May 28, 2014
EDITORIAL: Japan's shrinking population forces us to reconsider how we live

Japan's projected population decline conjures up an image of a ball rolling down a steep slope.

According to estimates by the National Institute of Population and Social Security Research, the nation's population will shrink to two-thirds of the current level in the next half-century, and then to one-third 100 years from now.

Three panels of experts have issued reports on how to put the brakes on the decline.

All the reports concur that there are obstacles preventing people who want to marry and have children from doing so, and that these obstacles must be removed.

The reports also offer similar solutions, which boil down to expanding support for parents and changing the ways of working.

The Japan Policy Council, a private research foundation that issued one of the three reports, caught the public's attention by pointing out the possibility of about half of the nation's current rural municipalities ceasing to exist if they keep losing their populations to the big cities. But aside from the JPC's dire warning, the three reports offer no new practical solutions.

This was only to be expected, as what needs to be done is already fairly clear. But the point is whether society and the political community will be receptive to the proposed solutions and follow through.


What are the problems?

Our society is solidly established on the traditional concept of the family, which is that the husband is the sole breadwinner and the wife is a full-time homemaker. But this is no longer the reality today, while the social systems, practices and people's mind-sets are still based on the traditional concept.

The situation in Japan is conspicuously different from those in other leading industrialized countries.

Despite the growing number of households where both spouses work, policy support for child-rearing families is still far from adequate.

Long working hours are still routine, partly because the sole breadwinner has always been expected to put in overtime and never complain about transfers. So long as this mind-set remains, husbands will find it difficult to help with household chores and child-rearing. Women who want to work full-time jobs are forced to work long hours just like the men, and tend to put off marrying and starting a family.

Wage levels differ greatly by how one works. In the past, part-time work was only for married women and students, whose wages were kept low on the premise that they could depend financially on their husbands or fathers. But there is a growing number of adult men nowadays who are earning low wages as part-time workers. The current trend for women to remain single or marry late will only accelerate if they keep waiting for men who will meet all their financial needs.


If that is the case, some people argue, then we should revive the traditional concept of family.

But that is a tall order. The number of households that can survive on the husband's income alone is on the decrease, and in this age of unstable employment, it is too risky to rely on just one breadwinner. Housework is done differently today from the past, too. Families change along with changes in their circumstances.

We already know that the changes cannot be stopped.

When the government declared "the first year of the welfare society" in 1973, the oil crisis that occurred that year aggravated the nation's fiscal problems. This gave rise to the concept of the "Japanese-style welfare society." The argument then was that Europe's generous welfare handouts took away people's incentive to work, whereas the Japanese spirit of self-help and reliance on one's family, not on government handouts, was truly a virtue.

The Liberal Democratic Party regime of the time took advantage of this argument to curb welfare spending and proceeded to reward households with wives who stayed at home or worked only very little to shoulder burdens of caring for children and elderly parents. Specifically, the government created a system whereby women, who are married to full-time company employees and earn less than a certain level of income themselves, are qualified for old-age pensions of their own without having to pay premiums.

But even this system did not stop the number of dual-income households from growing. And ironically, although it was designed to benefit low-income married women, the system had the effect of encouraging part-time workers to keep their wage levels low. This became one of the causes of the significant wage gaps that exist today. The Abe administration is currently trying to review this "Japan-style" setup by encouraging women's "active participation" in society.

Outside Japan, conspicuous drops in birthrates can be found in countries such as Italy and Spain where people rely on their families for the help they need. It is only natural that when families become overburdened, people hesitate to have children.


The burden on families will grow even further in the days ahead. In the past, there were multiple working-age people financially supporting one senior citizen under the welfare system. But the nation is fast transforming into a "piggyback" society where there will be only one working-age citizen supporting a senior citizen.

Will the working-age people be able to bear their tax and insurance premium burdens? Will more people be forced to give up work or motherhood in order to care for their elderly parents or relatives? Something must be done to protect both the younger and older generations from collapse.

For one, it is vital to ensure that people will be able to function to their full capacity.

This calls for a system that will allow people to work flexibly while caring for their children or elderly family members.

In the Netherlands, workers are entitled to demand shorter or longer working hours according to their needs, and employers are forbidden to unfavorably treat workers because of shorter working hours. As a result, the employment rate and birthrate have gone up.

Secondly, it is necessary to provide support to the younger generation that supports the elderly population.

The three reports from the panels of experts propose that the nation's social security system, which is currently weighted heavily in favor of the elderly, should be revised to take the needs of the younger generation into consideration. Seniors in difficult financial circumstances obviously need help, but the needs of the younger generation cannot be ignored any longer.

The report by the JPC went one step further. Noting that the terminally ill who are no longer able to eat on their own are often fed from a tube, the report urged earnest discussion of issues related to terminal care to explore desirable forms of end-of-life treatment.

We are born, and we will all eventually die someday.

The nation's shrinking population forces us to face life squarely and reconsider how we live. And we cannot move forward unless the entire society engages in discussion.

--The Asahi Shimbun, May 26


竹富町の教科書 単独採択の容認は禍根を残す

The Yomiuri Shimbun 7:38 pm, May 27, 2014
Approval for Taketomi town to become independent school district problematic
竹富町の教科書 単独採択の容認は禍根を残す

The latest move in the Okinawa Prefecture school textbook case may become a bad precedent, we are afraid.

The Okinawa Prefectural Board of Education has approved the secession of the town board of education in Taketomi from the textbook selection council of the Yaeyama district—comprising the city of Ishigaki and the towns of Taketomi and Yonaguni—in the prefecture.

The Taketomi Board of Education has been using a textbook of its own choice in public schools for more than two years, in violation of the law on the free provision of school textbooks, which stipulates that a joint textbook adoption district—comprising more than one municipality—must adopt the same textbook throughout.

The Taketomi Board of Education did not comply with a demand for corrective action that the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry made in March based on the Local Government Law.

As the prefectural board of education has approved the Taketomi Board of Education’s establishment of an independent educational district, the Taketomi board will be able to adopt textbooks of its own choice beginning next fiscal year. We cannot help but feel doubtful about the latest development, as it seems to have caved in to the hard line taken by the town board.

We must remember that the current state of unlawfulness will remain until the end of this fiscal year. This development is quite problematic from the viewpoint of legal compliance.

Education Minister Hakubun Shimomura said the ministry would not file a lawsuit against the Taketomi town government to formally establish the illegality of the town board’s actions.

He has reportedly concluded that even if the education ministry wins the suit and has the town board change the textbook for use at public schools, it would only cause confusion in classrooms in the middle of an academic year. But this does not mean Shimomura approves of the current state of illegality.

The prefectural board of education carries a grave responsibility for allowing the confusion to drag on.

Dispute over textbooks

In the summer of 2011, the textbook selection council of the Yaeyama district chose a civic studies textbook published by Ikuhosha Publishing Inc. for use in middle schools. The council selected the textbook because it contains a full description of territorial issues.

Despite the council’s selection, however, the Taketomi Board of Education unilaterally decided to use a textbook published by Tokyo Shoseki Co.

The prefectural board of education has not taken steps to have the Taketomi Board of Education take corrective action. Even when the education ministry instructed the prefectural board of education last October to demand the Taketomi Board of Education conform, the prefectural board did nothing.

The joint textbook adoption system allows small local municipalities with limited personnel to cooperate with each other in selecting school textbooks. Joint textbook adoption districts comprise local municipalities that share the same sense of unity geographically and culturally.

