Speech to the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan
Tuesday 26th October 2004
Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. Please allow me to introduce myself.
My name is Yasuo Tanaka. I have been serving as Governor in Nagano Prefecture, also known as 'Shinshu', for the past four years. You may know of the prefecture as being the home of Karuizawa, a prestigious holiday resort for many celebrities. I would like to tell you something more about this wonderful prefecture. The name 'Nagano Prefecture' was foisted on us by central government, 130 years ago. I am not alone in preferring the name 'Shinshu', which has a far longer history, dating back as far as the 8th century.
Here, you can see a Japanese mountain goat or serow, whose nickname is 'Yassy'. Why should I show a picture of a mountain goat?
The reason is that Nagano is a prefecture of mountains, including of course the famous Japan Alps. Within these mountains, and the 80% of our territory covered by forests and woods, mountain goats like Yassy are able to run freely.
Hence, Yassy can be called a mascot of Nagano prefecture. With his short pudgy legs, and fat belly he looks nothing like the slender and long-legged common serow, although if you look carefully, he may remind you of somebody.
Four years ago, the famous illustrator Mr. Hajime Anzai designed this figure of Yassy for me when I first ran for office as governor. This hand-made badge that you can see on my lapel was made by Mrs. Akemi Momose, a lady from Nagano who 8 years ago became totally paralyzed while giving birth to her child. Over years of rigorous rehabilitation, she fought hard to achieve some gradual movement in her limbs. However, during this recovery period, her husband lost an arm following a tragic accident. This wonderful lady is now facing another challenge.
On a happier note, I am proud to tell you that I am the only governor in Japan who has won an election to office independent of any support or recommendation from any political party. I refuse to tie myself to any of the powerful lobbies, such as agriculture, construction, big-business, doctors, lawyers or the craft unions. All of these lobbies of course receive massive subsidies from the government. I consider that I owe my election to a group that I like to call 'Ultra Non-Partisan' citizens. In direct contrast, more than half of current Japanese governors consist of former Kasumigaseki bureaucrats, supported of course by local interest-groups and people 'of influence'. As Americans looking forward to an upcoming election, I think you know what I mean when I talk about people 'of influence' or power, standing behind the leader's back.
For me, the real people of influence are the local people of my prefecture, the members of the community at the neighborhood level. I use the word 'Commons' to refer to this community. In Britain, the democratically elected chamber of Parliament is known as the 'House of Commons' is named as such to remind us all that true democracy starts at this community level, to remind those elected to power that their first responsibility is to serve the people of the communities who elected them. And I believe that the change happening in Shinshu-Nagano, what I call 'The Shinshu Rennaissance-Revolution', starts with the 'Commons'. It starts with people like Akemi
During the time of my first gubernatorial election campaign, her husband guided me through mountain trails as a volunteer, and it was during this period that she made this badge for me. During my second year as governor I faced a no-confidence motion. This was passed by an assembly dominated by old assembly members who favored the construction of yet more dams. As a result I faced a second gubernatorial election, which I duly won.
I wear this badge on my lapel as a sign of how much I owe the people who believed in me. I wear this badge to show how much I am prepared to walk alongside these people, Not leading ahead, but walking alongside, without self-interest or ego. Of course, it goes without saying that this badge is unpopular amongst the ultra-conservative members of the assembly. All the more reason for me to wear it! It also goes without saying that the same members are massively opposed to the 'Declaration of No More Dams' concept. All the more reason for me to continue with this policy!
To give you some idea of my background, I was born in Tokyo in 1956, which, if you do the math, makes me 48 years old. In 1964, the year of the Tokyo Olympics, my father became a professor of psychology at Shinshu University and we moved to Nagano. We first lived in the 'silk-city' of Ueda, famous for its textile industry. We then moved west to Matsumoto city, at the gateway to the beautiful Kamikochi highlands. I lived there for 9 years until graduation from high school. My parents at present live in Karuizawa, so we remain a family rooted deeply in the soil of
I wrote my first novel when I was a student at the Law Department of Hitotsubashi University in 1980. The title, 'Nantonaku Kurisutaru' in Japanese, meaning 'Something like Crystal', describes the experiences of young Japanese people growing up in a materially affluent society. The book became a million seller, as well as receiving a major literary award. Following graduation, I got a job at Mobile Oil, now called Excson Mobile Oil. However, I quit the company after only two months, to return to my first love, writing.
