民進党発足 1強と対峙するには

--The Asahi Shimbun, March 28
EDITORIAL: Minshinto’s task is to become viable foe of 'sole winner' Abe
(社説)民進党発足 1強と対峙するには

Minshinto (The Democratic Party), formed from the merger between the Democratic Party of Japan and the Japan Innovation Party, was officially inaugurated at a party convention on March 27.
The new party’s first task is to try to close the gap between the ardor of its members and the cool indifference of the public at large.


Shiori Yamao, a 41-year-old Lower House member who made news headlines for confronting the Abe administration over the problem of children on waiting lists for child-care facilities, has been chosen to head the new party’s policy research committee. But since almost all party executives, including leader Katsuya Okada, have essentially retained their posts from their DPJ days, critics point out that the party name is the only thing that has changed.

The public’s chilly reaction is quite understandable.

After coming into power in 2009 to end decades of rule by the Liberal Democratic Party, the DPJ did nothing but repeatedly betray the hopes of voters who were looking forward to a new era in Japanese politics.

The DPJ proved itself incapable of living up to its campaign pledges. Its attempts at government led by politicians, rather than by bureaucrats, went nowhere. And the party eventually split over the controversial issue of a consumption tax hike.

The impression cannot be denied that the new Democratic Party did nothing more than welcome back to the fold some of the DPJ members who had broken away at that time.

While the DPJ languished after its fall from power, the Abe administration consolidated a “sole winner” political system by winning three national elections in a row, starting with the 2012 Lower House election that was called upon the dissolution of the chamber by then Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda.

Abe stresses that the LDP’s return to power has improved the economy, claiming there are 30 percent fewer bankruptcies on his watch than when the DPJ was at the helm.

But on the other hand, the public’s discontent continues to run deep over growing social disparities and other issues, including that of children who cannot enter child-care facilities.

And as evidenced by his decision to allow Japan to exercise the right to collective self-defense and enact a divisive national security legislation, Abe has been walking a precarious path that may well lead the nation astray from its Constitution.

What lies at the end of the path is constitutional revision, the sole purpose of which is to change the Constitution itself.

There are many frustrated voters who are apprehensive of the Abe administration’s style of politics but do not see any alternative. One indication of their frustration is that voter turnout languished just above 52 percent in the 2013 Upper House election as well as the 2014 Lower House poll.

At the inaugural party convention, Okada expressed “deep remorse” for the DPJ’s failure to live up to the people’s expectations while it was in power. On that note, his party must take the first step forward.

As the largest opposition party with 156 Diet members, can the Democratic Party become a formidable opponent of the “sole winner” Abe administration? The answer to this holds the key to whether Japanese politics will emerge from its lethargy.

“Liberty, coexistence and responsibility for the future” are the Democratic Party’s founding principles. The party promises to rectify disparities in education, employment and gender-related matters, and defend constitutionalism. The party is at least heading in the right direction.

But the only way in which it can regain the lost trust of the voting public is to commit itself to what every political party is tasked to undertake with patience, which is to heed the voice of each citizen and challenge the ruling party with concrete and persuasive policies.


安全保障法制の施行 「違憲」の法制、正す論戦を

--The Asahi Shimbun, March 29
EDITORIAL: Diet must debate constitutionality of new security legislation
(社説)安全保障法制の施行 「違憲」の法制、正す論戦を

The new national security legislation expanding the scope of Japan’s military operations took effect on March 29.

The ruling coalition, led by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party, rammed the legislation through the Diet in September in the face of anxiety and opposition among many citizens and criticism by constitutional scholars that it is unconstitutional. The controversial set of laws is now in force.

The legislation, composed of two statutes incorporating the content of 11 bills, significantly expands the scope of Self-Defense Forces operations outside Japan. It allows Japan to exercise its right to collective self-defense by changing the government’s interpretation of the Constitution.
It also enables the SDF to provide logistical support to the forces of the United States and other countries and engage in a wider range of United Nations peacekeeping operations.

The Abe administration railroaded the broad security legislation through just one session of the Diet. Many observers say Abe was in a rush to get the legislation passed because he promised in his April 29 address to a Joint Meeting of the U.S. Congress to “achieve” the legislative reform “by this coming summer.”

After the legislation passed the Diet, Abe said he would “make tenacious efforts to explain” it to the public. But he has failed to deliver on his promise.

The Diet debate on related issues since then has been far from sufficient.


This situation represents a crisis of Japan’s constitutionalism, which means the government’s power is defined and limited by the Constitution. This extraordinary and dangerous situation must not be allowed to continue.

The “unconstitutional” legislation, not based on broad public consensus, should be rectified. It is necessary to sort out the content of the legislation so that at least the unconstitutional parts will be repealed. The Diet, especially the opposition camp, needs to play a vital role in this undertaking.

The Abe administration has maintained that the legislation is constitutional because it only allows Japan to exercise its right to collective self-defense in limited situations.

On the other hand, the administration has continued giving equivocal answers at the Diet to questions about the limits to the exercise of this right by Japan in an apparent attempt for the government to secure as much discretion as possible in assessing situations.

This will allow the government in power to interpret the scope of the limits in any manner it chooses.

The administration’s move to make it possible for Japan to engage in collective self-defense operations was prompted primarily by the challenge of countering the growing military power of China through enhancing the deterrence provided by Japan’s security alliance with the United States.

Here’s the idea behind the move. Japan needs to ensure that U.S. forces will maintain their presence in the Asia-Pacific region while compensating for the relative decline in U.S. military power by enhancing the SDF and expanding its security cooperation with other countries in the region.

The legislation is designed to allow the SDF to operate in wide areas outside Japan by eliminating a broad range of obstacles and impediments to the SDF’s joint operations with U.S. forces.
This approach can be likened to casting a wide net to catch as many fish in as wide an area as possible.

This means the SDF will expand its joint military drills, information sharing and cooperation concerning military equipment with the forces of the United States and other countries. Such efforts will be made not just during security emergencies but in peacetime as well.


The problem is that the administration, to achieve its security policy goals, has relaxed the restrictions that the war-renouncing Article 9 of the Constitution had imposed on the SDF’s overseas operations.

At the end of February, the Commission on the Future of the Alliance, a study group comprising Japanese and American experts including Richard Armitage, a former U.S. deputy secretary of state, released a report titled “The U.S.-Japan Alliance to 2030.”

Stressing the importance for Tokyo and Washington to have a coordinated China strategy, the report urged Japan to “have fully funded, modern and highly capable military forces” and called on the two countries to “at least coordinate, and if possible integrate, their policies and actions elsewhere in Asia and beyond.”

This is a clear call for integrating the two nations’ security policy development and execution in all aspects, including defense budgeting.

But the national interests of the United States don’t necessarily coincide exactly with those of Japan with regard not only to how to respond to China’s rise but also to other key issues.

The question facing Japan is if it can decline any strong security policy request from the United States, which has a history of launching misguided wars.

Abe has said that Japan will make its own independent decisions as to whether it should exercise its right to collective self-defense. But will this be really possible for Japan when the effectiveness of Article 9 as a protection against the risk of becoming involved in overseas conflict has been seriously undermined?

Japan should be well aware of the fact that the United States, while wary about China’s military buildup, has been working eagerly to build sturdy multiple channels of dialogue with the country.

To protect its own peace, Japan should also pursue close dialogue and a broad range of cooperation with China.

The Abe administration, however, has been focusing its security policy efforts on bolstering Japan’s alliance with the United States, allowing erosion in the human interactions underpinning the bilateral ties with China.

Given Japan’s geographical proximity to China and the complicated and troubled history of their bilateral relations, the Japanese government needs to perform a delicate balancing act in dealing with its neighboring giant.