The law on the free provision of school textbooks was revised in April as some cases emerged in which the demarcation of the joint textbook adoption district would no longer correspond to the distribution of local communities and their livelihoods due to mergers of cities, towns and villages in recent years.

The revision changed the description of administrative units of joint textbook adoption districts from “cities and counties” to “cities, towns and villages,” allowing textbooks to be selected by educational districts that combine towns and villages more flexibly.

The Taketomi Board of Education, apparently by distorting the meaning of the legal revision to its own advantage, demanded that it could break away from the educational district. Yet the ties among municipalities within the Yaeyama district remain strong. There are no special circumstances surrounding the district due to the recent merger of municipalities. The secession of the Taketomi Board of Education was not made in line with the purport of the law revision.

It is only reasonable that the boards of education of Ishigaki and Yonaguni have called for leaving the current framework in place.

It is regrettable that such a natural procedure as the board of education selecting a textbook in compliance with laws and ordinances has been ignored.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, May 27, 2014)


中国機異常接近 習政権は常軌逸した挑発慎め

The Yomiuri Shimbun 7:22 pm, May 26, 2014
China fighters’ abnormally close flying to SDF planes an aberrant provocation
中国機異常接近 習政権は常軌逸した挑発慎め

An incident has taken place that must be condemned as a thoughtless and extremely dangerous provocation, an act that came within a hair’s breadth of a midair collision. We absolutely will not overlook this occurrence.

Two Sukhoi Su-27 fighter jets belonging to the Chinese military flew abnormally close to a Maritime Self-Defense Force OP-3C image data acquisition plane and an Air Self-Defense Force YS-11EB electronic intelligence plane Saturday, which were flying over the high seas in the East China Sea.

The incident occurred in airspace where Japan’s air defense identification zone overlaps with what China claims as its own ADIZ. One of the Chinese fighters was reported to have flown roughly 50 meters from the OP-3C aircraft, while the other came as close as about 30 meters from the YS-11EB plane.

International law does not explicitly stipulate the distance that airplanes should maintain from one another for safety purposes. However, the recent acts of flying extraordinarily close to the SDF planes are an affront to what are considered norms in the international community.

On Sunday, Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera criticized China for its fighters’ aggressive behavior toward the SDF aircraft as “completely aberrant acts.” The Japanese government has lodged a protest over the incident through diplomatic channels, a natural response to the Chinese warplanes’ extremely close approaches.

The incident took place while China and Russia were conducting joint naval exercises in the East China Sea. The Defense Ministry said that at the time of the incident, the SDF planes were engaged in ordinary warning and surveillance duties at a considerable distance from the China-Russia exercise area. The Chinese Defense Ministry, however, issued a statement Sunday claiming that the SDF planes “monitored and interfered with the joint military drill by the navies of China and Russia.”

In the past, there have been several instances in which helicopters and airplanes of China’s State Oceanic Administration flew close to—within 100 meters—MSDF destroyers in the East China Sea.

SDF must not waver

The fighter jets that made extremely close approaches to the SDF planes were equipped with missiles and capable of flying at a far higher velocity. Beijing’s attempt to unilaterally justify such a dangerous show of force is absolutely unforgivable. While paying due attention to safety, the SDF must be resolute in continuing its warning and surveillance activities.

Behind the unusual approaches by the Chinese fighters may be the hard-line posture of the administration of Chinese President Xi Jinping, which has been pursuing a policy of expanding China’s hegemony in both the East China and South China seas under the banner of building the nation into a maritime power.

It is worrying that the Chinese troops deployed in these areas may repeat such extreme shows of force.

As demonstrated by an incident in January last year, in which a Chinese frigate locked its weaponry radar on an MSDF destroyer in the East China Sea, it is highly likely that the Chinese military has yet to put in place rules of engagement that would clearly prohibit military acts that run contrary to international norms.

In reference to the radar-locking incident, a meeting of the Western Pacific Naval Symposium held in China in April this year with 21 countries taking part adopted the Code for Unplanned Encounters at Sea, defining such acts as targeting radar at a foreign naval vessel as “actions to be avoided.”

Japan, for its part, should draft an international code of conduct and a set of rules regarding military affairs for the prevention of a contingency or a collision of warships or aircraft, in close cooperation with the United States and other relevant countries, with the aim of persistently urging China to participate in the framework of rules.

Efforts should also be made to resume currently stalled consultations between Tokyo and Beijing to formulate a bilateral “maritime liaison mechanism” focusing on such matters as the establishment of a hotline between senior defense officers of the two countries, with a view to achieving an agreement on the matter as early as possible.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, May 26, 2014)


国会改革 党首討論の定例化から始めよ

The Yomiuri Shimbun 7:08 pm, May 25, 2014
Reform of Diet should give priority to regular debates among party heads
国会改革 党首討論の定例化から始めよ

Working-level members from the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and its junior coalition partner New Komeito as well as the Democratic Party of Japan and Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Restoration Party) have compiled measures to make Diet debates more efficient and substantial. The issue, pending from last year, has finally moved forward.

After coordinating their proposals with other parties, the four parties should seek to have them adopted by the Diet in the next session.

The pillar of their proposals is to reduce the appearances of the prime minister and Cabinet ministers before the Diet, and, instead, hold debates once a month in principle among the party heads from the ruling and opposition parties on essential issues.

The Japanese prime minister and Cabinet members are tied up with Diet schedules far more than their counterparts in the United States and European nations. It is a matter of course for the government to be made accountable, but it is putting the cart before the horse to require these leaders to answer questions in the Diet at the expense of their diplomatic and domestic political duties.

It is appropriate to lighten the burdens of the prime minister and Cabinet members so as to allow them to dedicate their energies to their primary duties.

Under the proposals, the prime minister’s attendance at both chambers’ budget committees would be limited to basic and concluding question-and-answer sessions and “intensive deliberations on certain issues deemed necessary.” Without stretching the interpretation of this stipulation, the prime minister’s attendance in the Diet should be limited.

Supplementing the reduced duties of the prime minister with more debates among the party heads is a significant idea. There are many challenges that party heads must debate, such as the revision of the government’s constitutional interpretation over the exercise of the right to collective self-defense, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Abenomics economic policies and reforms of the nation’s social security system.

No debates so far this year

Under the current system, party heads are supposed to hold debates once a week in principle. But there is an agreement among the parties that debates will not be held in weeks when the prime minister has to attend such Diet meetings as plenary and Budget Committee sessions.

As the opposition parties prefer Budget Committee sessions, where it is easier for them to secure more time for questioning, debates among party heads have not been held so far this year. Party heads should be required to hold regular debates as part of this reform so party leaders will be able to hold substantial debates from a broader perspective.

To make Diet deliberations on lawmaker-sponsored bills more meaningful, the proposals call for holding free debates between Diet members. As most bills submitted to the Diet are by the Cabinet, it is essential to promote legislation initiated by lawmakers.

Among other recommendations are that overseas trips by Cabinet members be approved in principle and that the senior vice ministers and parliamentary secretaries take charge for absent ministers. Reducing the burden on bureaucrats preparing ministers’ Diet answers by requiring Diet members to submit questions to the government early is also included in the proposals. Since these measures are all expected to make Diet deliberations more efficient, we hope the proposals will be carried out in their entirety.

Their proposals, however, are unsatisfactory in that they do not address the problem of a divided Diet, a situation in which the House of Councillors is controlled by the opposition, while the ruling camp has a majority in the House of Representatives. During the years of such a split Diet, opposition parties frustrated administrations by rejecting the government’s personnel appointments that required Diet approval. Narrowing the range of personnel appointments requiring Diet approval also merits consideration.

