社説:日本人人質殺害 許せない冷血の所業だ

January 26, 2015(Mainichi Japan)
Editorial: Japanese hostage situation utterly brutal
社説:日本人人質殺害 許せない冷血の所業だ


A photograph of what is purportedly the body of Haruna Yukawa, a hostage of what is believed to be the extremist Islamic State group, was released on the Internet on Jan. 24. The image is utterly brutal.

The militant group's other Japanese hostage, Kenji Goto, is seen holding the photograph, as a recording of his voice is played, saying, "Abe, you killed Haruna (Yukawa)."

According to the recording, Islamic State has changed the conditions for Goto's release. It is no longer demanding $200 million, but rather the release of a woman facing the death penalty in Jordan.
Islamic State is striking fear into the hearts of the Japanese people with a gory photo of the body and mocking Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's announcement to provide $200 million in non-military aid to Middle East countries fighting the militant group. It is now sitting back and watching Japan's response, waiting for the opportunity to get its "imprisoned sister" back. It is unforgivable. It is barbaric and insidious.

The death-row inmate was arrested for her involvement in terrorist bombings in the Jordanian capital of Amman in 2005. Because of the many casualties that resulted from the incident, she is not someone Jordanian authorities are willing to release easily. In addition, Jordan is part of a coalition of countries engaged in military operations against Islamic State, and there have been strong calls for the release of a Jordanian air force pilot who was captured by the Islamic State group when his plane went down during a mission.

To agree to a swap of Goto and the death-row inmate before bringing back a soldier from its own military forces would be an extremely difficult decision for Jordan. At the same time, the Abe administration's promise not to give in to terrorism while placing the utmost priority on human life is a challenging one to keep, and negotiations for Goto's release are expected to present serious challenges.

There is also the risk that the kidnappers may change their minds and suddenly cut off hostage negotiations. The actual status of the negotiations is unknown. Under such circumstances, the government must take a realistic approach, making full use of all opportunities and personal networks toward the hostage's release.

It is also necessary to accept the reality that Japan has become a target of terrorism, and implement all possible measures to prevent something like this from happening again. In the past, those who were taken hostage by Islamic State were primarily citizens of the coalition of countries involved in military action against the militant group, such as the U.S. and Britain. It is unusual for Japan, which has not participated in the military operations, to be targeted.

There has been a long-standing notion that Japan's ties with Arab countries are positive, making Japanese nationals unlikely targets of kidnappings and terrorism. There have been exceptions, such as the 1991 murder of University of Tsukuba professor Hitoshi Igarashi -- the Japanese translator of Salman Rushdie's novel, "The Satanic Verses" -- after Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini of Iran accused the book of blasphemy and issued a fatwa against all those involved in its publication. For the most part, however, there was little tension between Japan and the Muslim world.

However, as new generations came to power and Japan's image as an ally began to blur, especially since the 2000s, terrorist organizations stopped giving special consideration to Japan. Osama bin Laden, who orchestrated the 2001 terrorist attacks on the U.S., kept asking why Japan supported the U.S., after the latter had dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Now, al-Qaida considers Japan a part of the "crusade" led by the U.S. and Europe.
Among terrorist acts perpetrated by al-Qaida-related groups against Japanese nationals are the 2004 kidnapping and murder of a tourist in demanding the withdrawal of Japan's Self-Defense Forces from Samawah, Iraq, and the 2013 capture and killing of 10 workers at a natural gas plant in Algeria. Regardless, al-Qaida appears to have maintained a relatively restrained approach toward Japan.


Meanwhile, it is obvious that the Islamic State, which broke off from al-Qaida, is ruthless even toward Japanese nationals. We no longer live in a time when we can feel safe, just because we are Japanese. As the many existing terrorist organizations compete against each other in their radicalism and ability to shock, Japan has become a target of terrorism on par with the U.S. and European countries. It is important to consider, also, the possibility that being a peaceful country may make Japan even more vulnerable to attacks.

That does not, however, mean that Japan should change its stance. The extremists are the ones who are misinformed. Japan has long faced up to various Middle East issues, including Arab-Israeli conflicts, with an impartial attitude on an issue-by-issue basis. The capacity to take a peaceful, fair and impartial approach to problems is Japan's greatest asset. We must not lose our footing in face of a hostage's murder, and instead embrace what we have cultivated over the years.

Soon after the shootings at the Paris offices of satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, French President Francois Hollande declared that the attack had nothing to do with Islam. He likely feared that the actions of several terrorists would spawn prejudice and hatred toward the 1.6 billion Muslims around the world, and lead to serious divisions in society.

