Dentist and Taijukai Chairman Kentaro Harutsugu was born into a family of physicians – both his father and younger brothers are doctors. He built a medical corporation with the largest number of clinics in Western Japan. As someone with a similarly conservative way of thinking, Toshio Motoya spoke with Harutsugu about topics including maintaining youthfulness, business, and feelings for his native country of Japan.
(M) Thank you for joining me on Big Talk today. I’ve wanted to invite you for some time, and this is the perfect opportunity since it’s our 30th-anniversary issue of Apple Town, this monthly magazine.
(H) I am very happy to be invited, because I respect you a great deal.
(M) Thank you as well for attending the opening ceremony at APA Hotel Namba Minami Ebisuchoeki. Our steady business has been affected by the novel coronavirus outbreak. However, our share is unchanged because everyone’s performance is better when the whole industry is doing well. Some companies withdraw from the market when times are bad, but this is also a chance to increase our share. I believe APA Group will achieve an overwhelmingly large share and become an even stronger company in the post-corona era if we can overcome this crisis.
(H) I’m sure you can do that.
(M) I’ve known you for a long time, and we share a conservative way of thinking. Let’s start by having you tell our readers about your work.
(H) The Taijukai has more than 10 clinics in the Kinki region (excluding Wakayama and Kyoto Prefectures) as a group of individuals and corporations. This is the top number of group-operated dental clinics in West Japan.
(M) Are they all dental clinics?
(H) Dental clinics account for 90%. They are specialized in dental implants and can provide advanced, cutting-edge care even in special cases. I cannot name names, but many politicians and celebrities come to our clinics. Yasunori Kitayama, a dentist whose field of specialty is dentures, comes twice a week from Sapporo to serve patients who cannot get implants. When you’re wearing his dentures made with special technologies, you can even bite into a whole apple and eat hard-to-chew foods.
(M) I often see implant ads when I’m driving on expressways. Do you promote your business through signs or other means?
(H) No, we do almost no promotion. Most of our patients find us via word of mouth.
(M) It sounds like important work to provide dental care at these many clinics.
(H) Yes, but I’m just a dentist. I’ve tried other things, but none of them were successful.
(M) I heard your father was a doctor.
(H) Yes, and so are my younger brothers. We are all involved in the medical and dental fields.
(M) I’m sure you have a network thanks to that family, but you are also a cheerful person who is fun to talk to, which draws many people to you and leads to long-lasting connections. You are always energetic and youthful. What is your secret?
(H) My motto is, “que será, será” (laughs). People will find you off-putting if you are always talking about heavy subjects with a gloomy face. Another key to my youthfulness is taking baths. I have six baths in my home, including one that can hold over 10 people and one carved out of wood. I often welcome visitors like former Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori, Shigeru Ishiba, and celebrities who come to recharge in these wood and rock baths. Takumi Ihara, a former member of the House of Councillors who plans to run in the upcoming House of Representatives election, is coming next week to de-stress and enjoy a change of pace. In any case, I really dislike brooding – it makes you lose your cool and be unable to come up with good ideas. When I feel down, I try to take a bath and have a laugh.
(M) That’s wonderful. In this era, people who think they are young seem youthful, but those who think they are old seem elderly.
(H) I’ve known you for 30 years, but you haven’t changed at all.
(M) I always feel like I’m 38 years old (laughs). Being in my 40s sounds old, so I figure 38 is just about right. That’s why I don’t talk or write about my real age very often. However, business success depends on gradually accumulating wisdom. What’s important is how much knowledge you have based on this foundation of wisdom, and building relationships with as many good people as possible. I’ve grown my network, received lots of help, and benefited from good conditions by publishing and sharing my views in Apple Town for the past 30 years. I believe this has led to APA Group’s success today. You are one of my important friends as well. I’ve also never met someone who is as much of a gourmand as you are.
(H) I truly love eating delicious food. I am also fond of people and entertaining – bringing people together is one of my hobbies. I’m happy when the people I introduced end up doing great things together.
(M) I think that’s a wonderful part of your personality.