The ruling and opposition parties should calmly tackle such a challenge now that the Diet is no longer divided.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, May 25, 2014)


(社説)年金受給年齢 信頼をこわさぬように

May 24, 2014
EDITORIAL: Securing public confidence vital for pension reform
(社説)年金受給年齢 信頼をこわさぬように

A hot topic in the media is when is the best time for people to start receiving pension benefits.
Interest in the issue surged after Norihisa Tamura, the welfare minister, indicated that the government will consider allowing people to push back the age at which they start receiving benefits to 75.

Discussions on the minimum or best age to claim state pension benefits tend to cause misunderstandings. The government should tread carefully in considering any related proposal to avoid undermining public confidence that is vital for the health of the state pension program.

First of all, it should be noted that Tamura did not say the age of eligibility, or the earliest age at which people can claim benefits, will be delayed to 75.

Currently, people can freely choose the age to start receiving benefits between ages 60 and 70. The proposal Tamura referred to would raise the maximum age to 75.

If you begin receiving benefits earlier, you will naturally receive money over a longer period, but the monthly amount will be smaller. If you delay the start, the monthly benefits will be larger.

People can choose the age at which they become pensioners according to their own life plans.

What is controversial is the proposal to increase the age of eligibility for all recipients as a way to improve the financially troubled pension system.

This approach would increase funds to finance pension benefits for future retirees by reducing current pension payouts.

But this idea would not necessarily benefit younger generations because the age of eligibility cannot be raised at once.

Currently, the earliest age retired corporate employees can claim the earnings-linked second tier of benefits under the employees’ pension program is being increased in stages from 60 to 65.
The entire process, from the decision to increase the pension age to the completion of the increase, will take 25 to 30 years.

Even if the government decides now to increase the age of pension eligibility to 68 for all retired employees, the decision would not affect today’s elderly pensioners.

Cuts in benefits due to the increase in the age of eligibility would start with young generations who tend to be deeply discontent with the current pension system. That means this idea would not do much to reduce the pension gap between generations.

The step could even increase young generations’ resentment toward the system and create an enormous wave of distrust of the whole social system that is supposed to support people’s retirement.

Rather, the government should focus on considering reform measures that also affect people who are already receiving pensions. Ideas that merit serious consideration include a system for macroeconomic adjustment that would reduce pension payouts if the population shrinks, as well as reviews of the taxation on pensions and assets.

What is crucial is to reassure people that they will receive pension benefits to help support themselves until the end of their lives. To ensure such a sense of security, the government should figure out the levels of benefits that need to be maintained while taking effective steps to increase job opportunities for the elderly.

If the government rushes into cuts in benefits in its efforts to ensure the financial sustainability of the pension plan, it would risk raising fears among people that they will not receive sufficient pensions in their retirement. That would make absolutely no sense.

Policymakers should not forget the importance of combining employment and pension for making people’s retirement financially secure.

--The Asahi Shimbun, May 24


タイクーデター 軍の全権掌握に正統性はない

The Yomiuri Shimbun 7:23 pm, May 24, 2014
Thai military's takeover of country cannot be justified in any way
タイクーデター 軍の全権掌握に正統性はない

Thailand’s military has staged a coup amid prolonged political turmoil, making the nation’s political prospects even more uncertain.

Thai Army chief Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha announced Thursday that the military had taken full control of the nation, declaring a coup following Tuesday’s imposition of martial law.

With the collapse earlier this month of the government supporting former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, the National Peace and Order Maintaining Council, which primarily comprises military leaders, will be in charge of running the nation for the time being. Prayuth will assume the post of acting prime minister.

It was a drastic change of government in line with the stance of the anti-Thaksin camp, which had been calling on the administration to resign.

This is the first coup since 2006, when Thaksin, who had been under fire for allegedly amassing a fortune illegally, was ousted as prime minister.

Thailand has a history of attempting to end political turmoil by military coups. This coup was probably staged as a military attempt to end the confusion, given the abnormal situation in which the prime minister was sacked while the lower house of parliament had been dissolved.

The military is thought to be aiming to put the nation on a path to stability before transferring power to civilian control.

Whatever its reason may be, ignoring democratic procedures and toppling the government by force should never be condoned.

Military lacks legitimacy

Even though it has seized full power, the military clearly lacks legitimacy. It is suppressing human rights by imposing a nighttime curfew and restricting the freedom to assemble.

It was appropriate for Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida to express regret and say, “We strongly urge [Thailand] to swiftly restore a democratic political regime.” U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry also sharply criticized the Thai military, saying he was “disappointed” by its decision.

The military should now find a way to realize political stability through persistent dialogue with various political camps.

The faction supporting Thaksin has been calling for an election under the current electoral system, which would put the pro-Thaksin camp at an advantage, while the anti-Thaksin camp has been demanding that electoral system reforms be given priority. Under such circumstances, it is no easy task to reach a conclusion that pleases every party concerned, including the military.

Of concern is the possibility that Thaksin supporters will stage demonstrations and clash with the military, leading to a situation similar to the armed suppression of Thaksin supporters by the military in 2010, which resulted in more than 90 fatalities. Both sides must exercise self-restraint and not repeat such a tragedy.

It is difficult to fathom the consequences that the political imbroglio will have on the Thai economy. Indicators clearly show the Thai economy is already slowing, due mainly to sluggish consumer spending. The government’s failure to function effectively has already hindered budget compilation and the approval of large-scale investments.

The military should take it to heart that foreign investors, including Japanese companies, regard the nation’s political climate with its repeated coups as a risk factor for investing in Thailand.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, May 24, 2014)



May 22, 2014
EDITORIAL: Court ruling on Oi nuclear plant should be accepted

The Fukui District Court’s ruling May 21 on the Oi nuclear power plant is a sober judgment that fully reflects the lessons learned from the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster. Both Kansai Electric Power Co., the operator of the plant, and the government cannot afford to ignore the ruling.

The court ordered Kansai Electric not to restart the No. 3 and No. 4 reactors, which are currently offline for regular maintenance.

The court said there was no way of knowing when an earthquake far more powerful than one the electric utility has braced for will strike.
Such an event, the court stated, could have grave consequences for residents living within a 250-kilometer radius of the plant in Oi, Fukui Prefecture.

Presiding Judge Hideaki Higuchi noted that the triple meltdown at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant forced the evacuation of 150,000 local residents, which was the catalyst for the deaths of 60 people, including hospitalized patients.
The catastrophic accident three years ago revealed “the true nature of risks inherent in nuclear power technology and the scale of damage” that a serious nuclear accident can cause, Higuchi said.

“If the court avoided making a judgment on whether there is even a million-to-one chance of such an accident happening (at the Oi plant), it would amount to a dereliction of duty,” he added.

Presiding over a case involving nuclear power requires considerable expertise. In past rulings, Japanese courts tended to accept what the plant operator and the government claimed at face value.

We give high marks to the Fukui District Court’s decision. It suggests that the court is taking its role as vital guardian of the law very seriouslyafter the nuclear disaster.

What is especially notable about the ruling is that it is based entirely on the viewpoint of protecting the lives and livelihoods of people.

Kansai Electric argued that the reactors need to be brought back online to ensure a stable supply of electricity and to cut costs.

But the court ruling roundly criticized the utility’s argument.
“It is legally unacceptable to discuss people’s rights concerning their very existence and economic concerns about electricity rates in the same terms,” the court said.