Japan should restrain itself from getting embroiled in U.S. military actions and stick to its traditional strictly defensive security policy to avoid an arms race with China. The functions of Article 9 can, and should, serve as a foundation for Japan’s efforts to strike a proper balance between deterrence and dialogue.


An Upper House election will be held this summer. Simultaneous polls of both chambers of the Diet appear to be in the cards.

In a move with significant political implications, the Abe administration has decided to postpone until after the Upper House poll some important new steps based on the security legislation. They include expanding the scope of Japan’s peacekeeping missions to allow SDF personnel to come to the assistance of members of U.N. and private-sector organizations and other countries’ troops who have come under attack during such operations. The administration has also delayed the introduction of a bill to revise Japan’s Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement with the United States to expand the SDF’s logistic support for U.S. forces.

The Abe administration is again concentrating its political energy on economic issues before a key election with a clear intention to shift the focus of its policy discourse to security topics after the poll. The administration adopted the same strategy for its initiatives to enact the state secrets protection law and the security legislation.

This time, too, the administration will try to push through the related measures all at once if the ruling camp is victorious in the election.

The Abe administration has taken a series of foreign and security policy measures aimed at concentrating power in the hands of the government. They include the enactment of the state secrets protection law and the creation of the National Security Council.

That has made it all the more important for the Diet to perform its function of checking the actions of the executive branch. But the Diet’s performance has been deeply disappointing.

The Diet has not even bothered to consider the joint opposition bill to repeal the security legislation or the counterproposals made by the opposition parties. This fact is a clear and undeniable sign that the Diet has become dysfunctional.

The opposition parties have a crucial mission to carry out. They need to expand electoral cooperation among themselves and strengthen their solidarity with citizens.

They also have to protect the nation’s constitutionalism and redress the “unconstitutional” legislation. The mission requires fresh and serious debate on the future of politics in this nation.


原発停止命令 国民の不安を直視せよ

--The Asahi Shimbun, March 27
EDITORIAL: Nuclear power proponents still scoffing at public safety concerns
(社説)原発停止命令 国民の不安を直視せよ

An Otsu District Court injunction has suspended operations of two reactors at Kansai Electric Power Co.’s Takahama nuclear power plant in Fukui Prefecture, one of which was online.
Again, the significance of that development should be taken to heart.

Proponents of nuclear power, in particular, should squarely face up to the public anxiety that lies in the backdrop of the court decision.

But instead they are boiling with disgruntlement.

“Why is a single district court judge allowed to trip up the government’s energy policy?” Kazuo Sumi, a vice chairman of the Kansai Economic Federation, said resentfully.
“We could demand damages (from the residents who requested the injunction) if we were to win the case at a higher court,” Kansai Electric President Makoto Yagi said, although he prefaced his remark with a proviso that he is arguing only in general terms.

The government is maintaining a wait-and-see attitude.

The decision called into question the appropriateness of the Nuclear Regulation Authority’s new regulation standards and government-approved plans for evacuations in case of an emergency.

But NRA Chairman Shunichi Tanaka argued, “Our standards are nearing the world’s top level.”

And the government has no plans to review its emergency evacuation plans. It has only reiterated that it will “proceed with restarts of nuclear reactors in paying respect to NRA decisions.”

The Otsu decision is the third court order issued against the operation of nuclear reactors since the meltdowns five years ago at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

There has, in fact, been no fixed trend in court decisions. Another court rejected residents’ request last year for an injunction against reactor restarts at Kyushu Electric Power Co.’s Sendai nuclear plant in Kagoshima Prefecture.
But courts appear to be playing a more active role now than before the Fukushima disaster.

The nuclear proponents’ reactions reveal an underlying thinking: “The use of nuclear power is indispensable for Japan, which does not abound in energy resources. The government set up the NRA following the Fukushima disaster to increase expert control. Regional utilities have also taken safety enhancement measures. Courts are therefore asked not to meddle.”

But they should have a deeper understanding that this argument is no longer convincing to the public and court judges.

Some critics say the latest decision deviated from the 1992 Supreme Court ruling saying that decisions on the safety of nuclear plants should be made by administrative organs on the basis of expert opinions. But that argument is also off the mark.

The ruling, given in a case over Shikoku Electric Power Co.’s Ikata nuclear plant, certainly presented that point of view. But it also stated that the objective of safety regulations based on the Law on the Regulation of Nuclear Source Material, Nuclear Fuel Material and Reactors is to “make sure that no serious disaster will happen by any chance.”

A safety net, left in the hands of experts, collapsed all too easily during the Fukushima disaster, turning the phrase “by any chance” into reality.

Courts, which are the guardians of law, should rather be commended for trying to find out independently, to the extent that they can, if there is enough preparedness when a nuclear reactor will be restarted.

The latest alarm bell sounded by the judiciary sector provides an opportunity to ask once again why all the safety measures taken after the Fukushima nuclear disaster are still struggling to win the trust of the public.

The Fukushima disaster changed the awareness of the public. The judiciary sector was also affected.

It is high time for a change among nuclear proponents.


香山リカのココロの万華鏡: 「かさじぞう」になろう /東京

March 27, 2016 (Mainichi Japan)
Kaleidoscope of the Heart: Recognizing others' kindness
香山リカのココロの万華鏡: 「かさじぞう」になろう /東京

I am often asked which types of people are likely to experience emotional disorders. Truthfully speaking, the answer is "anyone."

While even intransigent or unkind persons are sometimes known to experience depression, it is also true that a large number of the patients who visit my office could be characterized as people who are considerate and serious.

Despite feeling unwell and suffering from illness themselves, quite a few such persons often say thoughtful things to me such as, "You are looking a little pale. Are you feeling tired?"

I suppose that this is a tendency among kind people to go out of their way to do things for others, even if this means inconveniencing themselves -- and often using up all of their energy in the process.

Sometimes I struggle when thinking about this matter, since it would seem as if kindness is somehow a demerit, while those who think exclusively of themselves end up enjoying benefits.

To be sure, people who defiantly take an attitude of "I was not the one at fault" no matter what the situation at hand, and who consistently blame others without looking at themselves, likely never end up practicing self-reproach or facing exhaustion.

Faced with the question of whether one might like to live in a society where everyone thinks only of their own well-being, however, and acts accordingly, I would wager to guess that most people would answer negatively.

Small, thoughtful actions and consideration -- such as allowing others to pass in front of you on the street, or saying you are fine when asked how you are feeling to avoid causing others worry, even though you are actually feeling tired -- seem to help preserve the tranquility of everyday society.

So what can be done to avoid thoughtful people becoming hurt, as well as to make sure that persons who are deeply considerate of others do not become tired to the point of exhaustion?

In my view, the answer seems to lie in the act of someone recognizing this type of thoughtfulness -- and then saying something like "Thank you" or "Please don't push yourself" to the person who is exercising it.

In reality, however, people these days are so occupied with their own personal issues that they simply pretend not to notice the presence of an overly considerate person -- and many of them will even go as far as to use such persons for the purposes of their own personal benefit.

There is an old Japanese fable titled the "kasa jizou" -- "straw hat bodhisattva" -- which tells the story of an elderly couple who give their last straw hat to a bodhisattva statue to protect it from the snowy cold, and are later rewarded by a visit from the statue bearing gifts of food.
Through this tale, we understand that acts of kindness end up by eventually becoming rewarded. I wonder whether a modern-day version of this scenario exists, wherein people reward others by telling them, "I see your thoughtful actions."

While I try to do my own part by acting as a "straw hat bodhisattva" in my office, it is unfortunate that the people who come to me are already exhausted and facing conditions such as depression.

