Message for World Leprosy Day 2020 from WHO Goodwill Ambassador [2020年01月29日（Wed）]
On the occasion of World Leprosy Day on January 26 2020, I issued a statement as WHO (World Health Organization) Goodwill Ambassador for Leprosy Elimination, calling upon people all over the world to “have a correct understanding of leprosy and compassion toward those with the disease.”“Today, through the efforts of many people, leprosy is an easily curable disease. The drugs are distributed free of charge. Early detection and treatment help prevent disability,” I stated.But “there are still people suffering from the unwarranted discrimination that exists toward leprosy,” I noted, referring to the harsh lives they have had to endure−”abandoned by their families, isolated from society and deprived of their freedom.”“New cases of leprosy are still being discovered in many countries and regions. But fearful of being diagnosed, people often do not go to a clinic or hospital because they think of leprosy as a shameful disease,” I pointed out, adding “this is one of the biggest obstacles to early diagnosis and treatment.”“We have not only to fight the disease, but also the prejudice and discrimination that have infected society,” I said.Leprosy, also known as Hansen’s disease, “is not a disease of the past. It is an ongoing issue,” I said, inviting as many people as possible to join me on World Leprosy Day, which falls on the last Sunday of every January, “in thinking what we can do to make a difference to the lives of persons affected by leprosy.”The full statement can be seen HERE.
Amazed and Gratified by 124 Million Yen Anonymous Donation [2020年01月28日（Tue）]
The first business day of the year 2020, or Reiwa 2, in Japan was January 6. At The Nippon Foundation, it was business as usual with a series of meetings on compiling the budget for the next fiscal year starting on April 1. I didn’t make a New Year speech.
During the day a big cardboard box was delivered to our office via a parcel delivery service. The sender was anonymous, and remains so. Even though the invoice indicated the box contained books, we were stunned to discover it was full of 10,000 yen notes. It took 2.5 hours for four members of our staff to count the notes, which added up to 124,110,000 yen. The cash was accompanied by a letter which read: “Please use the money to help support people hit by natural disasters.” I was at a loss for words to express my gratitude. I do hope the sender of the donation will come forward so that we can thank him or her in person.
I have been doing my best to foster a culture of donation in Japan. To those who contribute 10,000 yen or more to the foundation, I sent a signed handwritten letter of thanks. I sometimes write as many as 500 such letters a day and I have developed a corn on my finger as a result. I plan to travel across Japan as part of a nationwide campaign to promote bequest donation, working with local newspapers.
The anonymous donor might have taken into account my efforts, as well as The Nippon Foundation’s track record of acting quickly to support people struck by disasters such as the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake, the 2016 Kumamoto Earthquake, and the 2019 torrential rains in Nagano, Okayama, Osaka, Saga and Chiba Prefectures, and the Tohoku Region. The anonymous donation−which is not the first we have received, but by far the biggest in recent years−was reported by two television stations, Nippon TV and TV Asahi, as well as other media.
We seem to have entered a completely abnormal weather cycle, probably brought on climate change, in which unexpected disasters are the norm. It is important for each one of us to have the resolve to help ourselves. But we also need to think about the aged and people with disabilities.
With its years of experience, I believe The Nippon Foundation has accumulated the most knowhow necessary for disaster response and recovery operations. We are determined to continue to respond to natural disasters as expeditiously as possible.
Japan Needs Basic Law to Set Forth New Vision for Child-Rearing (2) [2020年01月24日（Fri）]
▼Treat Children as Autonomous Individuals
Mechanisms such as the Children’s Commissioner in the United Kingdom and Children’s Ombudsmen in other countries can be models for consideration in Japan. Under these systems, independent officials are charged with investigating whether children’s rights are protected and making policy recommendations if necessary.
Concerning Japanese society, critics argue that children’s rights tend to be neglected, while their parents’ rights are too strong. Japanese society as a whole should be more sensitive to children’s calls for help by treating them as autonomous individuals. As a matter of urgency, the whole of Japanese society−communities, families, schools and workplaces−needs to play a role in child-rearing, the burden of which is mostly placed on mothers these days ?