The ruling also rejected the argument that “suspending nuclear power generation is detrimental to the national interest because it will lead to increasing Japan’s trade deficit and drain of national wealth.”
It said, “National wealth means that people can live lives firmly rooted in rich land.”

Kansai Electric said it will appeal the ruling. The court ruling is also certain to elicit an angry response from the business community and the local governments hosting the nuclear plant, which both had their sights set on the reactors restarting.

The district court’s decision is bound to be welcomed by many Japanese who have been shaken by the great suffering that residents of Fukushima Prefecture have had to endure.

After the nuclear accident, the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) was established as a more independent nuclear industry watchdog. This had led to more stringent nuclear safety standards than before.

The Abe administration has moved to reactivate idled reactors if they pass the NRA’s safety checks.

But the court also pointed out the “limit of human ability in the face of (the great forces of) nature.”

There are still many unsolved issues with regard to the Fukushima nuclear disaster; for example, what precisely caused the accident and why damage cut across such wide areas.
The ruling was intended as a strong warning against a head-long rush to bring reactors back online based only on limited scientific knowledge.

The operators of nuclear plants, the government and the NRA should offer clear and straightforward answers to the questions raised by the court ruling.

They should not be allowed to ignore them, banking on the possibility that a higher court may overturn the lower court’s decision.

--The Asahi Shimbun, May 22



May 21, 2014
EDITORIAL: Startling Fukushima testimony raises grave questions

When faced with a life-threatening crisis, humans do not necessarily behave according to set rules. Some will do anything to save their skins. Without factoring in this possibility, is it ever possible to design something that is guaranteed to be safe?

We raise the issue because of a document that recently came to light. It is a record of statements made by Masao Yoshida, who was the manager of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant at the time of the March 2011 disaster. Yoshida died last July of esophageal cancer.
This valuable document covers exchanges Yoshida made when he was questioned by the government's Investigation Committee on the Accident at the Fukushima Nuclear Power Stations of Tokyo Electric Power Co.

The document begs a fundamental question: Is it right to entrust operations of nuclear power plants to electric power companies that are private enterprises?

According to the document, Yoshida said that on March 15, four days after the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami crippled the Fukushima No. 1 plant, fears were being voiced that the plant's No. 2 reactor containment vessel was damaged or destroyed. At that most critical juncture, according to the document, about 90 percent of plant workers defied Yoshida's orders and fled to the Fukushima No. 2 plant, about 10 kilometers away, to seek temporary refuge.

Doubts have always existed about the efficacy of disaster response measures at nuclear power plants. Would any utility really order its workers to risk their lives and keep performing their duties? How many workers would the utility be able to continue to secure during an accident? At Fukushima, these questions were no longer just theoretical.

The safety of commercial nuclear power plants today can be maintained only if plant operators deal appropriately with any mishap. The more serious the situation, the more people are needed to contain the crisis. But unlike Self-Defense Forces personnel, police officers and firefighters, who are all special-status government workers, nuclear power plant operators are private-sector workers.

The 50 or so workers who stayed at the Fukushima No. 1 plant while the crisis unfolded came to be called the "Fukushima 50" and were lauded around the world for their heroic dedication. But there is no guarantee such heroism will come into play when the next nuclear crisis occurs. The document raises grave questions.

Yet, Shunichi Tanaka, chairman of the Nuclear Regulation Authority, was reportedly not even aware of the document's existence. We find it extremely hard to understand that the head of this organization, created to prevent a recurrence of nuclear crisis, was not familiar with all the details from the outset of the Fukushima disaster.

The possibility of plant workers deserting en masse during a crisis was not even raised during discussions last year on establishing new regulatory standards for nuclear power plants.

Yotaro Hatamura, an expert in the science of failures and former chairman of the government's investigation committee on the Fukushima accident, stated in the overview of the investigation report: "Whatever may happen will happen. Whatever is thought to never happen will also happen." Has nobody heeded Hatamura's warning?

The government's investigation committee interviewed 772 individuals in connection with the Fukushima disaster. There must be many valuable opinions that have yet to be made public.

TEPCO must reveal every aspect of the mass desertion, and waste no time in doing so. The utility cannot be entrusted with nuclear power plant operations so long as it refuses to face the issue head-on.

For its part, the government should disclose all investigation committee materials to the public and make every effort to ensure that people learn lessons from the Fukushima accident. In the absence of any such effort, we firmly oppose the restart of reactors that are currently off-line.

--The Asahi Shimbun, May 21



May 20, 2014
EDITORIAL: What on earth is the Xi administration afraid of?

June 4 will mark the 25th anniversary of China’s bloody crackdown on pro-democracy protesters, mainly students, at Beijing's Tiananmen Square.

Lawyers and scholars who gathered for a small meeting to commemorate the event have recently been detained one after another.

In an unacceptable move, the administration headed by President Xi Jinping is stepping up its efforts to suppress freedom of speech and public gatherings. We strongly urge the Chinese government to release all the detainees immediately.

Even today, people in China are not allowed to speak about the 1989 incident in public. The Chinese government, which does everything to maintain the Communist Party’s monopoly on power, still rejects the people’s thirst for democracy, just as it did a quarter of a century ago.

The military opened fire on the Tiananmen protesters as it tried to quash the demonstration, killing many of them. Beijing is trying to place a gag on free speech to cover up this inconvenient historical fact.

Chinese intellectuals and the families of the victims have been calling on the government to reveal the truth about the incident and reassess it.

A dozen or so people gathered for a private meeting held in Beijing on May 3.

Among them, five central figures, including Pu Zhiqiang, a prominent civil rights lawyer, and Xu Youyu, a liberal intellectual, have apparently been detained. Contact with them has been lost since May 4.

The fact that Pu and the others were rounded up immediately after the gathering indicates that security authorities had been constantly watching their movements.

They have been apparently charged with “creating a disturbance.” But it is hard to understand how such a small private gathering can be regarded as a “disturbance.”

For many years, Pu has been working hard to improve the human rights situation in China. Pu’s biggest achievement so far is his successful campaign for the abolition of the so-called re-education through labor system, which was announced by the Xi administration late last year.
The controversial system, commonly known as "laojiao," was used to detain people for political education through labor for long periods without an open trial.

The program, which dates back to the era of Mao Tse-tung, had also been used to suppress free speech. Pu has long been calling for its abolition. This background has made his detention all the more shocking.

In addition, prominent journalist Gao Yu, a former reporter for Xinhua news agency who was once involved in the Tiananmen movement, has gone missing. Some other domestic and foreign journalists have also been detained.

Human rights groups and research institutes around the world have issued statements voicing concern about these moves.

A spokesperson for China’s Foreign Ministry has rejected the international criticism, saying that since China is a nation under the rule of law, any violation of Chinese law is punished according to the law.

But does a country that detains people who only gathered for discussions deserve to be called a nation ruled by law?

Beijing’s abuse of the legal system to silence dissent has only been getting worse. In April, a Chinese appellate court upheld the four-year prison sentence for prominent legal scholar and rights advocate Xu Zhiyong. He was convicted of “gathering a crowd to disturb public order.” Xu has been leading a grass-roots New Citizens’ Movement, which calls for the protection of people’s rights based on the Constitution.

What on earth is the Xi administration afraid of? Its adamant determination not to allow any political organizations or dissenting voices that challenge the Communist Party’s grip on power can only be considered a sign of its lack of self-confidence.

--The Asahi Shimbun, May 20


インフラ老朽化 橋とトンネルの点検を着実に

The Yomiuri Shimbun 7:13 pm, May 19, 2014
Safety inspections for antiquated bridges, tunnels urgently needed
インフラ老朽化 橋とトンネルの点検を着実に

Inspections of aging infrastructure such as bridges and tunnels are urgently needed to promptly work out and implement safety measures. This is a challenge that weighs heavily on local governments around the country.

