Member of the House of Representatives Kenya Akiba was part of the ninth class of the Matsushita Institute of Government and Management, where he was one of the last students to receive direct guidance from Konosuke Matsushita. He studied law in graduate school and established many private member’s bills when he was a member of the prefectural assembly. As a member of the National Diet, he is currently active as senior vice minister of health, labour and welfare and senior vice minister for reconstruction, and has also served as vice-minister for internal affairs and communications. Toshio Motoya spoke with Akiba about the possibility of a double election and growth strategies in the medical care field that Akiba is involved in.
the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) reform would never have occurred
Motoya Thank you for joining me on Big Talk today.
Akiba No, thank you for inviting me at such a good timing, before the election.
Motoya We know each other because you were a senior student at the university attended by the managing director of APA Hotel.
Akiba Yes, that’s right. The managing director and I are both alumni of Chuo University. There is an association of businesspeople who graduated from Chuo University, which I attended as a guest. That’s how I met the managing director. I was also invited to the wine gathering at your home the other day.
Motoya I talk with many National Diet members. But unlike them you speak frankly, which makes me like you very much indeed. After all, I am the same way (laughs.) You also gave a wonderful talk at the Shoheijuku school. I expect a great deal of you as a politician, so I look forward to talking with you about various topics today.
Akiba I look forward to our dialogue.
Motoya As I’ve written in my essays before, the DPJ was able to gain political power because former bureaucrats and graduates of the Matsushita Institute of Government and Management skillfully hid the true nature of the party. Because of these two groups of people, the citizens thought it would be okay to allow the DPJ to govern. The Matsushita Institute of Government and Management graduates committed a significant sin by deceiving the people. Even though you are a graduate of this institution, you are all right because you are a member of the LDP (laughs).
Akiba Thank you very much (laughs).
Motoya However, the LDP administration before the regime change was also awful. Former Prime Minister Taro Aso had Toshio Tamogami, chief of staff of Japan’s Air Self-Defense Force, dismissed because he wrote an essay that won the Grand Prize in the “True Interpretations of Modern History” essay contest I organized. The situation in the world became bizarre from that point, which led to the birth of the DPJ government. The DPJ continually made clumsy political decisions over the three years and three months it was in power, so the LDP gained power once again. However, if the DPJ hadn’t come into power, I think the series of mediocre LDP prime ministers would have continued, and the new LDP government of today would not have been born.
Akiba That may be true.
Motoya Korean President Lee Myung-bak has landed on Takeshima and spoken with contempt for His Majesty the Emperor. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev also landed in the Northern Territories, and Chinese fishing boats have rammed into patrol boats of the Japanese Coast Guard. All of these incidents occurred during the DPJ regime. The LDP government was able to take the plate once again because of the DPJ’s inept responses to such incidents, which led to Shinzo Abe’s second term as prime minister. You currently serve as senior vice minister of health, labour and welfare and senior vice minister for reconstruction, and I expect great things of you.
Akiba Thank you very much. I am always surprised by straightforward proposals. You recently wrote in Apple Town that a double election should be held with constitutional reform as a point at issue. Prime Minister Abe will certainly have made a decision by early July, when this magazine is published. When you invited me to your wine gathering the other day, I heard you speak about a double election for the first time. I thought it might be possible, so I asked Prime Minister Abe himself about it. He said he will definitely not hold a double election, however…
Motoya Prime ministers are allowed to tell lies about interest rates and the dissolution of the House of Representatives (laughs). But like the popular catch phrase says, “When will the House of Representatives be dissolved? Ima desho!” (“Now, of course!”). (Laughs)
Akiba (Laughs) Past June 24, even if the demarcation bill based on the concept of “increase by zero, decrease by five” is voted down in the House of Councillors, it will be re-approved in the House of Representatives. Therefore, the House of Representatives could theoretically be dissolved from mid-June. If dissolution were to happen, it would probably be before June 26, during the session of the National Diet. Dissolution can still take place even when the National Diet is not in session, but doing so while it is in session has become a sort of rule. I anticipate that a public announcement will be made on the House of Councillors election on July 4, and that voting will take place on July 21.