I’ve heard through the grapevine that the government is reluctant to enact a basic law on the child, maintaining it can carry out what’s enshrined in the Convention on the Rights of the Child by enforcing existing laws and regulations. But issues surrounding children are diverse, complicated and deep-rooted.
If Japan enacts a basic law, it would make clear a new vision for child-rearing that would be shared with the whole of society and pave the way for making more effective use of existing laws and regulations. It would also encourage those parents, who have been apt to pay attention only to their own children, to take a broader view and look out for other children too. Besides, it would help create a society in which children are taken care of by the whole community, which is fitting for a rapidly aging country.
Japan has a total of 50 basic acts, including the 2007 Basic Act on Ocean Policy that The Nippon Foundation helped to formulate. As far as child-rearing is concerned, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party has a Parliamentarians League to Think About Child Rearing and Children’s Future, while there is a nonpartisan Parliamentary Group to Protect Children from Child Abuse. In December last year, I spoke about the role of the Children’s Commissioner in the U.K. before a joint study meeting of the two groups.
The number of babies born in Japan in 2019 fell an estimated 5.9% from the previous year to 864,000, a mere one third of the so-called baby boomers born during a major surge in births between 1971 and 1974.
The faster than expected graying of Japanese society is attributed to an increase in the number of people marrying later in life or not at all with fewer babies born as a result, as well as to the heavy burdens placed on women in the workplace. In other words, Japan is far behind other countries in improving the environment for growing children.
To raise healthy and sound children for the future of Japan, I hope that a basic law on child-rearing will be enacted on the initiative of nonpartisan parliamentarians. It is my sincere hope that members of both ruling and opposition parties will have a heated debate on the issue and that we will once more see a Japan that looks after and cares for children like no other country in the world, as once observed by Dr. Edward Morse and Isabella Bird.
Japan Needs Basic Law to Set Forth New Vision for Child-Rearing (1) [2020年01月22日（Wed）]
“In no country in the world, are babies more closely attended or better behaved than in Japan,” wrote the American zoologist Dr. Edward Morse, who is known for discovering the Omori Shell Mounds, in his book Japan Day by Day based on his observations of the country while living there during the late 1870s and early 1880s.
Ms. Isabella Bird, an English traveler and writer who toured many parts of Japan in the late 19th century, wrote in her book Unbeaten Tracks in Japan that she had never seen people who cared as much about their children as the Japanese.
In the century and a half since, Japan has been transformed into a modern, affluent nation.
On the other hand, child-rearing has become a concern, with more cases of child abuse reported. According to a preliminary report compiled by the Heath, Labor and Welfare Ministry, child welfare centers across the nation handled a record 159,850 cases of child abuse, including physical and psychological abuse and child neglect, during fiscal 2018.
▼Fading Culture of Raising Children as a Treasure of Society
Behind this is the fast decline in the Japanese tradition of children being regarded as a treasure of society and being raised by the whole community, due to the growing number of nuclear families, the declining birthrate, the aging of society and the collapse of a sense of local community.
Under the circumstances, Japan needs to develop a new culture of child-rearing. Toward this goal, I would like to propose enacting a basic law on the child, setting forth a new parenting vision and a basic policy on child-rearing.
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, ratified by 196 countries, stipulates state parties shall recognize that every child has the right to survival, protection and education. Under the convention, which it ratified in 1994, Japan shifted the focus of child nursing from institutions to homes through the revision of Child Welfare Act as well as the Child Abuse Prevention Act and the Juvenile Act.
But the government cannot cope with the rapid changes taking place in society adequately due in part to the vertical relationship between ministries and agencies that supervise relevant laws and regulations.
According to a survey conducted last summer by non-governmental organization Save the Children Japan, covering about 30,000 people ranging from 15- to 80-year-olds across Japan, the least observed right of the child as laid down under the convention is contained in Article 19, which calls for protecting the child from all forms of physical and mental violence, injury or abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation.
