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Coronavirus Pandemic Results in Postponement of Hansen’s Disease Summit in Brazil [2020年03月26日(Thu)]

With many countries now combating the coronavirus pandemic, my scheduled trip to Brazil from March 15 to 22 was called off when the National Hansen’s Disease Summit 2020 that I was to attend in my capacity as chairman of The Nippon Foundation and WHO Goodwill Ambassador for Leprosy Elimination had to be postponed.


When I last visited Brazil in July 2019, I pointed out to President Jair Bolsonaro that his country has the second largest number of cases of Hansen’s disease, also known as leprosy, after India, and remains the only country in the world that has yet to achieve elimination of Hansen’s disease as a public health problem−with ‘elimination’ defined by the WHO as a prevalence rate of less than 1 case per 10,000 persons.


In response, the president promised to redouble his country’s efforts against the disease and decided to hold the National Hansen’s Disease Summit on March 19 this year. The summit would have brought together not only the president and First Lady Michelle Bolsonaro, but also ministers, governors, municipal leaders, health secretaries, doctors and researchers, NGO representatives as well as persons affected by the disease.


But on March 10, the Brazilian government revealed that President Bolsonaro’s press secretary tested positive for the fast-spreading coronavirus, forcing the postponement of the conference.


Had the summit taken place as scheduled, it had been my expectation that Brazil would have been on track to pass the ‘elimination’ milestone in a few years, paving the way for leprosy to be declared eliminated as a public health country in every country.


During my visit, I had planned to meet with the president again, and also meet the first lady, Michelle Bolsonaro, who is actively involved in a number of social causes, to discuss the goal of a Hansen’s disease-free Brazil. I had also planned to meet with the governors of Brazil’s six endemic states: Mato Grosso, Tocantins, Maranhão, Para, Pernambuco, and Piaui.


When I talked with President Bolsonaro during the July visit, he suggested that we reach out to the nation together right away, picking up his mobile phone and starting a live broadcast on Facebook. During the live broadcast, the president stressed that Hansen’s disease is a challenge that the government must be involved in, and that he will work with me. This 13-minute video message was viewed more than 700,000 times, attracting countless comments.


For now, the summit is on hold, but The Nippon Foundation and its partner organization, the Sasakawa Health Organization, will prepare for when it can be rescheduled, hopefully at the earliest opportunity. In the meantime, my thoughts are with the Brazilian authorities in their efforts to contain the spread of the coronavirus in their country.

Posted by Y.Sasakawa at 11:30 | LEPROSY | URL | comment(0)
Delighted by Letters of Thanks from The Nippon Foundation’s Scholarship Recipients [2020年03月23日(Mon)]
Every year, I am delighted to receive hundreds of letters of thanks from students around the world who are studying under scholarship programs established by The Nippon Foundation at different institutions.

Here, I would like to share with you excerpts from letters sent to me recently by three deaf exchange students now studying at Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C., in the United States, which is the premier institution of learning, teaching and research for deaf and hard-of-hearing students.

Olufemi Ige from Nigeria, who is enrolled in the Master of Public Administration and International Development program at Gallaudet, wrote that “words cannot sufficiently convey how immensely grateful I am for this scholarship funded by you and your foundation which gave me the rare privilege of coming to the United States to receive quality education in the world number one liberal art university established to provide quality education in sign language to the deaf and hard-of-hearing people.”

He said his career goal is to establish a non-profit organization that will work “to promote disability-inclusive public policies; advocate for access to social services, disability rights and human rights and empowerment, ultimately to reduce economic poverty and improving the lives and social-economic welfare of people with disabilities especially the deaf and hard-of-hearing in Nigeria.”

Raphael (“Rafa” for short) Domingo from the Philippines is pursuing a Ph.D. in linguistics at Gallaudet. “There is no sign linguistics program in my country, but thanks to The Nippon Foundation’s World Deaf Leadership Scholarship program, I intend to change that unfortunate situation and help my fellow deaf Filipinos gain an education,” he said. “There is no other place like Gallaudet University, and the knowledge I acquire here can help me develop educational opportunities not only for deaf Filipinos but for deaf people in other developing countries.” When he graduates from Gallaudet, he will become the first deaf Filipino Ph.D.

Jorge Andrés Martínez Castiblanco from Colombia, is pursuing his Master of Arts degree in linguistics. “My goal after graduating is to return to work at the INSOR (National Institute for the Deaf), a strong advocate for Colombia’s deaf community, and apply everything I learn at Gallaudet to promote understanding and respect for the linguistic diversity of deaf Colombians,” he said.

