May 2011

May 29(Sunday)

"A new, humane wind" and an okiagari-koboshi doll


I have now returned to Japan, having attended the Commemoration Ceremony of the 50th Anniversary of the OECD in Paris, the G8 Summit and summit meetings with paricipating national leaders in Deauville (France), and the Japan-EU Summit Meeting in Brussels (Belgium).


This was the second G8 Summit that I have attended as the Prime Minister, following last year's Muskoka Summit (Canada).  All of the participating leaders were the same as last year, and with the Chair, President Nicolas Sarkozy of France, addressing each of us on a first name basis, I was able to engage in the summit in a relaxed manner too.


Yet at the same time, there was also a tension in the air that was different from last year.  That was the emphasis placed on Japan.  This year's summit became a crucial forum for conveying directly to the international community the situations regarding the earthquake disaster and the nuclear accident―even at the lunch meeting on the first day, President Sarkozy asked me to give the lead-off remarks, saying, "Let's start with Naoto."


Each leader expressed his or her sympathy to Japan, and they all spoke of their feelings of respect for the Japanese people for raising themselves up with courage in a level-headed manner.  This was truly encouraging.  I am taking this opportunity to report this to you, as this was a message to the Japanese people as a whole, and above all to the disaster victims.


In addition, heartfelt remarks extended towards the disaster areas were made at the joint press conference with the leaders of the EU, which wrapped up the diplomatic events during this trip.  As he finished his remarks, Mr. Herman Van Rompuy, President of the European Council, also presented in English a haiku poem that he had written the night before.


The three disasters

Storms turn into a soft wind:

A new, humane wind.


Hearing this poem for the first time there at the podium, I jotted down the simultaneous interpretation there on the spot, and as I concluded my own remarks, with feelings of appreciation I read out the poem again, this time in Japanese.  But as I finished the second line, I found myself choked up for a moment, filled with emotion.


President Van Rompuy is a great fan of haiku poetry, having even published a collection of the poems that he has written, entitled Haiku.  When I met him last year, he graciously signed a copy of his anthology, which I had brought along.  This year's summit, which was called the "Kizuna Summit"―or, the "Summit of the Bonds of Friendship"―also demonstrated a strong feeling of solidarity from the EU side towards Japan.


During this trip, I kept a small commemorative okiagari-koboshi doll in my suit jacket pocket.  This is a kind of traditional folk art that I had purchased the other day when I visited a shop in Tokyo selling goods made in Fukushima.  The spirit represented by this doll, which always rights itself after it is knocked down, imparted surefire strength to the message I sent to the leaders from around the world, that Japan will without a doubt become revived once again.

May 22(Sunday)

"No. 20 [Reconstruction Support] Reconstruction Action!
A visit to a shop selling Fukushima products!"


Fukushima Prefecture continues to suffer due to harmful rumors about radiation. Hoping to cheer the Prefecture on, after the Great East Japan Earthquake many more people began to visit a shop selling Fukushima-made products outside of Tokyo Station. The Prime Minister recently visited the shop as a customer and learned about sold out local sake and the pride local craftspeople put into making their products. He also gave a comment to media sent to cover the visit when he was done.



<Standing near the front of the shop, the Prime Minister points at a flag>

Prime Minister: Can you see that over there? It's for Reconstruction Action. There are many ways to support the disaster-affected region. I came to this store today to show my support by eating and drinking local products.


The Fukushima Prefecture Tourism Promotion Shop in Yaesu (Chuo Ward, Tokyo)

<Shop staff tries to draw in customers>

Staff: Good morning! Welcome, please come in! Thank you!


<The crowded shop interior>

Opened in 2009, the shop promotes tourism to Fukushima Prefecture and sells local goods.
It also hosts sales events organized by the Prefecture's cities, towns and villages.


<The Prime Minister visited the store on May 8>


<The Prime Minister spoke to the media outside the store>

Prime Minister: Nobuko (Mrs. Kan) came here a while ago and told me they had many interesting things. I've wanted to stop by ever since, and well, here I am.


<Inside the shop>

Shop Manager: Right now we're busy even during weekdays. Mrs. Kan came by during the Golden Week holiday period just at the beginning of May, and it was so crowded that I actually didn't notice her!


The store is so busy that even the Prime Minister's wife can come and go unnoticed.
The number of people wanting to support Fukushima has increased dramatically since the earthquake, pushing sales 7-8 times higher than normal some days.


<The Prime Minister speaks with shop customers>

Prime Minister: Where are you from?

Child: Adachi Ward...

Prime Minister: Did you come to show your support for Fukushima?

