On the two previous occasions its rockets crossed Japan – in 1998 and 2009 – North Korea said they were for satellite launch vehicles, not weapons.
According to the South Korean military, the missile was fired eastward just before 06:00 local time from near Pyongyang – which is rare.
Early analysis of the launch suggests the missile flew a distance of more than 1,680 miles and reached a maximum altitude of about 342 miles, lower than most previous North Korean tests. The missile was likely a Hwasong-12, a newly developed intermediate range weapon, and fell into the North Pacific Ocean 740 miles off the Japanese coast after breaking into three pieces.
No effort was made by the Japanese to shoot down the missile but it issued a safety warning telling citizens in Hokkaido to take shelter in “a sturdy building or basement”.
US and Japanese forces are currently taking part in training drills in Hokkaido.
South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in ordered a show of “overwhelming” force in response to the launch. Four South Korean jets staged a live bombing drill on August 29.
Japan’s PM Shinzo Abe said he had spoken to President Donald Trump and that both agreed to increase pressure on North Korea.
Shinzo Abe said the North Korea’s “reckless action is an unprecedented, serious and a grave threat to our nation” which also “greatly damages regional peace and security”.
The prime minister said his government was doing its utmost to protect people’s lives.
North Korea’s conventional and nuclear weapons programs are a breach of international sanctions, so the test is being seen as a major provocation and an escalation of tensions on the Korean peninsula.
Earlier this month, North Korea threatened to fire missiles towards the US Pacific territory of Guam, while President Donald Trump warned Pyongyang would face “fire and fury” if it continued to threaten the US.
There have also been some reports in recent months that North Korea is preparing to carry out its sixth nuclear test.
However, last week, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the fact that North Korea had not carried out any missile launches since the UN imposed a fresh round of sanctions was an indication of restraint by Pyongyang.
Defense secretary James Mattis is visiting South Korea on the first foreign trip by a senior official in the Trump administration.
James Mattis is expected to use the visit to reassure Seoul of continuing US commitment to security deals in the face of threats from North Korea.
While campaigning, Donald Trump accused South Korea and Japan of not paying enough for US military support.
Donald Trump also suggested they could be allowed to arm themselves with nuclear weapons.
Both Japan and South Korea rejected this idea.
Image source Wikimedia
On the campaign trail, Donald Trump also said he was willing to talk to North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, contradicting longstanding US, South Korean and Japanese policy.
James Mattis will be in South Korea until February 3, and will hold talks with his Korean counterpart, Han Min-koo, among other officials.
The Pentagon said the visit would “underscore the commitment of the United States to our enduring alliances with Japan and the Republic of Korea, and further strengthen US-Japan-Republic of Korea security cooperation”.
James Mattis told reporters he would discuss the planned deployment of a US missile defence system in South Korea, and North Korea’s nuclear program.
His visit comes amid increasing threats from North Korea that it is ready to test-fire a new intercontinental ballistic missile at any time.
Under the Obama administration, the US and South Korea agreed to the deployment of a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile defense system to defend the South from North Korean missiles.
However, the move has angered China, which says it threatens its own security and goes “far beyond the defense needs of the Korean peninsula”.
There are just under 28,500 US military personnel based in South Korea, as part of a post-war arrangement. South Korea pays about $900 million annually towards the deployment.
On February 3, James Mattis will travel to Japan, for talks with Defense Minister Tomomi Inada.
There are a further 50,000 soldiers plus their dependents and support staff in Japan. The US pays about $5.5 billion for its Japanese bases in 2016, with Japan paying a further $4 billion.
Japan’s PM Shinzo Abe has visited Pearl Harbor naval base, where he offered “sincere and everlasting condolences” to the victims of the 1941 Japanese attack on the base.
Shinzo Abe said: “We must never repeat the horrors of war again, this is the solemn vow the people of Japan have taken.”
He was accompanied by President Barack Obama, making the visit the first by the leaders of both countries.
Japan devastated much of Pearl Harbor base, killing more than 2,400 Americans.
