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Tokyo Reporter’s Top 10 stories for 2016

Idol Mayu Tomita (left) was stabbed by crazed fan Tomohiro Iwazaki at an event in May
Idol Mayu Tomita (left) was stabbed by crazed fan Tomohiro Iwazaki at an event in Koganei City in May

TOKYO (TR) – 2016 was marked most memorably by shock, from the U.S. presidential victory of Donald Trump to Britain’s decision to leave the E.U. Japan also faced the unexpected, from the social ramifications of a brave anonymous woman who spoke out against a lack of day care facilities to the tumultuous release of Pokemon Go.

Though largely peering from the underside, The Tokyo Reporter was present throughout. Here is a rundown of the site’s most popular stories for the year.

10. Porn starlet exposed — by the Tokyo tax office

The results of a tax probe, as reported by a tabloid in September, revealed that the majority of the income for porn starlet Yuria Satomi comes from her boyfriends. The actress received 50 million yen from each of four men.

9. Ex-gravure idol Shoko Takasaki to make porn debut

Shoko Takasaki was a bikini model until she resigned from her agency after speculation emerged about her engaging in prostitution. Now, she’s one of the most lauded newcomers in the adult video (AV) industry after making her debut for label Muteki in May as “Shoko Takahashi.” Making millions of yen a month by working for just a few days, the 23-year-old has come a long way from her monthly salary of some 140,000 yen during her idol days.

8. Japan’s Aso: Pokemon Go successfully lured out shut-ins, otaku

No one could have predicted the wider impact of the release of Pokemon Go in July, not the least of which were the scores of traffic incidents, including the death of a 9-year-old boy, caused by drivers playing behind the wheel. So influential was the smartphone app that Finance Minister Taro Aso praised the game for “doing what psychiatrists couldn’t” given that “shut-ins and otaku are all out there now playing Pokemon.” Signs still stand in Tokyo warning people not to play the game and walk.

7. Stabbing victim Mayu Tomita regains consciousness

Mayu Tomita, an up-and-coming musician and idol, was stabbed over 20 times in May by a frenzied fan who was stalking her for months and making obsessive rants on Twitter. The case highlighted the lack of protection for stalker victims, as evidenced by Tomita blasting police for failing to acknowledge that she had feared for her life. The suspect, Tomohiro Iwazaki, was charged with attempted murder. He was also spotted performing in an adult video title featuring Yui Hatano.

6. ‘Die Japan’ named a top-10 buzzword for 2016

The impact of the brave words written by an anonymous mother on a blog in February –– “Couldn’t get into day care, die Japan!!!” –– was felt across Japan, even at the Diet where Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was forced to promise measures and slash combative waiting lists for day care. In what some deemed vulgar language, the post helped launch the issue into the national spotlight at a time when parents, particularly mothers, still face difficult conditions balancing family life and work.

5. Okinawa police: U.S. civilian admits to raping woman before killing her

Okinawans were outraged when Kenneth Franklin Shinzato, 32, a U.S civilian employed at Kadena Air Base, was found to have raped and murdered 20-year-old Rina Shimabukuro in May. Tensions were already simmering in Okinawa over the March arrest of a 24-year-old U.S. Navy sailor who allegedly raped a woman in her 40s while she was asleep at a hotel. The U.S. returned almost 10,000 acres of land to Japan this month, but the governor of Okinawa Prefecture boycotted the handover ceremony after a U.S. Osprey aircraft crashed in a sign that the U.S. military presence will continue to be a contentious issue.

4. Fukuoka theme park draws ire over 5,000 fish frozen into ice skate rink

Space World, a space-themed amusement park in Fukuoka Prefecture, found itself making headlines around the world over its ice-skating rink attraction featuring some 5,000 fish frozen into the ice. The attraction that the park boasted as being “undeniably a world-first” ended up forcing it to remain shuttered until December 2017, while sparking discussions about the morality of using fish that weren’t fit for retail sale to educate the public about marine life.

3. Japan porn company busted for forcing women to perform as actresses

Despite stagnation in recent years, Japan’s AV industry continues to churn out tens of thousands of titles a year –– sometimes at the expense of the performers, as evidenced by more and more of them coming forward to testify that they were coerced into making an appearance. Many of these stars are brainwashed university students who blame themselves for signing their contracts under coercion, but the exploitative practices could change as more victims come forward to expose the wrongdoing. In June, police raided a major adult video agency and arrested three individuals, including its president, for allegedly forcing a woman to appear in an AV production.

Matsuri Takahashi
A government labor agency ruled that the suicide of Matsuri Takahashi, a former employee at advertising agency Dentsu, came as a result of overwork

2. Tokyo cops arrest 2 Turks seeking refugee status in gang rape of woman

What is Japan’s stance on refugees? Prime Minister Abe has been widely quoted as saying there are “many things that we should do before accepting immigrants,” referring to problems like the nation’s aging workforce. Japan has helped overseas through other means, such as emergency aid provided to Syrian refugees. But the public’s appetite for welcoming more refugees has been muted, and the arrest in February of two Turkish nationals seeking refugee status in the alleged gang-rape and robbery of a woman in Tokyo certainly did not help.

1. Labor agency rules suicide by ex-Dentsu employee as death by overwork

A government labor agency ruled that the suicide of 24-year-old Dentsu employee Matsuri Takahashi was death by overwork, or karoshi. Her tragic story of no days off and 180 hours of overtime in a month pushed the government to swiftly refer the company to prosecutors on December 28. Tadashi Ishii, president of Dentsu, also announced he would resign the same day. But with critics pointing out that Dentsu is far from the only company that enforces unreasonable overtime on employees, Japan still has some ways to go to turn around its entrenched workaholic culture.

Get ready for the Year of the Rooster!