“The scholarship is also significant to me because it is helping me become a model for others like me who are Latin American or Colombian deaf people. I want to inspire and encourage them to become scholars, and build on my work in improving opportunities for success through education and job training,” he added.

The Nippon Foundation has established two scholarship programs at Gallaudet University for deaf and hard-of-hearing students from developing countries−the Sasakawa International Scholarship created in 1993 and the World Deaf Leadership Scholarship in 2003.

It is my sincere hope that they will continue to enjoy themselves studying at Gallaudet, and that when they return to their respective countries after graduation, they will support the next generation of deaf and hard-of-hearing people with the intention of creating a society in which those individuals have equal opportunities, make their own choices for their lives and are able to participate in society.

Posted by Y.Sasakawa at 16:59 | FORGING GLOBAL TIES | URL | comment(0)
Japan Should Lead the Way Toward Practicing Public Interest Capitalism (2) [2020年03月18日(Wed)]
Business Communities Reluctant to Raise Wages

I have no objection to raising compensation for senior company executives in Japan, which is said to be lower than in the United States and western Europe. But while Japanese companies’ internal reserves hit all-time highs almost every year and executive compensation keeps rising, why do employees’ wages remain stagnant in contrast to other developed countries?

As a rule of thumb, internal reserves are supposed to pay dividends to shareholders, make capital investments, and raise employee wages. Regrettably, Japanese companies have been reluctant both to raise worker wages and make new capital investment, despite the government’s call on the business community to do so.

I understand companies’ cautious attitudes are attributable to Japan’s rapidly aging society and declining population as well as their experience in wrestling with the fallout from the collapse of Lehman Brothers in 2008−the so-called “Lehman shock” that triggered a global financial crisis. But if so, companies are not taking on social responsibilities.

Konosuke Matsushita (1894-1989), the founder of Matsushita Electric Industrial Co., now known as Panasonic Corporation, and revered as the "god of management” in Japan, is famous for such quotes as “Business is people,” underscoring the importance of developing human resources.

Eiichi Shibusawa (1840-1931), known as “the father of Japanese capitalism,” who founded over 500 banks and business corporations, including the First National Bank (now Mizuho Bank), Tokyo Gas, Sapporo Brewery and the Imperial Hotel, developed his solid conviction that morality and economic activity are compatible−the doctrine that saw morality as an essential part of economic activity and stressed pursuit of the public interest. 

It is the mission of a company to value people and proactively work on virtuous business management for society. This is the tradition that Japanese companies have cultivated over the years. From this April, the principle of equal pay for equal work will be applied to large companies. I would hope that the business community will act proactively, working to narrow the income gap between regular and non-regular employees.

Companies’ internal reserves are after-tax revenues. So, there may be a lingering objection in the business community to imposing a tax on internal reserves, claiming that it would amount to double taxation and possibly encourage more Japanese firms to manufacture their products abroad. But if Japanese companies leave their internal reserves mostly untouched, it would give more reasons for a new tax on them. 



The Sense of Crisis Also Spreading in the U.S., Europe


In the United States and Europe, there is also a growing sense of crisis about shareholder capitalism, which has brought about excessive income gaps and serious environmental degradation. Prior to the annual World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, in January, the NGO Oxfam International came up with a mind-boggling report revealing that the world’s 2,153 billionaires had more wealth than the 4.6 billion poorest people on the planet in 2019. I do not think that such a distorted society is sustainable.

High on the agenda at the Davos conference was how to redefine capitalism, and there was a strong call for switching to “stakeholder capitalism,” which values all employees, society and the environment.

At a time when shareholder capitalism remains dominant in the world, Japan still maintains stable employment compared to other countries. Japan, which values human resources and social harmony, should be in a position to lead the world toward having second thoughts about shareholder capitalism.

Public interest capitalism should be one of our goals. I sincerely hope that Keidanren (Japan Business Federation), comprising the nation’s 1,412 big business corporations, will take the initiative now to achieve this goal.


(End)
Posted by Y.Sasakawa at 09:00 | OTHERS | URL | comment(0)
Japan Should Lead the Way Toward Practicing Public Interest Capitalism (1) [2020年03月17日(Tue)]
While western-style shareholder capitalism is dominant in many countries, there is a growing interest in “public interest capitalism” in Japan. Different from shareholder capitalism and Chinese-style state capitalism, this is a new form of capitalism as advocated by Mr. George Hara, a venture capitalist and special adviser to the Japanese Cabinet Office, in his 2007 book, A New Inquiry 2.0 into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of the Nations.

