January 2011

January 30(Sunday)

"Opening up Japan," "creating new bonds (kizuna)," and "a society with the least unhappiness" resonating with people in Davos


I am writing this entry on my way back to Japan from the Davos meeting (the Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum).


Davos is a beautiful snow-covered town.  I spent a mere six hours there, but I had a very full program, delivering a Special Address as well as having various meetings and private talks with individuals.


In my address, I used, for the first time overseas, the phrase "opening up Japan," which I have been emphasizing since the start of the year.  I spoke of the spirit of opening up the nation, saying I wish Japan to have confidence in itself without becoming inward-looking.  In response many people, among the audience, at a lunch meeting I had with eminent persons, and elsewhere, expressed to me their great expectations toward Japan.  In addition, I introduced the idea of kizuna, or "creating new bonds," within my speech, using the Japanese word as is, because kizuna is really a wonderful word of which Japanese society can be proud.


Through this address I also unveiled outside Japan the expression "a society with the least unhappiness."  I had been somewhat worried whether or not people would understand the expression "the least unhappiness," as an expression not many people might be familiar with.  But having explained it thoroughly by citing Jeremy Bentham's "the greatest happiness for the greatest number" in the prelude to that idea, it really resonated well.  The expression "a society with the least unhappiness" is an original one I have been using since I was young, and it seems that it made a favorable impression on the audience just because of it.


There was a non-Japanese person who went out of his way to come talk to me in the lobby after the address, exclaiming, "That was a truly excellent speech," as he shook my hand.  Other people remarked that my address was quite philosophical.  I felt that I successfully demonstrated Japan's presence at Davos.


January 25(Tuesday)

The beginning of a new Diet session and where we now stand


The ordinary session of the National Diet convened yesterday.  First I delivered a Policy Speech in which I stated my thoughts regarding issues that Japan simply cannot avoid addressing in the present day, including economic partnerships and agricultural reform and also reform of the social security system and associated fiscal resources.


In fact, there is a graph that has been key in driving my sense of impending crisis.  Here as we are about to begin our discussions, I would like to share this graph with you once more.


I would like you to take a good look one more time at the following graph of the Japanese population, without saying, "Nothing new here."


Shifts in Japan's Total Population
(Click on the graph to enlarge it.)


We have now gone beyond the abruptly projecting peak and in actuality all of us have now come to stand at the edge of a severe precipice, at the point directly following where this inverts to the downhill trend.  Yet although we find ourselves at such a point as this, all discussion is focused on the political situation of "when will the Cabinet reach a deadlock?"


Here in the midst of a society with a shrinking population, occurring for the first time since the dawn of Japanese history, how shall we bring into reality a sustainable social security system in which people can live without anxiety?  I call on the entire nation to discuss in the immediate future the substance of policies in a serious manner.


[Related Link]
Policy Speech by Prime Minister Naoto Kan at the 177th Session of the Diet


January 24(Monday)

No. 12: [Isolation] Task Force Team for a Society Inclusive of Individuals Launched!


The Prime Minister answers the question "What is the task force team for 'social inclusion' that was launched on January 18?"
The task force team is a major initiative to create a new type of society which goes beyond "assistance for the weak." It is just an introduction, this time.



Prime Minister: "The priority for me now is working to counteract
the new social risk of isolation."


Narration: Prime Minister Kan made this pledge seven months ago in
his policy speech soon after entering office. The government took
a concrete step towards materializing this pledge.
The Task Force Team aims to create a new type of society through
mutual support networks.
It had already been mentioned in Prime Minister Kan's first policy


Prime Minister: "We will aim to bring about 'a society inclusive of
each and every person,' in which no one is excluded."


Narration: A variety of data were reviewed at the first meeting.
Elderly people living alone, child abuse, school non-attendance,
domestic violence, divorce, poverty, unstable employment, dying
alone, and suicide...


Prime Minister: Looking at the causes of suicide, very few people
commit suicide because of poverty alone. They are poor and also
don't have any friends. They don't have any family to turn to. The
combination of isolation and poverty drives people to suicide.


Narration: Mr. Yasuyuki Shimizu is the head of Lifelink, an NPO
devoted to preventing suicide.
As a Special Advisor to the Cabinet Office, he is a central member
of the Task Force Team, who will act as a bridge person between the
Team and the people.