In the Japanese hostage case, as with the Paris attacks, we must think seriously about the reality that a barbaric organization is proliferating in the name of Islam and about the U.S.'s responsibility for the current state of affairs.

As the administration of President George W. Bush sank further and further into a quagmire in Afghanistan and Iraq, terrorist organizations spread from the Middle East to the African continent.

Hoping to close the curtains on the two wars, the Obama administration is cautious about its involvement in various Middle East issues, and has declared that the U.S. is no longer the policeman of the world.

This approach has had militants reacting with glee, and has most certainly been a major factor in the Islamic State group's expansion.

It is time the world learned from the mistakes of the "war against terrorism" since the Bush administration, and put its wisest minds together to come up with ways to prevent terrorism.

But first, we must secure Goto's release.

毎日新聞 2015年01月26日 02時30分


年金給付水準 非正規や将来世代の改善図れ

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Pension benefit reform must consider non-regular workers, future generations
年金給付水準 非正規や将来世代の改善図れ

Reform must be expedited to minimize declines in pension benefit levels expected in the future, with the aim of enhancing the sustainability of the nation’s social security system.

An advisory council of the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry has worked out a report explaining specifics concerning the government-envisaged pension system reform.

The report centers on steps to adjust benefit levels, the future effects of which were confirmed in pension finance studies the government announced in June last year, including measures to beef up arrangements to rein in pension benefit payments.

To ensure the stability of the finances of the government-run pension system, what is referred to as “automatic adjustment of benefits based on macroeconomic indexation” has been introduced to the current social security system for the purpose of lowering benefit levels automatically in accordance with the rates of declines in the birthrate and increases in the number of the elderly. This is aimed at curbing benefit payments by making increases in pension benefits fall below rises in such yardsticks as per-capita wage growth and price rises.

The problem is that the implementation of this mechanism has been limited at a time of deflation, in which prices and wages decline, and when their growth rates are significantly low. The limitations were aimed at protecting the living conditions of the elderly, but they have resulted in delays in curbing benefit payments.

If the current high average pension benefits for the elderly are left unchanged, funds for financing pension payments for the future generations are bound to shrink, a situation that would make it inevitable to slash benefit levels. The current benefit payment system should be reviewed for thorough implementation of the indexation formula.

The latest report rightly pointed out the need for “best possible efforts to prevent the indexation formula from being postponed” in order to curb benefit payments. This will likely bring adverse reactions from the elderly, while some in the ruling camp are wary of cutting back on the benefits, but the task of reviewing the benefit payment system cannot be left unaddressed if pension funds for future generations are to be secured.

Bigger burden, fatter benefits

The report has also noted the need to encourage non-regular employees to seek coverage by the kosei nenkin company workers’ pension plan.

The current kosei nenkin plan has been focusing on regular employees. Part-timers and other non-regular employees have mostly been excluded from corporate pension plan coverage. Non-regular employees qualify to receive only a basic pension in their old age, which is around a maximum of ¥60,000 per month. With non-regular workers continuing to increase, there are fears the number of low-benefit people will swell in the future.

Effective from October 2016, coverage by kosei nenkin is to be expanded to include “employees working 20 hours or more a week” from the current “30 hours or more.” Because of opposition from the distribution industry sector, in which many non-regular workers are employed, the number of people to be covered under the new requirements is estimated at no more than 250,000, as a number of conditions such as non-regular workers’ monthly income and the scale of the company they work for have been included in eligibility.

Boosting pension benefits for non-regular workers is urgently needed, and expansion of coverage for the kosei nenkin plan is indispensable. This task must be carried forward steadily while paying due attention to business conditions of small and medium-size businesses.

Regarding the duration of basic pension premium payments, the report said the idea of extending the current payment period of 40 years to 45 years for full pension qualification should be considered “a matter of course” in light of rises in life expectancy. The higher the burden of premium payments, the larger the pension benefits.

In a hyper-aging society, it is imperative that an increasing number of people work as long as possible to prop up society, the national economy and the social security system. Doing so, they will be able to help improve pension benefits for future generations.

The problem, however, is how to secure funding sources: Half of basic pension benefits are funded by tax revenues. Discussions should therefore be conducted about not only the need to implement the hike in the consumption tax rate to 10 percent without fail, but also the need to increase the burden further even after the consumption tax hike.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Jan. 25, 2015)


インフル猛威 こまめな手洗いで感染予防を

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Prevent flu by washing hands frequently, avoiding crowded places
インフル猛威 こまめな手洗いで感染予防を

Influenza is raging through the nation.

