Member of the House of Representatives Yoshitami Kameoka played in the National High School Baseball Tournament when he was a student, then ended up jumping into the world of politics. His fortitude helped him endure multiple election losses, and today he is chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology. Toshio Motoya spoke with Kameoka about topics including Kameoka’s thoughts as a National Diet member in the disaster-struck Fukushima Prefecture, and what must be accomplished by the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics next year from his position in education, culture, sports, science, and technology.
(M) Thank you for joining me on Big Talk today. You attended my Wine Tasting and Discussion about Japan Meeting three years ago, and also spoke at the Shoheijuku Academy afterwards.
(K) Thank you for having me. Over the past three years, I have served as director of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Division, as well as chief deputy chairperson of the LDP Diet Affairs Committee. I was appointed chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology last year. In this way, I have mainly focused on the field of education, culture, sports, science, and technology.
(M) You are working hard in the National Diet today. I heard you played an active role on Sakushin Gakuin’s High School Baseball Team at the National High School Baseball Tournament.
(K) No, I was definitely not the best! At the first spring invitational in 1973, Sakushin Gakuin (with pitcher Suguru Egawa) was the favorite for the championship. But my poor pitching lost us a point, and we were eliminated in the semifinal. Frustrated, I practiced extremely hard to prevent the other team from stealing any bases at the summer tournament. It was the second game, and we lost with a base on balls while Egawa was pitching. If you focus too much on winning, the pressure can conversely result in your defeat.
(M) Yes, that can happen.
(K) I am chairman of the Sakushin Gakuin Baseball Team Alumni Association. The Baseball Team dominated at the national tournament in summer 2016, when I took up this position. There was a period when the school did not go to the nationals because it was focusing on helping students find future career paths, but now it has a policy of accomplishment in both academics and sports. Some students even go on to the University of Tokyo. If you devote great efforts to school and sports at the same time, you will become better at both.
(M) You went to Waseda University after graduation.
(K) Yes, I entered Waseda University’s School of Education and majored in early childhood education. I also played on the Baseball Team in the Big6 Baseball League.
(M) Were you scouted by any pro teams?
(K) I was during high school, but I decided to go to college because people around me cautioned me not to focus solely on baseball.
(M) Did you plan to stop playing baseball after college?
(K) Yes, but I was scouted by a sponsored team and ended up working at Kumagai Gumi.
(M) APA Group has had buildings constructed by Kumagai Gumi mainly in the Hokuriku region, including condominiums and hotels. It was originally founded in Fukui Prefecture.
(K) I am based in Fukushima Prefecture, and Kumagai Gumi was the company that built your APA Hotel Fukushima-Ekimae, which was opened in 2017. Thanks to the APA Hotel, I feel like the area by JR Fukushima Station has gained a higher status.
(M) An accident occurred at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station after the Great East Japan Earthquake in 2011. People saw videos of the roof being blown off by hydrogen explosions, and some felt great concern because they assumed the nuclear reactor itself had exploded. Many people evacuated from Fukushima. The population fell, and few tourists came to visit. I thought about how APA Group could help the people of Fukushima, and concluded that building a hotel would provide the most benefits. Some people asked me why we were opening a hotel by Fukushima Station, an area with a declining number of tourists, but it wasn’t for profit. I wanted to reinvigorate the region by providing a place where people could get together – a hotel where they can feel peace of mind while staying for the night or enjoying a meal.
(K) Thank you so much.
(M) Where were you during the earthquake?
(K) Fukushima’s Hamadori region was struck by a tsunami after the nuclear accident. Because of the nuclear accident, the law required Japan Self-Defense Forces (JSDF) personnel to be evacuated from the area. No one remained except a lone city counselor who was searching for human remains with a bamboo stick. Ten people who had been defeated in the last Diet election, including myself, went to search for remains together. Several people I knew went missing and have not yet been found.
(M) They must have been swept away by the tsunami.