Since that time, I have been building up my career as a novelist and a critic of social issues. Besides my work as governor, I continue to write. I write for many kinds of weekly magazines and newspapers. They range from articles in 'Weekly Diamond' and 'Weekly SPA!' aimed at youngsters; to interviews with famous cooks in the monthly magazine 'BRIO', which has a target audience of elite businessmen in their thirties and forties, working for companies such as 'Mitsui Bussan' and 'Goldman Sachs'. Every other Monday night I take part in a radio talk-show. For 100 minutes from 10 o'clock, I discuss social issues with listeners who phone in. My power to fight against existing social systems and power groups derives from activities such as these.
No doubt you are aware of the major earthquake which has just hit Niigata prefecture, our neighbors just to the north. Yesterday, many volunteers from the Nagano Prefectural Office were dispatched to help at the scene. Similarly, soon after the severe Hanshin Awaji earthquake struck Kobe a decade ago, I became heavily involved in volunteer work, visiting temporary shelters on my 50cc motorbike. Prior to this I had been one of the most active leaders of the peoples' movement to stop the financially wasteful construction of a municipal airport planned on reclaimed land in the sea off Kobe. This was going ahead in spite of the de facto existence of two airports at Itami and Kansai, as well as a super-express 'Shinkansen' station.
Although as a philosopher I do not pretend to even come close to Jean-Paul Satre, as a politician my aim is to go beyond mere ideology, and to express myself in terms of 'engagement'. To me, this indicates a deep commitment and devotion to addressing the real issues facing us as a society. After the Second World War, the three governors of Nagano Prefecture preceding me had all been public officials. Despite previous lack of connection with the world of politics, it was the will of the inhabitants of Nagano themselves that made me run for office. And it is for their sake, for the sake of the Commons, that I want to break down this closed, bureaucratic political system.
Nagano Prefecture forms part of the backbone of the Japanese archipelago. It is protected on all sides by many steep mountains, including the beautiful Japan Alps. It has the fourth largest land area after Hokkaido, Iwate and Fukushima Prefectures, and it boasts a population of 220000. There may be no sea, but Nagano Prefecture embraces a number of water sources from which the great Shinano, Tenryu, and Kiso Rivers start their great journeys to the Pacific Ocean and the Sea of Japan.
Average life expectancy in Nagano is the longest for men, and the third longest for women. The ratio of hospitalized elderly people over 65 years old per one hundred thousand, is the lowest in Japan. Conversely, the ratio of elderly people dying at home rather than at hospital is the highest in Japan. This is not a reflection on the quality of our hospitals, which are first rate, but an indication of the great vitality of our senior citizens. We have a famous expression to describe the vitality of our elderly people; 'Pin-Pin Kokori'. 'Pin-Pin' means 'healthy' and 'kokori' means pass away. Generally, elderly people follow healthy and active lives in the heart of their families, free from the need for hospitalization, and continue working in the fields until they pass away peacefully. You can see that in Nagano we have an ideal society for those who wish to grow old happily, and die with a smile on their face.
If I had to choose a single word to describe the character of Nagano people it would be diligent. We have the second lowest unemployment rate in Japan. According to statistics provided by the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare as of August 2004, the ratio of job offers to jobseekers was 11th nationally, with an improvement when compared with July. The proportion of both elderly and women in employment is among the highest in Japan. In addition 40000 of the overall population of 220000 are international citizens of various nationalities. In Nagano, citizens who strive for an independent life will find support, irrespective of age, sex, title, career, politics or handicap.
Nagano is of course a famous agricultural prefecture. In fact, it is the number one producer of apples as well as vegetables such as lettuce, asparagus and mushrooms; other fruit such as blueberries and prunes, and cut-flowers such as carnations. Nagano is also proud of its industries. For example, Seiko Epson Corporation, famous worldwide for its printers, has chosen to locate its headquarters here. In fact 30% of prefectural tax revenues come from manufacturing and IT related industries.