The average number of flu patients at regularly surveyed medical institutions rose to 33.28 in the reporting week from Jan. 5 to Jan. 11, topping the alert level of 30 per institute. The average number exceeded the alert level three weeks earlier than last winter.

The epidemic may spread further and the number of flu patients may exceed that of a regular year. We should take thorough preventive measures.

A flu virus is transmitted from person to person by droplets from coughing or sneezing. It multiplies in the throat and the lungs, and flu symptoms appear following a latency period of about two days. Unlike a common cold, a flu patient may abruptly run a high fever of over 38 C and suffer such symptoms as a headache and overall muscle pain.

Day-to-day precautions are most important in warding off infection.

These steps include avoiding crowded places and frequent hand-washing. We can also build up our resistance by getting enough sleep and paying attention to what we eat. A humidifier will also help us keep the mucus in our respiratory tract moist, which helps maintain our defenses.

Immunization will prevent the flu from becoming severe, the effect lasting about half a year. However, it cannot completely prevent a person from becoming infected and developing flu symptoms. We must not be overconfident.

Of the viruses detected in the patients this season, most were the type-A Hong Kong strain (H3N2). So far no virus has been found in this strain that would be resistant to an anti-influenza drug.

It is best to see a doctor immediately after experiencing such symptoms as chills. By taking prescribed drugs and getting a lot of rest, flu patients usually get well within a few days.

Elderly people and those with chronic diseases particularly need to take precautions against the flu.

Kids need special attention

The type-A Hong Kong strain has a relatively high probability of causing patients to also develop pneumonia through a bacterial infection. Special attention is also needed so that children do not develop brain disorders from this type of flu.

If a child shows signs of gasping or convulsions, it is vital to take them to the hospital immediately.

Pneumococcal vaccine is said to be effective in preventing pneumonia. Since last year, the government has been subsidizing part of the vaccination expenses for those aged 65 or older.

As many of the people who died as a result of the flu were found to have also developed pneumonia, elderly people should be encouraged to get vaccinated.

Group infections at such places as nursing care facilities have occurred this season, too, resulting in the deaths of some elderly people. They are believed to have been infected with the flu by visitors or employees at the facilities. These facilities may need to take such measures as limiting the number of visitors during an epidemic period.

Since early this year, there has been a marked increase in the number of those flu patients in their 20s to 40s, people in the prime of their working life. In the case of adult patients, they are believed to emit the virus for about five days after their symptoms appear, making it highly advisable for them to refrain from going out during this period.

Even if people may have to go out to work, they must not force themselves to do so. Such actions are likely to spread the infection.

For flu patients to get a good rest at home, it is vital for workplaces to show their understanding of employees’ physical conditions.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Jan. 19, 2015)


社説:表現すること 他者を尊重する心も

January 16, 2015(Mainichi Japan)
Editorial: Respect for others is important in freedom of expression
社説:表現すること 他者を尊重する心も

A deadly terrorist attack on the French weekly Charlie Hebdo has sparked controversy over whether its publication of caricatures of the Muslim Prophet Muhammad falls within the bounds of freedom of expression or constitutes profanation. One cannot help but wonder whether these two matters are irreconcilable. It is necessary to pursue a society in which people with different values, such as religions, can coexist while respecting freedom of expression.

Charlie Hebdo has continued to publish caricatures of the prophet despite criticism that such satires are provocative. The magazine carried a caricature of the prophet in its latest issue published after the attack. Some Western media ran a photo of the caricature to express their support for Charlie Hebdo while others chose not to publish it in view of religious sensibilities. Japanese newspapers were split over their response, with some of them including the Mainichi Shimbun choosing not to publish a photo of the caricature and others running such an image.

One caricaturist within Charlie Hebdo said journalism should not give in to violence saying, "There are no restrictions on or conditions for freedom of expression." The idea is based on a value of respecting freedom of expression that French people have maintained since the French Revolution, and is likely to be supported by many.

We are of the view that freedom of speech is a principle that forms the basis of democracy and must be respected to the maximum extent. Nobody should be allowed to resort to violence to criticize or protest against free speech. What should be criticized in the latest incident is extremism in which terrorists attempted to suppress freedom of expression by violence.

However, denouncing violence in the press and how to exercise freedom of expression should be considered separately. There were many participants in an anti-terror demonstration march in Paris who apparently thought that repeatedly making fun of a certain religion is excessive while admitting that freedom of expression must be respected. It is worrisome that Charlie Hebdo continues to publish caricatures, which could be taken as provocation, while attention is focused on how to ensure Europe and Islamic society can peacefully coexist. This could trigger further clashes.

