The Prime Minister, His Health and the Media [2020年09月28日（Mon）]
Mr. Shinzo Abe, the longest-serving Japanese prime minister in history, resigned on September 16, citing the need to undergo prolonged treatment for his ulcerative colitis, a chronic illness.
During seven years and eight months in office, he made 81 overseas trips as prime minister, visiting a total of 80 countries, with the aim of executing his signature “Proactive Contribution to Peace” strategy and “Free and Open Indo-Pacific” vision. The number of overseas visits is a record for any Japanese prime minister since World War II, according to the Foreign Ministry.
Domestically, he devoted himself to his “Abenomics” policies to lift the economy out of deflation; these comprised the three so-called arrows−massive monetary stimulus, increased government spending, and structural reforms. In the wake of strong earthquakes, typhoons, floods, landslides and other natural disasters hitting many parts of the country, he visited affected people to talk with and encourage them on numerous occasions.
Through my own experience of spending nearly 40% of each year overseas on fighting leprosy and other activities, I realized how much Mr. Abe has been trusted abroad as a Japanese leader. Before Mr. Abe’s reign, few people outside the country, with the exception of diplomats and experts on Japan, knew the name of the Japanese prime minister, who would serve no more than a year or so.
He established a particularly good personal rapport with U.S. President Donald Trump, conferring bilaterally 14 times (50 times when telephone calls are included), as well as with other world leaders, including Russian President Vladimir Putin (25 meetings), Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (14) and Chinese President Xi Jinping (12), just to mention a few. Among successive prime ministers, Mr. Abe’s achievements in dealing with world affairs in an age of globalization deserve to be highly commended.
Given that, it is undeniable that the way the Japanese media covered Mr. Abe’s resignation looked hollow at best despite their seeming tendency to be sensitive to human rights and humanitarian issues.
Among his predecessors, Prime Minister Zenko Suzuki played golf at the Narashino Country Club, east of Tokyo, every weekend to refresh himself in the early 1980s, but to my knowledge, was not the target of harsh criticism by the press. When Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi passed away days after going into a coma due to cerebral infarction while in office in 2000, the media started to shine a spotlight on the health of senior politicians. His successor, Mr. Yoshiro Mori, was chastised by the press when he continued to play golf in Kanagawa Prefecture, south of Tokyo, even upon reports that the Japanese fishery high school training ship Ehime Maru had sunk after being hit by a U.S. Navy submarine off Hawaii. He later learned the accident killed nine high school teachers and students from Ehime Prefecture, western Japan.
Needless to say, a prime minister has to be healthy not only physically but also spiritually to achieve great things. Two years ago, some Japanese newspapers reported that Prime Minister Abe played golf “as many as twelve times a year,” including during his summer vacation. I would argue that staying in the best physical and mental shape is a duty of a nation’s leader, but Japanese media do not appear ready to accept that.
Incidentally, I have heard through the grapevine that President Trump plays golf 50 to100 times a year without being blamed by anyone, while rarely having to attend Congressional sessions except for an annual State of the Union message.
Prime Minister Abe spent the first half of this year working for more than 150 days in a row without a day off or playing golf. He attended a budget committee session for more than six hours on the day after his return home from a lengthy overseas trip. A Japanese prime minister is tied up in the Diet (Parliament) much longer than his counterparts overseas.
When the Democratic Party of Japan (now the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan) was in power (2009-2012), the post of state minister was created. This allowed ministers including the prime minister to go abroad when the Diet was in session as state ministers would stand in for them and answer questions on their behalf. But now, ministers are barred from making overseas trips during parliamentary sessions as a matter of principle.
Media and opposition party members tend to take ministers’ absence from the Diet as a sign they are making light of the legislature. But if we examine the questions that opposition politicians put to ministers, they seem to be based on weekly magazine reports that they use to boost their appeal for electioneering purposes. They do not show the slightest sign of respect toward the prime minister and ministers who stand to answer their questions.
As an old Japanese saying goes, ignore what’s trivial to focus on what’s important. No matter where a prime minister is, he can be reached promptly thanks to advanced communications technology. I hope that after Mr. Abe’s departure, they will do away with the habit of forcing a prime minister to stay always at his official residence to do his job.
