March 2011

March 10(Thursday)

My expectations towards new Foreign Minister Takeaki Matsumoto and new Special Advisor Takayoshi Igarashi

 

Yesterday I appointed Mr. Takeaki Matsumoto to succeed to the post of Minister for Foreign Affairs. As the sitting Senior Vice Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr. Matsumoto was the most qualified to carry on with the existing foreign policy line. I would like him to seamlessly push forward our efforts to address various matters of importance.

 

There was another noteworthy occasion yesterday when a key letter of appointment was bestowed. Professor Takayoshi Igarashi of Hosei University was appointed Special Advisor to the Cabinet. Professor Igarashi has been an acquaintance of mine ever since I came to know him through a dialogue on land problems appearing in a magazine more than 20 years ago. We also worked on the Basic Act for Land and the formulation of the 1992 draft revisions to the City Planning Act (lawmaker-initiated legislation) together.

 

Since then, Professor Igarashi has been energetically providing recommendations regarding public works and the revival of local areas as well as, among other things, the extremely long-term policy issues of the nature of politics and public administration geared towards overcoming a society with a declining population. He also shares a sense of impending crisis indicated in the graph showing profound changes in the population that I posted to my blog when the current Diet session began.

 

The issues that the government is now working on are all extremely important ones that will determine the shape of Japan in the future. I want to share with the government once more Professor Igarashi's knowledge and energy towards building the nation. That is the aim of this revision to our human resources. I also look forward to the tremendous cooperation of the Special Advisor team of the National Policy Unit.

 

March 8(Tuesday)

Continual progress by the government: The first "review of government regulations"

 

The resignation of Minister for Foreign Affairs Seiji Maehara is truly regrettable. I am presently working to coordinate matters so as to designate his successor as minister at the earliest possible time. We cannot have any discontinuity in foreign policy.

 

Regardless of circumstances, there are a number of policy processes proceeding simultaneously within the government at all times. For example, we also held the very first review of government regulations yesterday and the day before. I visited the venue on the first day and observed the discussions there.

 

This approach of "reviewing" that has been underway since the review of government programs (jigyou shiwake) is something that developed from an attempt within local administrations to reflect the authentic voices of the public as they asked why certain things were impossible to carry out. Especially having arisen from just such a background, there is truly enormous significance in the process itself in which future directions are decided in view of the public through a format that they find acceptable, rather than through discussions by experts behind closed doors.

 

While the various regulations by the government may at times impede growth, there are also times when they must be formulated rigorously to ensure public safety and peace of mind. (This is why the review meeting also discussed a "strengthening" of regulations addressing malicious solicitations for investments in condominiums, aggressive home visits by precious metals buyers, and so on.)

 

One example is the discussion on regulations governing the handling of lithium ion batteries that I attended the day before yesterday. Japan enjoys the highest technological level worldwide in this field, and there is a substantial possibility that Japan's approach will become the global standard. In various fields such as electric vehicles, it is imperative that in the future, the desirable state of regulations be discussed from the dual aspects of this "exploitation of their potential" and "ensuring safety." I listened intently to the discussions, thinking that this was a very symbolic issue within the advanced fields Japan is working to develop.

 

At this meeting, the way the discussions progressed had been improved, such as by inviting participants from relevant businesses, with two hours being spent on each topic, double the length spent until now in other review work. Taking this review process as a catalyst, I hope to link this to further regulatory reforms.

March 4(Friday)

The inaugural session of the "Opening of Japan" Forum: Why open up Japan now?

 

The 'Opening of Japan' Forum: The 21st Century Opening Up of Japan and Our Daily Lives was finally launched on February 26.

 

How should the government tackle the goal of "open up Japan to open up the future"? And how will opening up Japan impact our daily lives? Minister for National Policy Koichiro Gemba and other ministers and vice-ministers in the Kan Cabinet will consider these issues together with the public through discussions with experts from the business world and agriculture in various locations around the nation. We heartily encourage everyone to participate.

 

P20110304_kaikoku

 

At the first Forum, held in Saitama City on the 26th, Minister for National Policy Gemba, Senior Vice Minister of the Cabinet Office Tatsuo Hirano, and Senior Vice Minister of Finance Fumihiko Igarashi were joined by panelists Dr. Yasuyuki Todo, Professor at the University of Tokyo; Mr. Kanji Ochiai, President of Seibu Shinkin Bank; Mr. Yasuhiro Ogawa, Chair of the Gunma Prefectural Council of Agricultural Managers; Mr. Naoto Ohmi, Assistant General Secretary of the Japanese Trade Union Confederation; and Ms. Satoko Ito, a freelance journalist and visiting professor at the Graduate Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies.