Shinzo Abe paid tribute to the men who lost their lives in 1941 at the naval base, many of whom remain entombed in the wreckage of the USS Arizona, sunk by the Japanese that day, and vowed reconciliation and peace.
He said: “To the souls of the US servicemen who lie aboard the USS Arizona, to the American people, and all people around the world, I pledge that unwavering vow.”
Image source Reuters
Shinzo Abe went on to praise the US for its efforts to mend relations with Japan following the war between the two countries, which ended shortly after the United States dropped two atomic bombs on Japan in August 1945.
The prime minister called the renewed alliance between the countries an “alliance of hope”.
President Obama also paid tribute to the dead, saying that he had laid a wreath on “waters that still weep”.
He said: “That morning the ranks on those men’s shoulders reflected them less than the courage in their hearts.”
Barack Obama welcomed Shinzo Abe “in the spirit of friendship, in the manner Japan has always welcomed me”.
ShinzoAbe is the first Japanese leader to visit the memorial on the site of the Arizona, although several of his predecessors have been to Pearl Harbor in the past.
The Japanese prime minister and President Obama laid wreaths at the site and the two leaders prayed for the dead.
However, as expected, Shinzo Abe did not issue an apology for the attack.
Japan’s surprise attack on Pearl Harbor damaged all eight of the US battleships at the base and sunk four of them, propelling the US into World War II.
Nearly half of those killed were on the Arizona and the remains of most are still entombed in the wreckage.
All eight battleships at the base were damaged and four were sunk. But the key US aircraft carriers were at sea at the time.
On December 26, Shinzo Abe visited the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific and laid a wreath.
He stood for a moment of silence at the cemetery near central Honolulu, a memorial to those who died the Pacific theater of war.
Shinzo Abe also held a summit meeting with Barack Obama in Hawaii, their last before President Obama steps down in January.
Vladimir Putin has declined to accept Japan’s offer of an Akita dog as a gift, according to a Japanese lawmaker.
Koichi Hagiuda did not give a reason as to why the gift had been rejected.
Japan gave the Russian president a female Akita called Yume in 2012. This dog was intended as a companion for her.
Image source Flickr
Koichi Hagiuda wrote in a blog post: “Unfortunately, we heard from our counterparts, and our hope to present a bridegroom was dashed.”
If accepted, the gift would have been presented to Vladimir Putin at a summit with Japanese PM Shinzo Abe in Japan next week.
Akita dogs originate from northern Japan.
Vladimir Putin also owns a male Bulgarian Shepherd called Buffy, which was given to him by the Bulgarian prime minister in 2010.
His Labrador, Konni, given to him as a gift by Sergey Shoigu, currently Russian defense minister, died in 2014.
Vladimir Putin once brought Konni to a meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who is scared of dogs. Some press reports at the time said he had done so to intimidate her. But earlier this year, he told a German newspaper that he did not know about Angela Merkel’s fear.
Vladimir Putin said: “When I learned that she does not like dogs, I apologized, of course.”
The US, South Korea and Japan have agreed to work together to increase pressure on North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons.
The deputy foreign ministers of South Korea, Japan and the US made the announcement after meeting in Tokyo.
The move comes after top US intelligence official James Clapper said that North Korean denuclearization was “probably a lost cause”.
North Korea carried out its fifth and largest nuclear test in September.
The North also claims to have made rapid progress developing long-range rockets, which could be used to strike the American mainland.
Speaking after the Tokyo talks, US Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken said: “We will not accept North Korea’s possession of nuclear weapons, period.”
On October 25, James Clapper told an audience in New York that North Korea’s “paranoid” leadership saw nuclear weapons as “their ticket to survival” and the best the US could hope for was a cap on their capabilities.
Following the comments, the US State Department said its policy had not changed and it still aimed for a resumption of the six-nation talks that North Korea pulled out of in 2009.
Also on October 27 South Korea said it would restart talks with Japan on direct sharing of military intelligence on North Korea – information that currently goes via Washington.
South Korea is also expected to begin hosting an advanced US missile defense system soon, despite opposition from North Korea and China.
Nintendo has finally launched Pokemon Go in Japan, the birthplace of the little virtual monsters.