(H) I like people who hold fast to their convictions, regardless of money, titles, or material aspects. I only know two of these people. One is Chiharu Matsuyama. I asked him if he wanted to meet Antonio Inoki, but Matsuyama declined, saying, “I have a concert.” I wondered why, but after pondering it for a while I realized that Matsuyama was friends with Giant Baba (and that Baba and Inoki weren’t very friendly). I think Matsuyama turned me down because he didn’t want to hurt the feelings of Baba, even after he passed away. In my opinion, you are the other person I know who lives up to your beliefs.
(M) Three years ago, there was an outcry about my book that denies the Nanjing Massacre being placed in APA Hotel rooms. The Chinese government criticized APA Hotel by name and banned room bookings from inside China. After that, the Chinese foreign minister reached out to me through an intermediary with an offer of compromise. They asked me to remove the books from the guest rooms, even if this was done gradually. In exchange, they said the Chinese government would provide extensive support when APA Hotel expands into China. However, I declined and stated I had no intention of doing business in China. They haven’t said anything to me since. As a result, President Xi Jinping did not give his annual speech at the memorial ceremony on the National Memorial Day for Nanjing Massacre Victims, which is held every December, although he did attend. The following year, Xi and the “China Seven” (seven members of the Standing Committee of the Central Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China, the top leadership in China) did not attend at all. That’s because they thought bringing up the Nanjing Massacre topic any further would reveal that it was a historical fabrication. The worst thing for them would be if this lie was exposed to the Chinese people. I think these important figures stopped attending the ceremony so things would quiet down in the interest of avoiding any further discussions. That put an end to China’s criticisms about the Nanjing Massacre.
(H) I’ve heard that 999 of 1,000 companies comply when directly censured by the Chinese government, which makes you someone with amazingly strong convictions.
(M) The Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs should firmly refute any falsehoods, but instead it stays silent on the comfort women and conscripted labor issues. Perhaps it cannot speak up because it is bound by the former enemy clause as a defeated nation in World War II, but that was more than 70 years ago. Today we should promptly deny things that are incorrect.
(H) I agree, and I think the same applies to territorial issues.
(M) Takeshima is one example. Right before the Treaty of San Francisco came into effect, South Korea drew its “Syngman Rhee Line” that includes Takeshima. Since then, South Korea has captured many Japanese fishing boats, assaulted detainees, and even caused deaths. But the Japanese police and Self-Defense Forces couldn’t do anything because of Article 9 of the constitution. We absolutely must amend the constitution to transform our country. It is possible right now that two thirds of the members in both National Diet houses might approve, so I think we should at least submit a constitutional revision motion. However, the Commissions on the Constitution sabotage these efforts, and no progress has been made in the discussions. I don’t think anyone can achieve constitutional change once Shinzo Abe steps down from his post as prime minister.
(H) I doubt anyone else is capable of it.
(M) Some people say the current constitution should be invalidated by a Diet resolution, although I don’t quite agree. Their reasoning includes the fact that the current constitution exceeds the revision stipulations in the Meiji Constitution, and that constitutional revision during an occupation violates the Hague Convention of 1899 (Convention respecting the Laws and Customs of War on Land), which says the laws of the occupied territory must be obeyed. Still, 73 years have passed since the Constitution of Japan came into force, so I think a Diet resolution would be difficult. We should resolutely work to revise the constitution. As long as no one but Abe can do this, his term of office (which lasts until 2021) should be extended by one term until 2024.
(H) I agree.
(M) Xi abolished the Chinese presidential term limit of two terms of five years each. It looks to me like efforts are underway to transform China from a people’s republic into Xi’s personal empire. We need to think and take action to stop this expansion. If not, Japan may end up as a Chinese autonomous region.
(H) That’s a terrifying thought.
(M) Yoshiro Mori, president of the Tokyo Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games, is working extremely hard right now. I definitely hope the games will be put on successfully.
(H) I too want them to be held, even if they are simplified like the news has mentioned recently. I don’t think we will ever get another opportunity to see the Olympics in Tokyo during our lifetime if we miss this chance… However, it seems unlikely that we could put them off another year.
(M) I don’t think they could be postponed for two years. It’s not clear what the International Olympic Committee (IOC) thinks of the proposal to simplify the games, and the biggest issue is the COVID-19 pandemic in other countries, even if the outbreak is under control in Japan. I think some nations might not be able to send their athletes, and that Japan may not allow athletes from some countries to enter the country.