Freedom of expression should be protected to achieve a society in which diverse values are respected. To that end, it is important for members of society to respect not only their own values but also other people's values. If expressions that offend and discriminate against others were to be permitted without limits, society could lose diversity and tolerance, and even allow those in power to intervene in the press.

In Japan, hate speech that fuels discrimination against and rejects certain ethnic groups has emerged as a serious social problem. Repeating speech that insults and defames other people is not worthy of being called freedom of speech. It is important to keep in mind that expression requires moderation and conscience and that those who exercise their freedom of speech must take responsibility for what they say.

毎日新聞 2015年01月16日 02時40分


介護報酬削減 職員の待遇改善と両立させよ

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Balance nursing care fee changes with better conditions for workers
介護報酬削減 職員の待遇改善と両立させよ

To maintain the nation’s social security system in a rapidly aging society, it is vital to curb ever-soaring nursing care expenses.

The government has decided to cut nursing care service fees under public nursing care insurance by 2.27 percent overall, starting in fiscal 2015. The move is the first downward revision in fees in nine years and the second largest cut on record following reductions of 2.3 percent in fiscal 2003.

Nursing care fees are paid to nursing care providers in compensation for the services provided under the public insurance system.

The total expenses of the nursing care insurance program, which stood at ¥3.6 trillion in fiscal 2000, when the system started, reached ¥10 trillion in fiscal 2014. The expenses are expected to double within the next 10 years.

With a 1 percent cut in nursing care fees, total expenses are calculated to be trimmed by ¥100 billion a year. As the planned hike in the consumption tax rate to 10 percent has been postponed by a year and a half and the task of securing revenue sources for social security programs has consequently been delayed, the government will inevitably cut nursing care fees to curb overall expenditures.

Meanwhile, the planned cutback will not only ease the government’s fiscal burdens, but also reduce insurance premiums paid by insured and service users.

The Finance Ministry had originally demanded that nursing care fees be cut by about 4 percent. But should the business conditions of nursing care providers markedly deteriorate, they may have to lower the quality of their services.

Serious manpower shortage

The latest revision can be construed as one resulting from the government taking into account both its fiscal condition and the business operations of service providers.

With regards to better working conditions for nursing care workers, the government will allot extra fees to nursing care benefits for providers that deal with the issue systematically.

Manpower shortages have reached serious levels at workplaces of nursing care services, primarily stemming from low salaries. The average monthly wage for nursing care workers is ¥220,000, which is ¥100,000 less than the average across all industries. How appropriate, then, that the government has set aside extra outlays to raise the monthly average wage for nursing care workers by about ¥12,000.

To ensure the extra outlays will be reflected in wage hikes, public administrators must be adamant in making regular inspections.

In fiscal 2025, when members of the baby-boomer generation will be 75 or older, projections indicate the need to increase the number of nursing care workers by 1 million. Nursing care providers need to make great strides to improve the working conditions for nursing care workers.

The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry will decide on fees by type for nursing care services in the days ahead. The ministry is planning to increase rewards for at-home services supporting those requiring high or moderate levels of nursing care, as well as at-home services that assist elderly citizens with dementia.

Meanwhile, the government will drastically cut service fees for special elderly homes providing round-the-clock nursing care because operators of such facilities are said to have amassed profits averaging ¥300 million. There are said to be not a few of those operators that have neglected to improve their facilities and working conditions for their employees.

Financial conditions differ among service operators. The government would cause more harm than good with these across-the-board cuts in fees if operators that had been striving to improve their services end up in financial hardship.

The ministry needs to work out a framework that accordingly rewards providers offering good services by, for instance, finding ways to enhance the fees paid to them.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Jan. 14, 2015)


安倍外交と安保 抑止力強化へ万全の法整備を

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Govt must develop security legislation to enhance Japan’s deterrence effort
安倍外交と安保 抑止力強化へ万全の法整備を


The security environment of Japan has been made increasingly difficult in recent years because of such factors as China’s military buildup and maritime expansion and North Korea’s development of nuclear weapons and missiles.

China has put emphasis on enhancement of its maritime military power.

According to the International Institute for Strategic Studies in Britain, and other entities, the Chinese military has 70 major surface warships while the U.S. 7th Fleet, deployed in waters around Guam and Japan, has only about 10. With warships of the Maritime Self-Defense Force and the South Korean Navy, the U.S. side can manage to keep its numerical advantage over the Chinese.

Meanwhile, North Korea reportedly has been successful in extending the range of its ballistic missiles, improving their accuracy and miniaturizing nuclear weapons. If Pyongyang succeeds in making nuclear weapons small enough to be mounted on missiles, their threat will become even more serious.