People should cut some slack when a top political leader takes a holiday to engage in “trivial matters” before focusing on what’s important. I believe that the media, especially newspapers, should show such tolerance.
【Yohei Sasakawa Around the World】 (2) Visit to the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 2008 [2020年09月24日（Thu）]
I would like to share with you a video taken during my visit to the Democratic Republic of the Congo in August 2008 as chairman of The Nippon Foundation and WHO Goodwill Ambassador for Leprosy Elimination.
This visit followed the announcement in 2007 that the central African country had achieved the goal of eliminating leprosy as a public health problem, defined by WHO as a reduction in the prevalence rate to below one case per 10,000 population. However, as with other countries that attained the goal at the national level, DR Congo still had pockets of high endemicity, making it essential that there was no slackening of effort to control the disease. So, the purpose of my visit was to mark the achievement of the milestone of elimination as a public health problem with those responsible and see for myself an area where the prevalence rate remained troublingly high.
Today, the Democratic Republic of the Congo remains one of the WHO’s 23 global priority countries for leprosy, reporting over 3,000 new cases in 2019.
“Nikkei” Young Adults Have Strong Sense of Identity, Want to Develop Global Network with Their Counterparts [2020年09月17日（Thu）]
Announcing the findings of the first global comprehensive awareness survey targeting “Nikkei” young adults, conducted by The Nippon Foundation, at a press conference on August 31, 2020.
Young adults of Japanese ancestry across the world, known as “Nikkei,” have a strong sense of family and community-based Nikkei identity and are interested in developing and expanding their global Nikkei networks. They also want to strengthen their ties to Japan.
These are the key findings of the Global Nikkei Young Adult Research Project conducted by The Nippon Foundation last year in collaboration with the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles. It covered some 3,800 Nikkei aged mostly between 18 and 35, including those in the Americas, Asia, Europe and Australia.
For this project, Nikkei is defined as “Japanese emigrants and their descendants throughout the world.” According to the Association of Nikkei and Japanese Abroad, there are 3.8 million Nikkei around the globe. To our knowledge, this is the first comprehensive awareness survey targeting Nikkei young adults throughout the world.
The poll found that three in four of the respondents (74%) said they feel a strong sense of Nikkei identity.
For me, this was a pleasant surprise as I had heard Nikkei organizations in some countries voice their concerns that, some 150 years after Japanese mass migration started in 1868, Nikkei young adults are losing their sense of identity and are less committed to Nikkei organizations.
Japanese values are passed down through the generations, and they make up a significant part of Nikkei identity. When asked to rank 12 values in the order that has shaped their identity, 82% of the Nikkei young adults selected “gambaru” (do your best) as the most important value. “Sonkei” (respect) came in second at 78%, followed by “kansha” (gratitude) at 69%, “mottainai” (to not waste) at 68% and “shojiki” (honesty) at 67%.
Regarding forming ties with their counterparts elsewhere, the survey found that a vast majority (90%) of young adults were interested in being connected with Nikkei from other countries, demonstrating their desire to build a global community and develop a transnational connection and understanding of a global Nikkei identity.
The poll also revealed that 48% of young Nikkei had strong feelings of connectedness towards Japan. If those with moderate connectedness are included, the figure goes up to 79%.
I was encouraged to learn that 69% of them were very proud about Japan hosting the 2020 Olympics and Paralympics games, now rescheduled for the summer of 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic, while 85% said they would cheer for Nikkei athletes competing in international competitions.
For the survey, quantitative data was collected from a worldwide online survey administered in four languages (English, Japanese, Spanish and Portuguese). In addition, focus group discussions were conducted in 11 countries (Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Japan, the Netherlands, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, the United Kingdom, and the United States) to produce qualitative data providing greater depth of understanding and meanings of Nikkei identity construction.
The Nippon Foundation has been working closely with Nikkei communities in the Americas and Asia for more than 50 years. Our activities include the Nikkei Scholarship program launched in 2003 to provide scholarships to young Nikkei from the Americas who want to study in the land of their ancestors.
We will continue to analyze the findings of the survey as I believe they offer important and useful guidance on further strengthening ties between Japan and Nikkei around the world.
Some of the key questions the survey asked young Nikkei adults and their answers follow:
“How much sense of Nikkei identity do you feel?”