It was truly distressing that a 5-year-old girl in Meguro Ward, Tokyo, and a 10-year-old girl in Noda City, Chiba Prefecture, died after each had allegedly been abused by her father in March 2018 and in January 2019, respectively.
In its report made public in February 2019, The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child expressed concern about “the high level of violence, sexual abuse and exploitation of children” in Japan, urging the authorities in Tokyo to, among other things, “speed up the establishment of child-friendly reporting, complaint and referral mechanisms for child victims of abuse.”
(To be continued)
How to Interpret a Survey Showing Japanese Youths to be Short on Hope? (2) [2020年01月20日（Mon）]
When asked what social problems they want to solve, the top two answers given by Japanese respondents were to eradicate poverty and make politics better. On how they want to contribute to society, they said they want to study hard and become good adults, work and pay taxes, and work as volunteers.In the previous survey, in answer to a question about the national debt, more than 70% of Japanese youth said they are worried. But the number of young Japanese who said that the nation as a whole should be responsible for repaying it was more than double the number of those who believed it should be settled by the generations that increased the debt, while just 5% said it was for young people alone to repay it. I take this as an indication of the resolve and responsibility of young Japanese.In 2014, Ms. Malala Yousafzai, a Pakistani human rights activist, became the youngest-ever Nobel Peace Prize laureate. At the United Nations Climate Action Summit 2019 held in New York last September, Ms. Greta Thunberg of Sweden called on young people around the world to take action to prevent global warming. They made me feel that in the increasingly globalized international community, the voices of young people will become even more important in the future.There are many young Japanese with ample potential. It is up to adults to create an environment, through political and educational reforms, in which the young can grow. The Awareness Survey of 18-Year-Olds was the 20th in the series launched by The Nippon Foundation in October 2018, usually covering 17- to 19-year-olds in Japan. It followed the lowering of the nation’s voting age from 20 to 18 in 2015, allowing 18- and 19-year-olds to vote for the first time in the 2016 Upper House election. The survey was designed to track the attitudes and awareness of 18-year-olds regarding politics, society, work, families, friends, and other issues. We are keenly aware of the need to further upgrade the quality of the survey so that we can have the voices of young people reflected in the nation building in the future. More details of the 20th survey can be seen ＨＥＲＥ.
How to Interpret a Survey Showing Japanese Youths to be Short on Hope? (1) [2020年01月16日（Thu）]
Less than 1 in 5 young people in Japan (18.3%) think they can help change their country and society, while under 1 out of 10 (9.6%) believe their country will get better in the future.
These are the findings of a survey The Nippon Foundation conducted online from late September to early October last year, covering 1,000 17- to 19-year-olds in each of nine countries−China, Germany, India, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Vietnam.
The survey showed that in all areas, young people in Japan ranked last behind their peers in the eight other countries. When these results were announced at The Nippon Foundation Social Innovation Forum 2019 held in Tokyo from November 29 to December 1, many people were taken aback.
On questions as to whether they consider themselves to be adults (29.1%), whether they believe themselves to be responsible members of society (44.8%), and whether they proactively discuss issues with those around them (27.2%), Japanese youth scored 42 to 47 percentage points lower than the average of their counterparts in the eight other countries.
On the future of their country, 70% of Japanese respondents expressed anxiety, if we add 37.9% of them who said they expect the nation will get worse and 32% who said they have no idea what will happen.
At the Social Innovation Forum, a female student from Vietnam, where 69.6% of youths responded that they expected their nation will get better in the future, said she didn’t understand the attitude of Japanese young people living in a free and affluent society. In Vietnam, teenagers start working at around 15 and are well aware of what the country and society expect of them by the time they turn 18, she added.
Other participants in the forum said that young Japanese today don’t know much about society because they have few connections with the outside world, that they don’t act proactively on the assumption that adults don’t accept what they say, and that an increasing number of young people don’t know what to do for the future of their country.