It is my great hope that you, too, will become a "straw hat bodhisattva" by speaking up and letting someone know that their kindness has not gone unnoticed.

(By Rika Kayama, psychiatrist) (精神科医)


伊方1号機廃炉 採算より40年ルールだ

March 26, 2016 (Mainichi Japan)
Editorial: 40-year reactor life rule must prevail over profitability
伊方1号機廃炉 採算より40年ルールだ

Shikoku Electric Power Co. has decided to decommission the No. 1 reactor at the Ikata nuclear power complex in Ehime Prefecture, as the reactor will have been in operation 40 years come September next year.

In the wake of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant disaster, the government has set a new rule limiting the operational life of reactors to 40 years, in principle. An extension of up to 20 years can be granted by the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA). Ikata nuclear plant operator Shikoku Electric Power Co. had sought to have the No. 1 reactor's lifespan extended, but abandoned the idea after finding the enormous safety improvement costs would make it unprofitable to keep the reactor running.

Reactor pressure vessels are said to deteriorate in 40 years due to being bombarded by neutrons. From the viewpoint of ensuring nuclear plant safety, reactors over 40 years of age need to be decommissioned, regardless of their profitability. It is hoped that Shikoku Electric's decision will set a precedent for other power companies.

Five other reactors around the 40-year limit are already set to be decommissioned, including the No. 1 and 2 reactors at Kansai Electric Power Co.'s Mihama nuclear plant in Fukui Prefecture, and the No. 1 reactor at Kyushu Electric Power Co.'s Genkai nuclear station in Saga Prefecture -- decisions made in March last year. With the decommissioning of the Ikata plant's No. 1 reactor, the number of reactors in Japan will be reduced to 42.

The six reactors facing decommissioning are relatively small, with output in the 300,000 to 500,000 kilowatt range. More recent reactors can generate 1 million kilowatts each.

The decision over whether to decommission reactors is left up to each utility, and behind Kansai Electric and Kyushu Electric's decisions to decommission the aforementioned reactors also lay the issue of profitability. The smaller the output of a reactor is, the less profitable it is considering the massive cost of safety measures.

Meanwhile, Kansai Electric has applied to the NRA to extend the service life of the No. 1 and 2 reactors at the Takahama nuclear plant, and the No. 3 reactor at the Mihama plant, both in Fukui Prefecture. The utility decided that those reactors -- which can each generate about 800,000 kilowatts -- will be profitable enough even with the immense safety costs.

However, aging reactors are fraught with more problems than deteriorating pressure vessels. The longer it has been since a reactor entered operation, the fewer engineers there are who can pass down legacy technologies. Some experts point out that there is a limit to how much the safety of elderly reactors can be improved because their design concept itself is outdated. The question of decommissioning a reactor and its output and economic efficiency should be considered separately.

Furthermore, utilities face a host of other challenges to moving ahead with steady decommissioning.

First and foremost, the final disposal site for the colossal amount of radioactive waste that will be generated by dismantling reactors has yet to be decided. There are not even regulatory standards for disposing of the severely contaminated inner components of reactors.

It is also imperative to secure storage locations for spent nuclear fuel generated by nuclear plants. Under the government's nuclear fuel cycle policy, spent fuel had been destined for the reprocessing plant in Rokkasho, Aomori Prefecture. However, the plant is under safety review by the NRA, and there is no prospect of it becoming operational anytime soon.

Power companies and the government need to overcome these challenges.

Reactor decommissioning seriously affects regional economies and the finances of local governments dependent on nuclear plant hosting subsidies.  廃炉は、原発関連の交付金などに頼ってきた地元自治体の財政や地域経済にも大きく影響する。

The central government's support is indispensable in associating the decommissioning business with regional revitalization, among other measures.


政府と沖縄県 分断を埋める協議に

--The Asahi Shimbun, March 24
EDITORIAL: A more sincere attitude needed in new talks on Futenma issue
(社説)政府と沖縄県 分断を埋める協議に

The government and Okinawa Prefecture on March 23 started a fresh round of talks over the plan to relocate the functions of the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma from Ginowan, a crowded city in central Okinawa, to the Henoko district of Nago. The two sides held the first of a series of meetings in accordance with a court-mediated agreement they reached earlier in March to stop their legal battle over the plan.

The talks should be used to heal the bitter division between the two sides over the issue.

That requires both the Abe administration and the Okinawa prefectural government to offer sincere and straightforward answers to questions posed by the other side as part of serious efforts to find common ground.

Unfortunately, however, the first session ended without any sign of progress toward the goal.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga refused to budge on the government’s official position that building a new military facility in Henoko to replace the Futenma base is the “only solution.”

Okinawa Governor Takeshi Onaga later said he had urged the administration to abandon this position and make sincere efforts to bring the negotiations forward.

What the administration needs to understand is that without solid support and cooperation from the local communities involved, a security architecture would inevitably stand on a fragile foundation.

Building a new base in Henoko without an agreement with the prefectural government could jeopardize stable operations of U.S. military bases in Okinawa. That could undermine the stability of Japan’s entire national security system.

The administration should use the new talks with the Okinawa government to work out specific steps to fulfill an important promise Prime Minister Shinzo Abe made to Onaga’s predecessor, Hirokazu Nakaima.
At the end of 2013, Abe promised Nakaima, who approved land reclamation to build the base in Henoko, that operations of the Futenma air base would be terminated within five years.

Even if the relocation plan is implemented, the envisioned new base will be completed in fiscal 2022 at the earliest. The elimination of the danger posed by the Futenma base to the local communities must not be delayed until then.

The government has been taking measures to relocate part of the functions of the Futenma base to other places. It should expand the scope of these efforts and start seriously considering dispersing Futenma’s functions to locations outside the prefecture and outside Japan.

That requires the administration to hold talks not only with local governments in mainland Japan but also with the U.S. government. The administration should show it is committed to making every possible effort to solve the problem.

On March 23, the Abe administration proposed separate talks with Okinawa for an early return of half of the U.S. Marines jungle warfare training area in northern parts of Okinawa island.

The proposal to return a “major portion” of the training area was included in the final report of the Special Action Committee on Okinawa (SACO), released in 1996. But it has yet to be implemented.

The administration has a duty to reduce the burden on Okinawa, but this should not be linked to the Henoko issue.

To avoid creating unnecessary confusion within the local communities, the central government should carefully discuss the idea without trying to link the proposal to negotiations over the Henoko plan.

One move the administration made after the court-mediated agreement was reached on March 4 has raised questions about its posture toward the talks for settling the dispute.

Before the talks began, the administration instructed Onaga to repeal the nullification of his predecessor’s approval of land reclamation in Henoko.

Although the administration’s instruction was made according to the terms of the agreement, the move certainly does not signal a serious pursuit of a true settlement of the dispute.

The new talks should not be used to postpone the problem until a final court ruling on a new lawsuit over the issue is handed down.

The administration has a heavy responsibility for ensuring that the talks will finally bring an end to this conflict.


ベルギーテロ 「欧州の首都」標的にした蛮行

The Yomiuri Shimbun
World must review antiterrorism measures as ‘capital of Europe’ attacked
ベルギーテロ 「欧州の首都」標的にした蛮行

The “capital of Europe” has become the site of a despicable terrorist act that indiscriminately targeted civilians. Such acts cannot be tolerated.

The international community must tighten the noose further to contain terrorism.

A series of terrorist bombings rocked the international airport and a subway station in the Belgian capital of Brussels, where the European Union is headquartered. More than 30 people were killed and over 200 others were injured in the attacks.