Mr. Shimizu: It's important that we not become all talk but stay
involved. If we made a recommendation, then we should see to it
that it is put into effect by being involved. I think the citizens
are now capable of bearing responsibility to such an extent.


Narration: Mr. Makoto Yuasa, who once served as the "mayor" of the
year-end and New Year's Dispatched Workers' Village and continues
to address poverty issues, is also one of the central members. With
the Task Force Team not having a vertically-segmented government
structure, Mr. Yuasa's expectations are high.


Mr. Yuasa: Struggle for survival, heavy debt, child abuse --
various issues are piling up and require ministries and agencies to
take a cross-cutting approach. In that respect, I am very grateful
that the Prime Minister's Office decided to do this.


Narration: With the participation of relevant ministries and
agencies and experts from the private sector, the Task Force Team
was set into motion.


Mr. Fukuyama: Where are the holes in the safety net of Japanese
society, including the government?


Mr. Shimizu: If we strengthen the safety net and spread the word,
we can, as a result, prevent suicides.


Prime Minister: Through hotlines, someone can always pick up the
phone anywhere in Japan, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.


Mr. Yuasa: The situation has worsened to such a level that it's no
longer a problem affecting just some people. Continuing to neglect
the problem poses a threat to the sustainability of society.


Narration: The Task Force Team will move quickly to set up support
mechanisms in response to individual needs. It will also conduct
surveys and recommend measures to prevent social isolation as well
as measures to support isolated people.


Prime Minister: I believe this is the most important issue to
address in order to ensure that everyone has a role and place in
society. I look forward to working with all of you.


January 23(Sunday)

Embarking towards a world without nuclear weapons


This afternoon, eight Hibakusha (survivors of the atomic bombings in Hiroshima and Nagasaki) and one second-generation Hibakusha will depart from Yokohama port as "Special Communicators for a World without Nuclear Weapons" delegated by the government. They are going to give personal testimonies about the effects of the atomic bombs.


It was last summer that I called for this new endeavor to have "Special Communicators."  I spoke of this idea during the addresses I delivered at the Peace Ceremonies in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.


Commissioning the Special Communicators began the following month.  Until now, 16 survivors of the atomic bombings have traveled to the UK, Turkey, Kuwait, and Thailand, among other countries, to deliver talks, and they have also provided their own testimonies to foreign dignitaries visiting Japan.


This time, nine Communicators will embark at once.  This is, moreover, a major undertaking, in that they are heading off to give their testimonies in a trip around the globe extending from today until mid-April.


This happens to coincide with the airing of a TV show in the UK in which a Japanese "double hibakusha"?a survivor of both the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombings?was laughed at.  We lodged a protest through our embassy.  While a letter of apology arrived from the program, with Japan being the only country to have ever suffered the devastation of atomic bombings, this is not something we can overlook, and I found it regrettable.


To the Special Communicators for a World without Nuclear Weapons who will depart from Yokohama today, your work of speaking about your agonizing experiences, with firm resolve that after you there will never again be victims of atomic bombings as you experienced, is truly significant and noble.  I have great expectations that as you relate unfalteringly your experiences of the bombings to people in countries around the world, through your words, a major groundswell will rise up from the world to abolish nuclear weapons.


Do please take care of yourself, as you are advanced in years, and please stay in good health and good spirits throughout your journey.


January 14(Friday)

No. 11 [New Year] The First Broadcast of 2011 -- Have Confidence in Japan!


The Prime Minister answers the question, "Is there any reason behind the recent assertiveness in your speech?" He explains three of the many reasons for why he has confidence in Japan.



Prime Minister: Happy New Year!


Narration: Since the start of the year, Prime Minister Kan has been
speaking his mind to the people at every opportunity, be it during
his New Year's press conference, in live interviews on TV programs,
or when he became the first incumbent Prime Minister to appear on
a live Internet program. The Prime Minister's positive tone in
these programs is backed by his confidence in Japan's potential,
which he thoroughly contemplated over the New Year holiday period.
For example...