Effective from July, the Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry will make it obligatory for bridges and tunnels under the administration of prefectural governments as well as those managed by city, town and village municipalities to receive safety checks every five years. Local governments are supposed to assess the safety of bridges and tunnels in four stages, and take countermeasures corresponding to the respective stages.

If a structure is judged as being in a “state requiring emergency measures,” with impediments to its proper functions or having an extremely high possibility of impediments, the rules laid down by the ministry call for the local government concerned to carry out swift repairs and impose necessary traffic regulations.

Up to now, there have been no criteria of safety inspections common to all local governments, such as frequency of inspections and safety evaluation methods. The central government’s action is proper, as it is aimed at obliging local entities to carry out safety inspections and assessments uniformly to resolve the problem of decaying infrastructure.

What is problematic in this connection is that damage to and deterioration of infrastructure, or social overhead capital, such as bridges and tunnels, many of which were built during the period of rapid economic growth, will certainly worsen rapidly from now on.

About 40 percent of bridges throughout the country and about 30 percent of tunnels will be more than 50 years old in 10 years from now.

It should be noted that it is not the central government but local governments that are in charge of administering 90 percent of the nation’s 700,000 bridges and 70 percent of the 10,000 tunnels. Local entities must lose no time in buckling down to the task of dealing with aging infrastructure.

Scarcity of engineers

Infrastructure safety measures taken so far by local governments are inadequate.

A fact-finding survey the ministry conducted in the wake of the collapse of part of the ceiling of the Sasago Tunnel of the Chuo Expressway in Yamanashi Prefecture in December 2012 revealed that 30 percent of local governments with tunnels under their jurisdiction had never conducted a safety inspection of any tunnel before the Sasago Tunnel collapse.

The reluctance of local governments to carry out repairs on aging infrastructure may be due to a shortage of funds and inadequate technical capabilities.

Therefore, the central government’s action simply to oblige local governments to conduct regular safety inspections and come up with safety evaluations may not produce the desired results.

It is necessary for both the central government and local entities to redouble their efforts to secure sources of funds to deal with aging infrastructure and beef up collaboration with private-sector businesses.

It may be inevitable to close down bridges and tunnels that have seen little use in depopulated areas to reduce the number of those to be inspected and repaired to cut expenditures.

If a number of city, town and village governments got together in issuing contracts to repair aging infrastructure, they would be able to boost the efficiency in budgetary appropriations.

Meanwhile, local governments also suffer from a serious shortage of engineers to maintain and repair infrastructure. About 50 percent of the country’s town governments and 70 percent of village governments have no engineers capable of inspecting bridges.

Is it not possible for the central government and businesses to send engineers to local entities plagued by manpower shortages and have them carry out inspections and repairs on infrastructure that require a high level of skill?

Due consideration also should be given to training courses to improve the technical capabilities of local governments so they can carry out infrastructure maintenance and create an ability-based qualification system.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, May 19, 2014)


5・9%成長 駆け込みの反動減を乗り切れ

The Yomiuri Shimbun 7:12 pm, May 18, 2014
Govt, BOJ must tide over economy’s downturn in the wake of sales tax hike
5・9%成長 駆け込みの反動減を乗り切れ

The national economy’s higher-than-expected growth in the first three months of the year is due primarily to a last-minute surge in demand ahead of the three-percentage-point consumption tax hike to 8 percent in April.

To prevent business activities from stalling because of a slowdown of personal consumption in reaction to the tax hike, the government and the Bank of Japan must, without fail, make every possible effort to properly handle economic policy.

According to a report the Cabinet Office released Thursday, the nation’s gross domestic product during the January-March quarter climbed sharply at an inflation-adjusted annual rate of 5.9 percent, and 1.5 percent compared with the previous quarter.

The broad expansion in consumer spending served as a major driving force for the jump in GDP—the total value of goods and services produced across the country. Prior to the rise in the tax rate to 8 percent from April 1, there was a large increase in spending on durable goods such as automobiles and home appliances.

Corporate capital spending, another pillar of domestic demand, also registered a remarkable growth in the first three months of this year, up 4.9 percent from the previous quarter, the highest in about two years. The boost in corporate confidence in capital investment, with companies’ business performances helped by the economic tailwind, including the yen’s weakening, can safely be claimed as a factor favorable to putting the national economy on a full-fledged growth track led by the private sector.

It is feared, however, that the pace of growth may plunge, at least temporarily, after April because of the adverse impact of the consumption tax increase. It is imperative to minimize the economic pullback.

The government should make efforts to steadily implement a fiscal stimulus spending program worth ¥5.5 trillion that was incorporated into a supplementary budget for fiscal 2013.

Reliance on fiscal spending, however, should be limited. Swift recovery of private-sector demand, such as consumption, is of key importance.

Fall in exports worrying

Such economic indicators as sales at department stores and purchases of new cars logged negative month-on-month growth figures in April. Although some analysts say the shrinkage is within their expectations, there can of course be no room for undue optimism.

It is necessary to improve the employment and income environment for the populace to shore up domestic demand. The news in this connection is encouraging in that many businesses raised regular monthly pay in the spring by taking into account requests from the administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to increase the wages of employees.

Whether the moves for higher wages will spread to employees of small and midsize companies, as well as part-timers and other nonregular workers, to ensure robust growth is a truly big challenge.

The aggregate of after-tax profits of companies listed on the First Section of the Tokyo Stock Exchange in the settlements of accounts for the year ended March 31 this year were double the figure for the previous year. Decisions by high-performance companies to continue to give back some of their profits in the form of higher wages and bonuses for employees will certainly help expand consumption, which will in turn lead to increased corporate profits, thus creating a driving force to realize a “virtuous economic cycle.”

It is also important for private enterprises to determine carefully what lines of business should be considered promising to accelerate their capital investment.

What is worrisome, however, is that the nation’s exports have yet to recover despite of the weakness of the yen.

Given that the growth of China and emerging economies in Asia has slowed down, the uncertainties of future prospects of demand from abroad have been deepening alarmingly.

It is time for Japan to more effectively use its assets for creatively manufacturing products, including the “one-only” skills that are particular to many small and midsize businesses and a mountain of patents major companies currently possess but have not used, so as to enhance this country’s global earning power.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, May 18, 2014)



May 17, 2014
EDITORIAL: Heavy-handed approach to Futenma can only antagonize Okinawa

An extraordinary situation concerning the proposed relocation of the U.S. military’s Futenma base is unfolding in Okinawa, which marked the 42nd anniversary of its reversion to Japan on May 15.

The Japanese government is aggressively pushing ahead with preparations for carrying out its plan to relocate Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in the crowded city of Ginowan to the sparsely populated Henoko district of Nago, another city in the prefecture.

On April 11, the Abe administration took its first step toward building the new base when the Okinawa Defense Bureau, the Defense Ministry’s local bureau in charge of implementing the plan, submitted six requests with Nago Mayor Susumu Inamine. One of the requests was for use of the Henoko fishing port as an open storage yard for construction materials.

The move was made abruptly without any advance consultation. Officials at the defense bureau brought the applications into the Nago city office just before the end of the office hours. Some of the application documents were left with the wrong departments.

The documents unilaterally set a May 12 deadline for replying to the requests, although there is no legal basis for such a deadline. There were also many errors in the documents, such as omissions.

