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Yohei Sasakawa
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The Nippon Foundation to Conduct 2 Million Free PCR Tests for Nursing Home Caregivers in Tokyo (2) [2021年01月26日(Tue)]
Those aged 70 or older account for more than 85% of Japan’s total COVID-19 fatalities.

According to the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, out of 168 clusters of COVID-19 infections identified nationwide between November 25 and 30, 2020, nursing care facilities accounted for 39, second only to the workplace, which saw 43. As of January 13, those aged 70 or older accounted for about 85% of the nation’s total COVID-19 fatalities.

Finding and treating mildly ill and asymptomatic patients as quickly as possible and preventing them from infecting others is considered to be the most effective way to avoid transmission of the disease. But many care workers are said to be reluctant to undertake PCR tests due mainly to the cost−ranging from 20,000 to 40,000 yen (about 190 to 380 dollars)−prompting the foundation to offer them free and regular testing.

I hope the latest initiative will serve as a role model for our COVID-19 response. If nursing care facilities in other prefectures ask us to conduct PCR tests for their staff, we would consider offering them based on the availability of testing kits and human resources.

I firmly believe that to conquer the pandemic, it is crucially important to balance the public assistance by the government with mutual cooperation and self-supporting efforts by individual citizens in a fair and equitable manner.

At the press conference to announce the PCR testing initiative, I revealed details of “mutual cooperation” to be undertaken by the foundation and stressed the importance of “self-supporting efforts” and the personal responsibility that each of us has. I called on members of the public to take personal health measures to protect themselves, such as observing social distancing, wearing masks, avoiding crowded areas with poor ventilation, refraining from non-essential outings and staying home as much as possible.

This is the foundation’s fourth initiative in response to the coronavirus pandemic as a private institution.
Our first three initiatives are as follows:

(1) Building a 3.7 billion yen (35.7 million dollars) makeshift facility with 140 private rooms in Odaiba for COVID-19 patients with mild or no symptoms.

(2) Launching a 500 million-yen (about 4.8 million dollars) project to help transport to and from hospitals coronavirus patients with mild symptoms, and doctors and nurses working around the clock to combat COVID-19.

(3) Providing 128 emergency medical service hospitals in 36 prefectures across the nation that take care of severely ill and high-risk patients with a total of 4.98 billion yen (about 48.1 million dollars) in grants to help them beef up facilities and equipment.


Posted by Y.Sasakawa at 13:17 | IN THE CAUSE OF LIFE | URL | comment(0)
The Nippon Foundation to Conduct 2 Million Free PCR Tests for Nursing Home Caregivers in Tokyo (1) [2021年01月25日(Mon)]
Speaking at a press conference in Tokyo on January 19, 2021, I announce The Nippon Foundation’s decision to conduct a total of 2 million free polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests for care workers of almost 2,900 nursing homes in Tokyo.

Japan continues to experience a significant increase in novel coronavirus infections, straining health care capacity in many areas. It has had much smaller numbers of COVID-19 cases and fatalities than the United States and some other countries; nevertheless, how to save the lives of persons in higher-risk groups, namely older adults and those with underlying health conditions who are more vulnerable to becoming severely ill or dying if infected, is a daunting challenge.

To help cope with this, The Nippon Foundation has decided to conduct free polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests for caregivers and other essential workers at almost 2,900 nursing homes in Tokyo. This is the fourth project being undertaken by the foundation in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Under the decision announced at a press conference on January 19, the foundation plans to start testing on February 8 when we open a PCR testing facility in the compound of the Museum of Maritime Science, operated by our partner organization, in Odaiba on Tokyo Bay.

In carrying out the project, the foundation will be assisted by St. Luke’s International Hospital, Nippon Medical School Hospital, Toho University Omori Medical Center and Juntendo University Hospital as well as the non-profit organization Humanitarian Medical Assistance (HuMA).

The PCR tests will be administered to any among some 190,000 caregivers and other nursing-home staff who wish to get tested. Assuming that we perform the tests on a regular basis, hopefully once a week for each person, we envisage carrying out a total of 2 million tests at a cost of some 20 billion yen (about 193 million dollars) by July when Japan is expected to have made considerable progress in vaccinating its people.