(K) Yes. I have done some work related to nuclear power, so I immediately visited the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism to recommend measures such as bringing in a fire truck in that day to spray the atomic reactors and prevent explosions. However, my suggestion never made it to the Tokyo Electric Power Company headquarters. I also discussed this disaster during my talk at the Shoheijuku Academy.
(M) The Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) administration’s excessive actions after the nuclear disaster are still having negative impacts today. They set an overly low decontamination standard of one millisievert per year, necessitating wide-area decontamination that cost a huge amount of money. Exposure of 100 millisieverts only raises the risk of cancer by 0.5%, so the evacuation standard of 20 annual millisieverts was also too strict.
(K) They continually stirred up fear about the accident. Nagasaki University Professor Shunichi Yamashita served as a health risk management advisor on radiation in Fukushima, but many people disbelieved even his calm statements based on scientific proof.
(M) Jun Takada and Yasuhiro Ina won the Grand Prize (Fuji Seiji Prize) in the “True Interpretations of Modern History” Essay Contest. The left wing encourages fear in response to their correct statements on the impacts of radiation.
(K) I find it bizarre that activists protesting the base in Okinawa come to Fukushima to protest against nuclear power.
(M) People with good thinking skills become conservative, but members of the left wing cannot think very deeply. It is ridiculous how many people support political parties that advocate for strange causes.
(K) The opposition parties have repeatedly strayed off course, and the DPJ was dismantled. I don’t think it is worthy of citizen support.
(M) I hope Diet members like yourself will work hard for the sake of Japan.
(K) I hope the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics will fully banish harmful misinformation about Fukushima. I think we should invite people from nations such as China, South Korea, and Taiwan – which still ban imports of foodstuffs from Fukushima and neighboring prefectures – to the Opening Ceremony in Fukushima City so they can see the real situation with their own eyes.
(M) There is absolutely no basis for these bans.
(K) We have finally expanded the scholarship system so students in the disaster-struck areas can focus on studying without having to repay any loans. Higher education will also be entirely free starting in FY2020. This means children who truly want to learn will be able to, even if they are from households that were harmed by the tsunami and are facing economic challenges. I believe this will cultivate great human resources who will benefit Japan.
(M) We also must quickly submit a constitutional reform motion. If a motion does not reach the House of Councillors as well, it is possible that two thirds of Diet members will no longer be in favor, and amendment will be impossible for quite some time. First, we should extend the Diet session and hold the House of Councillors election on August 25, rather than in July. Just like Junichiro Koizumi’s postal reform election in 2005, Diet members in both houses should be asked if they are in favor of constitutional change. Those who are not should be denied official recognition, and opposing candidates should be nominated. The House of Representatives could also be dissolved for a double election. Somehow we must use this stance to submit an amendment motion in the Diet. The national referendum must be held six months after that, so we will have to launch a national movement to achieve reform, which could be accomplished with a majority of even 50.1%. However, the current proposal merely adds to the constitution to clearly specify the JSDF in consideration of the Komeito. I believe we will have to start with one initial revision, such as removing the second clause of Article 9, to create a decent constitution and make Japan into a nation that can independently defend itself.
(K) It will be important to add a stipulation that gives the government centralized authority in the case of a major disaster or other state of emergency.
(M) That’s true, but Prime Minister Shinzo Abe can only serve three terms (totaling nine years) until 2021. The question is whether two constitutional amendments can be achieved by that deadline. President Donald J. Trump was cleared of suspicion regarding Russia after the special prosecutor’s report. Former White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon recently said that Trump will certainly win a second term if he can survive the next few months, and I believe Trump will be re-elected and remain president until 2024. Abe could also be in power until 2024 if the LDP regulations were changed to allow four terms. That would give him five remaining years, during which two amendments might be possible. However, the mass media is staying totally silent on this issue recently as a tactic to impede constitutional reform.
(K) The LDP is trying to set up Headquarters for the Promotion of Revision of the Constitution at each House of Representatives single-member constituency branch across the nation. The branches will hold a general meeting over Golden Week to establish these headquarters. We are working to build a base for constitutional change involving Diet members even in local governments, and to convey the significance of revision to many people. Even if we do accomplish constitutional change, the most important thing is that citizens feel pride about helping create the constitution. The LDP is steadily preparing for constitutional reform in this way.