• Strong – 74%
• Moderate – 19%
• Weak – 7%
“What do you consider to be the most important Japanese values that shape your Nikkei identity?” (multiple replies allowed)
“How much of a tie do you feel with Japan?”
• Strong – 48%
• Moderate – 31%
• Weak – 21%
【Yohei Sasakawa Around the World】 (1) Visit to Indian Leprosy Colony with His Holiness the Dalai Lama [2020年09月14日（Mon）]
I am pleased to announce that I am launching a new series on this blog, “Yohei Sasakawa Around the World,” featuring videos shot during my overseas trips as chairman of The Nippon Foundation, WHO Goodwill Ambassador for Leprosy Elimination and in other capacities.
For the coming weeks, the series will spotlight my fight against leprosy, also known as Hansen’s disease, over the years and the discrimination and stigma associated with the disease. As we proceed, I will be posting more videos covering my work in connection with the oceans, Myanmar, scholarship programs and other issues, as and when my overseas travels resume.
The first video was taken during my memorable visit to India in March 2014 when His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama accompanied me to a leprosy colony in New Delhi. I extended an invitation to His Holiness to join me when I called on him in 2012.
I Will Head Japan’s Election Observer Team in Myanmar in November [2020年09月10日（Thu）]
The Japanese government has decided to dispatch a special delegation to observe Myanmar’s general election on November 8 and has asked me, as Special Envoy of the Government of Japan for National Reconciliation in Myanmar, to head it. To ensure a free and fair election, Tokyo will also provide special ink to prevent double-voting fraud.
The decision was conveyed by Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi to Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s State Counsellor and Union Minister of Foreign Affairs, when they met in Nay Pyi Taw on August 24 on the last leg of his four-nation Pacific and Southeast Asian swing. This is the second time that I will head an election-observer team in Myanmar following the previous poll in 2015.
Mr. Motegi, the first foreign leader to visit Myanmar amid the travel restrictions due to the novel coronavirus pandemic, said that Japan will provide full-fledged support for the “democratic nation building of Myanmar” by bringing together the Japanese public and private sectors, according to a statement issued by the Japanese Foreign Ministry.
In response, State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi expressed her appreciation for Japan’s assistance as well as her determination to ensure a democratic election.
At his separate meeting with Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, Commander-in-Chief of the Defense Services of Myanmar, Minister Motegi said that “the Government of Japan, together with Special Envoy Sasakawa, will continue to support the advancement of Myanmar’s peace process.”
Senior General Min Aung Hlaing responded by expressing his appreciation for Japan’s support for the peace process “led by Special Envoy Sasakawa.”
With regard to the general election, Mr. Motegi expressed “his strong expectation that a free and fair election will be held with the cooperation of the Defense Services.”
The Commander-in-Chief responded that the Defense Services would cooperate to that end.
I might add that Minister Motegi discussed with Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi the situation in Rakhine State, from where more than 700,000 Muslims have fled to neighboring Bangladesh, and said “Japan will fully support Myanmar’s own efforts to improve the situation.”
He said he expected the investigation and prosecution of human rights abuses to proceed in a transparent manner based on the recommendations of the Independent Commission of Enquiry (ICOE), stressing the importance of steadily implementing the order on provisional measures issued by the International Court of Justice (ICJ), and promptly repatriating displaced persons and creating an environment conducive to the repatriation of displaced persons.
The State Counsellor expressed her “appreciation for Japan’s understanding and support on the Rakhine issue.”
The Japanese minister, at his talks with Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing, expressed his expectation for progress in the court martial’s investigation and prosecution of the incidents in Rakhine State under the Amendment Bill of Defense Services Act submitted to the Assembly of the Union.
The Senior General explained their efforts to solve the Rakhine issue and expressed his intention to continue to work as the Defense Services to solve the problem.
The Japanese government and The Nippon Foundation have supported Myanmar’s democratization for decades and I am fully aware that the November election is considered to be a crucial test of its democratic reform.
As the leader of the election observer team, I will do my best to ensure a free, fair and transparent election on the strength of, among other things, special indelible ink to be supplied to all polling stations across the country to prevent double-voting fraud.
The idea to use this special ink, which is resistant to attempts to remove it using water, soap, home-cleansing, detergents, bleach, alcohol, or other organic solvents, was proposed by The Nippon Foundation.