These statistics all show Nagano to be in the forefront of the development of new technology in Japan. The total ratio of families to join CATV is the second highest in Japan. This technological infrastructure is supported by an enviable transport network. The total length of turnpike roads here is the 4th longest in Japan. Many people are using new technology these days to reshape their working lives. For example, growing numbers of people are developing a new style of home and resort office, known as SOHO or 'Small Office and Home Office'. This scheme has been evolving in locations such as Karuizawa, or the Tateshina Highlands, beautiful places 'far from the madding crowd' and yet still only a short hop form Tokyo, a mere hour on the shinkansen. Could it be that we are now entering an age when we are able to control the space-time balance of our work and home lifestyles with greater ease?
As you may notice, I am quite a reserved person. In fact, I am a little surprised not to have been heckled so far with your teasing remarks! But, shy though I may be, I am bold enough to say this much to you. It would be more than a smart choice to set up a satellite office or a factory in beautiful Shinshu, where you can fully benefit from the diligence of hardworking Nagano people and a glorious natural working environment. There, that's the end of the sales pitch!
When I started working as governor, to be frank, Nagano was in a miserable financial state, with the potential to spiral into far worse trouble. As of the fiscal year 2001, it had a 1.65 trillion yen debt. In fact, this figure shows Nagano to have been the second worst prefecture in Japan in terms of bond issuing debts. The budget for the previous six years leading up to 2001 had been heavily in the red, year on year. Contingency funds, which should have been earmarked only for emergencies, such as the one to have hit Niigata Prefecture this weekend, were being used as a matter of course to simply balance the books. Despite these dire financial straits, the former administration failed to inform the people of Nagano about the local economic disorder. Nor did the assembly members. Nor the local media. You could almost call it a conspiracy of silence.
Within two years of my inauguration, I suggested a cutback of public works to the same level as 1988, that being the last year of the so-called 'bubble-economy' period. And having suggested it, I made it come true. At the end of the bubble-economy period, other prefectures within Japan had reduced public works spending. However, Nagano had reacted differently. As many of you will know, in 1998 it was hosting the 18th Winter Olympics. As a direct consequence of this Olympic-related spending, Nagano doubled its public spending budget. This has led directly to the financial crisis we face today.
By the single act of putting a stop to the issue of local bonds, I reduced the daily interest payment, which had been in excess of 148 million yen prior to my inauguration, to a significantly lower figure of 115 million yen. Overall, an annual figure of over 12 billion yen was saved. I am glad to say that Nagano's prefectural budget is at last on the mend. In fact, it is recovering at a rate in excess of that estimated when the financial progressive reform program was first put into place. If we had not made these efforts, our budget would now be at a point where we would be forcibly taken into central government control, with an estimated financial deficit of 34 billion yen.
I have greatly increased the budget in the three fields of welfare and medicine, education, and environment. Welfare and education are service industries in which people take care of other people. Nothing, including robots, could replace the care that can only come from these people. This is a very new labor intensive business for the twenty-first century. In every grade in our elementary schools, I will introduce smaller class sizes, aiming at thirty students per teacher. I have also increased the number of teachers and helpers in our nursery schools. Regarding the environment, forests cover as much as 80 percent of Nagano Prefecture, and the budget for forest maintenance, which has increased three-fold on previous levels, helps workers preserve our forests for this new generation of youngsters in our schools.
I am aiming at building a new world in the style of John Maynard Keynes, in other words, my goal is New Keynesian. In Japan, Keynes is mistaken as being the god of public enterprise. I believe his true assertion is, however, as follows. Great Britain originally became an economic 'world-champion' through the Industrial Revolution. When Britain was unable to beat other countries in the price-war, Keynes proposed a new approach. He proposed new public initiatives by which city environments could be redeveloped and ordinary city-dwellers' quality of life improved, rather than falsely pumping up the economy by traditional public enterprise. That is to say, he proposed a 'New Deal' by which individual lives could be brought to maturity.
I made my declaration of "No More Dams" four months after my inauguration as governor. This philosophy underpins my wider belief in how our society should be shaped in the future. It goes far beyond the simple dualism of whether we should construct dams or not. People who promote dams insist that giant dam projects provide benefits to local economies and that in any case, the majority of the cost is covered by the national government.