Unlike shareholder capitalism, which is focused on maximizing shareholder returns, public interest capitalism is the idea that a company’s role within society is to benefit all stakeholders, including not only shareholders, employees, customers and suppliers, but also communities and the nation where they do business.

Such an idea is deeply embedded in Japanese commercial traditions. The philosophy of sampo-yoshi (three-way satisfaction) means good for the buyer, good for the seller, and good for the community. By espousing the principle of sampo-yoshi, Japanese companies could go a long way toward practicing public interest capitalism.



Companies’ Internal Reserves Hit All-Time Highs


But at a time when globalism enjoys currency across the world, companies in Japan are apt to follow shareholder capitalism, resulting in a rapidly widening social gap. This is clearly reflected in the relation between companies’ internal reserves and employees’ wages.

According to statistics compiled by the Ministry of Finance, internal reserves of Japanese corporations in fiscal 2018 stood at 463 trillion yen, registering an all-time high for seven years in a row.

On the other hand, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) reported that Japanese workers’ average per-hour wage declined 8.2% from 1997, and that the average real per-hour wage, after adjusting for inflation, fell 10%, making Japan the only country among advanced nations that saw wages decrease. This is a factor causing a persistent contraction of private consumption expenditure in the third largest economy in the world.

Besides, Tokyo Shoko Research said that there were a record 280 Japanese companies where executives earned 100 million yen or more in fiscal 2019, with the total number of such executives coming to 570, also a record. Meanwhile, the gap between executive compensation and workers’ wages increased for four straight years through fiscal 2018, when the pay gap ratio stood at 4.2 to 1.

As a result of repeated amendments to the 1986 Temporary Staffing Services Law, many more Japanese industries can now hire non-regular workers with lower wages than full-time workers. According to the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, Japan’s non-regular workers in fiscal 2019 totaled 21.65 million, accounting for 38.3% of the nation’s total labor force, a sharp rise of 15 percentage points over 23.2% in 1997.

This has resulted in a wider gap between the wages of regular and non-regular workers, putting a lid on growth in the nation’s overall wages.

(To be continued)
Posted by Y.Sasakawa at 11:38 | OTHERS | URL | comment(0)
Launched in India, My Book on Leprosy Depicts My Approach to Life (2) [2020年03月13日(Fri)]
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Children from a leprosy colony sing at the book launch event in New Delhi on January 30, 2020.


I left the business world when I was 40 years old. I wanted some day to devote myself, as my father did, to humanitarian activities−and especially leprosy work. The experience of that day at the South Korean leprosy hospital left an indelible mark on my memory.

We only live once on this planet, so how I lived was a matter of vital importance to me. With that in mind, I began to lead my life with an awareness of death. At the end of my life, how could I go to my grave with a sense of fulfillment. I was determined to live so that I wouldn’t leave behind any regrets that I should have done more.

“All’s well that ends well,” wrote William Shakespeare in the early 17th century. Death is the ultimate leveler−everyone dies in the end, including the rich and powerful.

If someone in power approaches death in an unhappy frame of mind, was his or her life happy? If the super-rich are embroiled in toxic family relations just before they die, or find themselves regretting they did not do more for society, were their lives happy?  

Therefore, I go to work every day in preparation for my death. Taking my cue from Shakespeare’s words, I want to reach the end of my days, believing that I have done all I could do and that it was a happy life. No matter how daunting the troubles I have faced at times, I would like to die convinced that mine was a happy life.

There is an old doctrine concerning the inseparability of knowledge and practice, stressing that “a person with knowledge should act” and that “knowledge is necessary to act.” There are many men of words who don’t act in this democratic society; but it is my approach to life to act when I have knowledge.

It is my conviction that my “battlefield” is where the problems lie as that is where solutions can be found. I can never solve a problem just by reading reports coming from my subordinates in a comfortable air-conditioned office.

It is my approach to life that problems are clarified and solutions come out only when I am at the frontline in person. This is depicted in detail in this book and I would be most grateful if you read it.

Having chosen to follow in my father’s footsteps and pursue his work in leprosy, I have found myself in a position where I can draw attention to the stigma and discrimination that persons affected by leprosy face and work to see that their dignity and human rights are respected. Through my travels, I have met and talked with countless such individuals around the world, and sought to create opportunities for them to make their voices heard and determine for themselves how they wish to lead their lives. As “an 81-year-old young man” this is something that gives me a great sense of fulfillment and I am thankful for the chance to lead a fruitful life.