(H) Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing would solve that issue. I think we could set up a structure that only allows athletes and tourists with negative tests into Japan. They would be required to submit a certificate showing they are free of the disease, which wouldn’t be so hard if protection measures were in place at airports.
(M) The tourism industry has been hit hard by the rapid decline in inbound tourism. Last year there were about 30 million foreign visitors to Japan, and the Olympic year target was 40 million. However, the number in April was 2,900, a 99.9% year-on-year decrease. The total from January to April was roughly 3.94 million, which is a 64.1% reduction. Hotels that mainly served foreign guests are in danger of going bankrupt. APA Hotel’s many business travel customers are our foundation, so our situation isn’t that bad. Many hotels close within the first year or two after opening, when they are still paying off construction debt, and more of these are being sold off. I want to consider the possibility of APA Hotel buying these hotel buildings while keeping an eye on the situation.
(H) You have an amazing ability to predict the future. When we shared a meal for the first time 30 years ago, you talked about the asset bubble bursting. That actually happened less than one year after that.
(M) I end up being right because I make decisions about whether something is possible based on my wisdom developed over many long years of gathering information. I successfully predicted that President Barack Obama would visit Hiroshima in 2016, as well as Donald Trump’s victory in the presidential election. I also buy and sell at good timings, maybe because I have good business luck. When Lehman Brothers went bankrupt in 2008, we were selling off assets at prices close to all-time highs because of the issue about falsified earthquake resistance data that occurred the year before. After the financial crisis, we bought a lot of land when prices fell to one third of the previous level. This became the base of APA’s Summit Strategy which started 10 years ago, and is why we now have 77 APA Hotels in central Tokyo.
(H) You’ve benefited from your ability to predict the future.
(M) I think good luck and good timing must have been involved in building such a large group of clinics.
(H) I’m not equipped with a “computer” like yours. I’ve expanded the business so far thanks to my intuition and personal network.
(M) You must employ many doctors.
(H) Yes, about 300. Many people who are introduced to the Taijukai by others want to work for us.
(M) People don’t want jobs at places with bad reputations. APA Group hired 450 new graduates this April.
(H) That is thanks to your good reputation.
(M) I know many politicians, but I make no political contributions. I’m connected with them through ideologies only. Forty-seven of the 48 candidates recommended by my Shoheijuku academy were victorious in the 2017 House of Representatives election, and all 12 recommended candidates won in the 2019 House of Councillors election. The Shoheijuku functions as a place to bring together conservative powers at our monthly meetings in Tokyo, Osaka, and Kanazawa.
(H) I would like to attend someday.
(M) Member of the House of Representatives Yasuhide Nakayama has given multiple speeches at the academy. In late May, he submitted a written resolution to the government asking it to reconsider Xi’s visit to Japan as a state guest. The government delayed placing a ban on Chinese travelers out of consideration for Xi’s visit, which should have been implemented as a measure against COVID-19. I think Japan would have a similar number of cases and deaths as Taiwan if it had made a correct judgment about what protection measures to take. This virus is infecting and killing massive numbers of people in Europe and the United States, yet the numbers are much smaller in East Asia, on a whole different order of magnitude.
(H) It seems unlikely this can be explained just by different customs and cultures. Perhaps there is a genetic reason…
(M) I feel the same way, and I wonder if the virus is a manmade weapon utilizing these genetic differences. Look at how those countries have 100 times the deaths per 100,000 people compared to Japan, China, South Korea, and Taiwan. If the virus was designed to cause damage in Europe and the U.S., I think it has certainly fulfilled its purpose. Lawsuits are being filed for restitution from China, including in Missouri (U.S.), the United Kingdom, and Italy. I think Japan should do this as well; now is not the time to be considerate and kind. We must speak out when necessary. We should also switch Japan’s traditionally rote memory-focused education to debate-focused education for that reason. We must educate students so they can discuss and discover what is correct.
(H) I agree entirely. In the education of my daughter, who is in her third year of elementary school, I’m focusing on developing good math and thinking skills.