Although the Nago municipal government asked the bureau to resubmit the applications, the bureau has refused to do so, saying the documents were in order.

The unilaterally set May 12 deadline has passed, but the bureau remains intent on forging ahead with the construction plan while assuming that its requests have been turned down by the city.

Bewildered by the bureau’s attitude, the official in charge of the matter at the Nago municipal government said, “Since the applications don’t meet the formal requirements, we can’t start reviewing them.”

In January, when Prime Minister Shinzo Abe spoke about the plan to move the Futenma air base to the Henoko district, he said, “We intend to proceed with the plan in a sincere manner while trying to win the understanding of the local communities.”

But the reality belies his words. There has been no sign of good faith in the way the administration has been dealing with the matter.

The heavy-handed approach the government adopted appears to be an open challenge to Mayor Inamine, who was re-elected in January by running on a campaign to stop the relocation of the Funtenma base to Nago. After his re-election, he pledged to block the start of the construction of the new base by using his powers as the mayor.

The government plans to start drilling into the seabed for necessary investigations as early as June with an eye on beginning reclamation work next spring.

However, the government has offered no convincing answers to concerns about possible major negative effects on the environment and people’s lives. It is feared that in addition to causing noise and other nuisances to local residents, the runways of the envisioned base, which would extend over water from the U.S. military's existing Camp Schwab, would also have a serious impact on the marine ecosystem that nurtures dugong, a rare marine mammal designated by the government as a protected species, and a coral reef community.

If it wants to win the “understanding of the local communities,” the government needs to respond head-on to these concerns.

There has been growing support for Okinawa’s opposition to the base relocation plan among intellectuals and politicians overseas. American film director Oliver Stone, for instance, has issued a statement opposing the project.

In an effort to convince the U.S. public of the unfairness of the relocation plan, Inamine left for a trip to the United States on May 15.

On the same day, Abe announced that the administration will start considering a change of the government’s interpretation of the Constitution to make it possible for Japan to exercise its right to collective self-defense.

Does this controversial initiative represent the nation to which Okinawa wanted so eagerly to return when it was occupied by the U.S. military and denied the benefits of the pacifist Constitution?

The stern-faced government that is forging ahead with the plan to relocate the base within the prefecture in the face of strong local opposition cannot embody the country to which Okinawa wanted to belong.

--The Asahi Shimbun, May 17



May 16, 2014
EDITORIAL: Collective self-defense a question of whether Japan can go to war

A private advisory panel submitted a report to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on May 15, calling on the government to take steps to allow Japan to exercise its right to collective self-defense.
The report drafted by the Advisory Panel on Reconstruction of the Legal Basis for Security said the government should change the traditional interpretation of war-renouncing Article 9 of the Constitution that prohibits Japan from taking part in collective self-defense, as maintained by successive Cabinets.

After receiving the report, Abe announced the start of a political process, including talks between the ruling coalition parties, to make it possible for Japan to use its right to collective self-defense.


Successive Cabinets have shared a view that Japan has to revise the Constitution before it is allowed to exercise its right to collective self-defense.

Any amendment to the Constitution must be approved by the public in a special referendum under procedures stipulated in Article 96 of the Constitution. However, Abe is trying to skip this procedure and make a fundamental shift in Japan’s postwar pacifist policy only through talks among the ruling parties and a Cabinet decision.

His move represents a radical departure from the principle of constitutionalism under which a government is based on a Constitution and could have seriously harmful effects on the nation.

First of all, Abe’s plan will fundamentally change Japan’s postwar pacifism, which emerged after serious national soul-searching about World War II.

The proposed change will pave the way for the use of armed force by the Self-Defense Forces in situations where Japan is not under attack. That means Japan could join in a war that has not been directly waged against it.

The advisory panel has set some conditions for Japan’s exercise of its right to collective self-defense. The report says Japan can use the right only in situations where its safety could be seriously threatened and only if it has received an explicit request or consent (from the country that has been attacked).

But none of these conditions can be a clear and effective restriction because they are either a simple assumption or a norm under international law.

This is simply a question of whether or not Japan exercises its right to collective self-defense. Both Abe and the panel emphasize that Japan should be allowed to use the right for a minimum required level of defense. But such a quantitative notion is meaningless.

The moment Japan exercises the right, this nation becomes the enemy of the other country involved.

Also, changing the government’s interpretation of the Constitution would amount to approving a distorted form of governance that effectively puts the Constitution under the Cabinet’s control.

This prospect inevitably raises concerns that even the basic principles of the Constitution, such as popular sovereignty and respect for fundamental human rights, could be affected by the intentions of the government. That means Japan will no longer be able to claim to be a nation under the rule of law.

Moreover, the Abe administration’s move to forcibly make a virtual constitutional amendment by reinterpreting the Constitution while failing to take effective steps to improve Japan’s relations with its neighbors will exacerbate the already high tensions in East Asia.


Abe’s remarks at the May 15 news conference were difficult to understand.

In addition to calling for changing the government’s position on Japan’s right to collective self-defense, the advisory panel urged the administration to change its interpretation of the Constitution to adopt the position that there are no constitutional restrictions on the use of armed force by the SDF under the United Nations framework of collective security.

Abe refused to accept this proposal, saying it is “logically inconsistent with the government’s traditional interpretation of the Constitution.”

By the same token, the proposal to allow Japan to use its right to collective self-defense is also inconsistent with the government’s traditional interpretation of Article 9.

Even so, Abe invoked the government’s constitutional theory, announced in 1972, that Japan is not prohibited by the Constitution from taking measures for self-defense that are necessary to maintain its peace and safety and ensure its existence. He then claimed that the argument that Japan should be allowed to engage in collective self-defense operations is based on the government’s “basic stance.”

But in 1972, the government said, following the statement quoted by Abe, that the Constitution banned Japan from exercising its right to collective self-defense. Accepting the panel’s proposal without referring to this fact can only be described as deception using double standards.

Will lawmakers of Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party and its junior coalition partner, New Komeito, accept such a transparent sham in their talks over the proposal? We cannot take our eyes off the political process.


Besides the question of exercising the right to collective self-defense, the panel’s report also deals with other related issues, including whether and when SDF troops should be allowed to use weapons while taking part in U.N. peacekeeping operations and how to respond to intrusions into Japanese territories and territorial waters that are not regarded as armed attacks.

The panel’s argument that there are no constitutional restrictions on the SDF’s use of weapons during peacekeeping operations is totally unacceptable. But it is true that these issues demand careful discussions.

As for the SDF’s use of weapons overseas, the government has been walking on a tightrope in interpreting the Constitution and enacting related legislation in its efforts to respond to international calls for Japan’s active involvement in peacekeeping operations without violating the pacifist principles of Article 9. It is true that this pursuit of mutually conflicting goals has led to some serious inconsistencies concerning the SDF’s peacekeeping activities.

But this is a restriction Japanese people have imposed on themselves out of their respect for Article 9 of the Constitution.

Few would dispute the need to make more efforts to figure out ways to solve the problems related to the inconsistencies. Obviously, however, measures to be considered should be limited by the restrictions imposed by Article 9 unless the Constitution is amended.

Abe appears intent on using his initiative to enable Japan to exercise its right to collective self-defense as a breakthrough in his quest to eventually remove all restrictions imposed by Article 9.

If this is the principal goal of Abe’s political agenda for the nation’s “break away from the postwar regime,” it is unacceptable.

For what purpose should Japan be allowed to use its right to collective self-defense? What should be done to ensure Japan’s security and enhance its contribution to international peace? The goals of the government’s security policy and the means to achieve them should be the right ones.