The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) militant group, which is based in Syria and Iraq, has claimed responsibility, denouncing Belgium for participating in the anti-ISIL coalition.

The perpetrators include suicide bombers and a man still at large. Belgian authorities have been urged to speed up their investigation to ascertain the whole picture of the attacks.

French President Francois Hollande said, “The whole of Europe has been struck by these attacks in Brussels.” It is vital for the security authorities of EU countries to enhance intelligence-sharing on terrorism-related matters.

With districts that are home to many Muslims, Brussels is known as a hotbed of radical Islamists in Europe. Just four days ago, a key surviving perpetrator of last November’s terrorist attacks on Paris was arrested in such a district, where he was hiding.

An alarming point is the failure to prevent the terrorist attacks at the airport, a key facility under tight security by Belgian authorities.

Vulnerability highlighted

One of the perpetrators reportedly blew himself up near a check-in counter of an airline company before security screening for baggage. This appears to be a blind point for airport security. A review of measures against terrorism is needed.

A blast in a subway car took place at a station near the EU headquarters. Some observers speculate that the militant group carried out this outrage of mass killing, which has once again shaken Europe, in revenge for the arrest of the Paris attacks’ mastermind.

To help suppress terrorist groups, the United States and European countries are being urged to bring an end to the Syrian civil war, which has allowed the rise of ISIL.

Japanese nationals were also involved in the bombing on the Brussels subway. One suffered serious injury while another was slightly hurt. About 220 Japanese companies have made inroads into Belgium, and about 5,400 Japanese nationals live in the country.

As many Japanese expatriates now work overseas, terrorism by radical Islamists is not someone else’s problem for Japan.

It is natural that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe strongly condemned the attacks in Brussels, saying, “We must work together with the international community in responding [to the attacks].”

Participants at the Ise-Shima Group of Seven summit meeting to be held in May face the task of working out specific antiterrorism measures, such as ways to cut off terrorist funding. The government should make every possible effort to review airport security and take other steps to prevent terrorist attacks.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, March 24, 2016)


省庁移転 骨太の理念が見えない

--The Asahi Shimbun, March 23
EDITORIAL: Government's decentralization policy lacking full commitment
(社説)省庁移転 骨太の理念が見えない

The government on March 22 announced its basic policy on the relocation of central government ministries and agencies to outside the greater Tokyo metropolitan area. Now, we have to wonder how serious the government was in the first place about its relocation plans.

As part of the Abe administration's much touted regional revitalization initiative, the government had widely called on prefectural governments to host the central government ministries and agencies that were being considered for relocation.
But, as it turned out, only the Agency for Cultural Affairs will be moving from Tokyo to Kyoto for certain in a few years.

The government will conduct further studies and make its final decision by the end of August regarding the relocation of the Consumer Affairs Agency and the Statistics Bureau of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, which have been invited, respectively, by Tokushima and Wakayama prefectures.

But as for the relocation of the Small and Medium Enterprise Agency, the Patent Office, the Japan Tourism Agency and the Japan Meteorological Agency, in which five prefectures have shown interest, the government decided not to pursue the matter any further, noting that "these agencies' functions cannot be expected to be maintained or improved" by moving them out of Tokyo.

Also, many local governments had offered to host various research and training institutions that are now in Tokyo, but only one institution will be fully relocating.

Japan's declining population renders the decentralization of government functions an urgent matter. Shigeru Ishiba, the minister in charge of regional revitalization, pointed out the symbolic significance of doing so when he said, "The government cannot make any persuasive case (in favor of the relocation of its ministries and agencies) if it doesn't do anything about it and only asks businesses to move out of Tokyo."
But such an argument seems to have petered out.

The biggest problem seems to be that the government lacked any big-picture perspective on how to redefine government functions in their entirety.

Without a clear, firm idea of which ministries and agencies should be relocated where, the relocation policy lacks substance.

Ministry and agency officials are kept busy by Diet-related duties, and the adverse effects of forcing them to commute long hours have been discussed for years. Such concerns should have led to discussions on coordinating inter-ministerial responsibilities and transferring functions that do not have to be carried out in Tokyo to outside the capital.

But discussions within the government were effectively limited only to how to maintain the current functions after the ministries or agencies move out of Tokyo, and failed to address broader issues, such as organizational reforms.

The government's just-announced relocation policy includes the reinforcement or even creation of local offices of some of the ministries and agencies. This gives us concern that the government may even be thinking of organizational expansion.

The Cultural Affairs Agency, which is the only entity relocating out of Tokyo, is a successful case of the Kyoto business community's persistent efforts to bring the agency there. Kyoto is the heart of Japan's traditional culture. We hope the parties concerned will carefully proceed with the relocation, with close attention to every detail, to ensure that the agency will take advantage of being located in Kyoto and enrich the administration of cultural affairs.

Under Minister Taro Kono, the Consumer Affairs Agency is as interested as the Cultural Affairs Agency in moving out of Tokyo. However, its planned relocation to Tokushima Prefecture has been put on the back burner for now "for fear that the move may negatively affect the agency's intended function as a consumer protection organ."

We hope the final decision will be made after thorough debate, not in a top-down manner, so that the public will support the decision.

It is unfortunate that the most powerful ministries were never considered for relocation, and there were no offers from regional governments to host them, either.

The announcement of the government's relocation policy should not be the cue for ending all conversations on the subject. We must continue striving to define the sort of government organizations that meet the needs of our times.


朝鮮学校補助 子どもらに責任はない

--The Asahi Shimbun, March 21
EDITORIAL: Politicians bully Korean school students for acts of Pyongyang
(社説)朝鮮学校補助 子どもらに責任はない

Korean schools across Japan are attended by Korean residents’ children, who are taught subjects in line with Japan’s official curriculum guidelines and also learn Korean language and culture.

Almost all of these schools are in financial distress. Many local governments of areas hosting Korean schools provide the institutions with subsidies similar to the financial support received by private Japanese schools and other international schools.

But some politicians of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and other parties are calling on the education ministry to terminate public subsidies to Korean schools.

These lawmakers are casting their proposal as part of Japan’s sanctions against North Korea, which has failed to respond to Tokyo’s demands concerning Japanese citizens abducted by Pyongyang decades ago and has refused to stop its provocative actions, such as nuclear tests.

Some local governments have already suspended their subsidies to Korean schools.

But children attending Korean schools are not at all responsible for North Korea’s nuclear weapons program or the abduction issue.

Punishing schools that educate young Korean residents of Japan for North Korea’s actions is tantamount to bullying of the weak driven by misplaced anger.

It is inappropriate, in the first place, for the education ministry to interfere in the issue, which is under the jurisdiction of local governments concerned.

The Japanese government started offering tuition-free high school education six years ago, when the Democratic Party of Japan was in power. But this benefit has not been applied to Korean schools.

The DPJ-led government kept dragging its foot on abolishing tuition fees at Korean schools. And the administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, which was inaugurated in December 2012, swiftly removed Korean schools from the list of institutions eligible for the program.

Students at Korean schools and other people concerned have sued the government in Tokyo, Osaka and other cities, arguing that the exclusion of their schools from the program due to political reasons is illegal.

In the international arena, some U.N. agencies, including the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, have criticized the Japanese government’s policy concerning the issue. These organizations have recognized the exclusion of Korean schools from tuition-free high school education as a form of discrimination. They have also urged the Japanese government to apply the program to these schools and exhort local governments to continue the subsidies.

Last year, the bar association of Saitama Prefecture rebuked Saitama Governor Kiyoshi Ueda for his move to suspend the prefectural government’s subsidies to Korean schools within the prefecture. The association warned that Ueda’s action constitutes an “extremely serious violation of human rights.”