At a time when healthcare capacity is under strain, the initiative to offer caregivers free and regular PCR testing is aimed at helping to prevent hospitals from being overwhelmed by identifying positive cases with mild or no symptoms and thus prevent them from unknowingly transmitting the coronavirus to the elderly and others with underlying health conditions in their care. In particular, it is intended to focus on containing infection clusters.

The PCR testing center will handle 3,000 samples per day initially, 6,000 a day in March, and 14,000 a day in April with the monthly total thereafter expected to rise to about 400,000.

We will send out saliva test kits and analyze the samples after they are returned to the testing center. Anyone who tests positive will be informed  and their details reported to their local health center. Family members and others who have been in close contact with them will be tested as well.

(To be continued)

Posted by Y.Sasakawa at 15:23 | IN THE CAUSE OF LIFE | URL | comment(0)
The Nippon Foundation, 4 Prefectures Launch Project Aimed at “Zero Marine Waste” in Seto Inland Sea [2021年01月20日(Wed)]
A virtual ceremony held on December 25, 2020, to sign an agreement on the “Setouchi Oceans X” project launched by The Nippon Foundation and four prefectures facing the Seto Inland Sea. From left: governors Hidehiko Yuzaki of Hiroshima; Ryuta Ibaragi of Okayama; the author; Keizo Hamada of Kagawa; and Tokihiro Nakamura of Ehime.

The Nippon Foundation and four prefectures that encircle the Seto Inland Sea in western Japan have launched a five-year joint project aimed at achieving “zero marine waste” in the sea. 

I attended a virtual ceremony on December 25, 2020, to sign an agreement on the “Setouchi Oceans X” project, with governors Hidehiko Yuzaki of Hiroshima, Ryuta Ibaragi of Okayama, Tokihiro Nakamura of Ehime, and Keizo Hamada of Kagawa who all joined online from their home prefectures.

It was a hybrid event that saw some participants and journalists attend in person in Tokyo, and others virtually.

The foundation will cover the cost of the project, totaling 1.5 billion yen (about 14.4 million dollars).

Inland seas are typically known for having a relatively small inflow of marine litter from outside oceans. According to the foundation’s estimate, 4,500 tons of waste are dispersed into the semi-enclosed Seto Inland Sea annually, of which only 1,400 tons are collected.

The “Setouchi Oceans X” project is aimed at slashing the amount of marine debris in the sea to “infinitely close to zero” by reducing the trash inflow by some 70% and increasing its collection by a little over 10%. This is the first inter-prefectural project designed to combat and eliminate marine debris in Japan and one of the very few such projects in the world.

Under the four-pillar project, we first started thorough research into the origins and flows of the marine litter, using state-of-the-art technologies such as a supercomputer, satellites and drones, both aerial and underwater, to draw wide-area maps of marine debris and scientifically visualize the seriousness and extent of the problem. Next, and still part of the first pillar, we will work closely with local fishermen in gathering waste using trawl nets and other means.

Second, the foundation will assist business corporations and organizations of the four prefectures in promoting their programs to combat marine litter. To take an example from elsewhere, we have an ongoing project with Seven-Eleven Japan Co., covering some 135 7-Eleven convenience stores in Kanagawa Prefecture, south of Tokyo, to recycle plastic bottles (made of polyethylene terephthalate, or PET) to promote recycling and reducing plastic ocean debris. 

Third, the project calls for undertaking large-scale beach cleanup campaigns across the four prefectures and holding seminars to share with citizens the importance of tackling ocean waste and how they can contribute to this drive.

Finally, based on five years of activities under the project, we will formulate guidelines for redesigning ways to fight marine waste that can be used by the rest of the country and the world.

Speaking at the ceremony, I said that conservation of the ocean environment is crucial for the survival of humankind over the next 500 to 1,000 years and that Japan, as an ocean state, should lead the way in this global campaign. Recalling how impressed I was by the beauty of the Seto Inland Sea when I sailed through it from Osaka to Oita on an elementary school excursion 70 years ago, I said I looked forward to working with people of the four prefectures to restore the charm of the Inland Sea. 

“I hope this initiative will serve as a model for redesigning ocean waste policies in other countries,” I said, adding that for that to happen, we will have to produce tangible results in five years in cleaning up the Inland Sea.