 

Various points emerged in the course of the panel discussion, including that (1) it is necessary to incorporate Asian growth into Japan through the opening of Japan, and that Japan surely has a wealth of companies and farmers with great potential; (2) that the stable supply of food must not be sacrificed as a result of the opening of the country, and that comprehensive measures are necessary, addressing not only agriculture but also distribution; (3) carefully-crafted policies will be necessary, such as addressing uncompetitive sectors first by fostering competitiveness over time, with necessary assistance also to be given should that prove insufficient; (4) while the intensification of competition will cause some to be hard-pressed, the situation should be utilized as a springboard for various innovative approaches; and (5) Japan should strengthen economic partnerships with various countries in ways that increase the number of countries thoroughly implementing worker protection and environmental conservation.

 

A variety of views were also voiced by the members of the general public participating, including that (1) ensuring a steady supply of food is one of the most important roles played by the nation; when opening up the country, the government should explicitly lay out the path ahead for how it intends to bring it into actualization (views from a farmer); (2) living in China, one can feel the high potential for Japanese food (views from a university student); (3) discussions should be held after also clarifying the impacts to be felt by sectors other than agriculture (views from a farmer); and (4) Japan should provide education that will enable younger generations to spread their wings around the world (views from a woman who has been engaged in agriculture along with her husband since he retired).

 

Regrettably, some people were unable to participate in the Forum directly on account of the results of the lottery for seating. However, the suggestions received from the public at this Forum, along with the views submitted during the application process for seating, will certainly be used during future deliberations. Thank you very much for contributing your views.

 

In the weeks to come we will be holding sessions of this Forum in Sapporo, Sendai, Kanazawa, Nagoya, Osaka, Hiroshima, Takamatsu, and Hakata.

 

 

"Prime Minister Kan's Blog" will introduce across several installments how the Forum has developed in various locations around the country, along with the administration's way of thinking regarding this issue. This first installment explains, "Why open up Japan?" and related matters.

 

Agriculture and industry both facing tough times

Why is "the opening of Japan" such a high-profile issue at present? In the background to the opening of Japan coming under the spotlight are the issues facing Japanese society and the means for resolving those issues.

 

Currently, both agriculture and industry in Japan are confronting major challenges. The population of Japan is essentially not growing at present. In the future, as the population decreases, the number of consumers buying things will also decrease. There is the potential for declines in the volume of both food items and industrial products being sold in Japan.

 

Looking at local communities, it is clear that agriculture, industry, and the distribution and service industries do not operate in isolation from each other, but instead sustain the region as a single unit, with each being deeply interrelated with the others.

 

Yet, particularly in Japan's local areas, "places to work" in various localities are declining in number. Over the last ten years, the number of factories and other workplaces has decreased by as many as 220,000, with employment in manufacturing dropping by some 3 million. During this time, there has been a graying of the people engaged in agriculture (with an average age of 66) and there are not enough people to succeed these farmers. Over the past 15 years, agricultural income has halved. The number of people engaged in agriculture has declined from 4.1 million to 2.6 million, a drop of 1.5 million people.

 

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New markets extending all around the globe

Against such a backdrop, from a global viewpoint, we find that newly emerging countries such as China and India are experiencing rapid economic growth and increasing their presence in the world.

 

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According to some estimates, Asia's "middle class*" will expand by a billion people over the next decade, bringing the total to 2 billion. Ten years from now, the scale of consumption for Asia as a whole is seen as reaching three times the total consumption of Japan. Asia's "middle class" has the potential to be important customers buying Japanese products in the future. If tariffs are lowered through negotiations, it will enable Japanese goods to be exported on favorable terms.

*The term "middle class" as used here refers to people with a household annual disposable income of between US$5,000 and $35,000.

 

Negotiations thus far on lowering tariffs have taken place at the WTO, where nations all around the world have gathered, and Japan has been at the forefront globally in lowering tariffs. As a result, Japan's tariff rates on industrial products are at the lowest level of anywhere in the world.

 

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At the same time, with negotiations at the WTO having reached a standstill, recently there has been a considerable increase in economic partnership agreements (EPAs) and free trade agreements (FTAs), in which particular countries negotiate reductions in tariffs as well as rules governing trade and investment among themselves.

An economic partnership agreement grants special treatment only to interchanges among the countries that concluded the agreement. Therefore, if Country A concludes an economic partnership agreement (or a free trade agreement) with Country B and tariffs are lowered only on exports coming from Country A, then products exported from Japan to Country B will be at a disadvantage.

In particular, as competition with emerging economies becomes more severe, if only emerging economies conclude economic partnership agreements and enjoy the benefits of reduced tariffs, this could become an enormous drag on exports from Japan.

