Showa Shell oil terminal in Hiroshima caused gas and diesel shortages nearby.

Shares in some companies fell but losses were modest, with Mazda even gaining as investors bet damage was limited.

“If the rainfall affects supply chains, there will be selling of the affected stocks,” said Norihiro Fujito, chief investment strategist at Mitsubishi UFJ Morgan Stanley Securities.

“Otherwise, the impact will be limited.”

Elsewhere, people soldiered on with a grim recovery.

The floodwaters slowly receded in Kurashiki city’s Mabi district, one of the hardest hit areas, leaving a thick coat of brown mud and cars turned over or half-submerged, as residents returned to tackle the mess.

“I’ve never experienced anything like this is my life, and I’ve lived for more than 70 years,” said Hitoko Asano, 71.

“The washing machine, refrigerator, microwave, toaster, PC – they’re all destroyed,” she said as she cleaned her two-story house.

“Clothes in the drawers were all damaged by muddy water, we won’t even bother to wash them. I can’t help wondering how much it’ll cost to repair this.”

At one landslide in Hiroshima, shattered piles of lumber marked the sites of former homes, television images showed. Other homes had been tossed upside down.

Although evacuation orders were scaled sharply back from the weekend, some 1.7 million people still face orders or advice to keep away from homes, fire and disaster officials said.

The economic impact was being assessed.

“I’m worried there could be a significant impact on production, consumption and tourism,” Toshiro Miyashita, Bank of Japan’s Fukuoka branch manager, who oversees Kyushu region, told a news conference.

Japan monitors weather conditions and issues warnings early, but its dense population means every bit of usable land is built on in the mostly mountainous country, leaving it prone to disasters.

(Additional reporting by Elaine Lies, Shinichi Saoshiro, Naomi Tajitsu, Ayai Tomisawa, Linda Sieg, Osamu Tsukimori, Leika Kihara and Tetsushi Kajimoto; Writing by Elaine Lies; Editing by Clarence Fernandez, Robert Birsel)

Japan executes leader, six followers, of sarin attack doomesday cult

Japan’s Justice Minister Yoko Kamikawa attends a news conference following the execution of several members of the doomday cult, including its leader Chizuo Matsumoto, also known as Shoko Asahara, at Justice Ministry in Tokyo, Japan July 6, 2018. REUTERS/Issei Kato

By Elaine Lies and Kiyoshi Takenaka

TOKYO (Reuters) – Japan executed on Friday the former leader of a doomsday cult and six other members of the group that carried out a sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway in 1995, killing 13 people and shattering the country’s myth of public safety.

The Aum Shinrikyo, or Aum Supreme Truth cult, which mixed Buddhist and Hindu meditation with apocalyptic teachings, staged a series of crimes including simultaneous sarin gas attacks on subway trains during rush hour in March 1995. Sarin, a nerve gas, was originally developed by the Nazis.

The images of bodies, many in business suits, sprawled across platforms stunned Japan, and triggered public safety steps such as the removal of non-transparent rubbish bins that remain in force to this day.

As well as killing the 13, the attack injured at least 5,800 people, some permanently.

Justice Minister Yoko Kamikawa read out the names of the seven at a news conference and said what they had done was “extremely atrocious”.

“These crimes … plunged people not only in Japan but in other countries as well into deadly fear and shook society to its core,” Kamikawa said.

The injured of the deadly gas attack are treated by rescue workers near Tsukiji subway station in Tokyo, in this photo taken by Kyodo March 20, 1995. Mandatory credit Kyodo/via REUTERS

The injured of the deadly gas attack are treated by rescue workers near Tsukiji subway station in Tokyo, in this photo taken by Kyodo March 20, 1995. Mandatory credit Kyodo/via REUTERS

Chizuo Matsumoto, the cult’s leader who went by the name Shoko Asahara, was the first to be hanged, media said as it broke into regular programming to report the news.

Announcements of the other hangings followed through the morning.

Family members of attack victims expressed relief.

“I think it’s right that he was executed,” said Shizue Takahashi, whose husband was a subway worker who died after removing a package of sarin from a train.

“My husband’s parents and my parents are already dead,” the silver-haired Takahashi added. “I think they would find it regrettable that they could not have heard the news of this execution.”

Executions are rare in Japan but surveys show most people support the death sentence.

Rights group Amnesty International said justice demanded accountability but also respect for civil rights.

“The death penalty can never deliver this as it is the ultimate denial of human rights,” Hiroka Shoji, the group’s East Asia Researcher, said in a statement.

