June 2011

June 30(Thursday)

The comprehensive reform of social security and taxation systems

 

The proposal for the comprehensive reform of social security and taxation systems has finally been approved by the Headquarters of the Government and Ruling Parties for Social Security Reform after much heated discussion.

 

The social security system was first set up in 1946 following its establishment by Article 25 of the Japanese Constitution. Since then, the system has developed into one of the fundamental pillars supporting the people and the Government of Japan. I was born in that same year, and therefore belong to the generation that most benefited from social security.

 

However, in the past 20 years the environment surrounding social security has changed drastically, mainly due to such issues as declining birthrates, the aging of the population, and increases in informal employment. Anyone can tell that we need a fundamental reform of social security including public finance in order to maintain a system the people can truly feel comfortable with. However, partly due to the unpopularity of financial resources issues during elections, such a major reform has been consistently postponed.

 

In consideration of this, the fact that the agreement this time among the Government and ruling parties encompasses financial resources issues is of great historical significance. I will present this proposal to the opposition parties, and hope to have in-depth national debate on it in order to realize social security reform by the hands of the people.

 

June 29(Wednesday)

Hepatitis B situation not yet settled

 

Yesterday at the Prime Minister's Office, I met with members of a plaintiffs group in lawsuits connected to hepatitis B contraction and I apologized to them on behalf of the government. I heard stories from several patients directly, who spoke of the heartbreak resulting from mother-to-child transmission, the discrimination they had faced in various ways, and so on.

 

Fifteen years ago, at the time of the issue of AIDS contracted through contaminated blood products, I also apologized to patients as Minister of Health and Welfare. As hepatitis B infection spread as a result of the government not regulating for many years the reuse of vaccination syringes, it has a different cause than that of AIDS contracted through contaminated blood products, but, as the person responsible for the government, the fact that this situation was not avoided makes it a most extremely regrettable matter.

 

In the case of AIDS caused by contaminated blood products, at the time that the settlement was reached, groundbreaking new drugs that help protect against the onset of the disease were developed, greatly decreasing the number of people dying.  At yesterday's meeting as well, I received a strong request from the Hiroshima plaintiffs group for research and development of therapeutic drugs to delay or prevent the onset of hepatitis B.  Immediately there at the venue, I strongly instructed the Minister of Health, Labour and Welfare to take up this matter.

 

Of course it is impossible to say that a settlement has been reached simply through the signing of a Letter of Understanding for the settling of the lawsuits.  When I said yesterday "we are still standing at the starting line for resolving this issue," several of the people sitting in the patients' seats nodded their heads.  Starting today, it is the duty of the government to demonstrate these words through concrete actions.

 

June 29(Wednesday)

My reflections over the past week

 

During this week in which I had taken a break from updating this blog, I was swamped with the extension of the Diet session, the appointment of new ministers, and so on.  What I had on my mind the entirety of that time was that we must not stop our movement forward toward recovery and reconstruction from the earthquake disaster for even a minute, and that we must pave the way for a system to prevent the recurrence of a nuclear accident.

 

I am truly pleased that Mr. Ryu Matsumoto kindly agreed to take on the job of Minister for Reconstruction in response to the Great East Japan Earthquake.  Since the earthquake disaster occurred, as the Minister of State for Disaster Management, Minister Matsumoto has continuously devoted the entirety of his time to lead countermeasures for the disaster.  Well-familiar with the disaster-stricken areas, he enjoys the trust of people concerned, notably the heads of the areas affected by the disaster.  In the future, he will be engaged in full-scale reconstruction efforts still further, formulating guidelines via the Reconstruction Headquarters in response to the Great East Japan Earthquake while giving due regard to the recommendations received from the Reconstruction Design Council on June 25.