 

The shift towards a more inward-looking mindset

As we aspire to develop new markets extending all around the globe, another issue is that the mindset of Japanese is becoming more inward focused. The number of Japanese students studying abroad, which until recently had been increasing steadily, peaked in 2004 at just over 800,000, then began to decline in recent years.

Japan is still far from having human resources able to succeed in international settings in sufficient numbers to enable us to develop our markets overseas.

 

Four pillars for the 21st century opening up of Japan

In light of this, we will assimilate into Japan the vitality of Asia and other areas and aim to build a nation in which both the country as a whole and each local region become prosperous, with agriculture, industry, and commerce all thriving. That is the thinking behind the "21st century opening up of Japan."

Specifically, we will address the following four pillars in an integrated manner.

  1. Revitalize the food, agriculture, forestry, and fishery industries
  2. Foster human resources able to flourish internationally
  3. Improve the appeal of Japan as a place for economic activity
  4. Promote economic partnerships

 

The following installments will take up in specific terms measures related to each of these four pillars.

 

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(Website linked from this post is provided in Japanese only)

March 3(Thursday)

Finding a place you belong and a role to play as you begin your new life in society this spring

 

The day before yesterday, the quick estimation of the labor force survey for this January was released. I feel that several of the figures reflected the results of my Cabinet continuing to focus steadfastly on employment, employment, and employment ever since its inception.

 

The number of unemployed persons was 3.09 million, a decrease of 140,000 compared with January 2010. And, while the unemployment rate had exceeded 5% continuously since April 2009, it dropped below 5% to 4.9% this past December for the first time in 21 months and stayed steady at 4.9% in January as well. Looking at the seasonally-adjusted figures, we find that the number of employed persons has been increasing since last November, while the number of unemployed persons has been declining continuously since last October. That said, there has been no change to the fact that we remain squarely in the midst of a severe situation. I intend to stay focused on this issue, strengthening the measures to be taken in local areas.

 

Above all, we will be engaged in a final push to boost employment of students about to graduate the end of the fiscal year is approaching. More than 120,000 people have already visited the newly-established New Graduate Support Hello Work offices. What's more, between September and December last year, there were over 25,000 cases in which job applicants received employment offers through the assistance of Job Supporters (professionals charged with assisting job seekers during the employment search and subsequent application process), whose numbers I had doubled in September. The number of cases in which special incentive pay was provided to employers hiring young people who had already graduated from school reached 240,000 in total since the end of September.

 

As we head to the end of this month, we will be reinforcing our support even further by adding yet another hundred Job Supporters and other means. These Job Supporters in each local area are people with a wealth of both life experience and workplace experience. Among them you will find those who are deeply engaged with the troubles of the young job seekers and shed tears of joy when a job offer is landed successfully. Witnessing such things myself at Hello Work centers, I am fully convinced of the significance of these efforts.

 

To all those of you in the midst of a job search, about to make your way in society, I urge you not to agonize alone. By all means, contact your Hello Work office and make use of these services to find a job in which you can activate your strengths to their fullest.

March 2(Wednesday)

Decreasing the number of suicides through the strength of society and the strength of the government

 

Yesterday, the ninth meeting of the Council on Comprehensive Measures to Prevent Suicide was held. My Cabinet, which advocates the creation of "a society with the least unhappiness", considers measures to prevent suicide to be a matter of great importance. We have set up every conceivable consultation window at various ministries and have been providing consultations in order to be able to engage with the concerns of each individual with care at the closest point of interface.

 

The results of this have come to be seen little by little, with the number of suicides last year falling below 32,000 (as a provisional figure) for the first time in nine years. I intend for us to step up our efforts still further so that this year the number falls below 30,000. At yesterday's meeting, the Council decided to extend the activities of the Task Force comprised of relevant ministers, whose mission had been scheduled to expire at the end of the current fiscal year, and launched concrete activities in conjunction with the start of Suicide Prevention and Awareness Month.

 

While it has been pointed out that to decrease the number of suicides the most important thing is to revive the economy, that alone is insufficient. What is important is that all people have a place where they belong and a role to play. Families and communities and Japan as a country must actively build a society that embraces everyone warmly, abandoning no one. It will be imperative to work in collaboration with the Task Force Team for a Society Inclusive of Individuals established in January this year.

 

I urge anyone who is distressed to visit the consultation windows that the government has provided. And, if there are people around you who seem distressed, have the courage to encourage them to seek assistance. The government will do its utmost to respond.

 

*Click here for a list of consultation windows.