A citizens’ group calling for abolishing the death penalty said it was a “mass execution that goes against the global trend”.

Some Japanese worried about revenge.

“I cheered when I heard he’d been killed, but worry that his former followers might deify him and do something. We have to be on guard for a while,” said Twitter user Chie.

Japanese doomsday cult leader Shoko Asahara sits in a police van following an interrogation in Tokyo, Japan, in this photo taken by Kyodo September 25, 1995. Mandatory credit Kyodo/via REUTERS

BIZARRE RITUALS AND WEAPONS

Asahara, 63, a pudgy, partially blind yoga instructor, was sentenced to hang in 2004 on 13 charges, including the subway gas attacks and other crimes that killed at least a dozen people.

He pleaded not guilty and never testified, but muttered and made incoherent remarks in court during the eight years of his trial. The sentence was upheld by the Supreme Court in 2006.

In all, 13 cult members were sentenced to death during more than 20 years of trials, which came to an end in January 2018.

Asahara, who founded Aum in 1987, said that the United States would attack Japan and turn it into a nuclear wasteland. He also said he had traveled forward in time to 2006 and talked to people then about what World War Three had been like.

At its peak, the cult had at least 10,000 members in Japan and overseas, including graduates of some of Japan’s top universities.

Some members lived in a commune-like complex Asahara established at the foot of Mount Fuji, where the group studied his teachings, practiced bizarre rituals and gathered an arsenal of weapons – including sarin.

The cult also used sarin in 1994, releasing the gas in the central city of Matsumoto on a summer night in an attempt to kill three judges set to rule on it.

That attack, which involved a refrigerator truck releasing the gas to be dispersed by the wind through a neighborhood, failed to kill the judges but killed eight other people and injured hundreds.

(Reporting by Elaine Lies, Kiyoshi Takenaka, Chang-Ran Kim, Kaori Kaneko, Ami Miyazaki; Editing by Michael Perry, Robert Birsel)

Thai navy divers widen cave passage in search for missing boys

Soldiers and rescue workers work in Tham Luang cave complex, as an ongoing search for members of an under-16 soccer team and their coach continues, in the northern province of Chiang Rai, Thailand, July 1, 2018. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun

By Panu Wongcha-um

CHIANG RAI, Thailand (Reuters) – Rescuers in Thailand scrabbled to clear a constricted passageway for divers deep inside a flooded cave complex on Monday as the search for 12 boys and their soccer coach entered a ninth day.

The divers from a Thai navy SEAL unit were within 500 meters of a chamber containing an elevated rock mound, nicknamed “Pattaya Beach” by cavers, which could have provided the boys with a refuge when rains flooded the cave, blocking the way out.

Progress has been slow as divers need to widen parts of a narrow 100 meter stretch that they were unable to pass through without their air cylinders becoming jammed.

“This is today’s aim is to widen this hole,” Chiang Rai governor Narongsak Osatanakorn told reporters on Monday.

“As of now we have not yet reached Pattaya Beach,” he said.

The boys, aged between 11 and 16, and their 25-year-old coach disappeared on June 23 during an outing to the Tham Luang cave, which runs for 10 kilometers (6 miles) beneath the mountains in northern Chiang Rai province.

Aside from belongings left at the mouth of the cave and handprints on the walls, no trace of them has been found since.

National news bulletins have been dominated by updates from the mammoth search involving more than 1,000 personnel, including rescue teams from the United States, Britain, Japan and elsewhere.

Doctors say the boys could survive for days without food, but much would depend on whether they found water clean enough to drink.

Students pray in Mae Sai Prasitsart school as an ongoing search for members of an under-16 soccer team and their coach who went missing in a flooded cave continues, in the northern province of Chiang Rai, Thailand, July 2, 2018. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun

Students pray in Mae Sai Prasitsart school as an ongoing search for members of an under-16 soccer team and their coach who went missing in a flooded cave continues, in the northern province of Chiang Rai, Thailand, July 2, 2018. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun

The heavy seasonal rains hampered the search operation, with divers groping their way along the cave walls, barely able to see in the muddy water, but the pumps had helped to bring down water levels in recent days.

Narongsak said that an operations center has been set up in the third chamber, about 1.7 kilometers (a mile) from entrance to the cave.

“Yesterday we carried in 200 air cylinders. Today we aim to have 600 air cylinders in the cave, so the team can operate and stay in the cave without coming out,” he said.

Once more personnel are in place, a search will also be made of the right turn at the T-junction, he added.