Speaking before signing an agreement on the “Setouchi Oceans X” project with the four governors.

It was a hybrid event that saw some participants and journalists attend in person in Tokyo, and others virtually.
Posted by Y.Sasakawa at 10:59 | OCEAN | URL | comment(0)
New Developments in Myanmar Could Open the Way for Supplementary Elections in Rakhine State (2) [2021年01月18日(Mon)]
While I mediated the negotiations between the military and the AA, I travelled to the state of Rakhine in late November 2020 with the assistance of the military. To take a first-hand look at the townships where polling had been canceled earlier that month, I talked with the state’s key stakeholders, including leaders of the Arakan National Party (ANP), and as many local ethnic residents as possible about the security situation and the possibility of holding elections in those constituencies where voting was cancelled.

Based on my observation there, I personally told State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi and Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, Commander-in-Chief of the Defense Services of Myanmar as well as UEC Chairman U Hla Thein that I saw no problem in holding the supplementary elections the people in those Rakhine townships want.

When the AA released the NLD trio and the military personnel on January 1 as discussed in my previous post, I issued a statement welcoming the decision and expressing my heartfelt admiration and respect for the military and the AA as both had played a central role−as organizations and individuals−in successfully negotiating their release.

I said I firmly believe that both the military and the AA will continue to negotiate with due generosity to bring about true peace in the state of Rakhine, expressing my hope that a free and fair election, which is the foundation of democracy, will be held there for the people of Rakhine by ending almost two years of intense fighting. My statement was widely reported by local newspapers and television stations.

I might also add that Myanmar Western Commander Major General Htin Latt Oo told a television interview that he was grateful to me for setting the stage for the release of the NLD members and soldiers.

Another point I would like to call attention to is the impact that the latest encouraging developments might have on the stalled negotiations aimed at attaining national reconciliation in Myanmar.

So far, 10 out of almost 20 ethnic armed organizations (EAOs) have signed the nationwide ceasefire agreement (NCA) with the Union government and the military. But the peace process continues to exclude some of the country’s largest and most prominent ethnic groups like the AA.

The temporary truce declared by the military and the AA could open the way for the government to seek a new round of peace talks with the Northern Alliance, consisting of four EAOs, including the AA and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA).

As for my role in the peace-building process, I am a private citizen who turned 82 years old on January 8. But I am full of enthusiasm, spiritual strength to withstand any difficulties and a resolve to keep working hard until I see results.

I acknowledge that the complexity of the situation in Myanmar makes this a truly challenging task. In the background are more than 70 years of ethnic strife as well as the growing presence of China in Southeast Asia. It is also a fact that Japan has never brokered a deal to settle an internal armed conflict in a foreign country.

However, I am determined to work to the best of my ability to complete my mission as the Special Envoy of the Government of Japan to attain the ultimate goal of creating a democratic Federal Republic that will emerge in the future for national reconciliation and Union peace.

Posted by Y.Sasakawa at 14:19 | MYANMAR | URL | comment(0)
New Developments in Myanmar Could Open the Way for Supplementary Elections in Rakhine State (1) [2021年01月15日(Fri)]
The New Year saw some encouraging new developments in Myanmar that I have visited nearly 130 times in my capacity as chairman of The Nippon Foundation and Special Envoy of the Government of Japan for National Reconciliation in that country.

On January 1, the Arakan Army (AA), an ethnic armed organization (EAO) in the western Myanmar state of Rakhine, announced that it released three then-candidates of the ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) it abducted ahead of the November 8 general election and returned three soldiers captured in late 2019 to the Union military.

Potentially, the announcement could pave the way for holding supplementary elections in the nine townships in Rakhine State where the Union Election Commission (UEC) cancelled the November 8 voting on security grounds. It might also provide a fresh impetus to revamp the stalled negotiations aimed at realizing a comprehensive ceasefire between the Union government, the military and all the EAOs.

The episode was reported widely by newspapers, television networks and other media as the day’s top news, and I would like to elaborate on the developments leading up to the announcement.  

The three freed NLD members, who stood for seats representing Rakhine’s Taungup Township in the Lower House, Upper House and State parliament, respectively, were abducted by the AA while campaigning in the township on October 14. The military personnel were captured during fighting in the state in November 2019.