Amid a flurry of social media excitement, Niantic Labs, the software company behind Pokemon Go, announced it was “finally broadcasting” in Japan.
First released in the US, Australia and New Zealand on July 6 and now available in more than 30 countries, Pokemon Go has been a global phenomenon.
The Japanese launch comes with a McDonald’s sponsorship deal.
McDonald’s restaurants were expected to be advertised as places where people were guaranteed to find Pokemon, or as “gyms” where players can train up their captured monsters for virtual fights.
However, a McDonald’s spokesman said restaurants would “call on players not to become a bother to customers who are eating”.
On July 22, excited Japanese fans began tweeting that they had been able to start playing.
After weeks of stories about people in other countries running into trouble playing Pokemon Go, Japanese authorities have taken precautions and issued a nine-point safety guide, in cartoon form.
The warnings, by the National Centre of Incident Readiness and Strategy for Cybersecurity, included asking users to register with “cool names that are different from real names” and cautioning them against heatstroke as they walk around in the sun.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said on July 21: “I want people to abide by the warning so that people can play it on smartphones safely.”
Just a few hours after the launch, there were already reports of an accident.
A student at Osaka’s Kindai University reportedly fell down the stairs while playing Pokemon Go and was taking to hospital, said users on social media.
Pokemon Go is an augmented reality game on smartphones which has millions of people worldwide obsessively capturing small creatures in public spaces.
The game works by showing you a picture of your real surroundings as caught by the phone’s camera, then uses GPS to place virtual little monsters within that picture on your screen.
The mix of virtual and real worlds allows players to, for instance, fight a dragon circling Big Ben or chase a spaceship moving down their street.
Pokemons were first popular in the 1990s when they started on the Nintendo Game Boy. Back then, trading cards were a huge hit in school playgrounds and the new game manages to build on that legacy.
John Kerry has become the most senior US official to visit the Hiroshima memorial in Japan, which commemorates the world’s first atomic bombing.
Around 140,000 people were killed in Hiroshima when the US dropped its atomic bomb in 1945.
John Kerry was joined by foreign ministers from the G7 group of nations who are holding talks in the city.
They laid wreaths at the memorial and observed a minute of silence.
The ministers also visited the Bomb Dome, over which the A-bomb exploded, and the nearby Hiroshima museum, which tells the personal stories of people who died.
John Kerry wrote in the museum guestbook that it was “a stark, harsh, compelling reminder not only of our obligation to end the threat of nuclear weapons, but to rededicate all our effort to avoid war itself”.
At 08:10 local time on August 6, 1945, the US B-29 bomber the Enola Gay dropped a uranium bomb nicknamed “Little Boy” on Hiroshima.
The bomb exploded 1,800ft above what is now the Hiroshima Peace Dome.
About 70,000 people died immediately. At least 140,000 people had died by the end of the year through injury and the effects of radiation.
The bombing, and a second bomb dropped on Nagasaki three days later, forced Japan to surrender, initiating the end of World War Two.
In 2008, House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Hiroshima, but US diplomats have largely avoided official visits.
Many in the US believe the bombing was necessary to end the war, and do not want their leaders to take any action which might be seen as an apology.
John Kerry previously said his time in Hiroshima would “revisit the past and honor those who perished” but stressed that his trip was “about the present and the future”.
It also comes amid efforts to strengthen the relationship between the US and Japan, particularly with growing concern about China’s assertiveness in territorial disputes in Asia, affecting Japan and other US allies.
President Barack Obama is attending a G7 leaders’ summit elsewhere in Japan in May, and there are reports he is considering a stop in Hiroshima.
If it happens, it will be the first time a sitting US president visits Hiroshima.
China, Japan and South Korea have announced they have “completely restored” trade and security ties, at the first meeting of the countries’ leaders in three years.
Japanese PM Shinzo Abe, Chinese PM Li Keqiang and South Korean President Park-Geun-hye said in a statement they had agreed to resume regular trilateral meetings, not held since 2012.
They also agreed more economic co-operation.
