Five things to know about Japanese royals ahead of first abdication in nearly two centuries

Here are five things to know about Japan’s royals:

Ancient history

The Japanese imperial family is believed to be the world’s oldest, with a myth-filled history that dates back more than 2,600 years.

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Akihito is the 125th emperor since Emperor Jimmu, said to be a descendant of the legendary sun goddess Amaterasu.

Emperors have played a crucial role in the country’s native Shinto religion, conducting various annual rites and prayers for the prosperity of the nation.

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The greatest threat to the imperial family’s long history came with Japan’s defeat in World War II.

Some in the Allied camp wanted to end the monarchy in whose name Japanese armies marched through Asia-Pacific.

But US General Douglas MacArthur, who led the post-war occupation, called for it to be retained, though its power was greatly curbed.

The current US-imposed constitution took away the emperor’s semi divine status and turned him into a national “symbol” as part of a radical democratisation.

Akihito, the son of wartime emperor Hirohito.AAP

Popularity

Unlike in some countries with royal families, there is no republican movement in Japan and the emperor and royal family have won the admiration of the vast majority of the country.

Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko journey to sites of natural disasters to console victims, most notably after the 2011 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster.

Akihito, the son of wartime emperor Hirohito, also repeatedly warned that Japan must not downplay its 20th-century militarism and actions in World War II.

His remarks have been seen as a rebuke to the nationalist stance of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and like-minded conservatives.

Emperor Akihito’s oldest son Crown Prince Naruhito will assume the Chrysanthemum Throne.AAP

Gentlemen’s club

The family operates under hereditary, male-only succession rules, although there have been eight empresses in past centuries.

Upon the abdication of Akihito, his oldest son Crown Prince Naruhito will assume the Chrysanthemum Throne. 

Naruhito’s younger brother, Prince Akishino, is next in line. The only other male heir, 10-year-old Prince Hisahito, Akishino’s son, is third in line to the throne.

The future

If Hisahito only has daughters, the family is likely to face a succession crisis unless laws are changed.

The scarcity of young men in the family has prompted talk of alternatives, including letting women ascend the throne, though traditionalists abhor the idea.

Some have suggested that female members of the family who marry commoners should stop losing their royal status, as will happen to Akihito’s granddaughter Princess Mako when she weds her college sweetheart.

Others advocate expanding the family to include distant relatives.

The lower house attached a recommendation to the law, calling on the government to “consider” plans to allow female members to stay in the royal family even after their marriage with commoners.

Emperor Akihito’ abdication will be the first in nearly two centuries. AAP

Police want witnesses over M5 near miss

Police have praised the quick actions of a truck driver who prevented what could have been a “catastrophic” collision with a school bus in Sydney.

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Frightening footage released by police shows the bus – carrying 15 students – pulling onto the M5 into the path of the semi-trailer after 7.30am on Thursday.

The truck driver jumped on the brakes with his semi jackknifing and skidding to a halt in a plume of white smoke. The bus continued down the motorway.

“I have no doubt the truck driver’s actions have prevented what could have been a catastrophic motor-vehicle accident,” Detective Inspector Dean Johnstone told AAP on Friday.

“It was remarkable, given the way the truck ended up, there were no other collisions.

“No one’s injured, everyone’s gone about their daily lives today. It’s just unbelievable.”

Det Insp Johnstone said the truck driver had been traumatised by the event but “showing full courage” returned to work on Friday.

“It’s a testament to the character of the bloke.”

Det Insp Johnstone said drugs and alcohol were not factors in the incident.

The 59-year-old bus driver Kazem Afkhamisaddoghi apologised and said he thought he had enough time to pull out.

“Unfortunately I made a mistake … and I am so sorry about this incident,” he told the Seven Network.

The students were on an excursion from Mount St Joseph’s Girls’ College to an AFL gala day at West Hoxton when the incident occurred.

Det Insp Johnstone confirmed the students were not harmed.

He said dangerous driving charges will be laid against the bus driver and called on witnesses to contact police.

The bus company will offer their driver more training.

“I will really need to train him and make sure that next time he knows better,” GHP Australia spokesman William Matar told Network Ten.

EU, China back Paris pact after US pullout

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and top officials from the European Union are set to reaffirm their commitment to a landmark climate change agreement a day after President Donald Trump said he was pulling the US out of the Paris accord.

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Climate issues are expected to dominate discussions between Li, who is leading a large delegation of ministers to Brussels, and EU Council President Donald Tusk and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker.

Speaking to European business leaders alongside Li, Juncker said EU-China ties are underpinned by “a rules-based international system.”

He said that Brussels and Beijing believe in “the full implementation, without nuances, of the Paris climate agreement,” and underlined that there can be “no backsliding” on the pact.

At their short summit, the EU and China – two of the world’s major polluters – are set to issue a statement reaffirming their stance on global warming following Trump’s announcement Thursday.

According to a draft, they will express their determination “to forge ahead with further policies and measures for effective implementation of their respective nationally determined contributions.”

They will also “call on all parties to uphold the Paris agreement” and “to strengthen efforts over time, in accordance with the purpose and provisions of the agreement.”

Separately on Thursday, European heavyweights France, Germany and Italy said in a joint statement that they regretted the United States’ decision to withdraw from the accord, while affirming their “strongest commitment” to implement its measures. They also encouraged “all our partners to speed up their action to combat climate change.”