(M) I definitely hope you will keep working on this! Still, we need to submit a motion in the Diet now – after the House of Councillors election will be too late. I too am extremely concerned whether a majority can be gained in a national referendum at present, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t submit a reform motion today, when two thirds of Diet members are in favor. First, we should propose the amendment and implement a national movement over the next six months. Many informational pamphlets were distributed when the Constitution of Japan was enacted to help establish it among the people. Similarly, I suggest that we print tens of millions of copies of pamphlets explaining the significance of constitutional change and pass them out to the citizens. Japan’s security is severely threatened under the current constitution, and we must devote effort, sweat, and money to revising it. All of Japan’s neighbors are nuclear states right now. North Korea will certainly not give up its nuclear arms, even after summit meetings with the United States. It has deployed medium-range ballistic missiles (such as Rodong and Taepodong missiles) and successfully miniaturized warheads to install on them. The possibility of Japan being struck by a nuclear attack is much higher, and the American nuclear umbrella is no longer functional.
(K) I agree that danger is close at hand. Despite this, Japan’s national security is focused on “nonaggressive defense.” This means we cannot strike back unless lives are at stake. The national government’s job is to protect citizen lives and assets, so nonaggressive defense presupposed on human sacrifice makes no sense at all.
(M) That’s why we must hasten things. Some LDP members believe the discussion about constitutional revision is premature, but that is incorrect. I am a bit concerned that reform efforts in the LDP are not being reported by the media.
(K) You can rest easy, as we are working steadily. I am worried about the national referendum, however. Abe is the strongest politician today, and many citizens believe in the mass media’s scenario that good politics will return when the “dictator” is toppled. This is an effective body blow.
(M) The issues about the Moritomo Academy and Kakei Educational Institution only arose because Abe specified a date for constitutional change in his video message on May 3, 2017. This inspired intense criticism by the media. However, I don’t think anyone could replace him today. Japan is the host country for the G20 Osaka summit this June. Abe has led Japan for many years, and he will be a major presence at this meeting.
(K) Abe has devoted efforts to foreign policy and built strong relationships by visiting many countries during his term of office. I hope people see this positively.
(M) That’s right. The media, which speaks negatively of the government, isn’t thinking of Japan’s national interests at all. Considering the tension in East Asia, what would happen if we had a different prime minister each year like in the past? I think Japan would eventually end up as a Chinese autonomous region.
(K) I agree entirely.
(M) APA Hotel Pride Kokkaigijidomae was opened on March 19. Diet members are staying there, since it is in front of the Diet Members’ Building.
(K) You are aggressively building hotels in that area. Are your land purchasing decisions based on intuition?
(M) Location is the top priority – I never buy land that is more than three minutes by foot from a train station. I always visit the property to see if I can imagine how it will be used. I think about the floor area ratio to immediately calculate how many floors can be built. I always have an image of the hotel to be built on the site, and I do the basic design myself. The ideal is being near a terminal station, like Shinjuku or Ikebukuro, that offers a great deal of accommodation demand. My policy is to buy land even at expensive prices if there is large demand, or to buy cheaply if demand is sparse. I judge whether to buy based on possible profit. For areas with high demand, I will pay a slightly higher purchase price thanks to the low interest rates. We call this “high-price buying” inside the company. Doing this continually means we receive information about available properties.
(K) You are also building a large hotel in Yokohama. All international conferences are now held in Yokohama, so I bet there is big demand. This shows your foresight.
(M) APA Hotel & Resort Yokohama Bay Tower is one of Japan’s largest hotels, with 2,311 rooms. We expect a high occupancy rate throughout the year, aiming for businesspeople on weekdays, tourists on Fridays and Saturdays, and foreign tourists on Sundays and Mondays (when domestic demand falls).
(K) Yokohama Stadium is the main baseball and softball venue for Tokyo 2020, and I am sure many people will stay at your hotel then.