(M) As part of that, I think we should teach students that countries have no scruples about telling lies for the sake of their national interests. Chinese schools don’t teach about the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests, and citizens can’t search for information about them online. Chinese people also can’t search for or make direct bookings at APA Hotel. The COVID-19 cases and deaths released by the Chinese authorities are also quite suspicious.
(H) That’s true.
(M) Diplomatic relationships in the global community are like childish fights; you can’t say what you want without the strength to back it up. Nations can only express their views if they have military strength to maintain a balance of power. Japan cannot sufficiently refute the many criticisms from South Korea about the comfort women and conscripted workers.
(H) Why is South Korea so anti-Japanese? They are saying they were oppressed in the past…
(M) Perhaps one could say that Japanese rule – which boosted the general public’s standard of living – seemed like oppression to a few members of the ruling class on the Korean Peninsula. However, most citizens were exploited by the nobility and bureaucracy. This was improved during the Japanese rule. Japan increased the number of elementary schools from 100 to 4,000 and implemented Hangul education to drastically raise the literacy rate. However, today South Koreans only use Hangul and can no longer read Chinese characters (kanji). This means they can’t read papers from the past, and that past academic results are inaccessible. It seems unlikely that a paper written in Korean will ever win a Nobel Prize. In contrast, Japanese is a highly expressive language because it combines hiragana and katakana (phonetic scripts) and kanji (ideograms). Students are taught almost nothing about these good points in school education.
(H) I also think the media is at fault. The news only reports negative information about COVID-19, which makes viewers feel depressed. Maybe they think there is less risk of criticism if they focus on the fearful aspects. I feel like the same thing is happening regarding Japan’s masochistic view of history.
(M) That’s right. The Japanese media is so ridiculous because the American Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers (GHQ) took measures to inspire a sense of atonement for World War II. The media was censored, and books praising Japan were collected and burned. The GHQ also established the Press Code that makes media outlets restrict their own information before it is published. This is why people are not told the truth. Japan did not invade other countries during World War II – it helped countries that were invaded by the Western European powers gain liberty and independence. For instance, the Dutch were driven out of Indonesia after 350 years of colonial rule. The Netherlands resented this, so they judged many Japanese people as being guilty of war crimes and decided to execute them at the trials after the war.
(H) The international coalition forces formed during the 1900 Boxer Rebellion highly praised the Japanese army for its capabilities and order. This led to the Anglo-Japanese Alliance two years later. Young people know nothing about this. They are taught that the Japanese army pillaged and killed many people, including the Nanjing Massacre. I hope you will keep working to amend this mistaken historical awareness.
(M) I will do all I can for our children and grandchildren. At the end of the interview, I always ask for a “word for the youth.”
(H) Japan has many wonderful features, including our history and language. I hope they will learn about these things without having a masochistic viewpoint. I also hope they will be cheerful and positive like myself, with a que será, será spirit. This will draw people to them and ensure a positive life. I hope to see more people with wisdom as well as knowledge, and who can speak with their hearts, not just their words.
(M) I agree. Thank you very much for joining me today.
(H) Thank you.
Date of dialogue: June 5, 2020
Born in Osaka. Graduated from Fukuoka Dental College. Earned his Doctor of Dental Science degree. Established the Taijukai in 1996. Has served as the managing director and director of the Osaka Dental Association for 10 years. Member of the International College of Dentists Japan Section. Chairman, Osaka chairman, and honorary chairman of the Osaka Clinical Dental Implant Association. Vice-chairman of the Japan Institute for Advanced Dentistry. Outside of the dental industry, he is councilor of the KANSAI Association of Corporate Executives, councilor of the Kansai Economic Federation, head of the Nishonoseki Beya (formerly Matsugane Beya) Support Organization, and head of the Former Prime Minister Mori Support Organization. Harutsugu has held his post as head of the Former Prime Minister Mori Support Organization for over 20 years. His other experience outside of the medical field includes running in the House of Councillors election (number one and number two in proportional representation) together with Antonio Inoki in the Sports and Peace Party. Harutsugu has also been invited to a spring garden party by their majesties the Emperor and Empress and has spoken with the Emperor.