Child: (Nods)


<The Prime Minister received a taste test of shop products>

Female clerk: This is tofu pickled in miso...

Prime Minister: Wow... (The Prime Minister smiles broadly)

Female clerk: It's so very rich in taste, right? (The Prime Minister nods) The soybeans are fermented that way...

Prime Minister: It's like a gourmet cheese.

Female clerk: It really is.


The tofu is made using soybeans cultivated in Fukushima.
It's pickled in miso for three months and then fermented at a low temperature.


Prime Minister: This is really good. Where's it from?

Female clerk: Minamisoma City.

Shop Manager: They had to stop making it for about two weeks after the earthquake.


<A shop clerk pours the Prime Minister a glass of sake>

Prime Minister: Thank you. (The Prime Minister drinks the sake) It's so smooth, isn't it?

Female clerk: Yes, it's a daiginjo sake (a very special brew). It's won gold prizes at the National New Sake Awards (ten times in total).

Man: The sake you had from Aizu a moment ago, as well as our sake from Fukushima Prefecture, just won't sell. It's because of the rumors about radiation. I want the Government to do something about this - on the television or something like that.


<On the other hand, there are also sakes not affected by harmful rumors...>

Prime Minister : I've heard you have a sake from Iitate Village?

Shop Manager: Well, yesterday...

Prime Minister: Is it sold out?

Shop manager: We sold out on Friday and Saturday.

Prime Minister: It's sold out?

Shop Manager: We sold 800 bottles in two days.


Sake made in Iitate - the first village to evacuate.
With harvest restrictions placed on rice this year, the sake brewers in the village won't be able to obtain the ingredients they need...


Shop Manager: People are calling it a 'phantom sake,' since it has become so rare. So many people were lined up to purchase a bottle on Friday and Saturday that we sold out.


<All six of the Prime Minister's plates and glasses are empty...>

Prime Minister's Office Staff: People don't usually eat everything during a taste test.

Prime Minister: (Blushing) Well, it's just about lunchtime...

Female clerk: I'm so glad you liked it.

Prime Minister: Thank you, really. It was delicious.


<The Prime Minister heads to the register to purchase his selections>

Female clerk 2: Your total comes to 7,843 yen.

Prime Minister: What's this?

Female clerk 3: That's an okiagari-koboshi doll. Every time it falls over it stands right back up.
Everyone is struggling so much right now. I want people to look at this doll and think "We can do this" or "It's going to be okay." I want everyone to realize there's still hope.



<After finishing his shopping, the Prime Minister greets the press outside>

Prime Minister: We need to compensate the disaster-affected region for the issues we have responsibility for, including reputational damage. Before that compensation begins to be paid out, I hope we can do away with harmful rumors by having everyone come and purchase goods from Fukushima. The products here are absolutely safe.


<With reporting complete, the Prime Minister looks around at each reporter>

Prime Minister's Office Staff: Okay, thank you everyone.

Prime Minister: I hope each one of you will also buy at least one thing before you go. Don't just report and leave, I want everyone to buy something.


<The Prime Minister begins to leave>

Shop staff: Thank you!

Prime Minister: I really wish you all the best. Good-bye!

Child: Bye bye!


<A message to the entire nation>

Shop Manager: In terms of tourism, Fukushima Prefecture is really going through hard times right now. I think the most helpful thing that anyone can do is to visit Fukushima and purchase its products. I encourage everyone to take a trip to Fukushima.


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

May 19(Thursday)

Meeting with Dr. Klaus Schwab, Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum


On May 17 (Tuesday), Dr. Klaus Schwab, Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum, an organization which hosts the annual Davos meetings, paid a visit to the Prime Minister's Office. I had an opportunity to talk with the Chairman during a luncheon. Chairman Schwab had invited me to the Annual Davos Meeting 2011 held in January this year, where I delivered a speech as Prime Minister of Japan. In that speech, I introduced kizuna (bonds of friendship) as a term that best captures the Japanese spirit, and the Chairman said he was deeply impressed with this word. The latest earthquake has renewed my sense of the value of kizuna among the friends and acquaintances around the world, including Chairman Schwab.


During the Davos Meeting in January, Chairman Schwab set up a venue for me to exchange views with world's most prominent thought leaders, including Dr. Joseph Stiglitz, 2001 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences Laureate, Dr. Lawrence Summers, former Director of the U.S. National Economic Council, and Dr. George Soros, investment fund manager. As a leader of a country, in addition to summit meetings, I think it is important to have such a network where I can directly hear insightful opinions of world experts.


