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Speech addressed to Foreign Correspondents by the Governor of Nagano Prefecture Mr. Yasuo Tanaka

Speech addressed to Foreign Correspondents(2002.8.12)

Date: May 21, 2001
Place: The Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan

Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. Please allow me to introduce myself. I am Yasuo Tanaka, Governor of Nagano Prefecture.

Tonight, I would like to talk about the principles of my flexible reconstruction, or the so-called Tanaka Revolution, and where it is going. The goal of the reconstruction is to create a society where the 2.2 million people of Nagano Prefecture are free to express themselves without restrictions, and to carry out what they believe to be right.

Last Tuesday, I announced the Declaration of Departure from the Press Club System in continuation with the Declaration of No More Dams, one of the examples of my reconstruction.

Press clubs in the Nagano Prefectural office could use the facilities free of charge. The cost to the prefecture does not stop merely at the forgone rent and electric power, air conditioning and heating, cleaning, gas, water, sewage, and even the salaries of the clubs' administrative staff. Estimates put the total cost as high as 15 million yen per year.

Since the great majority of press conferences take place under the auspices of press clubs, it is difficult for writers not affiliated with a company belonging to the clubs to attend such events. Publishing companies, sport newspapers and the foreign mass media had to get advance permission from the press club to attend press conferences.

I decided to close the three rooms housing the press clubs; they will be vacated by the end of June this year. We will then set up a Press Center open to all citizens active in the media at our cost. 

Twice a day on weekdays, in the morning and in the afternoon, press releases will be posted in the Press Center by the Policy Affairs and Secretariat Office, and questions regarding the releases will be answered. Copies of the releases will be available free of charge to anyone desiring them. When necessary, department and section chiefs and other officials will attend the press conferences to give additional explanations of the information provided. I will also give supplementary presentations when necessary. That means, logically speaking, I may hold a press conference every day.

As far as I am aware, Nagano, Tokyo, and a few prefectures are the only prefectures where the governors hold a press conference every week. The Nagano press conferences frequently last over an hour. I have never yet refused to talk off the cuff to reporters, whether in my office, or anywhere else in the Prefectural Government Building, or on outside visits. I am proud to say I am one of the most open and available public figures. 

Nagano Prefecture's gubernatorial press conferences, which were previously held under the auspices of the press clubs for whatever reasons, will henceforth be held under the auspices of the prefecture.

My weekly governor's press conference shall be made open to all journalists. The format will be changed to include a question and answer session. However, questioners will have to state their name. As with the press releases referred to above, the content of the press conferences will be published on the prefectural Website.

At the moment, the Diet is considering an Act for Protection of Computer Processed Personal Data held by Administrative Organs; its hazardous nature cannot be imagined from the name of the Act. In this act the Government tries to protect giant newspaper companies, news agencies, and broadcasting networks. On the other hand, publishing companies and freelance journalists are restricted in their news coverage and expression activities. This means that this Act revokes their "Right to know" and their "Right to report."

As Governor of Nagano Prefecture, I have a considerable amount of power in the governmental administration, and at the same time I am involved in the field of writing as an individual. In present day Japan, the Diet is passing the suspicious act only as a form of formal deliberation. The reason for announcing the Declaration of Departure from the Press Club System is to protect the freedom of expression of individual citizens.

I will discuss this Declaration in more detail later, during the Question and Answer period. However, I mentioned one important fact. Some mass media criticized this Declaration, saying that as a result, press conferences are taking place under the auspices of the Prefectural Government, and information which is not in favor of the Government will end up being withheld. That is a very shallow-minded way of thinking. Since my inauguration as Prefectural Governor, this government has had the most advanced policy of disclosure of official information. Of course, before my inauguration, the situation was completely different; the former governor had been in office for 20 years. Under his administration, official documents concerning the expenditure to invite the Olympics to Nagano, which were full of secrets, were thrown away and burned. Although this is a serious problem, the former governor regarded it as not a problem. He also made a comment before the Olympics, that "Speed-skating is not interesting, because speed-skaters are like water beetles." (Water beetles are known to swim in circles.) He made that comment at a press conference.