While Trump said the United States would be willing to rejoin the accord if it could obtain more favourable terms, the three European leaders said the agreement cannot be renegotiated, “since it is a vital instrument for our planet, societies and economics.”

Germany’s environment minister underscored that Friday, saying “there will be no new deal with the United States” on climate change.

Barbara Hendricks told reporters in Berlin that other countries will fill the leadership vacuum left by the United States and the global climate would “survive” Trump’s maximum presidential term of eight years.

Frozen berries recalled over Hep A fears

A Victorian struck down with Hepatitis A was one of four cases nationally that prompted a recall of frozen berries across the state.

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Entyce Food Ingredients has voluntarily recalled the Creative Gourmet Mixed Berries 300g product, sold at at IGA, Foodworks, Foodland, SPAR and Supabarn with a batch code of PP150118.

Victoria’s Deputy Chief Health Officer Dr Brett Sutton released a health alert to warn that the frozen berries were potentially linked with an outbreak of Hepatitis A infection.

“As of 2 June 2017, Australian health authorities have identified four cases of hepatitis A infection that were acquired in Australia in 2017 and involve the affected strain of hepatitis A virus,” the alert said.

“One of these cases is an individual who resides in Victoria.”

Anyone who has consumed Creative Gourmet frozen mixed berries 300g packs with a best-before date of 15 January 2021 may be at risk.

Food Standards Australia New Zealand chief executive Glen Neil said agencies were still testing to determine whether the mixed berries were the cause of the outbreak.

Entyce Food said that batch of berries were no longer being sold and no other batches were impacted.

The Victorian Health department said an initial test was inconclusive for Hepatitis A, while a secondary test cleared the berries of containing traces of the virus.

Two years ago multiple frozen berry brands were found to be contaminated with the virus, and a country-wide recall was issued.

The contaminated fruit was imported from China and Chile, but was packed in the regional Victorian town of Bairnsdale.

How a tax technicality is fuelling Australia’s black market shisha trade

A decade-old change in the way shisha tobacco is taxed may have opened the window for a booming black market trade, according to Australian Border Force officials.

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The smugglers involved in the illicit trade of molasses tobacco, commonly known as shisha, could also be involved in larger trafficking rings, the officials said.

Law enforcement became suspicious when they noticed a drop in the amount of imported shisha declared to Customs, but no drop in the number of shisha smokers frequenting bars in Melbourne and Sydney.

“That tells me, indicatively, that we have an illegal molasses importation problem,” Border Force chief Roman Quaedvlieg said.

Officials told a Senate inquiry there was good evidence to suggest many importers were avoiding tax.

“The amount [of illegal shisha] we were seizing, compared to the amount that’s been declared for the purposes of duty…there was a big disparity,” Border Force’s Michael Outram said.

In 2008 tariff rules were changed so molasses tobacco was taxed based on its overall weight. That’s despite the wet, heavy substance containing more ingredients than just tobacco.

“Shisha contains sugar, it contains water,” said Nick Xenophon Team Senator Skye Kakoschke-Moore, who sits on a parliamentary inquiry into illicit tobacco.

“And so what happened was in an attempt to properly tax a tobacco product, I think it’s actually driven the market for this underground.

“When the tax office changed their treatment of shisha, I don’t think that they anticipated it would drive the market underground to the extent that it did and that in 10 years time we’d be in a situation where the majority of our shisha has been imported illegally.”

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A “sensible policy-maker” would have anticipated that outcome, Senator Kakoschke-Moore told SBS World News.

The effect, according to business owners, has been a massive increase in cost.

One Melbourne shisha cafe told SBS World News prices had “doubled”, while another said they had “tripled”.

A third said they had switched from real molasses tobacco to herbal alternatives because they could no longer afford it.

“We lost 30 to 40 percent of our customers, due to the price rise,” Ali Adam, the owner of the Cafe Asmara shisha bar in Melbourne, told SBS World News.

He said the tax hike in 2008 left him with no choice but to pass costs on to his customers.

He said the black market trade for shisha is a “huge market”.

“[If] we start charging fair tax for this product, that will stop the smugglers. It will stop everything,” Mr Adam said. 

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Border Force officials agree that there is a potential link between the high tax rate and the scale of the illegal trade.

“Obviously, when you get a change in regulation and a change in behaviour, some people will choose to comply and others will choose to try and avoid the duty,” Mr Outram told the Senate committee.

Border Force said they were “looking into” the problem and confirmed investigations had been carried out by the government’s Tobacco Strike Team, which received an $8 million funding boost in last year’s federal Budget.

One operation saw the seizure of 1.2 tonnes of molasses tobacco, a quantity that would avoid more than $1 million in tax, according to the Department of Immigration and Border Protection.  

Smugglers conceal loads in iron shelving, plates, bowls and industrial equipment, the department said.

“One of the areas of potential concern is the amount of money that can be raised and then sent back to other parts of the world for nefarious purposes,” Mr Quaedvlieg said. “That is another angle we are looking at.”

Senator Kakoschke-Moore agreed that those bringing in the illicit shisha may be involved in other kinds of trafficking.

“It could be quite sophisticated criminals operating in a broader criminal network,” she said.

“The AFP have said that they would only look at this issue if they believed that there was a link between the importation of shisha and broader criminal network involvement.”

THE FEED: Black Smoke – the illegal tobacco market

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