 

As for preventing the recurrence of a nuclear accident, I have appointed Mr. Goshi Hosono as Minister for Conclusion of the Nuclear Incident and Prevention of Recurrence.  Since the accident first occurred, Minister Hosono has been devoting his full energy to measures to address the nuclear accident in his capacity as Special Advisor to the Prime Minister upon special assignment from myself, including relations with Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA), and foreign countries including the U.S., while also serving as the person responsible for drafting the report to the IAEA, among other tasks.  In the course of his activities, he has come to perceive in a most profound way the problems associated with current public administration of nuclear energy.  I appointed Mr. Hosono, a young man of 39, to be Minister in expectation of his further efforts, to ensure we create a system that prevents the recurrence of a nuclear accident so that serious problems will never occur again in the future.

 

June 27(Monday)

"No. 22 [Reform] Giving Strong Support to NPO Activities: Passage of a 'Groundbreaking System'!"

 

Is your image of civil society movements one of voluntary work and cash-flow problems?
If we take a look overseas, we see many citizens' groups that have a wealth of financial resources, and are engaged in large-scale activities. A legal revision that will make a big step towards reducing the gaps between Japanese and overseas citizens' groups has been realized.

 

 

President of the House of Councillors: The bill is passed by a majority of the House.

 

<January 24, PM's Policy Speech>

Prime Minister: We will introduce a groundbreaking system in the upcoming fiscal year by which, if you make a donation to groups taking on this "New Public Commons," such as certified non-profit organizations, the donation will be eligible as a tax deduction!

 

Groundbreaking tax reform for charitable donations as mentioned by Prime Minister Kan in his speech to the Diet.

 

This has been an issue since the Hatoyama Administration,
and the revised tax law was finally approved and passed on June 22.
When you make a donation to a certified NPO,
just under half the amount you donate will be deductible from income and resident's taxes.
This will mean that approximately half of your donation is made by the central and local government.

 

<The current status of many NPOs...>

Woman: Yes, this is Child Line.

 

Child Line offers a free-dial phone service
for any children under 18 to call and discuss their worries.
The number of calls has been increasing each year. However...

 

<Kumi Ota, Secretary-General, Child Line Support Center>
Ms. Ota: We are in an increasingly difficult position as the number of calls increases.

 

The annual nationwide budget for Child Line
is just less than 2 million yen.
Behind the desire to help children is the burden of covering the costs of the free-dial number.

 

Ms. Ota: So that we can enable children to freely use the Child Line services, we need support from the general public.

 

This financial situation contrasts with the international citizens' group World Vision,
which also works to help children.
Most of its financial resources are donations collected by its offices worldwide.

 

<Nobuhiko Katayama, Secretary General, World Vision Japan>
Mr. Katayama: World Vision in Korea, Hong Kong and Taiwan are each collecting between 7 and 10 billion yen in their countries and regions.

 

However, the country in the number one spot for donations is this country!

 

Mr. Katayama: In the United States, if you register a citizens' organization you are immediately eligible for tax relief and it is a very simple system. World Vision Japan still has a long way to go!

 

The United States has long-ago introduced a more advanced system for making donations tax deductible than the one Japan has just introduced.
When he was still a freshman Diet member, Prime Minister Kan visited a number of citizens' groups in the U.S.
Excerpt from a report explaining financial resources for citizens' groups.

 

<Report excerpt: About the group known as "Common Cause">
When I asked about funding I was told that 225,000 members donate $20 a year, making a total of $4.5 million (approx. 950 million yen at that time) of operating income each year.

 

The young Diet member Naoto Kan was impressed by the financial resources of citizens' groups in the U.S., which are supported by generous donations.
So, after 30 years, will NPO activities in Japan finally change too?

 

<Work in other areas/"Livelihood Support Handbook vol. 2" for disaster victims>

Child Line is also working on mental care for the children affected by the Great East Japan Earthquake.

 

Ms. Ota: The children can't sleep and are afraid of the dark, but don't feel that they can talk about their feelings in such a disaster situation.

 

Now is when funds are truly needed!
We hope that the revision to the tax system will help Child Line and others.

 

Ms. Ota: If we can receive a donation of \1000, we can talk to a child for (approximately) 60 minutes. I think that the change to the law will be very significant for us.