At many Korean schools, members of the pro-Pyongyang General Association of Korean Residents in Japan (Chongryon) are involved in school administration.

But education should be kept insulated from politics. Kanagawa Governor Yuji Kuroiwa has continued subsidies to individual Korean students instead of their schools. Kuroiwa has said children are blameless.

Aside from differences in perceptions about history, problems with the curricula at Korean schools, if any, should be solved through talks between the government and the institutions.

In fact, the content of education at Korean schools has been changing significantly.

The community of Korean residents in Japan has become diversified. At many Korean schools, children of South Korean nationality make up a majority.

It is wrong to think that Korean schools are attended only by children of people who worship the North Korean regime.

More than anything else, students at Korean schools are also members of our society.

Any attempt to close the door to children who can build bridges between Japan and its neighbors would only increase the number of people who harbor antipathy toward Japan.


マイナス金利 弊害広げない方策を

--The Asahi Shimbun, March 20
EDITORIAL: BOJ needs exit strategy for negative interest rate policy
(社説)マイナス金利 弊害広げない方策を

One month has passed since the Bank of Japan took the risky and controversial move to introduce negative interest rates after it had almost run out of policy tools to enhance its aggressive “quantitative” monetary easing program.

It is hardly possible to claim that this policy gamble has produced the expected positive results overall.

The BOJ’s action has achieved a further decline in long-term interest rates from their already record-low levels.

But the move to push interest rates below zero has given an unexpectedly big jolt to financial markets, causing wild fluctuations in both stock prices and currency exchange rates in the ensuing weeks.

The banking sector has criticized the negative interest rate policy, which is expected to deliver a blow to the earnings of lenders. Commercial banks are facing an increase in costs as the BOJ charges them 0.1 percent for their excess reserves at the central bank.

Banks have also come under strong pressure to further cut their lending rates, which are already at historical lows.

That would be fine as long as lower lending rates goose demand for loans. But that doesn’t seem to be what is happening.

Banks have found that lower-rate mortgages have led to an increase in refinancing but failed to stoke demand for new housing loans.

The monetary easing policy was intended to prompt banks to expand their lending and encourage companies to ramp up their business investments. But the BOJ’s latest move seems counterproductive because it has only made things harder for commercial banks.

The negative interest rate policy is also beginning to blight the BOJ’s efforts to awaken inflationary expectations among consumers and businesses through its “different dimension” easing.

In an Asahi Shimbun opinion poll conducted in February, 60 percent of respondents said they do not expect the negative interest rate policy to lead to economic growth.

Foreign regulators and policymakers have voiced concerns that any expansion of the negative interest rate policies that are in place in Japan and Europe could trigger a global currency war, or competitive devaluations of currencies among major economic powers to gain a trade advantage.

The biggest beneficiary of the BOJ’s surprise policy move is probably Japan’s public finances. A further decline in long-term rates reduces the debt-servicing costs of the government, which has run up more than 1,000 trillion yen in debts.

As a result, however, there seems to be growing political momentum for relaxing fiscal discipline.

Under ordinary circumstances, the central bank should not adopt the extremely radical approach of buying huge amounts of government bonds for monetary expansion.

The BOJ’s unconventional policy, however, has been condoned as a measure to allow the government to buy time to fix its finances.

But some policymakers within the Abe administration are now openly arguing for postponing the consumption tax hike slated for next year. The administration appears to have the wrong idea about what should be the top fiscal policy priority.

The BOJ’s monetary policy is now beginning to cause significant harm to the Japanese economy. If the BOJ continues this extraordinary monetary expansion program in a desperate effort to achieve its seemingly unrealistic 2-percent inflation target, the range of challenges confronting the Japanese economy will only become more serious and complicated.

The central bank cannot quickly terminate its unprecedented policy even if it wants to because an abrupt end to the program would cause unacceptably large harmful effects on financial markets regarding interest and exchange rates.

Instead of wading deeper into uncharted waters, the BOJ should start working out a strategy for winding up the program while minimizing the negative consequences.


教科書検定 押しつけは時代遅れだ

--The Asahi Shimbun, March 19
EDITORIAL: Do not impose government’s viewpoints on school textbooks
(社説)教科書検定 押しつけは時代遅れだ

School textbooks are not tools for the government to indoctrinate young people with its views and opinions.

The education ministry on March 18 announced the results of its screening of new high school textbooks to be used from spring next year.

This year, the ministry applied, for the first time, new rules about the authorization of textbooks to those used at high schools.

Besides changing the guidelines for editing textbooks, the ministry also revised its screening standards to require publishers to ensure descriptions on issues about which the government has announced an official position reflect that view.

These changes were made in response to demands from the ruling Liberal Democratic Party.

The outcome of the screening of high school textbooks reminds us of what happened last year, when new textbooks for junior high schools underwent the process.

The ministry instructed the publishers to describe Japan’s territorial disputes with its neighbors in line with the government’s position. In one case, an article in a textbook about war reparations had to be rewritten after the ministry criticized the text for failing to reflect the government’s stance on compensation for wartime forced laborers from China.

Notably, the ministry demanded that the descriptions on controversial topics, such as the Self-Defense Forces, the Constitution and nuclear power generation, be in line with the positions of the Abe administration.

The ministry, for instance, took issue with one textbook’s description about Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s “proactive pacifism.” The original text described Abe's foreign policy principle as one that has "changed the government's interpretation of the Constitution" and provides for "the SDF to operate in wider areas."

The ministry contended that the passage could cause a misunderstanding. Since proactive pacifism is a doctrine, the ministry said, the goal it is designed to achieve should also be mentioned.

Consequently, the text was revised to say that the doctrine is intended to enable Japan to “make active contribution to ensuring peace, stability and prosperity in international society” by changing the interpretation of the Constitution with regard to the SDF’s activities.

Acquiring knowledge about the government’s official positions on various issues is not harmful for students. But treating the government’s views as the right answer to think about these issues is tantamount to imposing specific opinions on young people.

The administration’s approach to textbook screening is more and more coming to resemble the prewar system of government-designated textbooks.

The government overestimates the influence of textbooks on young people’s thinking, in the first place.

Textbooks are not the only sources of knowledge for children. By visiting a library, for instance, they can easily find written works presenting different opinions and viewpoints from those of the government.

The education ministry is now working on new official curriculum guidelines.

It is planning to create new subjects, including a comprehensive study of modern world history and civics education about the rights and obligations of citizens and voters.
These subjects will be aimed at helping students develop the ability to think about things from diverse viewpoints and angles, according to the ministry.

Textbooks for these subjects should be designed to show that the government’s views and opinions are relative to the standpoints of various players, including opposition parties, citizens and other countries.

It is questionable whether the current textbook screening system will be suitable for the goals of the new subjects.

The current system is based on the assumption that textbooks are traditional printed books.

But an increasing number of textbooks show the addresses of websites that offer good reference materials.

The ministry checks the content in these websites during its textbook screening, but the pages of a website are updated constantly. It is impossible for the government to keep track of all changes in the content of the websites mentioned in textbooks.

The current textbook screening system, which tends to nitpick over specific terms and phrases in the text, is already outdated.

The government should shift its education policy to allow a wider range of teaching materials, expand the discretion of teachers in how to teach classes and increase opportunities for children to think from diverse viewpoints. The government should start taking steps to reinvent the textbook screening system in line with these principles.


北ミサイル発射 国際社会で孤立深める軽挙だ

The Yomiuri Shimbun
North Korea’s missile launch a rash act that increases its isolation
北ミサイル発射 国際社会で孤立深める軽挙だ

North Korea apparently wants to flaunt the enhancement of its nuclear capability, but in reality, the country is just intensifying its international isolation.