Is that true? It is true that 72.5% of the dam construction costs is funded by the national government, including redemption of issued bonds. However, about 80 % of the total costs are paid to general contractors based outside Nagano. It means that in reality people in Nagano Prefecture pay more, while getting less in the end. Dam projects do not benefit local economies but, on the contrary, they contribute to the Tokyo economy.
I believe there is a proverb in English about 'chickens coming home to roost'. Well in this case, we are talking about some very fat chickens. And they take a lot of feeding! This situation is similar- I have my own original term. I call it "The Fat Boomerang" Phenomenon. Does this remind you perhaps of the unhealthy effects of an over-rich diet on someone's body? In case you are wondering, I am not referring to anybody in particular by the way.
Furthermore, two-thirds of the people living near the nine rivers where dam construction had been proposed, were against the dams going ahead. Therefore, instead of constructing dams, we are promoting such river improvements as protection works and fostering forest on the upper reaches of the rivers. Local small constructing companies undertake these public works projects. This shows the true spirit behind the Declaration of "No More Dams", which insists that the water sources located along Nagano's backbone of Japan should be protected from the unnatural construction of dams as much as possible.
Tax in Japan is used in mysterious ways. For example, when a new elementary school building is constructed, the local authorities only need to pay 26.7 % of the expenses. However, if we try to protect our young people from sickness as a result of over-exposure to the many synthetic chemicals contained in modern building materials, and make the floors and the walls of from wood, it costs us more. It also costs us more if we make existing traditional buildings earthquake-proof so that they can continue to be used. In these cases, local authorities are forced to pay a massive 66.7% of the total cost. Local people pay so much less when they construct a new concrete building. That is the reason local administrations never stop constructing new buildings
When it comes to road construction, central government backs up local governments by paying them 60% of the cost of building brand new asphalt roads, but none for mending existing roads. However, leading companies with their head offices in Tokyo and Osaka place successful bids for these construction projects, and many companies within Nagano Prefecture are not even able to participate in the bidding. They are only able to undertake the construction work as subcontractors. This was how it worked.
Now, our prefecture has introduced a competitive bidding system for the first time in Japan. This enables 320 companies inside our prefecture that employ local people and have enough heavy machinery for construction to take part in the bid of their own volition. The average rate of local companies making a successful bid is about 78%. This percentage may not seem to be high enough, but these public works projects become profitable because they are B to C projects. About 85 % companies assent to this system.
As I talked about in "Houdou 2001" broadcast by Fuji TV, Japanese city planning law is a mystery. Developments in locations deemed at risk of calamities such as landslide are strictly prohibited by article 33 of the law. However, according to article 29 of the same law, social welfare facilities like homes for elderly people and medical institutions like hospitals can be built in such dangerous places. As a result, many of such facilities are situated at dangerous places like cliff edges where few people live. In the light of recent events in Japan, such as the recent earthquake, do you find this difficult to believe? I hope so!
The program of building some "takuyourousyo" facilities in which 10 to 15 elderly people or little children aged under 3 years old are taken care of is now proceeding in Nagano Prefecture. These facilities will no longer be put in places segregated from communities. By utilizing an empty house in a farm village or a closed shop in a shopping area, such facilities can be built within communities. Members then feel a greater sense of belonging. 162 such facilities have already been opened. Many of these are managed by NPOs or private companies.
Manufacturing, agriculture, forestry and tourism as well as industries within the area of "medical and welfare, education, and environment" are believed to create labor-intensive businesses in line with 21 century developmental models. This 3×3 model is the core of Nagano Prefecture's development.
Manufacturing business which started in Nagano with the silk industry evolved into precision machinery enterprises such as making watches and musical boxes, and then towards the IT-related enterprises which form our main industries now. Our industries in Nagano have been successful in shifting independently without depending on subsidy from the Government.
In one case, the starting point was a traditional business making vegetable gelatin from a kind of seaweed that grows in fresh water. This was an essential food in a prefecture like Nagano with no ocean. This developed into producing food for elderly people and health food, and then to biotechnology related enterprises.