June 21(Tuesday)

"The next era" (5): Looking at the current reality as we also look to the future

 

Energy policies centered on nuclear power have become major political issues both internationally and domestically. Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry Banri Kaieda is attending the IAEA's Ministerial Conference on Nuclear Safety now underway in Vienna, where international safety standards for nuclear power plants are the subject of extensive discussions. I consider it desirable to formulate sound international safety standards, centered on the IAEA.

 

The other day, Minister Kaieda urged a restart of operations at the various nuclear plants currently shut down for regularly-scheduled maintenance and so on, given the results of the "implementation of urgent safety measures" and "rigorous evaluations conducted through on-the-spot inspections." This is based on the judgment that "the electrical power supply and demand critical for reconstruction from the earthquake disaster and for the revitalization of the Japanese economy will be heavily strained" unless they are able to be restarted.  In no way does this mean "we have returned once more to the path of the past few decades of promoting nuclear power." I myself have also had the intention to promote renewable natural energies over the past 30 years.

 

Mountain climbers earnestly striving to reach a mountain peak proactively choose a roundabout climbing route when it is difficult to advance directly towards the peak.  The essential point is not "taking risks to climb directly forward," but rather "being certain to arrive at the peak." The flag at the mountaintop which I am seeking has not changed.

 

What will be necessary in aiming to reach this peak without fail is "technology."  Japan is a treasure house of technological innovations unrivaled anywhere in the world, including in the area of solar energy "quantum solar cells" having three times the conventional power generating efficiency, as well as "lithium air batteries" expected to function at ten times the conventional capacity.  Actively embracing the lessons of the current TEPCO Fukushima nuclear power plant accident, both the public and private sectors should undertake full-scale efforts for further research and development, working vigorously towards the furtherance of renewable natural energies.

 

In working towards "the next era," one step forward for policies that generate such movement in a realistic manner will be the Bill to Promote Renewable Energies, which I wrote about in my previous blog entry. The passage of this bill in the current Diet session is a major issue.

June 17(Friday)

"No. 21 [Visit] A Series of Town Hall Meetings with Disaster-Stricken Communities Starts!"

 

Prime Minister Kan started hearing requests from heads of municipalities directly by telephone as early as March. The current series of meetings will gather people dealing with the disaster from both the Government and local communities. The Government side is represented by Senior Vice-Minister of Cabinet Office for National Policy Tatsuo Hirano. The Prime Minister attended the first meeting.

 

 

June 11  Kamaishi City, Iwate Prefecture

<At fishing port>

Kamaishi City official: "There will be a siren shortly."

 

<The Prime Minister and others wait for the moment of silent prayer, facing the ocean>

 

<The Prime Minister and others enter the building>

A sign for the entrance to the venue of the town hall meeting. A new initiative kicked off to link the Government and communities.

Prime Minister: "Ministry officials are also here today together with Diet members involved with each issue."

Behind the Prime Minister are many Ministry officials.

 

<The meeting was attended by the mayors of Kamaishi City and Otsuchi Town, as well as people from commerce, agriculture, fisheries, social welfare, and medical sectors>

Prime Minister: "Instead of just hearing about the situation at the site, I want to make sure to incorporate what I have heard into the second supplementary budget and other government programs."

 

Theme 1. Promotion of industries

Mayor of Kamaishi City: "The top priority is the revival of the fisheries industry. We haven't even started rebuilding aquaculture facilities."

 

<The Prime Minister moves on to the destroyed Kamaishi Fish Market>

The revival of the fisheries industry, which is a core industry here, is key to revitalizing this region.

 

<The Prime Minister hears specific requests toward reconstruction>

Prefectural official: "Even if we bring fresh fish here, they can't be transported without refrigerating."

Prime Minister: "One thing we need is ice, then."

Fisheries cooperative official: "Even if you bring ice in blocks (from another place), they can't be used without crushing. That facility needs to be repaired now."

Prime Minister: "I will secure a budget for this immediately."

Fisheries cooperative official:"If we wait until the second supplementary budget, it will be too late for this year's fish."