The talks in the South Korean capital Seoul were an attempt to ease ill-feeling fuelled by territorial disputes and historical disagreements.
China and South Korea say Japan has not done enough to atone for its troops’ brutality in World War Two.
They talks were held regularly until three-and-a-half years ago, when they were called off as bad feeling towards Japan intensified.
“We shared the view that trilateral cooperation has been completely restored on the occasion of this summit,” South Korean President Park Geun-hye, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said in a joint statement, quoted by AFP.
Park Geun-hye said the three leaders had agreed to work together to conclude the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), a 16-nation free trade area favored by Beijing.
She said they maintained their goal of “denuclearizing” North Korea, AFP reported.
South Korea and Japan are torn between their allegiance to the US and their need to get on economically with Beijing.
Li Keqiang met Park Geun-hye on October 31 and the two agreed to try to increase trade, particularly through more Korean exports of food to China and co-operation on research into robotics.
The two leaders were joined by Shinzo Abe on November 1.
China, Japan and South Korea’s foreign ministers are meeting for their first talks since 2012.
The meeting in Seoul is likely to focus on ways to ease regional tensions over territorial and diplomatic disputes.
The three states have strong economic ties but relations still suffer from unresolved issues dating back to Japan’s actions in World War Two.
A Chinese foreign ministry spokesman said he hoped the ministers would be able to “look forward into the future”.
South Korea’s Yun Byung-se welcomed Japan’s Fumio Kishida and China’s Wang Yi to South Korea’s capital on March 21.
Foreign ministers from China, Japan and South Korea last met in April 2012, for their sixth annual trilateral meeting.
It was cancelled the following year after Japanese PM Shinzo Abe angered China and South Korea by visiting a shrine that honors Japan’s war dead, including a number of senior war criminals.
China and South Korea have accused Tokyo of failing to adequately atone for aggression in World War Two, including its wartime use of s** slaves, known euphemistically as “comfort women”.
They also accuse Japan of whitewashing wartime atrocities in schoolbooks.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi expressed hope that South Korea would join the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) and South Korea’s Yun Byung-se said Seoul was reviewing its options, a South Korean official told Reuters after the meeting of the two ministers.
Fumio Kishida met his South Korean counterpart ahead of the trilateral meeting, and said that “despite difficult issues between the two countries”, the two sides would “continue communicating at various levels in order to strengthen our co-operation”.
The resumption of the foreign ministers’ meeting has fuelled hopes that a summit of the counties’ three leaders could be held later this year.
The poor relationship between Japan and South Korea has become a concern for the US, which sees the two countries as its main military allies in Asia.
Last week, US Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Russel described the tension between its “two friends” as a “strategic liability”.
Saturday’s meeting comes just days after China and Japan held their first high-level security talks in four years.
Those discussions are believed to have centered on the creation of a maritime communication hotline between the countries, following tensions over islands in the East China Sea.
There have been several disputes in recent years over the islands, known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China, and officials have expressed fears that a clash could trigger a full-blown conflict.
Prince William has begun a four-day visit to Japan by taking part in a traditional tea ceremony in Tokyo.
The Duke of Cambridge spent about 40 minutes taking part in the ritual at Hama Rikyu Gardens.
He is on a week-long trip to China and Japan where he will undertake engagements to promote UK relations with both countries.
In his first visit to Japan, Prince William also took a speedboat ride to Tokyo Bay, which will host much of the 2020 Summer Olympics.
The last time a major member of British royal family visited Japan was in 2008, when Prince Charles came with his wife Camilla.
Hundreds of students and school children waving British and Japanese flags waited in the rain to greet him.
Kate Middleton is not with Prince William as she is due to give birth to their second child in April.
On the first day of his tour Prince William visited the Nakajima tea house, built 350 years ago in Japan’s Edo period, in the middle of a small lake within the Hama-Rikyu gardens.
As he entered the tea house, Prince William removed his shoes like the other guests, which included Tokyo governor Yoichi Masuzoe.
Dr. Genshitsu Sen, who is 92 and the 15th generation of his family to hold a senior role in the spiritual art of tea making, performed the traditional ceremony.
