"The World and Japan" Database (Project Leader: TANAKA Akihiko)
Database of Japanese Politics and International Relations
National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies (GRIPS); Institute for Advanced Studies on Asia (IASA), The University of Tokyo

[Title] New Year's Press Conference by the Prime Minister (Opening Statement)

[Date] January 6, 2020
[Source] Prime Minister of Japan and His Cabinet
[Notes] Provisional translation
[Full text]

PRIME MINISTER ABE: Happy new year, everyone. We had clear skies over a wide area on the first morning of the new year, and I took in the beautiful sight of Mt. Fuji.

Here at the start of the first new year in the era of Reiwa, I have just paid a visit to Ise Jingu Shrine. I prayed for the new era of Reiwa to be a wonderful one of peace and prosperity for Japan.

This year the Olympic and Paralympic Games will return to Japan at long last after half a century. The bidding activities through unified efforts of the people of Japan bore fruit and, seven years ago, Japan was elected as the host of the Games. I still recall that immediately after the final decision was announced in Buenos Aires I made a statement that our dream will come true if we work together.

Japan’s declining birthrate alongside an aging population and the rapidly changing international situation are very serious challenges that lie before us, who have entered the Reiwa era. If we all work together, however, our dream will come true. I am firmly certain that we will surely succeed in overcoming these issues and carving out a new era, by confronting them head on together with the Japanese people.

Together with the Japanese people, I will make this historic year -- the year in which we will once again host the Olympic and Paralympic Games -- a year for carving out a new era for Japan. I have renewed my determination to do so here as we start the second year of the Reiwa era.

Around 1964 when Tokyo last hosted the previous Olympic Games was a time when the so-called first baby

boomer generation was entering the workforce en masse, becoming a major driving force behind Japan’s rapid economic growth. It was against that backdrop that Japan’s world-class universal pension coverage and universal health coverage took shape. Two years from now, however, in 2022, this baby boomer generation will be at the advanced age of 75 or older. With the declining birthrate and aging population becoming increasingly serious, if we continue on our current path, the social security burden borne by the young generation will rise dramatically.

At the same time, average life expectancy has become almost 15 years longer than it was in 1964. Among the elderly, 80 percent have the desire to work even after they turn 65. The arrival of a 100-year life society is a major opportunity. We will take this occasion to build a society in which people can be active their entire lives, in which people can continue to work if they wish, regardless of their age. Simultaneously, those whose income surpasses a certain amount, regardless of age, will bear a degree of the burden, as supporters of social security. By doing so, I believe we will be able to hand down our social security system in which Japan takes pride to a new era, while limiting the increase in the burden borne by the young generation.

In addition, we will expand the application of employee pensions to include those working part-time broadly. In the age of equal pay for equal work, we will eradicate from our nation’s vocabulary the expression “irregular work” in the world of pensions as well. Under this overarching principle, we will implement reforms to bring about a system that ensures the peace of mind felt by the working generation to an even greater extent. We will push forward with reforms to social security overall, including in the areas of pensions, medical care, and nursing, putting the changes in work-style at its core..

In this age of a declining birthrate, needless to say, we will also expand our assistance towards children and the childrearing generation. We will endeavor to create a society where all children can work hard towards their dreams, regardless of their families’ economic situations. Aiming at such a society, from this April, we will make higher education free of charge for children truly in need, following upon early childhood education and childcare becoming free of charge last year.

In the new era of Reiwa, while keeping that future firmly in view, we will undertake reforms to bring about a social security system in which all generations can enjoy peace of mind. I consider this to be the greatest challenge for my Cabinet this year.

This year is the Year of the Metal Rat (kanoe-ne) in the Oriental zodiac. The Rat (ne) is the first of the twelve signs in the Oriental zodiac, and the Year of the Rat is said to be one in which new buds start to spring forth. And, Metal (kanoe) includes the meaning of resolutely carrying out reforms while inheriting that which has existed until now. It is a year for advancing major reforms that will carve out a new era. The Year of the Metal Rat has historically been a year marked by such milestones.

It was in the Year of the Metal Rat 60 years ago that the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty was revised. Japan overcame the East-West Cold War and has enjoyed peace and prosperity. The Japan-U.S. Alliance truly came to carve out the era that followed. Now, 60 years later, it has become the foundation of Japan’s diplomatic and security policies.

Meanwhile, the world is now in the midst of a surge of major changes. Under the current circumstances, in which the East Asia security environment is more severe than ever before, it is of the greatest importance that of course Japan and the United States, as well as Japan, the United States, and the Republic of Korea, engage in close cooperation, and that Japan forge cooperative relations with Russia and China.

We are unwavering in our policy of normalizing relations with North Korea through resolving outstanding issues of concern and settling the unfortunate past in accordance with the Japan-DPRK Pyongyang Declaration. In working towards the early resolution of the abductions issue, the most important issue, I intend to meet Chairman Kim Jong-un myself, without attaching any conditions.

Tensions are rising in the Middle East and the current situation is a cause for great concern. Further escalation of the situation should be avoided and I call upon all parties involved to make every possible diplomatic effort to ease tensions. Last month, I welcomed President Rouhani of Iran to Japan. Japan will continue to engage tenaciously in diplomacy that only we can do, so as to ease tensions and stabilize the situation in this region..

Japan relies on this region for many of our energy resources. In conjunction with these diplomatic efforts, in order to strengthen our system for gathering information, we will dispatch the Self-Defense Forces to this region to ensure safe navigation by vessels related to Japan.

We will also continue with our efforts to further spread to the world an economic zone based on free and fair rules. Japan will also continue to demonstrate leadership as a standard bearer for free trade through our efforts to expand the countries joining the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) Agreement and through negotiations on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).

Under the vision for a free and open Indo-Pacific, on the robust foundation of the Japan-U.S. Alliance, I intend to deepen further our cooperation with countries with which we share fundamental values, including the countries of Europe, India, Australia, and the members of the Association of South‐East Asian Nations (ASEAN), while taking a panoramic perspective of the world map.

This year, as we mark the 60th anniversary of the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty, we will sum up Japan’s postwar diplomacy thoroughly and, on that basis, carve out the horizon for Japan’s diplomacy in the new era. I intend to make 2020 that kind of year.

The Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games are now a little more than half a year away. I want to press forward with all possible preparations to make these Games ones where the athletes coming together from all around the world can give their very best performance. And, I want this Games to be the one in which people the world over to be able to have dreams and hopes towards a new era.

Finally, I would like to extend my sincere wishes that 2020 is a splendid year for each and every one in Japan.

I will end my opening statement here.