Prime Minister: "To let you start work as early as possible, I will do all I can. I will do all I can so please be assured to start whatever you can."

 

Theme 2. Removal of rubble

<Returning to the town hall meeting>

Vice-Governor of Iwate Prefecture: "It will take a considerably long time to remove the rubble."

Prime Minister: "In principle, I want to transfer it (rubble in the residential area) to a temporary deposit by the middle of August."

 

<Together with the Mayor of Kamaishi City, the Prime Minister observes the situation concerning the removal of rubble in the City>

Prime Minister: "Within Kamaishi City alone, is there no space to keep all rubble temporarily?"

Mayor: "No. We will have no choice but to have destroyed rice fields and the like donated for this purpose..."

Prime Minister: "Even by borrowing, you mean."

In other disaster-stricken areas too, the lack of space to keep rubble remains to be a major issue.

 

<Suddenly a man speaks to the Prime Minister>

Man: "I have a request to the Prime Minister!"

Prime Minister: "Yes?"

Man: "You don't need to resign. Stay in office and do your best. No need to dissolve the Diet either! Speaking frankly, I am a supporter of the Liberal Democratic Party of Japan, but that doesn't matter. Honestly, I didn't want you to come here, to put it bluntly. If you have such time, I want you to remain there (in the Prime Minister's Office) to formulate a budget soon, to give a lump of money to the disaster-stricken regions. This is the voice of the people. Thank you!"

Prime Minister: "I will make sure to secure a budget for this."

 

<Lining up in the port facing the ocean>

Mayor of Kamaishi City: "We would like to offer a silent prayer together to express our condolences."

 

Exactly three months ago, at 14:46, the Great East Japan Earthquake occurred.

<The siren rings at 14:46 and the Prime Minister and others offer silent prayers>

 

Theme 3. Institutional barrier

<Again, returning to the town hall meeting>

Mayor of Kamaishi City: "We need to present a vision for rebuilding the town. For this, we need to address the issue of land use."

Deputy Mayor of Otsuchi Town: "The place we want to build a factory overlaps with an agricultural promotion zone. I want the Government to do something, such as establishment of special zones, so that we can start constructing any day now."

Prime Minister: "The law concerning the land use presents an obstacle, but not to let it stop people from taking initiatives they want to take..."

 

<Schedule of town hall meetings>

6/17

 Morning: Miyagi Prefecture  Sennan Region

 Afternoon: Miyagi Prefecture Kesennuma City

6/18

 Morning: Iwate Prefecture  Ofunato Region

 Afternoon: Iwate Prefecture  Miyako Region

 

(Senior Vice-Minister of Cabinet Office for National Policy Hirano and related ministry officials will also participate from the Government side)

 

<The Prime Minister answers to the press>

Prime Minister: "I heard what kinds of budget are truly needed. I will make sure to have them included in the second supplementary budget, and I want their needs addressed as soon as possible."

 

June 16(Thursday)

"The next era" (4): The Bill to Promote Renewable Energies

 

I have received requests in succession, two days ago and then again yesterday, to bring the Bill to Promote Renewable Energies into enactment. The day before yesterday I received a request signed by 202 Diet members transcending party lines, while yesterday at the Diet Members' Office Building there was a gathering hosted by the Executive Committee of "Energy Shift Now!" As for me, I keenly realize that the flow of events has finally come to this point under this theme I have pursued since approximately 30 years ago when I was first elected to the Diet.

 

Within the business community there are some who say that because electricity costs will increase, they oppose this new system, which stipulates that electric power suppliers are to purchase from each electricity generating entity the entire amount of electricity generated from solar power, wind power, or other renewable energies (natural energies) via feed-in tariffs. However, the costs of nuclear power will also increase in light of compensation for accidents and other concerns, while fossil fuels are also in the midst of a global trend towards rising prices.

 

The argument that renewable energies have only meager practicality is no doubt a viewpoint based on Japan's "current state of affairs". It goes without saying that, insofar as one makes decisions in conformity with the "current state of affairs", then the "current state of affairs" never evolves.  What is essential is that the political will to "advance the current state of affairs" itself moves into action.