Additionally, we have introduced Denominacion de Origen, a system that manages product names according to their origin in wine and sake, Japanese rice wine. Nagano Prefecture aspires to be strong in security and safety in addition to kindness in welfare, education and beauty in the natural environment. In truth, we don't at present know the origin of many products where rice or grapes are grown and made into sake or wine. Such products are everywhere. Therefore our goal is to disclose the history of such products, and the only products that are approved every year by some of the world famous connoisseurs such as Shinichi Tasaki, a friend of mine, are granted a mark by the committee for Denominacion de Origen.
There are more than 200 hot springs and spa areas in Shinshu, we are going to start to strictly enforce 13 descriptors labeling hot springs and spas this October. At present, the Hot Springs and Spa Law, constituted about 50 years ago, states that even if you blend 1ml of hot spring water in 1 litre of tap water, you can still call the spa a natural hot spring. Unethical bending of this rule by some unscrupulous operators has led to recent difficulties in this sector, as you may already know.
The Shirahone hot spring area is one of the most famous hot spring areas in Japan, and in the past has been a leading brand name for Shinshu. But, a brand name's good reputation disappears in an instant when it is discovered to be a fake. I am afraid people think that as a result of recent events, people may view all hot springs and spas in Shinshu as fake.
So I have set up the headquarters of Shinshuu Hot Spring and Spa Headquarters to take prompt measures in order to conserve the special value of the Shinshu Brand. Within two days, we started a process of questionnaires and surveys for over 2000 hot springs. We have displayed these answers openly on the Nagano Prefecture Home Page. This is not for organizations or interest groups, but for the sake of the individual consumer.
That is Shinshu Policy.
In Japanese society, People feel embarrassed to judge others, and in turn are embarrassed to be judged themselves. But I suggest we need to have real public judgment, if individuals are to make an informed consent on what happens in their own democracy. Everyone as a consumer needs to take an informed choice.
We have a key word, "Commons" which we apply to the reformation of local areas. "Commons" is not a word to apply to a traditional pyramidal society, but a flat network or 'linux' society. There is no monopoly of power as in the Microsoft Windows system, but instead a more honest window, opening to reveal previously hidden power structures within.
Accurate recognition, prompt action and definite responsibility are all expected of our public servants. In order to implement such a mental reformation, I ask each and every member of my staff to write and record their contributions to official documents, and explain themselves publicly during meetings. For far too long, Japanese administrative systems have allowed people to protect themselves from responsibility for their actions by remaining anonymous.
It is especially vital for civil servants to attach their name to their work in this way, so that they can take full responsibility, and credit, for their work. The inhabitants themselves are also expected to become pro-active members of this democratic process, rather than remaining as spectators on the sidelines.
Finally, let's focus on what I believe the true national interests to be at the most basic level. Knowledge, experience, wisdom, intuition and warmth. True warmth, which makes people talk and listen with real empathy and effort to understand the standpoint of their counterpart.
So which is the best way to proceed, the deductive or the inductive method? Let me explain. I believe the deductive method ultimately leads to a dead end, because its way of thinking is based on knowledge alone. We say that we cannot implement something because by regulations stand in the way. The British have the phrase 'Jobsworth', referring to the type of person who says: 'I couldn't do that, because it's more than my job is worth.' That passive way of thinking is common in many bureaucratic cultures, and it is a strong argument against the deductive approach.
Conversely, the inductive method is generous. Generous enough to break through the limits of so-called 'education' in order to make an ideal society for the very youngest to the very oldest. From the cradle to the grave.
For this type of society to come true, we do not seek subservient patriotism for an abstract concept of country, but a real warm feeling of love for the 'commons'. For the hometown and neighborhoods which form a truer shape of human community. This true shape is the mold of a real society.
I'd like to reiterate what the French socialist Jean Bodilliar said immediately after the Hanshin-Awaji earthquake disaster:
"The richness of Japan which has been shown in the spending of vast amounts of money on public enterprise is, in fact, brought about by the poor conditions individual Japanese people have been forced to live in."
Ten years have passed since the earthquake. I really wonder if Japanese society has matured over that time into a society which values the individual human members rather than the system itself?
The implementation of a Shinshu Renaissance-Revolution based on the 'commons', where everyone is visible and government transparent, stands in direct opposition to the molded society of "Japan Corporation". I want to break that mold. This is my mission as both governor and writer.
