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In praise of the ‘Konbini’

Monday 14 April 2014 - Eye witness

A kombini news stand. (AFP Photo / Yoshikazu Tsuno)

Since I arrived in Japan 18 months ago, I’ve been saying to myself that to write about the ‘Konbini’, these incredible supermarkets that stay open 24/7, would be too much of a cliche, a faux pas typical of the hack fresh off the boat. But what the hell. I want to write about it, so here we go: The Konbini.

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Batman Favela: Brazil protester becomes caped crusader

Thursday 16 January 2014 - Behind the image

(AFP Photo/Yasuyoshi Chiba)

Batman Favela: Brazil protester becomes caped crusader


AFP photographer Yasuyoshi Chiba, based in Rio de Janeiro, recently visited a favela near the legendary Maracana stadium. Residents there are being evicted as authorities clear the area and rebuild ahead of the World Cup.

Many are protesting the evictions, including this 32-year-old dental technician who brings attention to the issue by dressing up as Batman.

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Decades on, ageing POWs face their past in Japan

Tuesday 26 November 2013 - Eye witness

American prisoners of war, held by the Japanese in the Philippines in May 1942. (AFP Photo)

What could they be feeling? What was going on in their elderly heads? Questions swirled through my mind as I made my way through a heavy October rain to attend a dinner with former US prisoners-of-war who’d escaped Japanese camps in World War II and who only now were coming to the Japanese mainland for the first time.

Jacques Lhuuillery, AFP's Tokyo bureau chief attended an emotional pilgrimage for former POWs visiting Japan. "I forgive but I don’t forget,” one of them tells him.

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Sumorrida: The ‘qi’ of bull fighting and sumo

Wednesday 23 October 2013 - Eye witness

The matador espagnol Oliva Soto during a fight in Pamplona, in July 2012 (AFP Photo / Rafa Rivas)

At first glance sumo and bull fighting don’t have much in common. For one thing, nobody dies in the Japanese arenas. There’s not even any blood or, for that matter. But, as AFP's Tokyo bureau chief Jacques Lhuillery finds out, a look beyond the surface finds striking similarities between the two sports.

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Three-month hustle yields 10-minute interview

Monday 17 June 2013 - Eye witness

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

A year after arriving in Tokyo, bureau chief Jacques Lhuillery is still grappling with the intricacies of Japanese customs. During his previous postings in Africa, speaking to presidents was often as simple as picking up the phone. Not so in Japan, where it took him three months of intense schmoozing and maneuvering to score a 10-minute chat with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

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A harmonic interview with Ozawa

Wednesday 24 April 2013 - Eye witness

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AFP’s Tokyo bureau chief Jacques Lhuillery heads to the French ambassador’s home to meet famed Japanese conductor Seiji Ozawa, who is returning to the musical scene after a long absence to fight cancer. (AFP Photo/Yoshikazu Tsuno)

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Tsunami: the art of grieving in Japan

Friday 15 March 2013 - Eye witness

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (L) bows to Emperor Akihito (2nd R) and Empress Michiko during a national memorial service for victims of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Tokyo on March 11, 2013.

AFP's Tokyo bureau chief has taken in more than his fair share of official state ceremonies after nearly three decades as a correspondent. But the commemoration in Japan of the second anniversary of the March 11, 2011 tsunami that took some 19,000 lives was in a category of its own, he reports. (AFP Photo/pool/Junji Kurokawa)

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Tsunami: March 2011, 2012, 2013...

Monday 11 March 2013 - Behind the image

Composite picture of Tsunami-generated wave washing over coastal road in Japan, and the same area approximately one and two years later.
AFP Photo/Jiji/T. Yamanaka/T. Kitamura

Tsunami: March 2011, 2012, 2013...


"Returning two years later to the areas worst hit by the tsunami, I was shocked to see how slow the pace of reconstruction has been," reports AFP photgrapher Toshifumi Kitamura, who went back earlier this month to the same spots he had photographed in 2011 and then a year later. "In Kesennuma, I suddenly remembered the fear I felt two years ago: had I been here when the cataclysm struck, I almost certainly would have died."

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The doomed crows of Fukushima

Monday 11 March 2013 - Eye witness

A radiation monitor indicates 114.00 microsieverts per hour near the No.4 reactor  at Tokyo Electric Power Co's (TEPCO) tsunami-crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant on March 6, 2013.

