"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] Speech by the Prime Minister at Managing Editors Meeting of Kyodo News Member Companies

[Date] December 15, 2017
[Source] Prime Minister of Japan and His Cabinet
[Full text]

There are now only two weeks remaining of 2017. I have attended this meeting a number of times in the past, and I was under the impression that it is usually held around October or November and not at the end of the year. When I asked a staff member about this the other day, I was informed that the meeting was originally planned for October, and so I wondered why it was moved to the year-end. The reason was that the dissolution of the House of Representatives and the general election forced its sudden cancellation. It was the organizers and not me who cancelled the meeting at that time, and I myself have had a great deal of work to do up to now in the current Diet session. Given that it was my decision to dissolve the House of Representatives that caused the cancellation in the first place, I have done everything in my power to ensure that I can attend this meeting today.

Reporting on a general election is a major event for all newspapers around Japan, leaving no time to attend an event like this one held by Kyodo News. I also hear that election reporting incurs costs. It is perhaps for this reason that already some members of the press have been very quick off the mark in asking questions about the timing of the next dissolution, so I would like to state clearly here that any such plans are still completely undecided. Rest assured, there will be no dissolution by the end of the year and I hope that you can all relax over the year-end and New Year period.

This week “kita” (north) was chosen as the kanji character of 2017. One of the major points of issue in the election campaign was the response to the increasingly tense North Korea situation. From the start of this year North Korea rapidly escalated its provocative actions. From February onwards, there were launches of what are believed to be new types of ballistic missiles, and in September North Korea went ahead with its sixth nuclear test. I have advanced resolute diplomacy through frequent telephone summits with President Trump, and based on Japan-U.S. and Japan-U.S.-Republic of Korea (ROK) cooperation. I have also held summit meetings with President Putin of Russia when the opportunity has arisen. Through such close international cooperation, we successfully achieved the unanimous adoption by the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) of the strictest sanctions measures against North Korea, including restrictions on exports of oil. Following the adoption of this resolution I dissolved the House of Representatives for the general election and after that there were no missile launches by North Korea for a time. Continuing to send a strong and unified message from the international community gives a great boost to compelling North Korea to change its policies.

In the Japan-China summit meeting last month I confirmed with President Xi Jinping that all UN member states should ensure the strict implementation of the resolution. Under normal circumstances the national economy would cease to be viable following a 30 percent reduction in imports of oil-related products. Three months have now passed since the adoption of the resolution, and the sanctions are having an effect without a doubt. There is a possibility that North Korea will persist in its provocations. What is important is never to give in to such threats. Until North Korea states that it will change its policies and come to the table to talk, the international community will continue to cooperate in applying pressure. It is through such efforts that we will resolve the nuclear and missile issues and, most importantly, the abduction issue. This month Japan holds the presidency of the UNSC and today will be chairing the UNSC Briefing on Non-proliferation / Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. Japan will continue to take the lead in the international response to North Korea. At the same time, based on the strong Japan-U.S. Alliance, we will maintain a high alert posture and protect the lives and peaceful livelihoods of the Japanese people in any situation. That is the most important duty of the Government.

In the new year, full-fledged discussions will start on the review of the National Defense Program Guidelines. While maintaining our exclusively defense-oriented policy as a given, I intend to identify what defense capabilities we truly need to protect the people, rather than simply extending existing capabilities, facing head on the realities of the security situation surrounding Japan, including North Korea’s advances in nuclear and missile technologies. I will respond to the tremendous responsibility entrusted to me by the people in the recent election and implement dynamic diplomatic and security policies.

In the election the parties of the ruling coalition secured more than two-thirds of all seats for the third time. In comparison with the 2012 and 2014 elections, in this recent election we received the largest number of votes in both proportional representation constituencies and single-seat constituencies. This is something that is not known by many people. Unfortunately I get the feeling that little coverage was given to the fact that we secured the highest number of votes in this third election. Nonetheless a fact is a fact. I now have a renewed sense of determination, and I also keenly feel a great weight of responsibility. Whatever difficult challenges lie ahead, I will face them head on, empowered by the trust placed in me by the people. I am determined to create a path towards the future, while maintaining a firm eye on the direction the nation is headed.

The biggest challenge we face is the declining birthrate and the aging of the population. These problems are particularly serious in the regions of Japan. Three years ago, the National Governors’ Association issued a State of Emergency Declaration on the Declining Birthrate. In order to overcome the issue of the declining birthrate, last week the Cabinet approved a new economic policy package. We will boldly allocate a budget for our children’s futures, and towards 2020 we will transform Japan’s social security system into one that is oriented to all generations. Combining revenues from consumption tax and funds sourced from the business sector, we will invest resources on a scale of two trillion yen, with the aim of advancing a human resources development revolution, including making education free. Everyone will be able to receive early childhood education. No matter how lacking in financial resources a family may be, if they have the drive and ambition, they can study at university or vocational college. This is the first major reform of education in 70 years, since the provision of free ordinary education was materialized under the Constitution of Japan. The reason we can engage in such bold reforms is because we have gained the trust of the people. I believe that if we had not held the election in the early stages before discussions had begun, it would not have been possible to initiate a new permanent policy on a scale of two trillion yen. Looking ahead to next summer, we are also considering policies that will utilize the employment insurance system to radically expand recurrent education. We will ensure that everyone, no matter their age, has opportunities to brush up their skills and take on new challenges. I believe that the creation of a society in which all citizens are dynamically engaged is the best way to overcome the declining birthrate. This includes everyone, from the elderly to mothers who left the workplace to give birth and raise children, to people who for whatever reason were unable to advance to high school, and those persons with disabilities or intractable illness. If all of these people can gain the opportunity to truly harness their inherent potential and blossom fully, then all regions of Japan will be invigorated, giving further vitality to the nation as a whole. That is what I firmly believe.