He also made tea for Prince William’s parents, Prince Charles and Princess Diana, when they visited Kyoto in 1986. Close to 100,000 people flocked to a parade in Tokyo at the time, as so-called “Diana Fever” swept the nation.
A number of gifts were given to Prince William, including a box of crackers, a book about the tea ceremony and a modern tea bowl decorated with a horse design in celebration of Prince George.
On February 27, Prince William is due to meet fellow royals Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko at the Imperial Palace.
In this his first visit to Japan, Prince William will also be taken to the areas devastated by the 2011 tsunami and meet survivors.
In Shanghai, Prince William will launch the three-day Great Festival of Creativity at the city’s Long Museum on March 2.
President Xi Jinping has presided over China’s first state commemoration of the Nanjing massacre.
China says 300,000 civilians were massacred when Nanjing was occupied by Japan’s troops in 1937, although some Japanese nationalists dispute this.
President Xi Jinping told survivors that to deny a crime was to repeat it but insisted the ceremony was to promote peace, not prolong hatred.
Relations between China and Japan have been strained in recent years.
They have clashed over island territory in the East China Sea as well as over Japan’s insistence on honoring its war dead, including convicted war criminals, at the Yasukuni shrine.
The ceremony, which came on the 77th anniversary of the massacre, is part of three new public holidays intended to mark the conflict between the two countries.
A crowd of about 10,000 people attended the event in Nanjing, taking part in a minute’s silence to honor those killed. They included survivors of the massacre, as well as soldiers and students.
In a speech at the event, President Xi Jinping criticized Japanese nationalists for denying the atrocity took place.
“Anyone who tries to deny the massacre will not be allowed by history, the souls of the 300,000 deceased victims, 1.3 billion Chinese people and all people loving peace and justice in the world,” the president said.
Xi Jinping added that China should not “bear hatred against an entire nation just because a small minority of militarists launched aggressive wars,” according to the state-run Xinhua news agency.
Millions of Chinese people were killed when Japan occupied China in the 1930s and 1940s.
Chinese President Xi Jinping and Japanese PM Shinzo Abe have met for formal talks after more than two years of severe tension over a territorial dispute.
Xi Jinping and Shinzo Abe met on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation (APEC) summit in Beijing.
Their first meeting included a public handshake with little sign of warmth.
In a speech to APEC, President Barack Obama has meanwhile announced big changes to visa arrangements with China.
Multiple entry short-term visas for businessmen and tourists will be extended to 10 years – up from one year.
Those for students rise from one year to five.
Barack Obama also stressed the importance of ties between China and the US, saying “the US welcomes the rise of a prosperous, peaceful and stable China.”
Japanese PM Shinzo Abe and Chinese President Xi Jinping have met for formal talks after more than two years of severe tension over a territorial dispute
His comments come amid underlying tension between the US and China over Beijing’s growing regional influence.
Relations between China and Japan have long been soured by a row over islands in the East China Sea.
The uninhabited but strategically important islands, known as Diaoyu by China and Senkaku by Japan, are controlled by Japan but also claimed by China.
Tokyo’s decision to purchase three of them from their private Japanese owner in September 2012 led to an escalation in a dispute that has rumbled quietly for years.
The Chinese and Japanese leaders interacted awkwardly as they posed for an unsmiling photo after their talks.
Shinzo Abe said the meeting – which came three days after the two sides agreed to work to prevent the territorial dispute from escalating – was “the first step for improving ties by returning to mutually beneficial relations based on common strategic interests”.
He also said they had agreed to start preparations to establish a maritime crisis mechanism.
There have been fears that a clash – accidental or otherwise – between Chinese and Japanese paramilitary vessels patrolling waters around the disputed islands could trigger a conflict.
Xi Jinping told Shinzo Abe that China hoped Japan would follow a path of peaceful development and adopt prudent military and security policies.
Relations have also been hampered by what China sees as Japan’s failure to adequately acknowledge its war-time conduct.
Typhoon Vongfong brought heavy rain and fierce winds to the southern island of Okinawa, Japan, causing flight cancelations and power cuts to over 20,000 homes.