Two years later, the extent of the devastation wrought by the meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant is still hard to fathom. On a recent visit to the plant, where thousands toil seven days a week to clean up the poisonous mess left behind by the March 11, 2011 tsunami, AFP correspondent Karyn Nishimura-Poupee was struck, above all, by the region's utter desolation. (AFP Photo/Issei Kato/pool)

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Breaking the law, one sushi roll at a time

Sunday 27 January 2013 - Eye witness

A sumo wrestler at an exhibition in Tokyo's Yasukuni sanctuary, April 2, 2012.

At the same time that Japan’s population is getting older and declining in numbers, its collective waistline is expanding. In a bid to stave off soaring medical costs for the ageing masses, the government has made it –- no, this is not a typo –- illegal to be obese. AFP’s Tokyo bureau chief Jacques Lhuillery tells us about Japan’s ‘fat tax’. (AFP PHOTO / Richard A. Brooks)

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Unbearable lightness: walking on air

Tuesday 20 November 2012 - Eye witness

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AFP’s Tokyo bureau chief Jacques Lhuillery stays grounded as he talks to Japanese artist Natsumi Hayashi, whose sometimes-spooky images capture her seeming to float across the most banal of city scenes. Mid-air leaps have long been captured in goofy snapshots the world over, but Hayashi has pushed the concept to new heights and now seems able to transcend gravity itself. (”Today's Levitation” © Natsumi Hayashi, courtesy MEM, Tokyo)

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In Japan, best to know your garbage

Wednesday 1 August 2012 - Eye witness

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"Which trash bag is for plastic bottles? And is it the RIGHT kind of plastic for THAT color bag? When is it collected, and exactly where should it be deposited? Will I get my ears boxed if I get it wrong?" AFP's Tokyo bureau chief Jacques Lhuillery tell us why he found himself losing sleep trying to decipher the Japanese recycling regimen. (AFP Photo/Yoshikazu Tsuno)

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What does a 5,000-euro melon taste like?

Wednesday 25 July 2012 - Behind the image

A slice of the famous Yubari melon
AFP Photo/Toshifumi Kitamura

What does a 5,000-euro melon taste like?


Pampered, hand-picked with love and sold for more than 5,000 euros each, Japan's Yubari melons are in a class of their own in the world of fruits. AFP's Tokyo-based video journalist Antoine Bouthier travelled to Hokkaido to get a taste of the famous delicacy.

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Space travel: from Lagos to Tokyo

Tuesday 17 July 2012 - Eye witness

Overcrowded train at Lagos where passengers are even sitting on the roofTrain official with passengers on sparkling clean Tokyo metro












After four years running AFP's bureau in Lagos, Nigeria’s notoriously chaotic and dangerous megapolis, Jacques Lhuillery has recently arrived in Japan to take up the equivalent post in Tokyo, one of the most organized, safest and cleanest super-cities in the world. The contrast is so striking, he tells us, it’s like moving from one planet to another. (AFP Photo)

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Japanese politeness: skin-deep?

Wednesday 11 July 2012 - Eye witness

Typical drunk salaryman after a drinking bout AFP Photo/Karyn Poupee

Renowned for punctuality, waist-deep bows and deeply sincere apologies for even minor faux pas, the Japanese have a largely-deserved reputation for being the world's most polite people. But there are some glaring gaps, Tokyo-based AFP correspondent Karyn Poupee reports. Nearly seven months pregnant, Poupee discovered to her dismay that rules of etiquette seldom apply on Tokyo’s gleaming, always-on-time metro trains, where she systematically encountered Japanese businessmen and video-gaming youth slumped over in places reserved for expectant moms. Armed with a smart phone camera, she retaliated.

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Tsunami: Of ghosts and memories

Wednesday 18 April 2012 - Eye witness

Sun-set on Ishinomaki, April 13 2011.“It was like being thrown into a torrential river,” reporter Miwa Suzuki, working in AFP’s Tokyo bureau, said of the moments after a devastating 9.0 earthquake hit Japan on March 11, 2011.  “In order to keep my head above water I needed to swim, and I knew that I swam best in the rapids of breaking news. I was terrified inside, but no other option occurred to me other than staying in the office and bashing out snaps and urgents.” The feeling of terror came, in particular, from the knowledge that her mother and sister were in Ishinomaki, one of several seaside devastated by a terrible tsunami. A year after the worst post-war catastrophe to hit Japan, Miwa returned to her home town to write about the ghosts of those who perished. Here is her account of what it was like living and reporting on an unfolding calamity at the same time. (AFP Photo /Yasuyoshi Chiba)

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