Prime Minister: The biggest problem faced by Japan's agricultural sector now is that young people find it quite difficult to engage in it. This is epitomized by the fact that the current average age of the people engaged in such work is 66. But is this how it should be? There may be a number of young people who prefer working under the sun in a green field to using computers or doing office work. I would like to eliminate the various barriers to agricultural activities. That is one thing that I would like to work on.


Narration: Besides increasing the number of young people working in
agriculture, the sector could also change its form. The site visits
the Prime Minister has gone on since last December have reinforced
his confidence about this.


Prime Minister: The agricultural sector should move beyond being a primary industry that just produces goods like rice and vegetables and aim to handle food processing and delivery as well. In doing so, the sector should also aim to add value to these processes. We term this kind of industry a "sixth-order industry." Japanese cuisine has been overwhelmingly favored by many leaders during APEC meetings and on other occasions. Some have even said, "There is no cuisine as delicious and healthy as Japanese cuisine." Our cuisine is made possible by the agricultural sector. We should have confidence in this sector and export Japanese products to the world. I think Japan's agricultural sector can be revived through such approaches.


Narration: Last year, the Prime Minister had direct interaction
with many state leaders. His main principles remained firm
throughout these interactions.


Prime Minister: Last year there was great concern over the security situation in Asia. A stable Japan-US alliance is essential and indispensable to many countries in the Asian region as well -- a number of Asian leaders have told me this. The alliance is definitely international public goods.
We should therefore think upon the Japan-US alliance with confidence, knowing that it exists not only for the sake of Japan and the United States, but also for the stability of Asia and the world at large.
In this context, we should seek to have more open relations with China, Russia, and many other countries.


Narration: Open international relations. The slogan "Opening Japan
in the 21st century" isn't just about the liberalization of trade.


Prime Minister: "Opening up Japan" concerns not only the economy and our security situation, but also issues of human security, such as the problems taken up in the activities of JICA or the nitiatives of Mr. Tetsu Nakamura in Afghanistan, which are roles that Japan should play and that the international community expects Japan to play.
I met a number of world leaders last year. I heard many comments stating that Japan is one of the models they aim to emulate, and many expressions of gratitude for the provision of various medical and educational services to children through Japan's official development assistance (ODA) and other means. Japan has played a major role in the international community so far, and I believe it can play a significant role in the future as well.
It's time we take a positive attitude once again and open up to the world. Let's regain confidence in ourselves!


January 14(Friday)

What lies ahead as a new structure is launched


Today I undertook a strengthening of the Cabinet and party structures.


The position of acting DPJ president which Mr. Sengoku will take on is one which I myself held in the past.  It is a post in which people with high aspirations and competence can engage in significant work.  I have great expectations that Mr. Sengoku's abilities will be demonstrated fully through enhancing the think tank-like functions and building up the network of human resources supporting the ruling parties among the private sector, among other future endeavors.


He and Mr. Yosano, who will serve as Minister of State for Economic and Fiscal Policy, have a great deal in common in their ways of thinking.  In the report of the Council for the Realization of a Reassuring Society, organized by Mr. Yosano and his colleagues two years ago, I found areas that were very similar to my own ideas, and among the members of the current Council on the Realization of the New Growth Strategy we can find some people who had also been members of the Council.  In this area, in which suprapartisan discussions are truly needed now, I look forward to Mr. Yosano serving in the role of a bridgebuilder.


Mr. Kaieda, an ardent supporter of trade liberalization, will take up the post of Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry, and I have great expectations from his appointment as well.  We cannot afford to put off the 21st century opening up of Japan any longer.


In this way, a lineup now stands ready to boldly and proactively tackle the critical issues such as the rebuilding of the social security system, issues of associated fiscal resources, the liberalization of trade, and the reform of the agricultural sector.  We will engage with the Diet, which is just about to start, through this structure.  In the next Diet session, I very much want to focus on discussing the substance of policies.  I would like members of the opposition parties also to come forth with specific alternate proposals and other ideas, and I would like to set topics and toss out questions to my colleagues.  Shall we not in this way go beyond the framework of unilateral questioning vs. answering to develop meaningful deliberations?


Now more than ever, we simply cannot allow the various issues to be kicked further down the road.  This is a time for politicians and bureaucrats as well as ruling and opposition parties alike to engage in concerted efforts to confront the crisis Japan faces.  History is watching us.