Only a few years ago the Aburatsu shopping street in Miyazaki was almost entirely devoid of shops and children were able to play baseball in the middle of the street.

A plan was launched that aimed to achieve the opening of 20 new stores in four years.

With this simple target the project was launched in 2013, and remarkably in four years the target has been widely exceeded with the successful opening of 29 stores. There are now cafes, guest houses, IT companies and nursery school, and the shopping street is brimming with new energy. When looking to revitalize shopping areas there is a tendency to seek to use subsidies and other incentives to attract existing stores. However, Aburatsu ignored the model of attracting stores and chose an approach that sought to provide support to entrepreneurs. Firstly, efforts were made to find people with ambition and energy and then further efforts were made to support that ambition through assistance in preparations to open a store, through to post-opening consultations for new businesses. These efforts led a couple from Aburatsu to return from Fukuoka and open a restaurant in the shopping street. A homemaker in the town decided to open a store selling home-cooked food. The owner of a cake store has apparently brought his family with him to live in Aburatsu. Various events are now held in a newly developed community space, where a shuttered supermarket once stood. Young people in the community plan and hold live jazz events and rakugo comedy shows. It is now customary in the summer for local high school students to operate a haunted house. The local fishery operators have also organized a bonito event. Kumquat producers have launched a party event known as “Kumquat Nouveau” to celebrate the lifting of the shipping embargo on kumquats. All of these events bring many people together. These are not just transient events; that is not the point of them. The point is that local residents, including the young, have begun to take up challenges enthusiastically and put their ideas into action. If you go to Aburatsu shopping street you can achieve what you want to do. There is a pervading feeling of excitement there, and it has been a tremendous driver in the resurgence of the shopping street. I believe that this sense of excitement and anticipation is key to the revitalization of local economies.

Thanks to five years of Abenomics the ratio of active job openings to applicants for regular employees exceeds 1 in all 47 prefectures for the first time ever, and this situation is being sustained. We must now seek to spread the productivity revolution wave nationwide in order to help small- and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) and small business that are facing serious personnel shortages. It is to this end that the Tax Reform Outline that was approved by the Cabinet yesterday introduces unprecedented tax reform measures that will lower the fixed asset tax rate to zero on capital investment, while respecting the autonomy of local governments. If we can boost productivity decisively, this will not only mean that fewer employees are required. It will also lead to wage increases. It is only natural that as improvements in individual productivity are made, this could also enable wage increases. If this were to be realized, it could be expected that it would also help to eliminate labor shortages. The policies of this government have resulted in a tight labor market. While some people may raise concerns that in a different situation a drive to advance the productivity revolution could lead to a surplus of labor, I believe that it is precisely now, when the economy is growing and labor shortages have become apparent, that offers us the greatest opportunity to drive forward with the productivity revolution.

At present, the young people who are engaged in recruitment activities are finding themselves in the unusual situation of being in a seller’s market. This spring the employment rate of high school and university graduates was the highest ever recorded. This means that for companies, who have now become the buyers in the current environment, it is important to impart a sense of excitement. Graduates need to feel that if they join the company they will be able to embark on new challenges. If people perceive that a company only provides jobs based on old stereotypes, it is unlikely that young people will apply. As the companies represented here today all enjoy great popularity in Tokyo and the regions too, I imagine that you do not have such concerns. However, if there are any companies here that are finding it difficult to attract new graduates, it could probably be due to the fact that news on politics and the economy has become mired in conventional stereotypes. I am not saying this in irony, but rather out of concern. At the back of the room today are young reporters who cover the Prime Minister. Next year one of the major themes for my administration will be work style reform. For these young reporters, this could involve abandoning the custom of staying on duty until late at night. Instead they could be encouraged to write articles freely, based on their own desire to seek out the truth and from a young person’s perspective, without too much instruction from senior staff. Setting out fresh editorial policies that let young people write bold articles and provide them with new challenges could be one way forward.

