--The Asahi Shimbun, Jan. 3
EDITORIAL: A letter to high school students

To the 214 first-year students at Kagawa Prefectural Takamatsu-Kougei High School:

Thank you for writing essays on our editorial about the issue of integrated tax and social security reform in Contemporary Social Studies classes.

The editorial titled "Do adults understand?" was published on Dec. 28, 2011. It was written from the point of view of a member of a future generation who was lamenting the fact that their generation would be forced to pay for the huge debt the Japanese government had piled up to finance its spending.

When we responded to your essays on the article, you all again took the trouble of writing what you felt. We were very happy because we found in this correspondence great hope for the future of this country.


One of you wrote, "It is important for us all to think about 'what today's adults have failed to do' instead of simply complaining about their selfishness."

What is it exactly that today's adults have failed to do?

Sociologist Shinji Miyadai offers good insight into this question.

"Japan is a society where people complain and leave matters to others, not a society where people take on matters and think about them," he writes.

Here are some typical examples of how Japanese tend to think:

* It is the responsibility of bureaucrats and politicians to make policy decisions on such difficult issues as social security and tax. All we ordinary people can do is gripe about how things stand.

* We left the problem for politicians to handle when we cast our ballots at the polls. In the end, people in power will work things out, right?

For many years in Japan, the amount of money the government spends and distributes has been bigger than the amount of money collected by the government through taxes. To make up the difference, the government has been piling up more and more debt.

Obviously, however, the government cannot continue running up debt forever. But it is not easy to increase taxes, either, whether the consumption tax or other levies.

Meanwhile, the number of elderly people who need social security services like nursing care and pensions continues to grow at an alarming pace.

It seems that we can no longer afford to leave this important problem for people in power to deal with. As a first step toward abandoning this attitude, let us learn how the social security system works.


When you look around you, don't you find that there is a growing number of lonely people in your neighborhood?

Take old people, for instance. As they grow physically weaker, they find it increasingly difficult to go out. They also feel sad as their memory dims, making it harder for them to keep following what is happening around them.

Young people who have quit their jobs or left school usually see their circles of acquaintances shrink, and those who have withdrawn from society after being bullied at school must endure solitude.

Parents of young children feel lonely and frustrated if they have to spend all of their time at home with their children.

The most unfortunate thing that can happen to a person is probably to become isolated from society. It is, therefore, vital to help people avoid such a situation by building ties with others.
 人とのつながりがなくなるのが一番、不幸せじゃないかな。 そこをなんとかする。人と人のつながりをつくっていく。

Your writings included some heartening comments on this problem.

One of you wrote, "Such simple things will help. I can probably do them in my daily life." Another said, "I think more people will become happy if we fix the problems one by one." "I have realized that my surroundings are also part of the country," commented a third.

The spirit of mutual aid and support expressed in these remarks is the very foundation of social security.

If we understand the importance of mutual aid and support, we should first do what we can do immediately, either on our own or together with our neighbors. Then, we need to contribute money to pay for the professional medical and nursing-care services that some people need.

But people generally develop a tendency to think from a standpoint of profits and losses as they grow older.

Many adults say they are having a hard time trying to make ends meet and demand that people in better financial conditions pay for social security. Others say they deserve to receive more aid because they are so badly off. Still others argue that people should not be given a "free ride" under the system of mutual support.

There are various conflicting opinions on social security issues, and it is difficult to find solutions acceptable to a majority of people.


"Politicians who appear on TV don't listen to what others say at all once they start stating their own opinion," one of you wrote. That's exactly true and unfortunately so because working out compromises between people with conflicting opinions and interests is what politics is all about.

Some politicians promise to improve the social security system without increasing the financial burden on the public.

But there can never be such a magic solution to the problem.

The only effective way for us to tackle the problem is to stop leaving the work to politicians and bureaucrats and start considering and discussing it as our own challenge. We may have to set aside our wishes and opinions in consideration of others from time to time.

We also need people who listen carefully to what others say and carry out what they can do quietly.

"I'm not good at making arguments and usually do nothing but listen to other people's opinions. But it seems that I have to express my opinions on important issues," one of you wrote.

That's right. We urge you to pluck up your courage and voice your opinions on issues that you think are important.

Everybody has a role to play. If we roll up our shirt sleeves and get down to tackling the situation, we will probably be able to work out solutions to the problems through constructive discussions.

"I don't think there are any politicians who are trying to make things worse," one of you said.

That's also true. You should act on this belief and start by doing what you can do.

If you become voters who recognize the power and importance of mutual support among members of society, politics of this nation will no doubt begin to move in the right direction. That's because politics mirrors what is happening around us.

We have high expectations of all of you.

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