Pyongyang launched a missile believed to be a Nodong medium-range ballistic missile from around Sukchon in the western part of the country. It flew a distance of about 800 kilometers and fell into the Sea of Japan.

According to the South Korean military, North Korea fired another missile, but it immediately disappeared from radar. It is possible that it exploded in the air.

In response to North Korea’s nuclear testing and other incidents, the U.N. Security Council early this month adopted a resolution anew that bans the country from firing ballistic missiles.

Following the launch of short-range ballistic missiles a week ago, North Korea’s latest action clearly violates the resolution.

It was reasonable that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe condemned North Korea and said Japan would respond decisively while working closely with the international community.

North Korea is reacting more and more furiously against the Security Council’s resolution and U.S.-South Korean joint military exercises that started this month.

According to the Korean Central News Agency, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un declared that he will soon conduct a test explosion of a nuclear warhead and test-fire several types of ballistic missiles that can carry nuclear warheads.

He also claimed that his country has succeeded in reducing the weight of nuclear warheads, and even suggested the country would become able to make a “preemptive nuclear attack” to counter the United States.

Security concern for Japan

Kim apparently wants to strengthen his leadership in the run-up to the Congress of the Workers’ Party of Korea, which is to be convened in May. However, many observers doubt that North Korea has advanced its miniaturization of nuclear warheads enough to load them on missiles.

“If the latest missile launch leads to enhancement of North Korea’s ballistic missile capabilities, it will be a source of strong national security concern for Japan,” said Defense Minister Gen Nakatani.

Pyongyang is said to have already deployed many Nodong missiles that could reach Japan. Because the missiles use mobile launchers, it is difficult to detect advance signs of launches. It remains necessary to keep an eye on North Korea’s attempts to improve the accuracy of its missiles by repeatedly conducting test-firings.

Also, preparations must be made to deal with further military provocations North Korea might engage in to heighten tensions on the Korean Peninsula.

The international community must not overlook the reckless attitude of Kim, who does not try to hide his ambition to possess nuclear-armed missiles.

First, sanctions resolutions adopted by the U.N. Security Council should be strictly implemented. It is essential to enhance an international coalition that is working to shut down the flow of funds and materials necessary for development of nuclear missiles to North Korea.

The tripartite security partnership of Japan, the United States and South Korea has become even more important for inhibiting North Korea’s reckless actions without being intimidated by its threats.

Japan, the United States and South Korea are trying to organize summit talks of their leaders on the sidelines of a Nuclear Security Summit to be held in the United States late this month. We hope concrete measures that would improve the efficacy of sanctions will be discussed while obtaining China’s cooperation.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, March 19, 2016)


中国全人代閉幕 「独善」と「強権」が進む一方だ

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Chinese govt continues headlong with self-serving, authoritarian approach
中国全人代閉幕 「独善」と「強権」が進む一方だ

It appears the administration of Chinese President Xi Jinping has further strengthened its self-serving approach to foreign policy, and its authoritarian governance over domestic matters.

China’s National People’s Congress, its equivalent of the Diet, has closed its annual meeting.

At a press conference after the Congress closed, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang was asked about Japan-China ties. He said, “There have been some signs of an improvement in Sino-Japanese ties, but it is not fully established and still fragile.” On issues related to perceptions of history, Li made a request to Japan, saying: “It is important to match one’s words with concrete actions. What I don’t want to see is [the issues] going backwards.”

Earlier this month, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi also displayed his distrust of Japan when he said: “On the one hand, the Japanese government and leaders say nice things about wanting to improve relations. On the other hand, they are making trouble for China at every turn.” He then criticized Japan by saying, “This is a typical case of double-dealing.”

These comments probably stemmed from resentment at such factors as Japan’s moves, in tandem with the United States, to check the expansion of China’s effective control of the South China Sea.

However, we think it is China that is being Janus-faced, as it advocates “peaceful development” even while its actions heighten regional tensions. The point China argues is absurd.

According to the U.S. government, Beijing is expected to complete the establishment of military facilities on manmade islands in the South China Sea at the end of this year or early next year.

In a swipe aimed at the United States, Wang said: “China cannot be accused of ‘militarization.’ The label is more suited to some other countries.” But no matter how much the Xi administration uses sophistry, it cannot cover up its military expansion.

Senkaku ruling inappropriate

It is unacceptable that the Supreme People’s Court (China’s Supreme Court), in a report to the Congress, insisted China had demonstrated “jurisdiction” over waters around the Senkaku Islands in Okinawa Prefecture. It said a Chinese maritime court had mediated a case involving a collision between a Chinese fishing vessel and a Panama-registered freighter in September 2014.

While this aimed to raise the issue of territorial sovereignty over the Senkaku Islands, the collision actually happened outside the territorial waters of the islands, so China’s standpoint has no foundation. The Japanese government rightly lodged a protest.

The National People’s Congress also adopted a new five-year plan for economic and social development. Worryingly, a chapter titled “building a national security system” that was added to this blueprint included steps to strengthen the monitoring of opinions expressed on the Internet.

Since the Xi administration was launched, it has stepped up its oppression of human rights lawyers and nongovernmental organizations. It is certain that censorship, such as tighter controls on the media, will be further strengthened in the name of this “national security system.”

The ruling administration’s anxiety over the economic slowdown also is behind its moves to strengthen its control. The string of speakers at the Congress voicing concern over overseas shopping sprees by Chinese was probably another indication of this.

Even if China tries to suppress dissenting opinions by force, its image as an anachronism will only spread through the international community.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, March 18, 2016)


米大統領選 煽動的言辞が招く社会の亀裂

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Incendiary language by a presidential candidate invites divisiveness in U.S.
米大統領選 煽動的言辞が招く社会の亀裂

Primary elections were held in five U.S. states, including Florida, as candidates from the Republican and Democratic parties chase the nomination to contest the presidential election in November. More than 60 percent of Republican Party delegates have been decided. The party’s race has passed the halfway mark.

Real estate mogul Donald Trump maintained the lead for the Republican nomination. Hard-line conservative Sen. Ted Cruz remains behind in second place. While Trump has kept his dominance in the race, some forecasts suggest he will fall short of the majority of delegates needed to assure him the nomination. It is too early to tell what will happen.

Mainstream candidate Sen. Marco Rubio lost in his home state of Florida and announced his withdrawal from the race. John Kasich picked up his first victory in Ohio, where he is the governor. Some pundits believe “anti-Trump” votes flocked to him.

This likely reflected widening efforts among mainstream Republicans to cooperate to halt Trump’s momentum. They have been concerned by Trump’s frequent off-color remarks.

Some prominent figures responsible for policies within the Republican Party have even suggested a preference for former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who is increasingly likely to be the Democratic nominee.

Disturbingly, violent incidents have been occurring at Trump’s rallies. As a black audience member who had criticized Trump was being led from a venue, he was punched by a white man in the crowd. Trump himself has ordered protesters to be removed, and lashed out with comments such as they “should have been roughed up.”

A Trump campaign rally was even canceled due to the impact of protest activities by African-Americans and Latinos.

Japan under fire

The main cause of these confrontations has been Trump’s “pledges,” which could be interpreted as racial discrimination. These include his call to deport all illegal immigrants living in the United States, and to ban all Muslims from entering the country.

There are a myriad of problems with Trump’s method of boosting his support by branding opposition forces as the enemy to stir up confrontation. People from a diverse variety of races, religions and beliefs coexist in the United States. His comments are fueling feuds between these groups and deepening divisiveness in U.S. society.