 

Take the U.S.' Apollo Project, for example.  When then-President Kennedy declared the goal of "before this decade [the 1960's] is out, of landing a man on the moon," many people believed that this would be extremely difficult to achieve.  And yet it was exactly because such will was demonstrated that financial resources shifted in that direction, technological innovations advanced, and the 1969 landing of the Apollo 11 spacecraft on the moon was achieved.

 

In the case of renewable energies as well, costs should decrease dramatically once we make clear our will and technological innovations advance.  Now, as we head towards "the next era," is the time for us to bring this bill, which will constitute a major "first step" in fostering renewable energies, into enactment.

June 13(Monday)

"The next era" (3): A surge toward natural energies

 

Yesterday (on June 12, 2011), I embarked on a new endeavor toward "the next era."  This was the first "Prime Minister-Experts Open Forum on Natural Energy," which discussed the future of "natural energy."  Mr. Masayoshi Son, CEO of SoftBank Corp., Mr.Takeshi Okada, former head coach of the Japanese national football team, Mr. Takeshi Kobayashi, Representative Director of ap bank, and Ms. Junko Edahiro, environmental journalist, visited the Prime Minister's Office, with Mr. Ryuichi Sakamoto also participating by means of a video message from overseas.  As the proceedings of the discussions were relayed on the Internet, while the Forum was taking place, opinions and questions flooded in continually from all around the country via "tweets."  It is impossible to count just how many participants there were in all in this Open Forum.  (See note below)

 

I myself also had the opportunity to convey my involvement and thoughts regarding natural energy in two of my capacities.  Speaking in my capacity as the "chief executive of national politics" is invariably most common, but on this occasion I also interwove comments from the standpoint of an "individual".  It was perhaps for that reason that I was able to speak more naturally than usual and I also received a considerable amount of favorable reactions to what I had said.

 

What I felt as a result of yesterday's Open Forum was that there exists a major groundswell to promote natural energy.  I have been hearing about various efforts undertaken individually since quite some time ago Dr. Hiroshi Komiyama, former President of the University of Tokyo, whose house features solar energy and is a model house for energy conservation, as I wrote in my previous blog entry here; also, a friend who sent me a New Year's greeting card several years ago saying, "My household is over 90% self-sufficient in electricity!" I feel that these individual "points" are now beginning to expand out into a "plane" that as a result of the current nuclear accident, we, the Japanese people have begun to think as individuals about "what we should do."

 

At yesterday's meeting I felt very keenly that the tool of the Internet is finally beginning to exercise the power of those thoughts held by each individual, which the government and the mass media have not been able to take in adequately (which I mention after some self-examination). Unlike in North Africa, where political upheaval has been underway in ongoing succession, it is often said that in Japan the influence of the Internet is still far short of that of the mass media. And yet now, that desire to participate, of "I myself would like to get involved in making use of natural energy," is most certainly spreading by means of the Internet.

 

It is only when the public becomes involved in natural energy and energy conservation that these themes of "the next era" can advance. As for the government, "what we should do" is to develop the "mechanism" by which we can support such participation by the public. As one concrete means of doing that, we have submitted to the current Diet session the "Bill to Promote Renewable Energies," which will push forward the system for feed-in tariffs for the purchase of electricity generated by natural energy. I very much hope to bring this bill to be enacted.

 

Note from the Cabinet Public Relations Office: The entirety of the proceedings of the "Prime Minister-Experts Open Forum on Natural Energy" is available online still now at Japanese Government Internet TV (in Japanese).

June 8(Wednesday)

"The next era" (2): Transforming our energy policy

 

"I urge you to allow me to carry out those responsibilities until a certain degree of progress in handling this earthquake disaster and nuclear accident has been achieved.  ...When that degree of progress has been attained, I will hand over responsibilities to the younger generation and I hope to foster anew the understanding of the people... towards the next era."

 

This was the appeal I made at last Thursday's party meeting of DPJ legislators.  This blog entry is the latest in a series that spells out what I envision through the words "the next era" appearing in the statement during the meeting.