Last October, I won the gubernatorial election by a difference of 110 thousand votes. Many regarded the former vice-governor as the successor to the governor. There are 120 municipalities in Nagano Prefecture, and all of the mayors supported the former vice-governor. Just 3 weeks before the gubernatorial election campaign period, I announced my candidacy for the governor's office.

My campaign promises were to reconsider public construction works as well as 3 dam projects, and start from scratch. I defeated the former vice governor in the election.

I may be pushing my luck, but the former governor's wife was absorbed in onomastics (which is the study of the origin and use of proper names); and, following her advice, the former vice-governor (actually) changed his name. She loved animals and kept dogs, cats, a pony, and a peacock at the governor's official residence. Neighbors made complaints about the animals. 

Let me return to the original topic. Under the former administration, the governor could not hold a press conference unless the press club requested it. This means that press conferences did not take place when circumstances were not convenient for the Press Club. The Press Club now criticizes me. The Yomiuri Shimbun Newspaper did not report the Declaration in their section dealing with local regions of Nagano Prefecture. Not even one line. It was in the section which deals with social matters where they reported the Declaration. The title was "Government Press Club open to non-club members." I could not find the words "Declaration of Departure from the Press Club System" in the article. The headline implied that the Press Club decided to open up to non-members. Therefore, the readers of the Yomiuri Shimbun Newspaper in Nagano are not properly informed of their Governor's actions. This is information manipulation. One week has passed since the announcement of the Declaration. There are no central newspapers dealing with this declaration in their editorials. They have kept their vested rights to lead a peaceful and quiet life. Even now, they still think that if they ignore the Declaration, they will be able to continue to lead a peaceful and quiet life. The public had expected the media to reform the Press Club to make it more open. It did not happen, which is why I announced the Declaration. 

So-called intellectuals can get information from local English newspapers in Thailand and Hong Kong, but the situation in Japan is different. Only mother language newspapers and TV networks have power in Japan. People in the Press Club loudly insisted for structural reform in the economic and political field. Ironically, they are the people who benefit by the protected trade. I have many things to discuss concerning the Japanese Press Club System, which is protected under the convoy system. The closed nature of Japanese newspapers and broadcast networks are consumer with self-pride and cannot accept criticism. Please be patient and listen to my speech until the Question and Answer Period. I do hope you people gathered here tonight have patience, which is necessary for journalists! 

I would like to say a little bit more on order to avoid any misunderstanding, why the Nagano Prefectural Government is moving away from the press club system. The reason why is that most Nagano residents don't actually know about the press system and what, in fact, it entails. The press club membership is, as I have stated, a voluntary system. However, recently there have been accounts of members sleeping on the job, playing mahjong on the tables that were meant for work and which were paid for by the taxes of Nagano residents.

It has now been seven months since my inauguration as governor. According to the opinion poll, conducted by the local Shinano-Mainichi newspaper, my approval rating is now over 80%. On the other hand, in another survey targeted at the assembly members, 76% of them are not supportive of my administration. In addition, 77% of the assembly members believe that Nagano residents respect the assembly members more than myself. The assembly members' opinions and views regarding these circumstances can be interpreted as sharp insight or unclear recognition, I will let you decide that for yourselves. Where does this difference come from between the public and the assembly members? Why are their views on my administration so different? In a sense, there is a serious problem here in regard to the indirect Japanese democratic system. The current Japanese democratic system seems to have fallen into what can be described as "functional disorder." I think that is why many of our residents feel that my administration will attempt to bring order to the system.

According to the survey, Nagano residents expect me do the following things; 1)a review of public construction work projects, including dam construction, 2) to reform the consciousness of prefectural officials and staff, and 3) to rebuild prefectural finance, which currently has debts of 1.6 trillion yen. 

As I stated in the "Declaration of No More Dams", the principle idea is to review our current society in which unnecessary public construction works that go against the public's. The Democratic Party's "Green Dam" concept prompted many people to seriously consider environmental problems. But the "Declaration of No More Dams" has a much wider influence and more serious implications. When I announced this declaration on February 20th , I received massive support and praise not only from Nagano residents, but from other areas of Japan and other countries. In addition, the Liberal Democratic Party led by Mr. Ichiro Ozawa, and the Japanese Communist Party both quickly announced their support for my declaration. This is a symbolic incident illustrating the collapse of the ideological conflicts between the East and West. 