In a way, it is only natural that young people in fast-growing China, India, Indonesia and Vietnam have a strong desire to contribute to the future development of their countries.
In Japan, on the other hand, aging is progressing at a pace the world has never experienced, while its national debt, including local governments’, is more than double its Gross Domestic Product at 1,000 trillion yen, with no solution yet in sight.
It is unavoidable that young Japanese see no bright prospects for the future in the face of these mounting challenges. Similarly, 43.4% of young people in the United Kingdom responded that their country will get worse, the result seemingly influenced by uncertainty caused by the decision to leave the European Union (EU).
The Diet (Parliament) in Japan seems to be preoccupied with domestic scandals rather than foreign and national security policies. The current educational system is marred by the controversy over the roles of the national flag and national anthem, making it more difficult for young Japanese to have pride in their country. These factors all keep them from thinking about the future of the nation. The education system, which puts much emphasis on acquiring knowledge, also makes it hard for young people to develop their imagination and judgment.
Conversely, if we improve the current state of politics and education, there is plenty of room for Japanese youth to focus on the future of the country and society.
In fact, as noted above, 44.8% of Japanese youth−although the lowest among the nine countries−said they consider themselves to be responsible members of society, while 60.1% said they have dreams for the future and 46.4% said there are social problems in their country they want to solve. There is ample room for progress. So, I myself don’t think we need to be that pessimistic about Japanese youth.
(To be continued)
The Nippon Foundation, Japanese Gov’t to support return of IDPs in N. Myanmar [2020年01月13日（Mon）]
With Rev. Dr. Hkalam Samson (center), President of the Kachin Baptist Convention (KBC), and Japanese Ambassador to Myanmar Ichiro Maruyama (right) who joined me at a press conference in Myitkyina, the capital of Kachin State, Myanmar, on December 21, 2019.I visited Myanmar in late December last year to announce that The Nippon Foundation and the Japanese government will support the return and resettlement of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Kachin State in the north of the country.I made the announcement as Chairman of The Nippon Foundation and Special Envoy of the Japanese Government for National Reconciliation in Myanmar at a press conference in Myitkyina, the capital of Kachin State, on December 21. Joining me were Japanese Ambassador to Myanmar Ichiro Maruyama and Rev. Dr. Hkalam Samson, President of the Kachin Baptist Convention (KBC).Although conflicts are still occurring in some parts of northeast Myanmar with no ceasefire agreements reached, the Myanmar government, its military and ethnic armed organizations (EAOs) in northern Kachin State are making progress in their discussions on a ceasefire and the returns of IDPs. Under the circumstances, The Nippon Foundation and the Japanese government have accepted KBC’s request for building 500 houses to resettle about 3,000 IDPs in Kachin State as well as providing hygiene guidance, lifestyle consultation, and agricultural training and other income-generation support. I hope this will help those IDPs return home permanently and achieve stability in their lives. At the press conference, I stated that we had KBC look into what humanitarian assistance needs to be given and what the first step should be and, based on that, The Nippon Foundation and the Japanese government agreed to offer support.KBC’s Rev. Dr. Samson said that many IDPs in Kachin State are unable to return home by themselves and need some kind of help. Starting the program for the return of IDPs with assistance from the Japanese government and The Nippon Foundation is a very important first step toward a long-term settlement of the conflict, he added. It is my sincere hope that our assistance contributes to improving the humanitarian situation in Kachin State and reaching a ceasefire agreement as soon as possible, and that the Myanmar government, the military and ethnic armed organizations continue to make progress toward achieving national reconciliation eventually.
A number of journalists and camera crews covered the press conference.
Taking a photo with participants in the press conference and Kachin locals. Meeting with Rev. Dr. Hkalam Samson, President of the Kachin Baptist Convention (KBC), who is on the far right.Visiting houses built with the support from The Nippon Foundation. In the house I visited, I enjoy sewing. With 12 grandchildren, I am good at holding a baby.With beautiful ladies of a village. Visiting construction site of KBC’s vocational training center, supported by the Japanese government.