The AA transferred the six to the military near the state capital of Sittwe, and then the NLD trio was turned over to the Rakhine state government.

The AA’s abduction of the NLD members was cited as one of the reasons for the UEC’s cancellation of the November 8 balloting in the nine townships in Rakhine and some parts of Shan State.

Soon after monitoring the November 8 voting as the head of the Japanese government’s election observer mission, I contacted the AA through organizations and some people I knew to explore the possibility of holding supplementary elections in Rakhine. Then, the group issued a statement on November 12, urging the Union government and the military to hold balloting in those nine townships. Within hours, the military issued a statement, welcoming the AA request.

Both the military and the AA declared an informal ceasefire after two years of fighting that killed and injured hundreds and forced some 220,000 people from their homes in the state. This resulted in tens of thousands of displaced villagers in the troubled state begin to return home, at least temporarily, to harvest their crops.

It can be said that the AA’s release of the three ex-candidates has created an opening for holding the balloting in Rakhine. It is now up to State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, who heads the NLD, whether the voting is actually going to take place in the conflict-affected constituencies.

Were the supplementary elections to be held in Rakhine, the Arakan National Party (ANP) and other local ethnic groups in the state are projected to win more seats. But given the NLD’s landslide victory in the November 8 election, this is considered unlikely to dent the its overall dominance in the Union parliament.

Rather, I believe it is more desirable to hold the supplementary voting by the end of January, or before newly elected lawmakers are sworn in for the Union parliament in early February. This would ward off the criticisms by international NGOs and others who denounced the UEC’s decision to cancel the balloting in Rakhine for “disenfranchising” hundreds of thousands of minority voters in the state, which would prevent them from having a voice in the country’s government.

Describing such a ballot as a “supplementary” vote rather than a by-election would potentially circumvent an amendment made in 2019 to the law regulating the elections for the Myanmar Union parliament, which stipulates that by-elections cannot be held in the first and fifth year of a parliamentary term.

Posted by Y.Sasakawa at 09:01 | MYANMAR | URL | comment(0)
Sakura (Cherry Blossom) Tree I Planted in India Blooms [2021年01月08日(Fri)]
The sakura (cherry blossom) tree I planted at the opening ceremony of the Imphal Peace Museum in northeast India in June 2019 comes into bloom.

When I attended the opening ceremony of the Imphal Peace Museum in northeast India in June 2019, marking the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Imphal between Japanese troops and British-led Allied Forces, I was one of 10 Japanese, British and Indian dignitaries who each planted a sakura (cherry blossom) tree.

The Battle of Imphal is often regarded as one of the fiercest battles of World War II. The Nippon Foundation supported the project, launched by the Manipur Tourism Forum, to build a peace museum with the theme of “Peace and Reconciliation” to pass on the story of the cruel conflict to future generations.

In December 2020, I was delighted to receive an email from Mr. Haobam Joyremba, secretary to the tourism forum, saying that among the sakura trees planted at the opening ceremony, only mine had bloomed, as shown on the photo above. It is unusual for a cherry blossom tree to bloom just over a year or so after being planted, delighting people in Imphal, the capital of Manipur State. Some even called it a miracle.

The cherry blossom tree produced its dainty-colored blooms near what is known as Bleached Bones Avenue. This was the escape route used by Japanese soldiers during their retreat after the operation was called off. In all, more than 30,000 Japanese soldiers died−not just in the fierce fighting but also as a result of starvation, disease and exhaustion suffered during their retreat.  

When I think of the spirits of those soldiers who died, my feelings are complicated because I have lived a long life (I turned 82 years old on January 8) in a peaceful country, Japan. I feel very sorry for their sacrifice, but their efforts were never in vain.

Bearing in mind that the precious peace we share today is the legacy of the ultimate suffering of those who fought and fell in battle, we must remind ourselves that our duty is to continue protecting our peaceful society. 

In Japan, the sakura tree is often regarded as a symbol of peace. With its blossoming in Imphal, I wish with all my heart that the peace museum will become a bridge to connect the past and the future to create peace in the world for all time.