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I was extremely grateful to all those who made the event happen.


(End)
Posted by Y.Sasakawa at 09:00 | LEPROSY | URL | comment(0)
Launched in India, My Book on Leprosy Depicts My Approach to Life (1) [2020年03月12日(Thu)]
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Participating in an event in New Delhi on January 30, 2020, to mark the launch in India of my English-language book on my pursuit of a world without leprosy−No Matter Where the Journey Takes Me: One Man's Quest for a Leprosy-Free World.



What a surprise! I had not expected so many dignitaries would turn up at an event in New Delhi, India, on January 30 to mark the launch of my book on my life-long quest for a world without leprosy and the stigma and discrimination associated with it. I extended my wholehearted gratitude to Dr. S. Jaishankar, Minister of External Affairs, and other distinguished guests from the nation’s political and business communities for coming to the event on India’s Anti-Leprosy Day, one of the focal points of my nine-day trip to the country.

At the urging of Mr. Tatsuya Tanami, a special adviser to The Nippon Foundation, on the ground that leprosy, also known as Hansen’s disease, is indeed a global challenge, I decided to issue an English translation of one of my books. It was released by Hurst Publishers in June last year as No Matter Where the Journey Takes Me: One Man's Quest for a Leprosy-Free World. It was also a great honor for me that the book was reviewed in Nature, one of the world’s most authoritative science journals, prior to its publication.

I have published more than 10 books in Japan, but have never held book launch events in my country. This time, however, the book was launched in India thanks to the efforts of Mr. Tarun Das, chairman of Sasakawa-India Leprosy Foundation.

From when I was young, I agonized over how I should lead my life. At the age of 32, I tried my hand at what turned out to be the precursor of the IT business, and managed to make my fortune by the time I turned 40.

My late father, Ryoichi Sasakawa, devoted his entire life to philanthropic activities. He had a strong sense of justice and compassion toward those affected by leprosy and other disadvantaged people. I travelled overseas with him as much as possible on his philanthropic mission.

The first time I met leprosy patients was about 40 years ago, when I accompanied him on a trip to South Korea, during which we visited a local leprosarium he built. Lying in their beds in a hospital room with an unsettling odor, many of the patients had severely deformed hands, feet and faces. They were abandoned by their families, rejected by society, deprived of their freedom and hope all because of leprosy. I was shocked, but my father took each patient’s hand in his own, spoke with them, offered words of encouragement, held them tight and cried.

He was such a strong person that he never shed tears even when his own parents passed away. This was the first time I had ever seen him cry and I suddenly found myself overwhelmed with respect for my father.

As I wrote earlier, I was agonizing over how I should lead my life despite my successful business career. I decided to devote my life to carrying on his work at the moment when I saw him in tears.


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With Dr. S. Jaishankar (right), India’s Minister of External Affairs, one of many dignitaries who attended my book launch event. 
Posted by Y.Sasakawa at 09:00 | LEPROSY | URL | comment(0)
The Nippon Foundation Holding Seminars to Promote Bequests All Over Japan [2020年03月10日(Tue)]
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Speaking at a seminar promoting understanding of bequest donations, held in Niigata on January 22, 2020.

I went to Niigata on the Sea of Japan coast in late January to attend a seminar The Nippon Foundation sponsored to help people better understand how to create a will to make a bequest to designated individuals or organizations other than their legal heirs. This was part of the foundation’s nationwide campaign to foster a culture of bequest donations in Japan, where only one in 20 people write a will due in large part to the long-cherished custom of eldest son inheritance.

The foundation plans to hold such seminars in 13 prefectures by the end of March, and in all the 34 other prefectures over the next three to four years.

The seminar− dubbed "The most fun seminar on creating a will in Japan!”−features a lecture by a certified administrative procedures legal specialist, an explanation on The Nippon Foundation’s efforts to promote bequest donations and free individual consultation for applicants provided by the foundation’s Bequest Donation Support Center.

Advertised in advance in local newspapers, the first seminar was held in Sendai last November with 38 participants, followed by seminars in Sapporo (52 participants), Nagoya (44) and Niigata (22).

According to a survey conducted by The Nippon Foundation, which covered 2,000 men and women aged 60 or older, 22.9% of the total and 42.8% of those without a spouse or children have positive attitudes toward making bequest donations, indicating an increasing number of people are looking at bequest donations as their final social contribution and their legacy.