--The Asahi Shimbun, May 16



May 15, 2014
EDITORIAL: Citizens taking a stand to protect democracy in Japan

The triple disaster that befell Japan in 2011 was the catalyst for profound reflection among citizens and calls for fundamental changes in our society.
The Great East Japan Earthquake generated towering tsunami that triggered meltdowns at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant and plunged the nation into a state of shock. Some people likened the catastrophe to a “seconddefeat in war.” Many Japanese took it upon themselves to try to engineer change in society.

One visible manifestation of the reflective mood was a massive rally calling for an end to Japan’s reliance on nuclear power generation. It was held in Tokyo about six months after the calamity. An estimated 60,000 people attended the “Sayonara Genpatsu” (Good-bye to nuclear power generation) rally, according to the event’s organizers.

In his address to the rally, Kenzaburo Oe, a Nobel laureate writer, stressed the importance of the gathering and demonstrations in general as a means for citizens to express their views. “What can we do? All we have are such rallies driven by the democratic spirit and demonstrations by citizens,” he said. Nearly three years have passed since then.


During this time, the Liberal Democratic Party returned to power. The LDP-led government has sought to restart idled nuclear reactors and revived the old-style policy of spending on massive public works projects.

The grim realization has dawned on many Japanese that they have failed to bring about change.

Some people have become disillusioned. Others have lost heart or simply grown weary.

There is no denying that the bitter sense of resignation that set in among the people, coupled with their deep disappointment at the performance of the previous government led by the Democratic Party of Japan, has provided much political capital for the Abe administration.

A pillar of democracy is a belief in the need to have constructive, in-depth exchanges with people of opposing opinions.

But Prime Minister Shinzo Abe appears to believe quite the opposite. He seems to think that as the nation’s top leader, chosen through elections, he can have his own way and would be wasting his time listening to others' opinions.

This, then, explains the Abe administration's outrageous decision to seek an effective elimination of constitutional restrictions on Japan’s use of armed force through nothing more than a Cabinet decision.

The Diet, which is dominated by the ruling parties, has been showing increasing signs of acting as a rubber stamp body in the face of the administration’s strong-arm approach to policymaking.

Are ruling party leaders aware that the prime minister’s heavy-handed tactics for pursuing his political agenda and the pitifully tame Diet are spawning and fostering a new breed of political actors who think and act on their own?
The question is whether this situation is fortunate or unfortunate for this nation’s negligent politicians.


The English phrase “Fight the power” is the principal slogan adopted for a student demonstration staged in Tokyo’s Shinjuku district on May 3, Constitution Day, against the newly enacted state secrets protection law.
The slogan is “a little too radical, but probably OK because it is in English,” said one of the student organizers.
 「『Fight the power』、これは権力と闘えって意味で、ちょっと過激なんすけど、まあ英語だから大丈夫かなと」

The 400 or so participants practiced chanting in chorus in a park where they gathered before taking to the streets. They took part in the demonstration as individuals, not as members of any organization, in response to calls on the Internet or invitations by friends to turn up for the rally.

As they started marching on the streets, led by a car equipped with a loudspeaker beating out a rhythm with heavy bass sounds, the demonstrators kept chanting, “No to the state secrets protection law” and “Protect the Constitution.” These rather stiff phrases, chanted in a rhythmic pace, echoed across Shinjuku.

Participating students took the microphone in turns.

“I feel happy about being born in Japan, where we can live freely in ways we like,” said one student. “But the state secrets protection law was rammed through the Diet in the face of opposition. As I was concerned that the Japan I love so much could be destroyed if nothing was done, I felt compelled to act.”

“I’m not ashamed of expressing my will to protect my freedom and rights,” said another. “And I believe in making ‘constant efforts’ to do so.”

They all spoke clearly in their own words and from their hearts.

Do they want to change their society? It would seem they are more interested in protecting their society.

The way the controversial bill was railroaded through the Diet raised many doubts and questions in their minds.

They asked themselves what democracy really means. One tentative answer they came up with is that it means they need to keep thinking on their own without any fear of making mistakes and continuing to voice their doubts and questions if they think that something is wrong.

That is why they took to the streets and made their voices heard.

“Tell me what democracy looks like?” one student shouted. “This is what democracy looks like!” responded the others.
 「Tell me what democracy looks like?(民主主義ってどんなの?)」のコール。
 「This is what democracy looks like!(これが民主主義だ!)」のレスポンス。

One scholar argues that, in a period of upheavals when people find it difficult to envision a bright future, they tend to cling to something by engaging in physical activities.

The students are well aware of the harsh reality. They know society doesn’t change easily. But they also know they don’t have to give up. They are more focused on continuing, rather than winning their battle.


Anti-nuclear demonstrators held their 100th rally in front of the prime minister’s office in Tokyo on the first Friday of May.

The number of participants has fallen, and the enthusiasm of the regular event has waned. Instead, it has become part of the everyday lives of people still taking part in the event.

There are couples sitting on the lawn and eating rice balls and groups singing songs. They enjoy spending time in their own ways in areas around the prime minister’s office, which are “opened to the public.”

Demonstrators have stuck to some basic principles, including keeping their acts peaceful, focusing on core messages and participation as individuals. Without the experiences accumulated through regular, uneventful anti-nuke rallies in front of the prime minister’s office and the wise strategies developed for this new type of demonstrations, there might not have been the waves of people protesting against the state secrets protection law in front of the Diet last December or the recent student rally in Shinjuku.

“Its strong roots are not visible/ But they are there even though they are invisible/ Invisible things exist,” Misuzu Kaneko says in her book, “Hoshi to tanpopo” (The star and the dandelion).

Like dandelions, these civic movements have deep roots in people’s daily lives. Like pieces of dandelion fluff, the voices of these people waft off and reach somewhere else. The fallen seeds take root at new places.

On May 15, the Abe administration will take a step toward allowing Japan to exercise its right to collective self-defense. Probably, many pieces of fluff will swirl up into the air again.

Society is changing, deeply, quietly and calmly.

--The Asahi Shimbun, May 15



May 14, 2014
EDITORIAL: China must not be allowed to put NPT regime at risk

The Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) requires the world’s nuclear states to strive in earnest for nuclear disarmament. Unless this requirement is fulfilled, the treaty itself, which prohibits non-nuclear countries from possessing nuclear weapons, could collapse. When that happens, the world will be a dangerous place for all countries, irrespective of whether they have nuclear capabilities.

Yet, the attitude of the nuclear states makes us doubt that they have any serious interest in averting that sort of global crisis.

The third session in New York of the Preparatory Committee for the 2015 Review Conference of the Parties to the NPT closed on May 9 with no results to speak of. The committee failed to narrow the gap between non-nuclear countries and the five NTP-approved nuclear states--the United States, Russia, Britain, France and China.

Based on an agreement reached at the last NPT Review Conference in 2010, the five nuclear states issued written reports for the first time on disarmament trends. The United States, Britain and France stressed that their nuclear capabilities are now way below the levels they were during the Cold War era. But none of them indicated a road map for ending their reliance on nuclear weapons.

China and Russia did not even disclose the numbers of nuclear warheads in their possession.

The outcome could not have been more disappointing. The nuclear states ought to reawaken to their grave responsibilities.

Our only hope now lies with U.S. President Barack Obama, who has called for a world free of nuclear weapons despite the fact that his country is the world’s most powerful nuclear state.

A U.S. representative who delivered a speech at the session showed an understanding of the inhumanity of nuclear weapons for the first time. This was a notable change, even though the United States does not support the Nuclear Weapons Convention proposed by non-nuclear nations.