Mr. Haobam Joyremba, secretary to the Manipur Tourism Forum, which launched the project to build the Imphal Peace Museum with the support of The Nippon Foundation in June 2019, with the Sakura tree.
Posted by Y.Sasakawa at 11:43 | FORGING GLOBAL TIES | URL | comment(0)
60% of Japanese Women Want More Female Lawmakers, But It Might Take Years to Achieve [2021年01月05日(Tue)]
Happy New Year! All of us at The Nippon Foundation wish you a healthy and happy 2021.

The Global Gender Gap Report, compiled annually by the World Economic Forum (WEF), benchmarks countries on their progress toward gender parity in four dimensions: Economic Participation and Opportunity, Educational Attainment, Health and Survival, and Political Empowerment. 

In its 2020 report, Japan declined 11 positions from the previous year to its worst ranking of 121st out of 153 countries, by far the lowest among the Group of Seven (G7) nations. In the dimension of political empowerment, it came lower still at 144th, making it among the worst 10 countries in the world. 

At the end of 2019, female representation in Japan’s House of Representatives stood at 10.1% and House of Councilors at 20.7%, while that of prefectural assemblies was put at 11.4%.

To try to figure out how Japanese women look at this reality, The Nippon Foundation conducted an online survey on the theme of “Women and Politics,” covering 10,000 women aged 18 to 69 across the country, from November 6 to 10, 2020.

The poll found that more than 60% of Japanese women (61.6%) talk about politics and policies with their family members and friends. When asked about the low female representation in national and local legislatures, 62.2% see themselves as being represented by too few women. 

Regarding the fact that there are only two female ministers in the 20-member Cabinet of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga installed in September 2020, almost two-thirds (63.4%) think there are too few women ministers. Queried on how many female Cabinet officers they want to have ideally, 56.3% said they want about half the Cabinet to be composed of women and 39.8% said about 30%. 

Asked why there is slow progress in promoting female representation in Japanese politics, more than 30% of the respondents cited the following  points: the difficultly of balancing work as lawmakers with domestic life (34.5%); gender stereotypes in society that frame politics as essentially a male sphere of activity (34.0%); the lack of a well-established environment to nurture female candidates and politicians (32.7%); and the entrenched notion that it is better for men to work outside and for women to stay at home to do child-rearing and other family work (31.4%). 

Regarding the possible introduction of “quota” systems aimed at encouraging more women to get involved in politics, and France’s Parité, under which political parties have to endorse an equal number of men and women candidates for the proportional representation segment in municipal, national and European elections, more than one in three (35.5%) of Japanese women support such ideas, over one in 10 (14.1%) were against, and more than half (50.4%) said they do not know. This indicates there has not been enough discussion among the Japanese public on the advisability of quotas. More than half of those who answered that they are against or do not know (53.5%) said it is ill-advised to set a numerical target, insisting only those who have the appropriate ability should become politicians.

With respect to policies of the Suga administration, a great majority of Japanese women (77.8%) said they highly evaluate its plan for covering the cost of fertility treatments by the national health insurance system starting in fiscal 2022. As to policies they want the government to follow under the Basic Act for Gender-Equal Society, which came into effect in 1999 to accelerate the development of gender equality in Japan, more than half (54.2%) said it needs to create a social and workplace environment that encourages women’s desire to participate in politics or take managerial positions in businesses. 

About two-thirds of Japanese women (63.7%) said they believe it is necessary for Japan to have more female politicians. As reasons for this, they said that opinions of women would be reflected more in politics (58.4%) and that Japanese women’s participation in politics and society is too low compared to other countries (44.5%).

But asked whether they want to engage in political activities if they have a chance, only one in five (22.4%) said yes. When queried whether they want to become politicians themselves if there is an opportunity, less than one in ten (7.7%) answered in the affirmative. On the other hand, almost 90% (87.6%) said they do not want to become politicians.

In particular, more younger women (42.2% of those aged 18 to 29) and those with higher education (37.3% of college graduates and 38.8% of those with postgraduate degrees) tend to say they are not interested in politics as an occupation. 

The findings of the survey are open to various interpretations. But it might take years to attain gender parity in politics in Japan, requiring the whole nation to create a much better environment to induce more women to get interested and involved in politics.