In 2013, The Nippon Foundation undertook a project to build a school for children with disabilities in Myanmar, using a bequest of 150 million yen by a woman in Osaka, western Japan, with the request that the money be spent for disadvantaged children overseas. We then established the Bequest Donation Support Center in the foundation. So far, the center has helped with the preparation of 108 wills. Of these, eight wills bequeathed a total of 510 million yen that was spent on charitable activities.

Japan’s total property inheritance is estimated at around 50 trillion yen a year, but bequest donations remain low at some 30 billion yen. This was attributable to the lack of beneficiaries who receive and spend donations on charitable activities. So, in 2016, The Nippon Foundation’s Bequest Donation Support Center joined hands with 15 other organizations across the country to form the Japan Legacy Gift Association to better provide consultation and handle requests for making wills and bequest donations.

The Nippon Foundation is armed with expertise based upon years of wide-ranging social activities both at home and abroad, and uses all the money it receives for charitable activities as requested by donors with indirect costs being borne by us.
Mr. Kazuhiro Sayama, a certified administrative procedures legal specialist, who gave a lecture at the Niigata seminar, said no organization other than The Nippon Foundation spends 100% of bequest donations on charitable activities, using its accumulated knowledge of making the best use of donated gifts.

By sharing with our President Takeju Ogata the work of traveling all over the country, I sincerely hope we can help people better understand how to make a bequest, contributing to fostering a new culture of donations in Japan.

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Within the next three to four years, The Nippon Foundation plans to have held such seminars in all 47 of Japan’s prefectures.
Posted by Y.Sasakawa at 10:00 | ENHANCING COMMUNITIES | URL | comment(0)
Prime Minister Abe Stresses Importance of Japan-U.S. Parliamentary Exchanges [2020年03月06日(Fri)]
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A U.S. congressional delegation, led by Congresswoman Diana DeGette (front row, third from left), pays a courtesy call on Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (front row, center) at his official residence in Tokyo on February 18, 2020, accompanied by the author (front row, far right).

The visit was organized by the Congressional Study Group on Japan (CSGJ) in cooperation with the Sasakawa Peace Foundation USA and Sasakawa Peace Foundation in Tokyo.



I accompanied a visiting U.S. congressional delegation when it paid a courtesy call on Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at his official residence on February 18.

The mission, comprising nine members of the bipartisan Congressional Study Group on Japan (CSGJ), was on a week-long visit to Japan, organized in cooperation with the Sasakawa Peace Foundation USA and Sasakawa Peace Foundation in Tokyo, of which I am honorary chairman.

Prime Minister Abe noted that this year marks the 60th anniversary of the signing of the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty, stating: “The Japan-U.S. alliance now plays a significant role in maintaining peace and security in the Indo-Pacific region and the world as an alliance of hope.

“Mutual exchanges between parliamentarians of the two countries like this are, I believe, a great pillar that support our alliance,” he said, expressing his hope for “continued bipartisan support toward further enhancing the Japan-U.S. alliance.”

Mission leader and CSGJ Co-Chair Diana DeGette thanked the prime minister for receiving the delegation, taking time out of his busy schedule dealing with the spread of the novel coronavirus in Japan. In particular, she expressed her gratitude to the Japanese government for assisting with the evacuation of more than 400 Americans and their families from the Diamond Princess cruise ship, which has been docked off the port city of Yokohama, south of Tokyo, since February 3.

The congresswoman, a Democrat from Colorado, also raised the issue of North Korea and other challenges in the region, but added that the United States is always with Japan.

Earlier in the day, I received a courtesy visit from the delegation at The Nippon Foundation. We exchanged views on not only strengthening bilateral relations and ocean issues, but also my lifelong mission to fight against leprosy, also known as Hansen’s disease, as WHO (World Health Organization) Goodwill Ambassador for Leprosy Elimination, and my activities as Special Envoy of the Japanese Government for National Reconciliation in Myanmar.

While in Japan, the group also met with Defense Minister Taro Kono and toured the ancient capital of Kyoto.

This was the seventh annual mission sent to Japan by CSGJ, which was established in 1993 in recognition of the need for American legislators to better understand the security alliance, trade partnerships and other issues relating to Japan.

I sincerely hope that their visit, which provided opportunities to network with Japanese political and business leaders, and Japanese people, will have helped the delegation members not only in their role serving as a bridge between Japan and the United States but also by building bipartisan trust and cooperation to further strengthen the alliance between the two countries back on the Capitol Hill. 

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I received a courtesy visit from the delegation at The Nippon Foundation.

Posted by Y.Sasakawa at 14:00 | FORGING GLOBAL TIES | URL | comment(0)