January 10(Monday)

To all those reaching the age of majority


Today is Coming of Age Day.  I recall that on the birthday on which I turned 20 (in October 1966) I started upon a solo trip to the Tohoku region, considering my life from then on.  (I was not a pilgrim at the time.)


Of course, the Tohoku Shinkansen and the like did not exist then.  This was at the time when mere two years had passed since the Tokaido Shinkansen, called the "Dream Superexpress," first made its run between Tokyo and Shin-Osaka.


At the time, I was a student at the Tokyo Institute of Technology.  Japan was right in the midst of its period of rapid growth.  Also at this same time, young people were very active alongside major social contradictions including pollution, as epitomized by Minamata Disease, and the Vietnam War.


As the era shifted, the style of youth activities also changed.  Yet regardless of the era, the fact never changes that the bearers of the future are the younger generation.  To all those who have newly entered into the age of majority, I would like you to go forward embracing a spirit to tackle whatever you encounter, looking towards the future and towards the outside world.


January 5(Wednesday)

No. 10 [Budget] The Government's Draft Plan is Decided - The Prime Minister Reveals Three Struggles


The Prime Minister answers the question "Isn't there anything in the budget plan drawn up last month that reflects Kan's color?" He reveals the struggles he underwent behind the scenes in realizing regional sovereignty, encouraging science and technology, and promoting task forces.



Prime Minister: On December 24, the Government's draft budget for the next fiscal year was decided. This was my first budget since taking over as Prime Minister, and there were various scenes.


Narration: Behind the scenes of budget formulation, there were
several instances in which the Prime Minister exercised leadership
to fix the course of events by giving strong instructions. The
Prime Minister himself revealed three scenes out of these.


Narration: At first, the science and technology-related budget was
moving in a negative direction from the previous year since it had
already been increased in the current fiscal year's supplementary
budget. Subsequently, however, it underwent an about-turn to emerge
as a modest 0.1% increase in the original plan. Where did this
change occur?


Prime Minister: I've kept saying that science and technology are important, so I decided to insist on my own views during the budget drafting. Although I encountered resistance, I stated my desire that the science and technology budget should not be decreased.


Narration: After a heated debate, a 30% increase in scientific
research grants was included in next year's budget, and the total
amount budgeted for science and technology exceeds the total for
the current fiscal year.


Prime Minister: I wish the entire nation to share in this dream. In particular, I would like young people and young researchers to have dreams and to nurture them. Based on these wishes, I have given instructions on my own initiative to expand the science and technology budget.


Narration: Block grant subsidies are an important means of
realizing regional sovereignty. This is an epoch-making scheme in
which the national government provides grants to local governments
without specifying their purpose in detail, allowing these funds to
be used freely according to the needs of each region. This, too,
came up against a big wall while they were drawing up the budget.


Prime Minister: The Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) had previously decided this as a major column of its policy. So I instructed each ministry and agency to find out how much of the subsidies they were responsible for which could be apportioned as block grant subsidies. The amount they initially presented was only 2.8 billion yen out of total subsidies of approximately 3 trillion yen.


Narration: Ministries and agencies are slow to switch from
so-called "subsidies with strings attached," for which the purpose
of use is designated, to the more liberalized block grants style.
Each ministry and agency has its own view point, but if the policy
gets bogged down in details, the overall goal will not be achieved.


Prime Minister: I thought that the amount was way too small. So at Cabinet meetings and elsewhere, I made a rather harsh demand that I want to know the names of the officials who said they couldn't comply. Because when we try to do things as Cabinet policy, if there are officials who can't cooperate, as a matter of course we must take this into account when considering future personnel arrangements. Somehow, these words were conveyed to Kasumigaseki. The officials there thought I must be serious. Since then, the officials have gradually become more positive and are now offering over 500 billion yen in block grants, up from the initial 2.8 billion yen. I have the final figure here, which is 512 billion yen. Here, I inserted the kanji for "angry shout (ikkatsu)" in place of "package (also ikkatsu)," because some say these financial resources became subsidies thanks to my angry reaction. I believe this is a big step forward.