The senior leadership of the Republican Party bears a heavy responsibility for these developments. Within the party, a conservative hard-line element, which seeks to minimize the role of the government by largely reducing tax for the wealthy and cutting social security spending, is gaining strength. The mainstream element has been unable to stop this movement, and what is effectively a split inside the party has been left as it is.

By painting himself as an outsider, Trump has exploited this confusion and broadened his support among the moderate element of the party and political independents. He has suggested policies including limiting the scope of tax cuts for the wealthy to make his candidacy more acceptable to middle-income earners.

Regarding the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty, Trump has declared it is unfair that the pact unilaterally obliges the United States to defend Japan and also calls on Japan to accept more of the burden. On the North Korea’s nuclear issue, he stated Washington does not need to lead.

For Japan, Trump-mania cannot be simply overlooked.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, March 17, 2016)


人工知能 上手に使って住み良い社会に

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Artificial intelligence: Use it well for a society where humans can thrive
人工知能 上手に使って住み良い社会に

The recent feat achieved by AlphaGo was a marvel of striking progress in artificial intelligence (AI) technology.
AlphaGo, an AI-based computer program developed by a British corporation under the umbrella of Google Inc. of the United States, has won against the world’s top Go player, South Korea’s Lee Se Dol, 4-1.

Previously, AI programs had defeated skilled human players in the fields of chess and shogi. However, it was said that it would take 10 years to see an AI system win against human players in the world of Go.

It was cited as a high hurdle that the surface of a Go board is broad, and that there are an immeasurable number of choices for moves to be made in playing a match.

No wonder Japan’s top master of Go, Yuta Iyama, described AlphaGo’s victory as “shocking.”

AlphaGo is able to learn on its own which are the best moves to make in playing a game. The program has read about 30 million images depicting the stages of development in games played by professional and other players. Then it has learned what kinds of patterns are preferred at which stages of development in a game, giving itself a better chance of winning. This has made AlphaGo ever more highly skilled in playing a match.

That approach, called “deep learning,” is one of the state-of-the-art AI theories. To put its victory in a human context, AlphaGo has developed “taikyokukan” (broad-based perspective).

AI technology has already been put to practical use, such as in image searches. It may be possible that the spread of more advanced AI technology could greatly change our day-to-day life. There also are concerns that the technology could take over clerical work carried out by humans.

It is necessary to live with AI technology and make good use of it.

Myriad potential benefits

The self-driving car system is designed to prevent accidents by perceiving vehicles and pedestrians around an autonomous car and predicting how they would move.

The use of diagnostic imaging technology will increase the probability of detecting cancer cells. It will also make it possible to predict how the condition of a cancer patient would develop, thereby enabling the patient to receive appropriate treatment.

Progress is being made in developing the technology to instantly distribute to smartphones information about which route should be taken in evacuating at the time of tsunami and other disasters.

We hope the public and private sectors will join hands in fully tapping into the advantages of AI technology.

In the United States, Google, IBM and others are fiercely competing with each other in applying AI technology to the analysis of big data, the development of pharmaceutical products and for other purposes.

It is disturbing to see that the presence of Japanese corporations is weak in this respect. Because of budgetary constraints and other reasons, these companies have hardly been able to apply their research results to the commercialization of products. Research papers originating in Japan account for a slumping 2 percent to 3 percent of those submitted from around the world.

It is necessary to quickly nurture young researchers and engineers in this country.

The main pillar of the 5th Science and Technology Basic Plan, finalized by the government at a Cabinet meeting in January, is to realize “a supersmart society” through the use of AI technology.

If robotics technology, Japan’s field of expertise, is combined with AI, a mix of these technologies could be expected to make up for labor shortages in a society whose population is decreasing.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, March 16, 2016)


福島の住民帰還 人口減に備える地域再生策を

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Plans to revive areas hit by N-disaster must cover population decline problem
福島の住民帰還 人口減に備える地域再生策を

Even though five years have passed since the disaster at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant occurred, nearly 100,000 people from Fukushima Prefecture continue to live as evacuees both in and outside the prefecture.

The government plans to lift by March 2017 the evacuation orders for areas where residence is restricted — excluding those that are designated as difficult-to-return zones because of extremely high levels of radiation — as well as areas where preparations are being made for the lifting of evacuation orders.

How the blueprints for regional rejuvenation should be drawn up with evacuees’ return home in mind is a major challenge facing the municipalities concerned.

One headache in this regard is that lifting the evacuation orders will not necessarily lead to the return of evacuees. In the case of Naraha, from which the entire population was evacuated, only 6 percent of the town’s former residents have returned their home bases since the orders were lifted last September.

According to a survey of the residents’ opinions conducted in January by the Reconstruction Agency and other entities, those who said they would resume living in the town totaled slightly more than 50 percent of respondents, including those who have already returned.

In regard to the towns of Futaba and Okuma, most of which are in difficult-to-return zones where the prospects for lifting the evacuation orders are not in sight, only around 10 percent of respondents expressed intentions to return. Those who answered “not returning” accounted for 50 percent to 60 percent.

Population declines in every municipality will be unavoidable even after the evacuation orders are lifted.

The percentage of those who want to return is higher among elderly people. First of all, preparations to resume operations at core hospitals must be accelerated. Four of these hospitals located in Futaba county, comprising Naraha and seven other municipalities, have had their operations suspended.

Wider cooperation crucial

It is also essential to improve public transportation systems, which are needed for hospital visits and shopping.

Service continues to be partially suspended on the JR Joban Line. Bus services remain suspended on many regular routes in disaster-affected areas. It will also be necessary to restructure the traffic network connecting municipalities around the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant with other cities in the prefecture, including Fukushima, Koriyama and Iwaki.

If regional revival is undertaken by each municipality on an individual basis, there are limits to what can be achieved. The municipalities should push ahead with reconstructing the entire region through efforts that reach beyond the boundaries of municipalities.

Many disaster-affected municipalities are aiming to establish compact towns where administrative offices and commercial, medical and welfare facilities are concentrated. It may be an idea for municipalities to cooperate in working out plans on community building.

If functions necessary to improve residents’ livelihoods are provided through the cooperation of municipalities, their fiscal burdens will be reduced. It is also important for the national and prefectural governments to coordinate measures adequately.

To entice younger generations to return, job opportunities must be available. Government support is needed to attract businesses to the region.

The envisaged “Innovation Coast” — to concentrate research facilities and corporate entities related to the decommissioning of damaged reactors along the coastal area — is expected to lead to job creation and an inflow of new residents. We want to see this innovation steadily put into place with the government taking the initiative.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, March 15, 2016)


女性の活躍 現実に目を向けてこそ

--The Asahi Shimbun, March 13
EDITORIAL: Take a close look at reality before touting ‘women’s active roles’
(社説)女性の活躍 現実に目を向けてこそ

One anonymous blog has underscored the serious issue of children on waiting lists for nursery schools, along with the lack of understanding on the part of political leaders.
Titled “Hoikuen Ochita Nihon Shine!!!” (My kid was rejected by a nursery school. Go to hell, Japan!!!), the blog was posted in mid-February by a mother whose child had failed to gain admission into a nursery school.

She used harsh language to vent her anger, saying things such as, “What about a ‘society in which all citizens are dynamically engaged?’” and "I’ll have to quit my job.”
A “society in which all citizens are dynamically engaged” is one of the key slogans of the Abe administration.

When an opposition lawmaker raised the subject during Diet debate, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe cited the anonymity of the posting in replying to her and said, “I have no way to confirm the story, including whether it really took place.”

Lawmakers of the ruling bloc heckled the opposition lawmaker, with one shouting, “Bring the one who wrote it!”