(M) Yes, and we plan to open APA Hotel & Resort Yokohama Bay Tower on September 20, the first day of the Rugby World Cup Japan 2019. The games start the following day at International Stadium Yokohama, and other events will be held in Yokohama as well.
(K) So location is your secret for high occupancy rates.
(M) Business users are our main demographic, and an important factor is our 15 million cumulative APA Hotel members, most of whom are businesspeople. They earn points to receive cash back, so they always search for APA Hotels when going on business trips. A good occupancy rate for general hotels is 70 to 80%, but APA Hotels in central Tokyo have an average rate of 105% (even higher than 100%). This is because we quickly clean rooms after guests check out, then rent them for day use. To make this more efficient, guests at Kokkaigijidomae just return their key to a box to check out. The box reads the room number and contacts a staff member via smartphone. Guests can check out instantaneously using this system, meaning we can rent more rooms. We rent rooms during the day at hotels with large baths in particular – guests like to bathe and then relax in a room, which costs about half of a one-night stay.
(K) That sounds perfect for when I want to take a relaxing bath, like after an all-night Diet session.
(M) We have 52 hotels under construction, totaling 19,000 rooms. One room in Tokyo costs roughly 20 million yen, adding together the land and building costs, so the total cost of this project is from 300 billion to 400 billion yen. The hotels will be completed and opened over the next 1.5 years.
(K) That’s amazing.
(M) APA Hotel Pride Kokkaigijidomae is a great hotel, but its profit ratio is low. Other hotels with low profit margins include APA Hotel & Resort Tokyo Bay Makuhari (Japan’s tallest hotel), and APA Hotel & Resort Yokohama Bay Tower (one of Japan’s biggest hotels). However, these enhance APA Hotel’s brand. Our most profitable hotels are those in premier locations in central Tokyo, with 200 to 300 rooms each. Today, our entire hotel business is strong thanks to synergistic effects between profitable hotels and those that promote the brand. Our current strategies are to gain dominance and build bigger hotels. With many hotels in a specific area, young managers who have worked at APA for five or six years can feel peace of mind while learning many things from veteran managers in the area. They can solve any problems that occur in this way, and we also gain the ability to control prices in the region. Constructing larger hotels is a way to deal with human resource shortages, since fewer employees are required to operate one hotel with 2,300 rooms compared to 11 hotels with 200 rooms.
(K) Do you have many overseas guests?
(M) APA Hotel’s ratio of foreign guests is 25% overall and more than 50% in Tokyo. I think this will approach 70% in Tokyo soon. Regular hotels have many guests from Greater China, but American and European tourists are the main demographic at APA Hotel.
(K) I think your business is benefitting Japan by creating many jobs and serving foreign tourists.
(M) Still, I believe my efforts to express my views are more important for the sake of Japan. For instance, I started “True Interpretations of Modern History” essay contest 11 years ago. Toshio Tamogami caused a scandal by winning the first Grand Prize (Fuji Seiji Prize), which woke the world up to conservatism and helped Abe become prime minister for a second time.
(K) Yes, and I hope you will keep supporting the government.
(M) Of course! At the end of the interview, I always ask for a “word for the youth.”
(K) Working in education, I’ve felt that young people should do more to achieve their dreams. It is fun to have dreams and think about how you will accomplish them, and you also gain skills this way. Even if you don’t make your dreams come true, these skills will be useful later.
(M) I’m not surprised to hear you say that, considering your experience playing baseball when you were young. Thank you for joining me today.
(K) Thank you.
Date of dialogue: April 9, 2019
Born in 1955. Entered Sakushin Gakuin in 1971 and played on the Baseball Team as catcher with pitcher Suguru Egawa, including two appearances at the National High School Baseball Tournament. After graduating from Waseda University in 1978, he started working at Kumagai Gumi while playing intercity baseball. In 1987, he was appointed assistant coach of Waseda University’s Baseball Team. He ran unsuccessfully for the House of Representatives four times from 1990 to 1996, and was elected for the first time in 2005. He is currently in his third term and has served as chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology since 2018.