Officials have said the powerful typhoon will be the strongest storm to hit Japan this year.
Typhoon Vongfong is now heading north and is expected to make landfall on Kyushu island on Monday.
Earlier this week, typhoon Phanfone killed nine people in Japan.
Officials have warned Vongfong could bring high waves, storm surges, flooding and landslides.
Storm tracking website Tropical Storm Risk shows Vongfong losing power over the next few days, as it moves northeast along the rest of Japan.
It is said to be carrying winds up to 145mph, but is moving north slowly, at 10mph.
Japan is bracing for the arrival of powerful Typhoon Vongfong
At least 14 people in Okinawa and Kyushu have already been injured by the strong winds, local reports say.
On October 10, an official from Japan’s Meteorological Agency told Reuters news agency: “There is no question that [Vongfong] is an extremely large, extremely powerful typhoon.
“It’s the strongest storm we’ve had this year, definitely, although it has lost some strength from its peak.”
It has picked up strength since it went through several South Pacific islands including Guam.
The Associated Press news agency said it caused little damage on those islands. It had caused brief power outages and there were no reports of deaths or injuries.
Last week parts of Japan were hit by Typhoon Phanfone, though that storm had rapidly lost power by the time it hit Tokyo on Monday.
Japan’s Kyodo news agency said nine people are now known to have been killed by Phanfone, including three US military servicemen in Okinawa who were washed out to sea. Their bodies have since been recovered.
Two suspected short-range missiles have been launched by North Korea, South Korea says, in the fourth such test in two weeks.
The projectiles were fired from a western province into waters east of the Korean peninsula in the early hours of Wednesday, officials said.
The move follows a recent visit by the Chinese president to South Korea.
Chinese leaders traditionally go to Pyongyang before Seoul, and the visit has been seen as a snub to North Korea.
North Korea has fired two suspected short-range missiles into the sea
“North Korea fired two short-range missiles presumed to be Scud-type ones… from a site in Hwanghae province in a north-easterly direction,” South Korean spokesman Um Hyo-sik was quoted as saying by Yonhap news agency.
“They flew some 500km [310 miles] and landed in international waters,” he added, without giving further details.
North Korea has carried out several such launches in recent months, including four within the last two weeks.
It has interspersed these launches with apparently conciliatory moves towards the South, including a recent offer to suspend provocative military activities and cross-border slander.
Previous similar offers have come to nothing and South Korea has dismissed this latest offer.
The latest launch also comes days after Chinese President Xi Jinping and his South Korean counterpart Park Geun-hye reaffirmed their opposition to North Korean nuclear tests during talks in Seoul.
Japanese authorities have urged hundreds of thousands of people to seek shelter as powerful Typhoon Neoguri passes over Okinawa island chain.
Typhoon Neoguri was due to pass over Okinawa’s main island later on Tuesday, with strong winds and torrential rain.
Forecasters said it generated winds of up to 151 mph and warned of high waves.
Flights have been cancelled and schools shut. Local television footage showed palm trees being tossed by strong wind.
Local authorities urged some 480,000 residents across Okinawa to stay at home or move to community centres for shelter.
Typhoon Neoguri was due to pass over Okinawa’s main island later on Tuesday, with strong winds and torrential rain
Four people, including an 83-year-old woman, were injured and a fisherman was reported missing, government officials said.
“There is a risk of unprecedentedly strong winds and torrential rains. Please refrain from non-essential outdoor activities,” Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA) spokesman Satoshi Ebihara told a news conference on Monday night.
More than 50,000 households were reported to be without power, and one oil refinery has halted operations.
Residents have also been bracing themselves for rough weather.
Okinawa, Japan’s southern-most prefecture that comprises several islands, is home to major US bases. Around 26,000 US troops are stationed there under a long-standing security alliance.
Officers have evacuated some aircraft from Kadena Air Base in preparation for Typhoon Neoguri’s arrival.
Urging residents to remain on maximum alert, JMA warned of the possibility that Typhoon Neoguri could move north to Japan’s main island of Honshu.