An indication of the philosophy behind the Shinshu Renaissance-Revolution is our support for the Special Olympic Games for participants with mental handicaps and learning disabilities. These games were originally advocated by Mrs. Eunice Shriver, sister of the late John F. Kennedy. These games will be held for eight days in Nagano Prefecture from February 26th 2005.
Nagano Prefecture, once called "the Switzerland of the East," should try to become like Sweden. The Nagano Prefecture Business Managers' Association, together with some scholars and citizens from various NPOs, took the original (now called the "Nagano Model") global warming countermeasures to the governor's "glass office" located on the first floor of the prefectural office building.
In these countermeasures, they suggested that all elementary schools, junior and senior high schools in this prefecture should introduce a 10kw solar energy generation system. Also, they suggested that all the desks and chairs in those schools should be made from wood. In addition, along the roadways, they proposed that steel guardrails should be replaced by wooden ones. Besides this, company managers should set goals to reduce CO2 emissions by 6% and educate the public about this effort. Because of these suggestions, I started walking to the office before I was impeached. I can say that there are management executives who are free from bureaucratic sectionalism and act according to their own decisions in Nagano Prefecture.
Japan should break away from USA-style materialism and learn from European anti-materialism. Companies can be both profitable and environmentally sensitive. The concept of anti-materialism should be introduced in Japanese society, especially here in Nagano prefecture. This will make Nagano an ideal local government concerned for the people and its places of natural beauty such as Kamikochi and Karuizawa. I am a governor free from the constraints of any political party. I am different from other independently minded baby-boomers. The governor's election held two years ago was reported in the media as a contest between bureaucracy and reformers, but I never made those claims. The reason is that in my mind there is no difference between bureaucracy and reform. People are people concerned about their families and home loans. Bureaucratic people resist change because the system benefits them. They make an effort to get such benefits, but is it satisfying? In my opinion, the mayors and prefectural congressmen who went to the former governor for favors were victims of the system themselves.
Before I was elected, the Governor's office was located on the third floor. It was a backroom behind many doors. No one knew who was visiting, who was kneeling on the floor to ask favors, and who was being a tyrant and lying back in a chair. No one knew who was handing an envelope with a bundle of cash to whom. Residents in Nagano had no idea. While some of the mayors of cities, towns and villages and lawmakers of the prefectural assembly were victims of having to bow their heads before the Governor, they had the privilege to go into the "backroom". I think they were confused with my new way of conducting office, in a room with glass walls. They were so used to a pyramid-shaped distribution of the rights and interests that they didn't know what to do when the old system no longer existed.
They say that I caused a political stalemate and confusion with my election to office. Before my tenure, they probably believed that political reform and prosperity had existed for several decades. This is exactly what I call the divergence between public and private interests.
When I was a child, a concrete dam was a symbol of human victory and progress, in the same way that the Apollo Program promoted the belief that technology can control all nature. But now, standing in front of such a gigantic dam, I have an inexpressible anxiety about our false belief in technology.
When I recall the accident of the concrete tunnel wall collapse of the San-you Shinkansen a number of years ago, I can't help fearing what would happen if a dam were to break down as a result of concrete weakening because it contains too much salt.
My feeling has something to do with the fact that many of the astronauts who participated the Apollo Program changed their vocation into a person of religion or philosopher, or they suffered from mental sickness. I think it is not a coincidence that Mr.Toyohiro Akiyama of Tokyo Broadcast Station, who travelled on the Soviet spaceship and saw the earth with its damaged ozone layer, is now leading a agricultural life in Fukushima Prefecture in harmony with its rich soil.
During the previous century, nobody doubted that the future was inexhaustibly open to us. But the bubble economy which was centered on the possession of money and limitless material goods has simply burst into nothing. From this experience, we are beginning to learn that in order to build a rich society, an individual person in the beginning has to obtain richness in a truer sense of the word.
No small number of people expect great things from the "Nagano Revolution", which is aims to construct a "Nagano Model" for society. It aims to to show the products of the ambition and determination of the 2.2 million people in Nagano Prefecture. This is because "Nagano Revolution" is based on the magic of a "safe and tender individual movement" which stands in direct opposition to the molded society of "Japan Corporation". I want to break that mold.