 

(Some of the website linked from this post are provided in Japanese only)

March 2(Wednesday)

No. 16: [Disclosure] Diplomatic Records, the Chief Cabinet Secretary's Press Conference, and more! Steadily Progressing Information Disclosure

 

On February 10, 2011, for the first time the Chief Cabinet Secretary's press conference was opened to all journalists, including freelance journalists. On February 18, the fourth batch of diplomatic records to be disclosed to the public since the rise to power of the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) was released. On February 26, the number of people who had accessed Prime Minister Kan's Blog reached 1 million. Efforts to bring more information to the public continue.

 

 

Narration: Prime Minister Kan's Blog, launched in November of last year, has been accessed over 1 million times. Reflecting back, Prime Minister Kan stressed the importance he has placed on communicating and disclosing information since assuming office.

 

Prime Minister: I will also work to break down the 'closed door' nature of the government. I more than anyone else am acutely aware of the importance of information disclosure.

 

Narration: A vast amount of records are stored at the Diplomatic Record Office of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. When it came to power, the Democratic Party of Japan made it a basic rule that diplomatic records more than 30 years old must be disclosed.

 

Narration: Recently, 606 additional volumes of records were made open to the public through the fourth disclosure based on this rule. Anyone of age 18 and above can view them after following the necessary procedures.

 

Archivist: I'm working on restoring this old document by applying thin washi paper to both sides.

 

Narration: In order to protect the documents, thorough checks and repairs are undertaken before they are made open to the public.

 

Interviewer: Is it alright if I touch this?

 

Archivist: Yes, no problem.

 

Interviewer: It can also be waved.

 

Archivist: Yes.

 

Narration: The Public Records Act, effective from this April, calls these documents "common intellectual property of the people that supports the foundation of a healthy democratic system." These steady efforts to sustain democracy will continue.

 

Narration: The Government has not stopped at merely disclosing past records. Yet another step was taken recently to make even more of the latest information available to the public.

 

Director of Press Office: I kindly ask you to make each question short, so that we can answer questions from as many people as possible.

 

Narration: It may appear to be just another press conference from the Chief Cabinet Secretary like the ones you have seen on television, but this time a major change in the press seating area has occurred.

 

Chief Cabinet Secretary: Following the Prime Minister's press conferences, from today onward my press conferences will also be made open to all journalists.

 

Narration: With the consent of the Japanese National Press Club, freelance journalists are now allowed to attend the press conference and pose questions once a week. Newcomers commented...

 

Mr. Kudo (J-CAST News): I saw a freelance journalist say on Twitter that the Chief Cabinet Secretary's press conference would also be opened up.

 

Mr. Imai (freelance journalist): I think it's great that many questions were posed from freelance journalists and those not belonging to the Press Club.

 

Narration: The Prime Minister has repeatedly said that it is the basic policy of his Cabinet to conduct open press conferences.

 

Prime Minister: I have approached my own press conferences with the stance that they should be as open as possible. At Cabinet meetings and ministers' meetings I have also been encouraging each minister to approach the matter taking that same orientation, to the extent possible.

 

Narration: Lastly, on February 26, a Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary exchanged views with prominent bloggers and other opinion leaders. The Kan Administration will continue efforts for more meaningful communication with the people.

 

March 1(Tuesday)

The budget bill passes the House of Representatives--now, let's reach an agreement between the ruling and opposition parties at all costs

 

Early this morning, the budget bill for fiscal 2011 passed the House of Representatives. The enactment of the budget before the end of the current fiscal year has now become a certainty.

 

We will now begin to focus on budget deliberations in the House of Councillors and deliberations on budget-related bills in the House of Representatives. I will be resolutely engaged in consultations on the budget-related bills until we reach an agreement between the ruling and the opposition parties.

 

There are many similarities between the current state of affairs and the "Financial Diet" of 1998. But conversely to the current situation, at that time the divided Diet had the LDP as the ruling party with a majority in the House of Representatives, with opposition parties, centered on the DPJ, controlling the House of Councillors. The "bridge bank bill" (designed to create state-owned receiver banks, known as "bridge banks," to administer the assets and liabilities of failed banks) submitted by the government and the ruling party was a test of strength in which the bill simply could not be enacted as is. However, had that sort of political deadlock been dragged out indefinitely, it would have been entirely possible for a run on a large bank to occur. We were on the brink of a Japan-triggered financial crisis possibly evolving.

 

It was with that sense of crisis that the ruling and the opposition parties ultimately came to choose a path of "policies over politics," in which we worked in cooperation despite the divided Diet to enact the Financial Revitalization Act (using the version put forth by our side), thereby successfully avoiding a financial crisis.

 

In this case as well, I will be devoting further effort to achieving agreement between the ruling and the opposition parties regarding the budget-related bills in order to protect the lives of the people at all costs.