Members of the public who shared similar problems and anxieties reacted furiously to these verbal exchanges. They staged protests in front of the Diet building and collected signatures for a petition calling for a more extensive child-care system.

The government and the ruling parties were taken aback by the development, and began hastily discussing new measures for reducing the number of children on waiting lists--so goes, in brief, the story to date.

The response of political leaders has been particularly poor. While one ruling Liberal Democratic Party official has stated that the initial response was wrong, the story is much more than that of a “wrong” reaction. One has to say that a lack of understanding of how serious the current situation is has come to light.

The question of children on waiting lists is posing a serious problem for every household facing it, as mothers in some families are eager to stay in their current jobs, whereas other families need dual incomes to maintain their standards of living. The blog caught on with a broad audience, and many citizens lashed out against the administration, probably out of a strong resentment of the issue that has failed to improve over the years.

The government and the ruling parties should take that squarely to heart.

Abe has formulated such slogans as “women’s active roles” and a “society where all women shine.” One has to ask, however, if there really is an environment for making that happen. The dearth of child-care services is not the only factor that is keeping women from playing “active roles.”

The U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women issued a recommendation earlier this month to the Japanese government.

The unflattering document, which said, “The committee’s previous recommendations have not been fully implemented,” once again urged Tokyo, among other things, to develop legal measures for banning and preventing discrimination in employment and to increase the number of women in decision-making positions, such as lawmakers and corporate workers in senior management posts.

Japan ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women in 1985. The Basic Law for Gender-Equal Society took effect in 1999. More women are working, but wage gaps between men and women are continuing to widen, in part because many female workers are employed on a nonregular basis.

Men’s participation in child care and in nursing care for the elderly is still low, and there remains a deep-rooted perception among the public that men and women are supposed to assume different roles. The latest Gender Gap Index report of the World Economic Forum put Japan in 101st place, in the lower rung of the ranking, as usual.

Political leaders should first look squarely at reality if they are to ever talk of “women’s active roles.”


ECB追加緩和 金融政策頼みだけでは危うい

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Eurozone economic recovery based just on monetary easing will be fragile
ECB追加緩和 金融政策頼みだけでは危うい

Monetary easing alone will not be able to eradicate concerns about deflation and realize a full economic recovery in the eurozone. Other steps will be essential, including expanding public investment and undertaking structural reforms to boost the economy’s growth potential.

The European Central Bank has decided on a comprehensive, additional monetary-easing policy that exceeded market expectations.

The ECB will lower the rate of interest paid when private banks deposit surplus funds at the central bank from the current minus 0.3 percent to minus 0.4 percent.

In addition, the ECB will expand its quantitative easing program, which pours capital into the markets. This program, which includes buying government bonds, will be boosted from €60 billion a month to €80 billion (about ¥10 trillion) a month.

The eurozone is on the brink of tumbling into deflation. Sluggish crude oil prices and other factors pushed the single-currency bloc’s February rate of consumer price increases into negative territory for the first time in five months.

Concerns are growing that the eurozone could see low economic growth over an extended period due to a decline in production and exports accompanying a slowdown in China and other emerging economies.

The ECB’s aim of attempting to underpin the economy by launching another wave of monetary easing to dig up demand for capital among companies and individuals is appropriate.

In the markets, the additional easing was welcomed in some quarters, which sent shares up and the euro down against the dollar. However, before long, share prices dipped and the euro strengthened again.

Risks of easy money

At a press conference, ECB President Mario Draghi stated, “We don’t expect that it will be necessary to reduce rates further.” This comment was made to dash market expectations for further easing.

We think this symbolizes the extent to which the eurozone economy has become dependent on monetary easing.

If the ECB continues to push interest rates deeper into negative territory, it runs the risk of worsening side effects such as weakening banks’ earnings and causing real estate prices to soar as money freed up by the easing pours into this sector.

Germany and other nations that oppose purchasing massive volumes of government bonds may strengthen their opposition to the plan, leading to the unraveling of the unity among euro nations and heightening the risk of sparking turmoil in the markets.

A recovery of Europe’s economy that relies only on monetary policies will be fragile. As was confirmed during February’s meeting of finance ministers and central bank governors of the Group of 20 major economies, each European country should be using every policy at its disposal, such as devising growth strategies and fiscal stimulus packages.

In southern European nations, where unemployment levels remain high, labor market reforms and other steps to improve mobility in employment will be vital.

We hope Germany, which has the financial wherewithal to do so, will embark on a program to increase government expenditures to stimulate the economy and pull growth along.

Another urgent task is restoring the health of the financial system by accelerating efforts by each bank in Europe to dispose of nonperforming loans.

While Europe and Japan continue their monetary easing, the United States is searching for an opportunity to raise interest rates again. Financial authorities in each nation must exercise great care to ensure sudden currency flows seeking to take advantage of differences in the direction of their policies do not throw the markets into confusion.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, March 13, 2016)


巨人野球賭博 選手の規律順守を徹底したい

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Giants must work toward ensuring self-discipline on part of players
巨人野球賭博 選手の規律順守を徹底したい

Pitcher Kyosuke Takagi of the Yomiuri Giants has admitted his involvement in gambling on Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) games. He is the latest Giants player to admit betting on ball games, following three other pitchers who were suspended by NPB last November for an indefinite period.

The Giants have made all-out efforts to regain confidence lost over the gambling scandal. It is extremely regrettable that the latest revelation came out shortly before the pennant race begins, betraying baseball fans again. The club’s president, Hiroshi Kubo, apologized at a news conference, saying, “I couldn’t regret this any more than I do.”

The club has filed a complaint against Takagi with NPB Commissioner Katsuhiko Kumazaki. Appropriate disciplinary action will be handed down following the NPB’s investigations.

To take the responsibility for a series of gambling scandals, Giants owner Kojiro Shiraishi, Chairman Tsunekazu Momoi and Executive Adviser Tsuneo Watanabe have resigned. Shoichi Oikawa, executive adviser of The Yomiuri Shimbun Holdings, will succeed Shiraishi as the club’s owner.

“I deeply apologize to all baseball fans,” Oikawa said. “I would like to regain the trust of the public as soon as possible.”

Lawyer Noboru Matsuda, who has served in such positions as chief of the special investigation squad of the Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office, has assumed the post of acting owner. We want him to help the team strengthen its discipline.

Bolster instruction programs

Takagi bet on eight or nine professional baseball games from April to May in 2014 at the inducement of Shoki Kasahara, who was disqualified indefinitely. Takagi bet against a restaurateur who is an acquaintance of Kasahara. NPB investigations determined that the man habitually bets on baseball games.

Takagi’s acts obviously violate the article of the Nippon Professional Baseball Agreement that bans betting on baseball games. He bowed at a press conference, saying, “I am very sorry for betraying the confidence of the people concerned.”

In hearings conducted by the club, questioning all Giants players, Takagi denied involvement in gambling on ball games. The restaurateur in question did not comply with the club’s request for cooperation in the investigation.

The probe by the club, which has no investigatory power, could have its own limits. But the fact remains that the club could not uncover Takagi’s involvement when the wrongdoing by the other three players came to light. It cannot be helped if the club is criticized, in hindsight, for failing to conduct a thorough probe.

Kazuhiro Kiyohara, who once played with the Giants, has been indicted on charges of possessing stimulant drugs.

Children look up to pro baseball players. If they commit wrongdoing, it will have a big social impact. Fully aware of the heavy responsibility they bear, they need to exercise self-discipline throughout their careers and even after retirement.

The Giants must bolster instruction of their players through seminars and other programs.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, March 12, 2016)