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Japan: Thousands attend emperor’s last birthday before abdication | News

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Tens of thousands of citizens paid their respects to Japanese Emperor Akihito, during his last birthday celebration before stepping down next year at Tokyo’s Imperial Palace on Sunday.

The 85th birthday of the emperor, whose position is ceremonial with no political power, is traditionally marked by a national holiday and an address at the palace, which opens to the public on the day.

The crowd of 82,850 – according to the Imperial Household Agency – was the largest birthday attendance during Akihito’s three-decade reign, known as the “Heisei” era, which means “achieving peace” in Japanese.

Akihito, flanked by his wife, eldest son Naruhito and other members of the imperial family on a balcony, addressed well-wishers waving small Japanese flags and holding up smartphones.

“My thoughts go out to those who have lost family members or those close to them, or have suffered damage and whose lives are currently impaired,” he said, referring to the natural disasters that hit Japan in recent years year.

Earthquakes, severe storms and heatwaves killed hundreds of people, destroyed homes and disrupted supply chains, clouding the outlook for Japan’s export-reliant economy.

First time in two centuries

Along with Empress Michiko, Akihito has spent much of his reign addressing the legacy of the second world war and consoling victims of natural disasters. Akihito has created a broader consciousness of Japan’s wartime past throughout his symbolic reign.

Akihito, who has had heart surgery and treatment for prostate cancer, is scheduled to step down on April 30, passing the Chrysanthemum Throne to 58-year-old Crown Prince Naruhito.

The last time a Japanese emperor abdicated was in 1817.

In comments made to the media ahead of his birthday, Akihito said: “it is important not to forget that countless lives were lost in World War Two…and to pass on this history accurately to those born after the war”.

His conciliatory stance contrasts with gestures made by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who has adopted a less apologetic tone over Japan’s past military aggression.

Akihito also referred to foreign workers, saying he hoped that “the Japanese people will be able to warmly welcome as members of our society those who come to Japan to work”.

Japan enacted a law this month to let in more foreign, blue-collar workers to ease a labour shortage, despite criticism it was too hastily crafted and risked exposing the workers to exploitation.

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Ottawa families give mixed reviews for online schooling

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So, how’s it going with online school? Families reached by CBC Ottawa seem to have mixed reviews. 

Masuma Khan is a mother of two. Her seven-year-old, Hana Wyndham in Grade 2, is attending French immersion virtual school. Masuma is grateful it’s an option, but can’t help notice a lot of down time.

“There’s a lot of, ‘are you on mute?’ In terms of the amount of learning that’s actually happening, it does seem to be not that high,” said Masuma.

Parents who kept their children at home this fall are in the minority, but they still form a significant chunk of families in Ottawa.

In the city’s largest school board, the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board (OCDSB), about 27 per cent of elementary students and 22 per cent of high school students chose online learning. The Ottawa Catholic School Board says roughly a quarter of its students are online.

For Masuma, the decision to keep her daughter home was complex: extended family members are immunocompromised and she worried the in-person learning environment would be unpleasant because of precautions. She also felt her daughter might benefit from being supported at home.

“She doesn’t necessarily enjoy school. I also found out during the pandemic that she was being bullied [last year],” said Masuma. “So I thought, why not try from home?”

To help her daughter socialize face-to-face with other kids, Masuma enrolled Hana in Baxter Forest School, an alternative education program where kids spend most of their time outside, one day a week. Hana also attends virtual Arabic classes two days a week after school. 

Masuma’s husband and Hana share the living room work space, and Masuma admits he does the lion’s share of helping their daughter stay on task. There is a possibility that he’ll be required to return to his office in the new year.

“When he goes back to work … it’s probably going to be a little bit more difficult.”

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No school closures after Christmas holiday break, says Ontario education minister

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Ontario elementary and secondary schools will not close for an extended winter break, says Education Minister Stephen Lecce.

Closures aren’t needed given Ontario’s “strong safety protocols, low levels of (COVID-19) transmission and safety within our schools,” Lecce announced Wednesday afternoon. He said he had consulted with Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams and the province’s public health measures advisory table.

That ended speculation about school buildings remaining closed in January for a period of time after the Christmas break.

Earlier in the week, Lecce told reporters the government was considering having students spend “some period out of class” in January, perhaps switching to online learning.

In a statement, Lecce said that even though rates of community transmission of COVID-19 are increasing, “schools have been remarkably successful at minimizing outbreaks to ensure that our kids stay safe and learning in their classrooms.”

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Windy start to the week in Ottawa

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OTTAWA — It’s a blustery Monday in the capital with wind gusts of up to 50 km/hour expected throughout the day.

Environment Canada is forecasting a high of 4 C with a 60 per cent chance of showers or flurries before the wind dies down later this evening.

There’s a chance of flurries on Tuesday as well with a high of -1 C. The overnight low will dip to an unseasonal -9 C.  

Wednesday’s high will be just -5 C with lots of sunshine.

Seasonal temperatures return for the rest of the week..

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