Anthony Kuhn

JEONGEUP COUNTY, South Korea — A pig's head sits on an offering table. Men in light-green robes and black hats pour liquor and light incense.

They are venerating a ninth century scholar and poet, Choe Chi-won, at a Confucian academy established in his honor over 300 years ago.

SEOUL, South Korea — Fumio Kishida is virtually assured to become Japan's next prime minister next week after the uncontroversial candidate was tapped to lead the country's ruling party.

The vote from the Liberal Democratic Party, or LDP, is seen as reflecting party insiders' preference for a steady managerial hand and a consensus builder to guide the country as it recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic.

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A MARTINEZ, HOST:

SEOUL — The race to become Japan's next leader looks like a tossup. In the nearly half-century that Tokyo-based journalist Hiroshi Izumi has been covering party politics and elections, "This is the first time that we cannot predict the result until the ballot box will be opened," he says.

When President Biden hosts the leaders of Japan, Australia and India at the White House on Friday, it will be part of a push, analysts say, to reorient U.S. foreign policy away from long wars and traditional alliances in Europe and instead focus on countering a fast-rising foe: China.

The four leaders will be meeting for the second time this year as part of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, or Quad, founded in the aftermath of the 2004 Asian tsunami. In recent years, analysts say the group has emerged as the most important democratic bulwark against China's burgeoning power.

Updated September 3, 2021 at 10:57 AM ET

SEOUL — Japan's Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga effectively announced his resignation, after his handling of the coronavirus pandemic cost him public support and dimmed his party's prospects ahead of general elections this fall.

Updated August 27, 2021 at 1:04 PM ET

SEOUL — The Biden administration has to decide by the end of the month whether to renew a ban on U.S. citizens traveling to North Korea, and Americans with relatives in North Korea are eagerly awaiting the decision.

They include Kate Shim, who immigrated to the United States from South Korea in the 1970s. After the Korean War, her uncle was missing and her family believed he was in North Korea.

Japan extended a state of emergency to areas around the capital, Tokyo, and to its second largest city, Osaka, on Friday, following a record-setting surge in COVID-19 cases.

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SARAH MCCAMMON, HOST:

SEOUL — North and South Korea reconnected hotlines across the demilitarized zone Tuesday, after a nearly 14-month long disconnect.

Both Pyongyang and Seoul hailed the move as a step toward healing strained ties between the rival states, although neither side suggested the move could lead to another round of summitry or progress in stalled nuclear negotiations between Pyongyang and Washington.

Updated August 2, 2021 at 12:13 PM ET

SEOUL, South Korea — Japan is undergoing a remarkable shift in its stance on one of the most contentious issues in Asia: Taiwan.

Mainland China and Taiwan split during a civil war in 1949, and Beijing has vowed to unify with the self-governing island — by force, if necessary. The Biden administration is counting on help from its allies, especially Japan, to deter such a move.

After spending hundreds of millions of dollars to sponsor the Tokyo Olympics, some of Japan's biggest corporations are now canceling advertising, scaling back promotional events, and scrapping plans for executives to attend the upcoming opening ceremony.

SEOUL, South Korea — Despite early successes last year in controlling the pandemic, South Korea on Friday announced it would raise restrictions in the capital region to the highest level as a fourth wave of infections is gaining speed.

The country recorded 1,316 cases Friday, breaking records for a second straight day. That's not high by international standards, but health authorities say the peak of this fourth wave of infections is likely yet to come, and barring effective countermeasures, could see case numbers nearly double.

Japan has announced that the Tokyo Olympics will go ahead under a state of emergency and without any spectators at events in the capital.

"We must take stronger steps to prevent another nationwide outbreak, also considering the impact of coronavirus variants," Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said Thursday at a task force meeting after finalizing the decision.

Updated July 9, 2021 at 12:18 PM ET

SEOUL — The Olympic medals use precious metal extracted from used electronics. Athletes sleep on cardboard beds. The podiums are recycled plastic. Even the Olympic torch has aluminum that was recycled from the temporary housing used after Japan's Fukushima disaster.

SEOUL, South Korea — North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has publicly railed at senior officials, saying their failure to implement policies required to fight the pandemic properly had caused a "grave incident."

SEOUL, South Korea — Organizers of the Tokyo Olympics abruptly reversed a decision, announced the previous day, to sell alcohol at Olympic venues, following criticism from medical experts and ordinary Japanese.

The games are due to start in one month's time, despite calls for them to be canceled, due to the pandemic.

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NOEL KING, HOST:

Organizers for the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics announced they will allow some local spectators into each venue as long as no state of emergency is in effect.

Up to 10,000 domestic fans will be allowed at events, or 50% of the venue's capacity, whichever is less, organizers said Monday.

The coronavirus situation in Japan has improved in recent weeks with increased vaccinations, though critics still believe it would be safer to close the games to all spectators.

Olympic organizers and Japan's government are ramping up vaccinations, inside and outside the Olympic Village. It remains to be seen whether the push will be the antidote to widespread opposition in Japan to holding the games amid the pandemic and pervasive fear that the event will threaten public health.

South Korean labor rights activist Kim Yi-chan's bus is not hard to spot as it cruises the rural roads of Miryang city, on the southern end of the Korean peninsula.

It is the only one with a banner in Korean and Khmer bearing the words "Migrant Agricultural Workers' Human Rights Bus," as it plies the narrow roads between farming hamlets and long rows of greenhouses.

SEOUL, South Korea — Japan's government extended a state of emergency covering major cities until at least until June 20 — roughly a month before the start of the Tokyo Olympics, which polls show an overwhelming number of Japanese do not want to proceed as scheduled.

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Just before the Olympics, the State Department advised all travelers to avoid travel to Japan. Here's NPR's Anthony Kuhn.

SEOUL — It isn't hard to see a pattern in the first two foreign heads of state to visit the Biden White House: Both are leaders of key Asian allies and free market democracies. Last month, Japan's Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga was the first to meet with President Biden in Washington. On Friday, South Korea's President Moon Jae-in will be the second.

With much of Japan in a renewed state of emergency due to a spike in coronavirus infections, a group representing some 6,000 primary care physicians in Tokyo has called for the Summer Games to be canceled.

In an open letter to Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga published Monday on its website, the Tokyo Medical Practitioners Association says hospitals "have their hands full" and have almost no capacity left to deal with a possible outbreak triggered by the massive international event.

Japan's government moved Friday to put more of the country under a coronavirus state of emergency, as opposition to the Tokyo Olympics becomes more organized and vehement with only 70 days left to go until the opening ceremony.

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

SEOUL — The cold light of winter shines down on a hillside temple in Seoul. It gleams on the billowing red, yellow and blue robes of shaman Jeong Soon-deok, as she twirls in circles. It glints off the ceremonial knives, bells and fans she waves through the air.

The man standing before her in simple white robes is her newest initiate. Jeong's aim is to throw open the doors of the spirit world so the gods of sun, moon and mountains and the spirits of ancestors and children may enter him.

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Korea was divided into two countries in 1945. North Korea became a totalitarian - South Korea, an affluent democracy. But you might be surprised at some of the things they still have in common.

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DEBBIE ELLIOTT, HOST:

It was the first welcome of a foreign leader to the Biden White House. The Japanese prime minister, Yoshihide Suga, sat down with President Biden to discuss regional security and threats to that security from one of Japan's neighbors.

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