Narration: Another example concerns cases in which, although the
individual amounts are small, an effective budget has been obtained
to implement measures that have not progressed much up to now due
to the walls of sectionalism among ministries and agencies. Common
methods are used in each case.


Prime Minister: While there is plenty of absurdity in this world, I have decided to form special task force teams to tackle at least these deep-seated problems that I focus on resolving. When different ministries or agencies handle these issues separately, progress tends to be minimal. One advantage of the special task force teams is that they go beyond the bureaucracy and another is that they can proceed speedily. Funding for these teams is also included in the budget.


Narration: At present there are four task force teams. The people
involved with them have been amazed at their effectiveness. For
example, Ms. Atsuko Muraki serves as Director General of the Office
of the Task Force Team for Eliminating Childcare Waiting Lists.


Ms. Muraki: We thought over the issue again and again, and gradually the solution took shape. That was an interesting experience.


Narration: Mr. Shiro Asano, a former official of the Ministry of
Health, Labour and Welfare, is involved with the Task Force Team
for HTLV-1, a virus whose carriers are estimated to be more than
one million in Japan.


Mr. Asano: What I felt strongly this time was the sheer power of politics. This has really impressed me.


Narration: Mr. Yukihiko Akutsu is the leader of the Task Force Team
for the Recovery of the Remains of the War Dead in Ioto.


Mr. Akutsu, Team Leader: Certainly, if Prime Minister Kan had not made suggestions stemming from his own beliefs, we would never have been able to find these remains.


Prime Minister: Coming from a citizens' movement background, my motivation for engaging in politics was composed of several distinct themes. Among them, my starting point was to tackle individual issues that I thought were irrational. Another starting point was to consider how the future of Japan should be by developing a comprehensive vision of the entire nation. I would like to steer the Cabinet forward using these two vehicles.


January 5(Wednesday)

The year to switch from defensive mode to a successful offensive has begun


Yesterday morning I held a press conference to kick off the new year.  I stated once again my determination to do my utmost to carry out the three principles I laid out in my New Year's Reflection released on New Year's Day, namely "undertaking the 21st-century opening of Japan", "achieving a society in which human suffering is reduced to a minimum", and "engaging in politics that rectifies absurdities".


In the media coverage of this press conference, items related to Mr. Ozawa were virtually the only stories given major prominence, but what I place the greatest weight on is switching from a defensive to an offensive mode in order to tackle political issues that have been put off for some time.


I am determined this year to take on with courage issues that cannot be postponed any longer, including accelerating the liberalization of trade and reforming agriculture and also reforming the social security and tax systems.


This "Looking squarely at the Future" column will convey this true intent of mine that has not being communicated sufficiently through media coverage.  This evening I will also be appearing live on a commercial television news program and I intend to discuss my thinking thoroughly and thoughtfully.


January 1(Saturday)

Lessons from living to 100: Another New Year's reflection


The other day, I received a splendid crane made carefully by hand through origami papercraft from a woman living at a group home for the elderly in the Tohoku region.  She gave it to me in return for my having sent her a commemorative gift on Respect for the Aged Day to celebrate her 100 years of longevity, and she attached the following letter.


She gave me as a gift the crane appearing in the upper right of this photo.


I was delighted beyond words, and everyone around me claims I've become younger as a result.  I now hope to live a long life in good health and good spirits, exactly as this certificate states.  Through your gift I have come to feel very keenly that there are good things to be had simply through living.  I make everyone laugh when I say I'm determined to stay in good health and good spirits until I'm 200 years old.


Prime Minister Kan, please take good care of your health as well.  And please do your best for the sake of Japan to make day-to-day living even a little bit better.  Though my ability is limited, I am supporting you.


I thought that this was truly pointing to the way of the country towards which we should strive in the years to come.  A society in which all citizens live their daily lives in good health and good spirits, in which people believe that "there are good things to be had simply through living."  Beginning this year, I want us to set off down the path once more towards just such a Japan.  Towards an open Japan.  Towards a society in which human suffering is reduced to a minimum.  Towards politics that rectifies absurdities.  Let us begin 2011 looking resolutely forward.  I will work to carry out my mission with my utmost efforts, to make a start so that when this woman reaches her goal of the age of 200 she will be able to look back and say, "It was truly a bright society in the 100 years making up the latter half of my life."