On the other hand, Nagano branches of the national dailies, such as the Asahi, Sankei, Mainichi and Yomuiri criticized this declaration, saying that it ignored due process. When the papers wrote of my action as "dictatorial", a cold shiver ran up my spine. If I were really a dictator, these newspapers would not have that freedom of expression. There is clear contrast between those four central newspapers and the rest of the central and local newspapers (Chunichi, Nikkei, Shinano-Mainichi, and Nagano Nippo). These newspapers have shown that they can support or criticize my administration, depending on the matter at hand or issue in question. Probably the four central newspapers have a mindset that resists change even though the people have shown they support change. Historically speaking, these four central newspapers have always put their articles related to reviews of unnecessary public works issues in the editorial sections. However, once an administrative leader appears and actually tries to complete a reform, they don't know how to respond to such action. Three years ago I was a civil leader as well as a writer, and I was involved in protesting the construction of Kobe City Airport. The cost of the airport was estimated at one trillion yen. I went back and forth between Kobe and Tokyo more than 100 times. At this time the four central newspapers treated me like a tragic hero. I wanted the city to pass a regulation allowing a referendum on the issue of the airport, but the majority of city council members were for the construction. When a governor appears and actually starts to carry out what the Four newspapers' editorials insisted, they can't overcome their usual reaction that a newspaper should criticize power. They could not deny the Declaration of No More Dams, nor could they fully support it, so they set their criticism to my decision process, calling it undemocratic. When the Marcos administration in the Philippines collapsed, and the Ceausescu in Romania collapsed, Japanese newspapers praised the actions, and wrote big headlines stating, "democracy has come". Were these collapses completed in a democratic way? No, they were far from the process of democracy. People wanted democracy. 

The citizens expelled the elected leaders because they were fed up with their society where democracy didn't work. When people really desire democracy it will come, the situation is the same here. Nagano citizens want real democracy.
Before my inauguration, information was closed to the public, and the official documents and records regarding the invitation of the Olympics to Nagano were thrown way and burned.

I am promoting the revolution, but if it takes ten or twenty years, it is NOT revolution, it is only change, therefore we need speed. The important point is to talk to the citizens, the citizens' views are essential. In Japan, every procedure is completed by a democratic process. If we have any project, we make it public, we have an explanation meeting of the project, we have a public hearing, and finally the assembly members discuss the project and carry it out. Each one of these steps is based on the democratic process, but the outcome of this process is completely different to what the majority of citizens want. The reclamation project in Isahaya Bay is a typical case. Considering the results, democracy is twisted.

In the last ten years, the Japanese government spent 100 trillion yen in financial expenditures to stimulate the economy. Seventy-one trillion yen out of 100 trillion yen was spent on public works projects. However, the life of the ordinary citizen did not improve. Twenty years ago I wrote my first novel, entitled "Nantonaku Crystal" during my time at university. Japan is basically the same as twenty years ago, our lives are not much better, but now more Japanese people can buy Louis Vitton, Channel, and Gucci. French socialist Jean Bodorillar, visited Kobe immediately after the Great Hanshin Earthquake and made a poignant statement. "Japan can now spend a lot of taxes on public construction works. Japan seems rich as a country but actually the standard of living for the individual Japanese is poor." I think we were wrong in our methods of spending taxes. We must reconsider the meaning of public construction works. We should first talk about the project with the public themselves. Being the governor, I am not only a public servant but also a public leader, and I will lead the way on this course of action. I will set up an environment where citizens are able to discuss my decisions. This is a form of protection for creative democracy. What I have tried to focus on since my inauguration is how to get the public involved.

In our Prefectural Government I have fax and e-mail that can be sent directly to me. I receive more than 200 faxes and emails from Nagano residents each day. I read through all of them, and my four Policy Coordinator Executive Secretaries respond to them. From June, we will set up a Residents Hotline where anyone can send in any type of media. I always have told our staff, the taxpayers are our important customers. Advice, questions, and proposals from the public, that is, taxpayers, are the biggest treasure for us. In this hotline we respond to letters, faxes and e-mails within one week.