Chairman Schwab has now proposed to establish something like a Council of Eminent Persons as a venue to hold video teleconferences several times a year for valuable exchanges of opinions with world experts. In order not to misguide Japan in the era in which everything is globalizing, I am eager to expand the global intellectual network and make the best use of it as leader of the country.

May 13(Friday)

No. 19 [Visit] Evacuating the Town Near the Nuclear Power Station to Saitama Prefecture: Dialogue with Futaba Town Residents


Watch the video of the Mayor of Futaba Town, the Mayor of Kazo City, the Governor of Saitama Prefecture, and Prime Minister Kan together making rounds to all rooms of an evacuation center. The Mayor of Futaba Town works directly with the evacuees. The Mayor of Kazo City and the Governor of Saitama Prefecture oversee the city which houses the evacuation center and serve the needs of the evacuees. Prime Minister Kan explains the policy of the Government and listens to the appeals of each and every evacuee.



<Four hours behind schedule, Prime Minister Kan exited the evacuation center>

Prime Minister: I was able to hear the stories of everyone in all the rooms.


Former Kisai High School in Kazo City, Saitama Prefecture

<Before the dialogue with the Prime Minister, the mayor shows consideration for the townspeople>

Mayor of Futaba Town: Everyone, stretch out your legs. Please allow us to do the same.


<At the evacuation center housing about 1,200 people, the mayor led the Prime Minister around from start to finish>


<People sat down on the tatami, face-to-face with the Prime Minister>

Man 1: Is there any prospect that we will be able to return to Futaba Town, Fukushima Prefecture?


Prime Minister: That is the number one question I've received from everyone. Eventually I should be able to clearly tell you which places you can return to and which places you cannot.


Man 2: About the temporary visits, I'm hoping to bring back my parents' memorial tablet.


Man 3: At least you get to bring back the memorial tablet. I have no house or anything, everything was washed away.


Woman 1: My house was on the shore and was washed away. Still, I would like to go back at least once.


Mayor of Futaba Town: I'm sure you feel the same as others. You will not be barred (from temporary entries) because your house is gone. I hope you do go (to where your house was).


Man 4: I don't need temporary housing. I don't have anywhere to go back to anyway. I hope Futaba Town is created anew.


<Without sitting down, a woman holds back her anger to make a plea>

Woman 2: Are the Diet members thinking about us? About all of these many people who have been evacuated? It's hard to tell.


Prime Minister: I myself truly feel a sense of responsibility.


<A woman says her husband works for the Tokyo Electric Power Company>

Woman 3: Although we worry that our husbands may one day fall gravely ill (due to the effects of radiation exposure), all that the families can do is see them off with a smile and tell them "Take care." Everyone is putting their lives on the line.


Prime Minister: I am grateful that he is truly putting his life on the line and working hard to cope with the nuclear reactor incident. Although I imagine things are tough for you now, please support your husband and stay strong.


<Once again, sitting down on the tatami, face-to-face with the Prime Minister>

Woman 4: For example, just because my friend had an Iwaki license plate, an ice cream was thrown at the car.


Prime Minister: On as many occasions as possible, I will urge people not to say things which may hurt the feelings of others.


Mayor of Futaba Town: If it becomes intolerable, please do not hesitate to come to me and tell me. I will do something about it.


Woman 5: Even if shower rooms are set up, I think there are too many of us.


Governor of Saitama Prefecture: By May 20, sewer pipes will be fully installed. At the same time, bath tubs will be made available. May I ask for your patience a little while longer?


Man 5: Please do not leave office until the situation is settled. If the Prime Minister changes, there will again be chaos.


Prime Minister: I will not abandon my responsibilities no matter what.


Man 6: I really feel sorry for the children. Honestly what can we do?


Woman 6: I have a child in high school, and everything she had envisioned from university enrollment to job-hunting is beginning to crumble. Because of this incident, we are going to have to give up so much. No matter how much I lament, I cannot lament it enough.


Prime Minister: The Government will stand with you, and here Saitama will stand with you. We promise to do everything possible to help.


<The Prime Minister answers questions from reporters>

Reporter: You just concluded a five-hour visit. What is your reaction?
Prime Minister: I came away again feeling that we must work hard so that everyone will be able to resume his or her normal life as much as possible. In particular, people asked me, "What should we do for the future of the children?" These stories broke my heart most of all.


May 2(Monday)

Moving forward through all political parties acting in unity


Today, the first supplementary budget for earthquake disaster recovery was passed. Although a range of views emerged from the various political parties, it was endorsed by all of them upon understanding the urgent need for it. From now, I will finally be dedicating my utmost efforts even further to the creation of a system for full-fledged reconstruction and to tackling the numerous issues related to the nuclear accident.