The third Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons will be held in Vienna in December. As an ally of the United States and the only country that has been attacked with nuclear weapons, Japan should urge the United States to participate in this conference.

Last July, Obama called for negotiated arms reduction with Russia, proposing to further reduce their agreed-upon strategic nuclear weapons capabilities by one-third to around 1,000 warheads. But U.S.-Russia relations have since deteriorated over the Ukraine crisis and other issues, leaving the talks schedule up in the air.

Since the United States far outpowers Russia in conventional weapons, it should still be able to maintain its deterrence power even if it reduces its strategic nuclear weapons. This is actually what we would like the United States to do voluntarily, and then urge Russia to follow suit. And for Russia, which is having problems with its aging nuclear system, this would not be a bad deal.

China, which refuses to disclose its nuclear capabilities, could pose a risk to the maintenance of the NPT regime in the days ahead. But if the United States and Russia forge ahead with further nuclear disarmament at Obama’s initiative, China will become increasingly unable to have its way.

The time has come for Obama to strongly urge China to stop making empty promises and take action for disarmament.

Obama’s approval ratings are not getting any better at home. But he must stand his ground if he really intends to establish a solid path toward a nuclear-free world.

--The Asahi Shimbun, May 14


May 14, 2014
EDITORIAL: China must not be allowed to put NPT regime at risk

The Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) requires the world’s nuclear states to strive in earnest

for nuclear disarmament. Unless this requirement is fulfilled, the treaty itself, which prohibits non-nuclear countries

from possessing nuclear weapons, could collapse. When that happens, the world will be a dangerous place for all

countries, irrespective of whether they have nuclear capabilities.


Yet, the attitude of the nuclear states makes us doubt that they have any serious interest in averting that sort of

global crisis.

The third session in New York of the Preparatory Committee for the 2015 Review Conference of the Parties to the NPT

closed on May 9 with no results to speak of. The committee failed to narrow the gap between non-nuclear countries

and the five NTP-approved nuclear states--the United States, Russia, Britain, France and China.


Based on an agreement reached at the last NPT Review Conference in 2010, the five nuclear states issued written

reports for the first time on disarmament trends. The United States, Britain and France stressed that their nuclear

capabilities are now way below the levels they were during the Cold War era. But none of them indicated a road map

for ending their reliance on nuclear weapons.


China and Russia did not even disclose the numbers of nuclear warheads in their possession.

The outcome could not have been more disappointing. The nuclear states ought to reawaken to their grave


Our only hope now lies with U.S. President Barack Obama, who has called for a world free of nuclear weapons

despite the fact that his country is the world’s most powerful nuclear state.

A U.S. representative who delivered a speech at the session showed an understanding of the inhumanity of nuclear

weapons for the first time. This was a notable change, even though the United States does not support the Nuclear

Weapons Convention proposed by non-nuclear nations.


The third Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons will be held in Vienna in December. As an ally

of the United States and the only country that has been attacked with nuclear weapons, Japan should urge the

United States to participate in this conference.


Last July, Obama called for negotiated arms reduction with Russia, proposing to further reduce their agreed-upon

strategic nuclear weapons capabilities by one-third to around 1,000 warheads. But U.S.-Russia relations have since

deteriorated over the Ukraine crisis and other issues, leaving the talks schedule up in the air.


Since the United States far outpowers Russia in conventional weapons, it should still be able to maintain its

deterrence power even if it reduces its strategic nuclear weapons. This is actually what we would like the United

States to do voluntarily, and then urge Russia to follow suit. And for Russia, which is having problems with its aging

nuclear system, this would not be a bad deal.


China, which refuses to disclose its nuclear capabilities, could pose a risk to the maintenance of the NPT regime in the

days ahead. But if the United States and Russia forge ahead with further nuclear disarmament at Obama’s initiative,

China will become increasingly unable to have its way.


The time has come for Obama to strongly urge China to stop making empty promises and take action for


Obama’s approval ratings are not getting any better at home. But he must stand his ground if he really intends to

establish a solid path toward a nuclear-free world.

--The Asahi Shimbun, May 14


(社説)銀輪都市東京 「クルマ脳」を改める

May 13, 2014
EDITORIAL: Tokyo given great opportunity to become more bicycle-friendly
(社説)銀輪都市東京 「クルマ脳」を改める

The bicycle is the most useful tool for making society less dependent on cars.

Children, adults and elderly people can use bicycles to improve mobility. Bicycles help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming and offer an effective way to get around when public transportation is disrupted by earthquakes and other natural disasters.

Cycling is also good for the health.

Given the aging of the nation’s driving population, the use of bicycles should be promoted as a safer alternative to automobiles.

Tokyo Governor Yoichi Masuzoe has pledged to reduce the daily flow of cars into central Tokyo as part of the metropolitan government’s efforts to prepare the city for the 2020 Summer Olympics. Masuzoe has also promised to make the capital a more bicycle-friendly city.

London was also said to be lagging behind many other major cities around the world in terms of cycle-friendliness. However, London established many bicycle lanes, using the opportunity offered by hosting the 2012 Olympics.

Tokyo also has a great opportunity to promote bicycle transportation in the six years until the 2020 sports event. The Japanese capital should lead other local governments by making the shift from cars to bicycles.

The big challenge is taking effective measures to reduce accidents involving bicycles.

Roads in Japan are much safer today than during the period of rapid economic growth, when the term “traffic war” was used to describe the dangers on the streets. But the percentage of pedestrians and cyclists in all traffic fatalities in Japan remains far higher than the ratios in other industrialized nations.

Also alarming is that accidents between cyclists and pedestrians have increased by 14 percent over the past decade in Japan, while the number of all traffic accidents has declined by one-third.

In some lawsuits, cyclists have been ordered to pay tens of millions of yen in damages for causing accidents that have killed or seriously injured pedestrians.

The law requires cyclists to ride close to the left side of the road, in principle. But many cyclists still use sidewalks, mainly to avoid the terror of riding on roadways with honking cars speeding past.

The environment for cycling on streets should be improved significantly, with priority placed on the safety of vulnerable road users.

Many people tend to think that bicycle lanes will never gain ground in Japan because the roads are generally narrower.

“That’s a typical way of thinking that reflects the deep-rooted car-first mentality among people steeped in a car-oriented culture,” says Shigeki Kobayashi, who heads a nonprofit organization devoted to promoting the use of bicycles. “Why would you give the priority to cars in the allocation of space on narrow roads?”

We need to reconsider the priorities of road use. Pedestrians should come first, followed by public transportation vehicles and bicycles. Private cars should be last on the priority list.

One effective way to make motorists recognize the principle that cyclists should ride on roads is to create specially painted bicycle-only lanes.

An experiment conducted in Tokyo by the transport ministry and other organizations showed that bike lanes sharply reduce the number of cyclists riding on sidewalks. Still, many cyclists are afraid to use roadways even with lanes designated for bicycles.

It is important to note that most accidents between bicycles and cars occur at intersections.

Cyclists who enter intersections on the road are more clearly visible to drivers than cyclists who suddenly dart into intersections from sidewalks.

Stricter speed limits should be imposed on streets in central parts of Tokyo. Businesses and shopping districts should be required to offer more bicycle parking spaces so that footpaths are not clogged with illegally parked bikes.

And cyclists must never forget the principle that pedestrians have the right of way.

We hope the Tokyo Olympics will catalyze a radical change of the car-oriented transport culture in this nation.

--The Asahi Shimbun, May 12