British Airways was once called "bloody awful" by its initials B.A. Sir Colin Marshall reformed British Airways. His philosophy has influenced me greatly. 

Twice a month I hold town meetings in all corners of Nagano to talk to local residents. These meetings are called "Let's Talk about the Future of Nagano with the Governor." About 500 people turn out to these meetings, even in small villages with populations of only 2000. The town meeting usually lasts for about 2 hours, but many people want to ask questions so it always ends up lasting more than 3 hours. Many elderly people, some of whom are over 80, have asked, "Are you doing OK?" I always enjoy reading the morning paper, especially administrative related articles. The viewer rating of the 30 minute local news has been rising and working ladies are talking more and more about my administration's policies at lunchtimes or in cafes.

I also have meetings with residents twice a month at the Prefectural Office. These meetings are called "Welcome to the Governor's Office". We choose ten individuals or groups each time, by drawing names. I talk with each group for 15 minutes and listen to their proposals and advice. 

When I made the budget for this fiscal year, I allocated some money to install plug ins for bedside computers at nursing homes and rehabilitation centers for the physically disabled. This is a small public investment, but it can connect people who have disabilities with society and they can join in society.
I think this is very important. Some people criticized me and called me a "popular dictator". But they don't fully understand. Hitler and Stalin made people stop thinking, and threw them into excitement and fear, but I try to wake people up by asking "Are you happy with Japan at present?" Until recently, not only Nagano, but Japan itself was closed to the public. In contrast, I have opened up information pertaining to my public and private life in a diary that I write. Last April I was hospitalized for a week. I made public the conditions of my disease through data and photos on the prefectural homepage. I think this is a natural thing to do since my salary is paid for by the taxpayers of Nagano.

There are many unnecessary public works. Let me show some examples. One is the construction of a 16 km agricultural road in Fujimi Town at the base of Mt. Yatsugatake. Its original budget was 9 billion yen, but now it is 16 billion yen. When I asked, "Why do we need this road?" I was told, "to straighten it." Checking the map plan I found two right angle turns. This is ridiculous. 

The second example is as follows. There is a huge bridge in Kawakami Village. This village is famous for its lettuce. Nobody uses this bridge. The original budget for this project was 1.9 billion yen, but has now increased to 6.3 billion yen. 

When I asked a director general of agricultural department why the cost for the project had swollen so much, he told me that it is our bureaucrat strategy to start a project small at the beginning and make it bigger later in order to get budget. 

Just talking about these ridiculous projects makes me furious, so let's move onto another topic.

I'd like to talk about the famous crystal Governor's office. It is practical performance. People can see what is going on in the Governor's office through the glass from the lobby. People coming to my office realize that they are now being watched by the public and their way of speaking has changed. Even assembly members cannot persuade me, unless they explain logically. This is the effect of having a crystal Governor's office. 

Citizens can now see what I am eating for lunch, they also now know that I am a fast eater. At the same time, people who can't come to the Prefectural Office can watch what is going on in my office on TV. This makes people feel that the prefectural administration is open and much closer to them. This is another example of practical performance.

When the manager of the Tokyo Branch of a famous American weekly magazine came to see me, I kept him waiting because of a long meeting I was having. He criticized me and said, "What you are doing is just a show". I replied, "I sure don't think so, if it was, then Nagano people wouldn't support me. If I were only doing this for show, the people would have already thrown me out"

Let's review the issue of public works. Let's first look at the three dam construction projects. During my run for Governor the review of these projects was part of my campaign promises. According to the opinion poll regarding this issue, 88% of residents support my views on reviewing these public work projects. When I announced the Declaration of No More Dams on February 20th, I also announced the cancellation of the Shimosuwa Dam project. This project was estimated at 24 billion yen. Actually, in the area where the dam was planned, there have been no reports concerning the collapse of riverbanks, destruction of houses or casualties. Last April, an opinion poll was conducted in the Shimosuwa area, less than 10% of residents support the construction of the dam, and over 70 % are against it. 

Why has the Nagano Prefectural Government insisted for over twenty years that the dam is necessary? The reason is simple... dams make money. Let me explain the system.