Japan has decided to ease some of the sanctions it has imposed on North Korea amid ongoing talks on abducted nationals, PM Shinzo Abe has announced.
Shinzo Abe gave no details of the sanctions to be lifted but said it was “just a start” on a road to “complete resolution” of the issue.
Japanese nationals were kidnapped by Pyongyang in the 1970s and 1980s to train spies in language and culture.
North Korea says it has returned all those still alive. Japan disputes this.
The issue is highly emotive in Japan and has been a major, long-running point of contention between the two nations, which do not have diplomatic ties. Shinzo Abe has made the issue one of his key priorities.
The two sides agreed in May to reopen dialogue and have since held additional rounds of talks, the latest earlier this week in Beijing.
Megumi Yokota was kidnapped by North Korean agents on her way home from school in 1977 (photo AP)
Kyodo news agency, citing a government source, said that North Korea had agreed a member of its powerful National Defense Commission would sit on a special panel to re-examine the abduction cases.
Shinzo Abe said that an “unprecedented framework” that could “make decisions at a national level” had been set up in North Korea to lead the new investigation, and so Japan was responding.
“In accordance with the principle of action to action, we will lift part of the measures taken by Japan,” he said.
Japan has imposed its own sanctions on the North, which are separate from those imposed by the UN over its nuclear and missile tests.
These include remittance and travel bans, as well as denying North Korean ships entry into Japanese ports.
The Mangyongbong-92 ferry used to run regularly between Niigata in Japan and North Korea’s Wonsan, and was seen as a key link for the North. It is not yet clear whether a resumption of services is one of the areas being discussed.
North Korea has admitted kidnapping 13 Japanese nationals. It allowed five to return to Japan in 2002 and later released their children, but says the other eight died.
The most high-profile of the eight said to have died is Megumi Yokota, who was kidnapped by North Korean agents on her way home from school in 1977, when she was 13.
North Korea says she married a South Korean abductee and had a daughter before killing herself in 1994.
North Korea returned what it said were her remains in 2004 but DNA tests subsequently disputed that claim.
Japan also believes that several other of its nationals were abducted and wants more cases to be investigated.
It is not clear why North Korea has agreed to re-examine the issue now – and previous efforts at dialogue have ended in failure.
According to South Korean reports, North Korea has fired two more short-range rockets into the sea, the latest in a series of recent missile tests.
The rockets were fired off the east coast and flew about 110 miles, South Korean military officials said.
The move comes as China’s President Xi Jinping prepares to visit South Korea, with whom North Korea is technically at war.
It also comes a day after Japan urged Pyongyang to stop such launches and after Seoul rejected a North Korean offer to end hostilities as insincere.
The two rockets were fired from a site near the eastern city of Wonsan at 06:50 and 08:00, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement.
North Korea has fired two more short-range rockets into the sea
North Korea appeared to be testing the range of the projectiles, Yonhap news agency reported, citing military officials. It also carried out similar tests on June 26 and 29.
To date North Korea has carried out three nuclear tests and is believed to be working on long-range missile development. In recent months it has also carried out a steady stream of short-range missile tests.
Talks between North Korea’s leaders and other nations on ending its nuclear ambitions have been stalled for years.
China, which is North Korea’s biggest trading ally, is the nation believed to wield the most influence over Pyongyang.
But Beijing appears increasingly frustrated with its unreliable neighbor.
The issue of North Korea – including possible plans for a fourth nuclear test – is expected to top the agenda during President Xi Jinping’s visit to Seoul, which begins on Thursday.
North Korea has also in recent weeks alternated between threatening South Korea and offering apparent concessions.
On Monday Pyongyang offered to suspend hostile military activities and slander, a move Seoul described as “nonsensical”.
North Korea has made similar offers in the past but these have invariably broken down.
North Korea is also currently engaged in talks with Japan on the issue of Japanese nationals it abducted in the 1970s and 1980s to teach language and culture to its spies.
Japan criticized Sunday’s rocket launch at the start of one-day talks in Beijing on Tuesday, at which no breakthroughs were reported.