 

Yesterday, the Council on the Realization of the New Growth Strategy held its ninth meeting.  During this session, the second since the hiatus caused by the earthquake disaster, the Council engaged in lively discussions on energy policies for "the next era," with business leaders, academics, and others also participating.

 

While no one had an objection to my proposal to "add renewable natural energies and energy conservation" to our existing energy pillars, which have been centered on fossil fuels and nuclear energy, there were considerable differences in the nuances expressed by the discussion participants regarding the "weight" of natural energies and energy conservation within our future energies as a whole.

 

Council member Dr. Hiroshi Komiyama, former President of the University of Tokyo, emphasized that "natural energies and energy conservation will be the core of 21st century energies," and in fact his own house features solar energy and is a model for energy conservation.  I have had the pleasure of seeing his house in person, and it demonstrates firsthand that it is possible to live comfortably even while conserving energy and drastically reducing energy consumption.

 

I myself also consider it important to undertake a dramatic paradigm shift away from the thinking of the 20th century.  However, a major characteristic of energy conservation and natural energies is that "each such instance occurs on a small scale".  As a result, these policies themselves will not become reality without the participation of a great many people.

 

Transforming our energy policy.  In order to make this a reality as we work towards "the next era," the participation of the people will be indispensable.

June 6(Monday)

"The next era" (1): My experiences with wind power

 

"I wish to pass on various responsibilities to the younger generation once a certain degree of progress has been made in tackling the earthquake disaster and once I have fulfilled my role to a certain extent.  I urge you to allow me to carry out those responsibilities until that progress in handling this earthquake disaster and nuclear accident has been achieved.  ...When that degree of progress has been attained, I will hand over responsibilities to the younger generation and I hope to foster anew the understanding of the people... towards the next era."

 

This was the appeal I made at last Thursday's party meeting of DPJ legislators.  I would like here to expand upon what I envision in using the words "the next era" within that statement.

 

The government has submitted to the current session of the Diet a bill that will constitute a significant step towards "the next era."  There have been hints foreshadowing this since more than thirty years ago.

 

In late 1980 when I was first elected as a Diet member, I set off for the United States in order to visit a large number of civil society organizations.  As one part of that, I visited the National Wind Test Center (in the suburbs of Denver), where dozens of kinds of wind-power generation facilities were being test run.

 

Upon asking what happens to the power generated, I was told that it was sold to a power company through a backward feed over the transmission lines.  In that way, even the electricity not consumed at one's own house can be utilized effectively.  Upon returning to Japan, I immediately set to work to see if such a thing could also be done here, but I ran into the wall of the Electricity Business Act, which restricts the purchasing by power companies.

 

Domestically, since the then-Science and Technology Agency had launched a wind power test project called the "Fu (wind)-topia Project," I took this up in the Diet to encourage it.  I also toured the two large-scale wind power generating facilities that TEPCO had set up on Miyakejima island.  However, the project was ultimately called off as it was concluded  not to be economically feasible.

 

It has been thirty-plus years since I was first elected to office.  During this time, wind power and solar power have been treated by electric companies as a nuisance, resulting in failing to develop them in earnest and lagging dramatically behind European countries, despite our excellent technologies.  I intend to take the opportunity of the recent nuclear accident to review the Basic Energy Plan from a blank slate and to foster natural energies such as wind and solar power as core energies for "the next era."

 

What will serve as a major step towards that end is a system of feed-in tariffs for the purchase of electricity generated by natural energies.  If we are able to achieve such a system, we will succeed in breaking through the legal wall that I had run into when I was a newly-elected legislator.  We are at the point where a Cabinet decision has been reached on the bill on the feed-in tariff.  This decision was taken on March 11 of this year.  However, the great earthquake struck on that very same day.

 

While a slight delay occurred as a result, we have presented this bill to the current Diet session.  By enacting this bill into law and establishing at an early time a price at a level at which economic viability can be achieved, wind and solar power will surely expand at an explosive pace.