As part of the rescue effort, search parties have been lowered down shafts on the mountainside, but it was unclear what progress they had made, or exactly where they were in relation to the “Pattaya Beach” chamber.

At Mae Sai Prasitsart school, where six of the missing boys studied, special prayers were held for the junior soccer team during the morning assembly on Monday.

A student shows a photo of her classmate Prachak Sutham, 13, who is a member of an under-16 soccer team that went missing with their coach at a flooded cave, in Mae Sai Prasitsart school in the northern province of Chiang Rai, Thailand, July 2, 2018. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun

A student shows a photo of her classmate Prachak Sutham, 13, who is a member of an under-16 soccer team that went missing with their coach at a flooded cave, in Mae Sai Prasitsart school in the northern province of Chiang Rai, Thailand, July 2, 2018. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun

“I hope all the spirits that we cannot see please help us by releasing the 13 people who are our friends and our brothers,” teacher Takkapong Thammarangsi said as he led the prayers.

Pansa Namyi, 15, said he shared a love of sports with his friend who was among the missing.

“I want to tell him that I am waiting,” Pansa said.

(Additional reporting by Panarat Thepgumpanat and Chayut Setboonsarng in BANGKOK; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore and Darren Schuettler)

Japan volcano featured in ‘James Bond’ movie erupts, ejecting smoke and rocks

Shinmoedake peak erupting between Miyazaki and Kagoshima prefectures, is seen in southwestern Japan, in this photo taken by a remote camera and released by Kyodo June 22, 2018.Mandatory credit Kyodo/via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. MANDATORY CREDIT. JAPAN OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN JAPAN.

TOKYO (Reuters) – A Japanese volcano that figured in a 1960s James Bond movie erupted explosively on Friday for the first time since April, sending smoke thousands of meters into the air, less than a week after a strong earthquake shook the country’s west.

Shinmoedake, in a mainly rural area about 985 km (616 miles) from Tokyo on the southernmost main island of Kyushu, had quietened down since the earlier eruption, although admission to the 1,421-metre- (4,662-ft-) high peak remained restricted.

Television images showed smoke and ash billowing into the air above the peak, which featured in the 1967 spy film, “You Only Live Twice”. TBS television said rock was thrown as far as 1,100 meters (3,609 ft) from the mountain.

Japan has 110 active volcanoes and monitors 47 constantly. When 63 people were killed in the volcanic eruption of Mount Ontake in September 2014, it was the country’s worst such toll for nearly 90 years.

In January, a member of Japan’s military was struck and killed when rocks from a volcanic eruption rained down on skiers at a central mountain resort.

On Monday, an earthquake of 6.1 magnitude struck Osaka, Japan’s second largest city, killing five, including a nine-year-old schoolgirl, and injuring hundreds.

(Reporting by Elaine Lies; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

As Fukushima residents return, some see hope in nuclear tourism

Tourists from Tokyo's universities, plant rice seedlings in a paddy field, near Tokyo Electric Power Co's (TEPCO) tsunami-crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, during a rice planting event in Namie town, Fukushima prefecture, Japan May 19, 2018. Picture taken May 19, 2018. REUTERS/Toru Hanai

By Tim Kelly

FUKUSHIMA, Japan (Reuters) – On a cold day in February, Takuto Okamoto guided his first tour group to a sight few outsiders had witnessed in person: the construction cranes looming over Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.

Seven years after a deadly tsunami ripped through the Tokyo Electric Power plant, Okamoto and other tour organizers are bringing curious sightseers to the region as residents who fled the nuclear catastrophe trickle back.

Many returnees hope tourism will help resuscitate their towns and ease radiation fears.

But some worry about drawing a line under a disaster whose impact will be felt far into the future. The cleanup, including the removal of melted uranium fuel, may take four decades and cost several billion U.S. dollars a year.

“The disaster happened and the issue now is how people rebuild their lives,” Okamoto said after his group stopped in Tomioka, 10 kilometers (6.21 miles) south of the nuclear plant. He wants to bring groups twice a week, compared with only twice a month now.

Electronic signs on the highway to Tomioka showed radiation around 100 times normal background levels, as Okamoto’s passengers peered out tour bus windows at the cranes poking above Fukushima Daiichi.

“For me, it’s more for bragging rights, to be perfectly honest,” said Louie Ching, 33, a Filipino programmer. Ching, two other Filipinos and a Japanese man who visited Chernobyl last year each paid 23,000 yen ($208.75) for a day trip from Tokyo.