I am convinced that a successful general election in the country will be a very important step toward achieving comprehensive peace among the government, the military and ethnic armed organizations (EAOs), who have been feuding for the past seven decades since the end of World War II.
75% of Japanese Youths Support Legislation to Crack Down on Cyberbullying [2020年09月08日（Tue）]
“Do you believe social media should be legally regulated to protect people from things like slander and misinformation?”
Finding: Three-fourths of respondents believe social media should be legally regulated to protect people from things like slander and misinformation. (n = 1,000)
Cyberbullying on social media has become an increasingly serious issue in Japan. The Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry has set up a study group on disclosing information on senders of threatening or abusive messages on social media, while the Justice Ministry has launched a project team aimed at strengthening and revising legislation on cyberbullying.
Being an analog type of person and far from tech-savvy, I am not very familiar with what’s going on in the digital world. How do Japanese young people, frequent users of social media, think of the issue? This was the goal of The Nippon Foundation when it conducted a nationwide online survey late in June, covering 1,000 17- to 19-year-olds on their attitudes toward and awareness of social media.
The poll found that a vast majority of the respondents (91.6%) use some form of social media with about 60% using it two hours a day or more and 8.3% six hours or more. Besides, three in four (75.2%) see social media as an essential part of their life.
One in twenty said they have posted criticisms or something bad against someone without clear grounds on social media (5.2%) and shared or retweeted unproven defamatory messages or criticisms (5.1%).
On the other hand, 12% of Japanese youth said they have been exposed to defamatory posts against them with 30% of them saying they had no idea why they were subjected to such slanders.
Late in May, a professional wrestler and star of the reality television show Terrace House was found dead at her home in an apparent suicide after being deluged with negative comments on her social media feeds. This has led the government to pledge to take swift action to protect victims of such cyberbullying.
Asked about perceived causes of online abuse against the reality show participant, almost two in three (63.3%) cited the anonymity of social media, followed by a misplaced sense of justice (38.7%), the characteristics of persons who make abusive posts against others (34.9%), and a system of social media that allows information to spread quickly (28.0%).
Given such, three in four of the respondents (75.5%) said they believed Japan needs legislation to crack down on online abuse, while only less than one in ten (7.7%) said they don’t think so. The rest said they don’t know.
The main reasons cited for their call for tougher legislation were because victims of cyberbullying need to be protected (64.1%), there are many expressions that amount to abuse (61.7%), there needs to be regulation of illegal postings (40.4%), and severe penalties would deter people from posting abusive comments (39.2%).
As provisions that should be included in the strengthened legislation, more than half of Japanese youths mentioned severe punishment to be imposed on abusive message senders (59.2%) and speedy procedures for disclosing information to identify them (52.2%), followed by a clear definition of abusive messages (38.1%), a provision to delete abusive messages quickly (35.2%), and an extension of the period for identifying message posters (34.7%).
As reasons for being against tougher legislation, they said that cyberbullying is an issue of self-awareness (49.4%), freedom of expression should be prioritized (33.8%), they are afraid that the government could control information dissemination (27.3%), and that privacy could be infringed upon (24.7%).
According to statistics compiled by the Justice Ministry, the number of cyberbullying cases in Japan has been on the rise, coming to 1,985 cases in fiscal 2019, the second largest on record.
Any move to bolster social media legislation needs to be debated with caution as we will have to strike a delicate balance between alleviating human rights violations and protecting freedom of expression. That said, freedom of expression entails responsibility.
I do believe that in the case of apparently defamatory posts, victims must be protected and message-senders should take responsibility.
The poll also showed that 73.8% said they have learned “internet literacy.” I sincerely hope that people will try to master the ability to address illegal and harmful content properly, protect their privacy and perform security measures so they can use social media intelligently and appropriately.
“For roughly how many hours per day do you use social media?”
Finding: Close to half of social media users use social media for one to three hours per day. (n = 940)
Less than 1 hour – 16.9%
1 to 2 hours – 23.4%
2 to 3 hours – 22.8%
3 to 4 hours – 14.7%
4 to 5 hours – 9.1%
5 to 6 hours – 4.8%
6 or more hours – 8.3%