At any rate, today the biggest challenge facing the regions of Japan is the declining young population. It is a fact that in the 15 years since the start of the century, the number of people under 29 years of age in regions except Greater Tokyo has declined by more than five million. Young people are a source of vitality for local areas and we must reverse this outflow. The key to achieving this is to provide a sense of excitement. The biggest theme of the comprehensive strategy for overcoming population decline and vitalizing local economy that is due to be revised next week is to advance regional vitalization so that young people feel that there are opportunities for them in the regions. Once young people move to Tokyo to attend university, very often they find work in the city and do not return home. The children who have been taken care of in their hometowns for 18 years through to high school are taken by Tokyo. Next year we will be focusing efforts on promoting local universities. Recently a groundbreaking technology has been created in Yamagata that can detect cancer from only a small volume of saliva. The Institute for Advanced Biosciences was established by Keio University in Tsuruoka City in 2001 and today it attracts researchers and students from around the world, who are engaging in many world-first challenges in biosciences. Spider silk is said to be the strongest fiber in the world and a venture company in Japan has gained global attention after its success in creating and mass producing artificial spider silk. Today there are also examples of industry-academia collaborations, where universities and local companies are using biotech to analyze locally grown agricultural produce and attempting to create even more delicious tomatoes and uncured ham. With local universities taking a central role, a whole new wave of regional revitalization is being generated that capitalizes on the characteristics and knowledge of local regions. I want to expand such initiatives around the entire country.

It would be pointless to try and create multiple centers in local regions that merely resemble universities in Tokyo. Any initiative that seeks to catch up with Tokyo will probably always end up being second best. Instead, what is important is to create world-class universities around the country that specialize in specific fields, and which fully harness the characteristics of the various regions. My aim is to create splendid local universities that will bring in flows of young people from around Japan and the world, who, while working together with and utilizing the knowledge of local SMEs, will help to create regional vitality. In order to provide support to local universities in this new challenge, in addition to establishing new allocations we will also submit a bill to the ordinary session of the Diet next year. We will push forward dynamically with policies to promote regional revitalization, so that young people are encouraged to rush to the regions with their hopes and dreams to both study and work.

I have been following with great interest the recent opinion polls implemented by media organizations that show results not just in overall terms, but also stratified by the age of respondents. In an opinion poll implemented by Kyodo News in December about the increase in the proportion of time allotted to questions from ruling parties in the Budget Committee of the House of Representatives, 47.4 percent of respondents indicated that it was appropriate, while 42.8 percent said it was inappropriate. Together with the overall poll results Kyodo also published proper age-specific analysis. I think you can anticipate what I am going to say next. Looking at age-specific analysis showed that 36 percent of people in their 60s or above, a lower proportion than other age groups, responded that the time allotment was appropriate. However, 62.3 percent of younger people in their 30s or below responded that it was appropriate. While not quite double, there is a significant difference in the responses by these age groups. In voting behavior too, it is the case that there are major differences in the responses given by people in their 20s and 30s compared to those in their 60s, which is perhaps a recent phenomenon. I should add here that the matter of time allotted for questions is an issue that is decided by the Diet and I am not attempting to make any comment on the results of this poll. Please do not mistake this as a newsworthy item.

What I want to say is that young people have their own firm opinions, without being influenced by older generations. In an online era with access to social media and sites like YouTube, the younger generation gathers diverse information independently from various sources, on which they base their decisions. That is why age-based differences of opinion are currently attracting attention. In the recent election NHK also published age-stratified results from its exit polls. The fewest people who voted for the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) were those in their 60s. I am in this age group. It was in this group that only 32 percent of people voted for the LDP. We were still the party that received the largest number of votes, however. The number of votes was the lowest in my own age group. It is somewhat disheartening that I am this disliked by people my own age. They may be the main subscribers to your newspapers, so I would like to ask that you go a little easier on me. Meanwhile, the LDP received the largest number of votes from people in their 20s, 50 percent of whom chose to vote for the LDP. What I am stressing here is not that the LDP has a high support rate, but rather that young people have their own firmly held opinions. I think that this gives us an opportunity to reform Japan.

Many things are concentrated in Tokyo and it is a convenient city. It will therefore be no easy matter to change this centralization around Tokyo. I believe that this was probably the way that previous generations saw things, in particular the generation of people who are in their 60s and above. However, the young generation of today are able to weigh up the positives and negatives and determine for themselves how they want to live their lives. There are actually many young people who are eager to take up a challenge. A questionnaire has shown that almost 50 percent of young people in their teens and 20s living in Tokyo would like to relocate to the regions. I believe this has rarely happened before. We may have the preconceived notion that the younger generation want to live in Tokyo forever, but the reality is rather that almost 50 percent of people in their teens and 20s would like to move to the regions. I believe none of you here today would have felt like that in your younger days. It is probably no longer the case that people seek to work in Tokyo when they are young. At least, it is the case that 50 percent of young people no longer feel this way. It is to such people that we must send out a clear message about the attractions of the regions. We must develop an environment that encourages people to think that opportunities await them there. If we can do that, I believe that we will be able to create a large flow of young people heading out into the regions. If we convince ourselves that creating outflows of people to the regions is impossible then it will never materialize. I am convinced that if we take up the challenge there is a definite possibility that we will be able to change the situation.

It is in these endeavors that I ask for the cooperation of Kyodo News and its member companies. I hope that we can all shed notions of conventional stereotypes and work together to create a new future for every region across Japan. Thank you.