NAMIE

The group had earlier wandered around Namie, a town 4 kilometers north of the plant to which residents began returning last year after authorities lifted restrictions. So far, only about 700 of 21,000 people are back – a ratio similar to that of other ghost towns near the nuclear site.

Former residents Mitsuru Watanabe, 80, and his wife Rumeko, 79, have no plans to return. They were only in town to clear out their shuttered restaurant before it is demolished, and they chatted with tourists while they worked.

“We used to pull in around 100 million yen a year,” Mitsuru said as he invited the tourists inside. A 2011 calendar hung on the wall, and unfilled orders from the evacuation day remained on a whiteboard in the kitchen.

“We want people to come. They can go home and tell other people about us,” Mitsuru said among the dusty tables.

Okamoto’s group later visited the nearby coastline, where the tsunami killed hundreds of people. Abandoned rice paddies, a few derelict houses that withstood the wave and the gutted Ukedo elementary school are all that remain.

It’s here, behind a new sea wall at the edge of the restricted radiation zone, that Fukushima Prefecture plans to build a memorial park and 5,200-square-metre (56,000-square-foot) archive center with video displays and exhibits about the quake, tsunami and nuclear calamity.

LURING TOURISTS

“It will be a starting point for visitors,” Kazuhiro Ono, the prefecture’s deputy director for tourism, said of the center. The Japan Tourism Agency will fund the project, Ono added.

Ono wants tourists to come to Fukushima, particularly foreigners, who have so far steered clear. Overseas visitors spent more than 70 million days in Japan last year, triple the number in 2011. About 94,000 of those were in Fukushima.

Tokyo Electric will provide material for the archive, although the final budget for the project has yet to be finalised, he said.

“Some people have suggested a barbecue area or a promenade,” said Hidezo Sato, a former seed merchant in Namie who leads a residents’ group. A “1” sticker on the radiation meter around his neck identified him as being the first to return to the town.

“If people come to brag about getting close to the plant, that can’t be helped, but at least they’ll come,” Sato said. The archive will help ease radiation fears, he added.

Tourists from Philippines walk past irradiated cattle skulls at the Farm of Hope, near Tokyo Electric Power Co's (TEPCO) tsunami-crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, in Namie town, Fukushima prefecture, Japan May 17, 2018. REUTERS/Toru Hanai

Tourists from Philippines walk past irradiated cattle skulls at the Farm of Hope, near Tokyo Electric Power Co’s (TEPCO) tsunami-crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, in Namie town, Fukushima prefecture, Japan May 17, 2018. REUTERS/Toru Hanai

SPECTACLE

Standing outside a farmhouse as workmen refurbished it so her family could return, Mayumi Matsumoto, 54, said she was uneasy about the park and archive.

“We haven’t gotten to the bottom of what happened at the plant, and now is not the time,” she said.

Matsumoto had come back for a day to host a rice-planting event for about 40 university students. Later they toured Namie on two buses, including a stop at scaffolding near the planned memorial park site to view Fukushima Daiichi’s cranes.

Matsumoto described her feelings toward Tokyo Electric as “complicated,” because it is responsible for the disaster but also helped her family cope its aftermath. One of her sons works for the utility and has faced abuse from angry locals, she added.

“It’s good that people want to come to Namie, but not if they just want to get close to the nuclear plant. I don’t want it to become a spectacle,” Matsumoto said.

Okamoto is not the only guide offering tours in the area, although visits of any kind remain rare. He said he hoped his clients would come away with more than a few photographs.

A tourist from Tokyo's university, takes photos from a bus at an area devastated by the March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami, near Tokyo Electric Power Co's (TEPCO) tsunami-crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, in Namie town, Fukushima prefecture, Japan May 19, 2018. Picture taken May 19, 2018. REUTERS/Toru Hanai

A tourist from Tokyo’s university, takes photos from a bus at an area devastated by the March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami, near Tokyo Electric Power Co’s (TEPCO) tsunami-crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, in Namie town, Fukushima prefecture, Japan May 19, 2018. Picture taken May 19, 2018. REUTERS/Toru Hanai

“If people can see for themselves the damage caused by tsunami and nuclear plant, they will understand that we need to stop it from happening again,” said Okamoto, who attended university in a neighboring prefecture. “So far, we haven’t come across any opposition from the local people.”

(Reporting by Tim Kelly; additional reporting by Kwiyeon Ha and Toru Hanai; Editing by Gerry Doyle)