Honored to be Awarded Sound Opinion Grand Prize (2) [2020年01月08日（Wed）]
On April 1, 2019, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga announced the era name of Reiwa drawn from an anthology of poems called the Manyoshu, representing a break with centuries of tradition as the first era name to have been inspired by a Japanese, rather than Chinese, work of classical literature.
Honestly speaking, I had not expected the discussion on a new era name to heat up in the way that it did. Never before had as many people joined the debate on a new gengo. Some people maintained that Japan should use only the Western calendar. But Japan is now the only country in the world that adheres to the gengo calendar tradition. Strongly wishing for the further prosperity of the Imperial family, I have come to believe more than ever that gengo is a valuable tradition Japan should maintain.
Throughout my career, I have been committed to placing emphasis on what’s happening on the spot in line with the philosophy of “knowledge and action are one,” espoused by the Chinese neo-Confucian philosopher Wang Yangming (1472-1529).You see both problems and solutions only when you visit a site in person. Although I turn 81 today (January 8, 2020), I spend nearly one third of a year travelling overseas, having visited 122 countries on 541 trips so far.
The Nippon Foundation has been engaged in a wide variety of activities, ranging from the global battle against leprosy and conservation of oceans to measures to assist children, persons with disabilities and the elderly as well as those hit by natural disasters−of which we are seeing more in recent years.
While gaining the wisdom of experts, we are aiming at designing a new model for achieving a society where everyone supports everyone.
Resting in some of the many countries I visit are the souls of Japanese soldiers killed during the last war. With this to spur me on, I am determined to continue engaging in humanitarian activities at home and abroad while being ready to die anywhere in the world.
I would be most grateful if I am allowed to keep on writing for the Seiron column about the problems and solutions I find on my missions.
Honored to be Awarded Sound Opinion Grand Prize (1) [2020年01月06日（Mon）]
Happy New Year!
All of us at The Nippon Foundation wish you a happy and great year.
Now, I was greatly honored by the announcement from Fujisankei Communications Group, a Japanese media conglomerate, that I had been awarded the 35th Sound Opinion (Seiron) Grand Prize for 2019.
The annual award is given to opinion leaders who contribute to the development of the Seiron philosophy of fighting for freedom and democracy, according to the announcement made on Decembe10, 2019.
The decision stemmed from the articles I contributed to the Seiron column of the Sankei Shimbun, the group’s flagship national newspaper, most notably the article in which I proposed that Japan should not stick to almost 1,400 years of tradition of selecting the name of the imperial era, or gengo, from classical Chinese literature, according to the announcement.
My more than 40 years of fighting against leprosy and other philanthropic activities were also taken into account, the media group added.
I am a regular contributor to this column, but neither an expert on anything nor a journalist. So, it is indeed an honor for me to receive such a prestigious award as the Seiron Grand Prize with years of tradition behind it. The award ceremony will be held on February 28, 2020.
My article, carried in the January 3, 2019 issue of the paper, triggered a heated debate among the Japanese public. In the end, Reiwa was chosen as the new era name, a word that was for the first time taken from an ancient Japanese source−an anthology of poems called the Manyoshu−instead of old Chinese texts.
The Reiwa era, which can be translated as “beautiful harmony”, began on May 1, 2019 when Crown Prince Naruhito ascended the Chrysanthemum Throne after the historic abdication of his father, Emperor Akihito.
Traditionally, every Japanese emperor is assigned a gengo, or era name, which is used on currency, calendars, newspapers and drivers’ licenses and other official paperwork.
In the Seiron article, I pointed out that some Japanese-coined kanji or Chinese characters are widely used in countries such as China and South Korea. This suggests that Japan should select a new era name from its own sources, breaking with the tradition of drawing era names from Chinese classics, which continued from the Taika era (645-650) until the Heisei era (1989-2019).
Starting around the fall of 2018, I had talked about this idea with people around me. But I was surprised by the bigger than expected response to my Seiron contribution, proof of how keenly Japanese people were interested in naming a new imperial era.
(To be continued)