Collective self-defense right

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government in July last year endorsed a new constitutional interpretation, which allows the nation to exercise its right of collective self-defense in a limited way, with the aim of strengthening the Japan-U.S. alliance and its deterrent power.

During the ordinary Diet session to be convened later this month, bills to revise the Self-Defense Forces Law and the law on the nation’s response to a foreign armed attack must be approved to ensure the viability of the government’s new constitutional interpretation.

Under the new constitutional interpretation, the SDF is assumed to protect U.S. military vessels carrying Japanese nationals or engaging in missile defense.

It is also vital for Japan, which has limited natural resources, to secure the safety of sea-lanes leading to its crude oil supply sources in the Middle East. Geographical restrictions should not be made in exercising the nation’s right of collective self-defense to enable MSDF ships to sweep for mines in the Hormuz Strait and other waters.

The government is planning to revise legal procedures to speed up the issuance of an order for the MSDF to take seaborne policing action, so that situations in a security gray area — such as occupation of a remote island by an armed group — could be dealt with more quickly.

We hope the government and the ruling coalition parties will have thorough discussions on what legislation would be most effective to enable the nation to deal with situations ranging from peacetime to an emergency situation in a seamless manner.

Revise defense guidelines

The proliferation of weapons of mass-destruction and terrorism, done with the progress of military technology, have made it impossible for any one nation to protect its peace single-handedly.

The government’s new constitutional interpretation enables the SDF to provide logistic support, such as supply and transportation missions for troops of other nations if they are not in combat zones. To make more flexible responses possible, the government should seriously consider making a permanent and comprehensive law on the dispatch of SDF units to other countries.

Along with the development of the security legislation, the Guidelines for Japan-U.S. Defense Cooperation that defines roles of Japanese and U.S. forces should be revised quickly.

The relocation of the U.S. Marine Corps’ Futenma Air Station to Henoko in Nago, Okinawa Prefecture, could be the only realistic option to reduce the burden on residents around the base while maintaining the deterrent power of the U.S. military. Despite opposition by Okinawa Gov. Takeshi Onaga, it is essential for the government and ruling parties to work together toward carrying out the relocation plan steadily.

Abe is considering a plan to visit the United States during a period of consecutive holidays in May. During a meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama, it will be important for Abe to discuss the Japan-U.S. alliance’s new roles in Asia and strategy vis-a-vis China.

During their summit meeting in November, Abe and Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed to reconstruct a mutually beneficial relationship based on common strategic interests.

To avoid unexpected accidents and clashes in the East China Sea, the two countries should, in the first place, reach agreement on the establishment and operation of a maritime liaison mechanism between their defense authorities. Practical cooperation must also be expanded in various fields, including the economy, energy and the environment.

Undoubtedly, the Senkaku Islands are a territory inherent to Japan so there is no room for Japan to make concessions. It is imperative to refute adequately and promptly China’s anti-Japan propaganda, linking it with the historical perception issue.

There is concern that anti-Japan sentiment will also heighten in South Korea this year, which marks the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II. It is not an easy task to break a stalemate in resolving the comfort women issue, on which South Korean President Park Geun-hye has stood firm.

We suggest that Japan and South Korea, for the time being, try to find a path toward making the 50th anniversary of normalization of diplomatic relations fruitful by holding meetings of their foreign ministers and top leaders and bilateral talks on a regular basis.

Early abductee solution urged

Moves toward resolving the issue of Japanese nationals abducted to North Korea are entering a crucial stage. In July last year, North Korea launched a reinvestigation of Japanese abductees with completion targeted within a year. The government must press Pyongyang to provide information about the abductees promptly without allowing them to buy time.

Abe’s diplomacy is also being put to the test in connection with Japan-Russia relations. Russian President Vladimir Putin is scheduled to visit Japan this year. Russia’s serious confrontation with the United States and Europe has continued since its annexation of the Crimea Peninsula. Japan is urged to try to develop relations with Moscow while maintaining a cooperative relationship with the United States and Europe.

Abe has toured 50 countries, a record number by an incumbent Japanese prime minister, in the past two years under the slogan of “developing diplomacy from global perspective.” It is laudable that Abe even visited countries of Africa and Central and South America to build personal relationships with their top leaders.

How has Japan progressed as a pacifist nation in the past 70 years? What role will Japan play on the basis of the Abe administration’s “tenet of proactive contribution to peace”? It will not be insignificant if Abe tells the international community his ideas about these matters in his own words.

It is vital for Abe, with a long-term tenure in mind, to develop strategic diplomacy that sets a high value on the national interest.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Jan. 10, 2015)Speech