If we construct multi-purpose dams, the central Government covers 50% of the cost. It also gives a huge amount of allocation tax. In the end, about 80% of construction costs are covered by the central Government. On the other hand, the central Government gives us no budget to maintain rivers. It is very important to control rivers properly. This is surprising. Considering public construction works costing 500 million yen and over, 80% of the total cost is given to general contractors located in Tokyo or other major cities. With regard to dam construction, the central Government covers 80% of the cost, but 80% of the contracts are also given to general contractors in Tokyo.

On the other hand, with regard to the construction of nursing schools, it is completely different from dam projects. In these cases we don't receive any subsidies and have to pay for all of the costs ourselves. Local authorities including Nagano Prefecture, in the past, have tried to initiate projects where we would receive subsidies from the central Government. The costs of river improvement rather than dam construction are much better for the local economy. Local construction companies can complete these types of projects. About 16 % of Nagano's population is involved in the construction industry. As Governor, I must support those people's livelihood. So I have insisted that we must change the process of public construction works.

In order to control rivers properly, we need river improvement. In the headwater areas we must plant trees. In regard to the Shimosuwa Dam project, the Government has insisted that we need this dam for the safety of the people of the area. However, there have been no records of river improvement in the area.
Residents therefore cannot accept the dam project. Those who are for the dam project are hoping for concrete packages from Tokyo, however 80% of the contract cost goes back to Tokyo. Similar projects have been undertaken in Matsumoto, as well as Nagano City. I decided to cancel the dam project in Matsumoto immediately after my inauguration. These dam projects were made without paying proper attention to river improvement.

We can imagine environmental problems from the "Green Dam" concept, but the words "No More Dams" widen our imagination not only to environmental issues but to public construction works as well. We are also able to reevaluate our tax usage system and finally consider our future as human beings.

Here I would like to repeat the statement made by the French socialist Jean Bodilliar immediately after the Great Hanshin Earthquake, "Japan can now spend a lot of taxes on public construction works. Japan seems rich as a country but actually the standard of living for the individual Japanese is poor."

When I was young, concrete dams, as well as the Apollo Missions were victories for human being as well as mankind's progress. We believed that our technology and science could control all aspects of our earth. But now when I stand in front of a giant dam, I'm skeptical if our technology is perfect. When the wall of the Sanyo Bullet train tunnel fell, I felt worried that the same could happen to any one of our dams. This fear has something to do with the fact that some of the astronauts involved in the Apollo Missions have now become extremely religious, have become philosophers, or developed psychological problems. Mr. Akiyama from TBS (a broadcasting network company) looked at Earth's depleting ozone layer from a former Soviet Union space ship. He now leads a simple agricultural life in Fukushima Prefecture.

Last century, everybody believed that the future held no limitations for us. However, after the bubble economy burst we realized that each individual must become affluent before the country can become affluent, in order to create a truly worth living society. 

Now I am promoting a Nagano revolution, in which we will create a "Nagano Model" with 2.2 million residents who have a strong desire to improve our society. Many people expect this Nagano revolution because it is completely different from present Japanese society. 

What a coincidence, this year marks 100 years since Mr. Shozo Tanaka made an appeal to the emperor. He is famous for his lobbying against copper poisoning at Ashio copper mine and his contribution to river improvement and control in Watarase River. There was a Governor by the name of Mr. Seki, 100 years ago in Nagano Prefecture. He drew up a document. Here are his statements. "If you seek immediate gain and cut down the forest, it will ruin people's minds and the risk of floods will increase. We must plant trees, even if it takes two centuries. It is our responsibility for the future generations."

This year, tree planting is one of my major forestry policies. I have tried to influence construction companies to enter forestry industries. These companies could get 10-20% of their annual income from work in forestry. I believe we should attach great importance to the value of rivers, lakes and marshes, as assets to be preserved for future generations in the 100-200 years to come. Located along the backbone of Japan, Nagano Prefecture embraces a number of water sources. In the long view, we should avoid constructing concrete dams as much as possible in these areas.

Now Japanese citizens are choosing lifestyles based on post-materialism, in which people put more emphasis on nature, environment and culture and less on goods and money. This movement is based upon our internal desire towards humanism. I am aiming at creating a society, a normal society where people can express themselves freely and find value in their work and life.

Thank you for your patience and attendance here today.

Please feel free to ask any questions.


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