Motoya I feel Prime Minister Abe put out the demarcation bill at a carefully chosen timing so that, even if it was shot down in the House of Councillors, it could be re-approved in the House of Representatives before the House of Councillors election. This autumn, the series of litigation on the disparity between values of votes in different constituencies will certainly be judged in the Supreme Court. I think the December 2012 election will be judged as unconstitutional. If things continue in the same way, even if something is decided in the House of Representatives, lawsuits will take place and there will be no choice but to judge them as unconstitutional. Based on the slogan of avoiding unconstitutional circumstances, I am certain that the House of Representatives will be dissolved and a double election will take place.
Akiba You speak in a very persuasive way. If a double election were to be held, it’s true that the LDP could gain sole power. However, just half a year has passed since the last general election. Some people feel that, since we have two thirds of the seats in the House of Representatives, no more are needed.
touting the concept of avoiding unconstitutional circumstances
Motoya Another important goal of a double election is to dissolve the alliance with the New Komeito Party (NKP), which is opposed to constitutional reform. I have continued saying this since Prime Minister Abe was the chief cabinet secretary. The alliance with the NKP turned the LDP more leftist, making it worse and worse. Some people say the LDP has acquired 50 parliamentary seats thanks to the NKP, but that was in the past. If a single-party administration was created by resolutely severing this alliance, the LDP could win more support.
Akiba I have heard that advice before. But on the other hand, we have a trusting relationship of more than 10 years with the NKP.
Motoya If constitutional amendment were brought to the forefront, the LDP could definitely win the election. Rather than bringing up minor points at issue, you should focus on constitutional reform alone. The LDP should embark on the election with a severe enough attitude to send “assassins” to take down the people in the party who are against constitutional reform.
Akiba Like Junichiro Koizumi’s postal privatization election.
Motoya In the House of Representatives election of six years ago, I also recommended to Prime Minister Abe that he hold a double election in order to retain a majority in the House of Councillors. But he chose not to do so because he didn’t want to sacrifice the Diet members who had served just half of one term since being elected in Koizumi’s postal election. However, this time the LDP could hold up the banner of unconstitutionality.
Akiba In the first Abe administration of six years ago, the approval for the LDP declined due to issues such as the pension and latter-stage elderly healthcare systems. And a headwind was blowing, so I think that a double election was a difficult decision.
Motoya But headwinds don’t necessarily mean defeat; it depends on how you fight. At the time of Koizumi’s postal election in 2005, many LDP members were opposed to it. For example, Yoshiro Mori tried to make Koizumi change his mind by talking about the “dried-out cheese” served at Koizumi’s official residence. Everyone though the LDP would lose political power through a conservative division. Conversely, I expected the LDP would win a great victory, because Koizumi made the point at issue a very simple one – approval or opposition to postal privatization. The results were just as I said.
Akiba The results certainly turned out as you say, but it’s a fact that many people thought it was a losing battle at the time of the dissolution.
Motoya The great victory was brought about by Koizumi’s obstinate decision to send “assassins” against the candidates who objected to postal privatization. The same thing should be done now to people who oppose constitutional reform. For example, Diet members such as Shinjiro Koizumi are secretly part of the faction that wants to protect the constitution. In a recent newspaper interview, his statements included that the point at issue in the House of Councillors election should be reconstruction after the Great East Japan Earthquake rather than constitutional change. He doesn’t state it directly, but he wants to protect the constitution. Sending someone to take him down would make a great impact and might be a good strategy.
Akiba Former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi was, of course, for constitutional change, so I think Shinjiro is as well…
Motoya In any case, the article about Shinjiro Koizumi was a negative one for the LDP. The party’s platform is constitutional change, but the many influential people in the LDP that want to protect the constitution have formed a bottleneck. They must be uncovered somehow.
Akiba I understand what you are saying, but I doubt that Prime Minister Abe will make that decision.
Motoya When Diet Member Hiroshi Hase first heard me speak of a double election, he said, “We just finished and there’s no money!” Nevertheless, posters of Hase are hanging in his home prefecture of Ishikawa next to the House of Councillors candidates, showing his face the same size as theirs. Hase also spoke of a double election at the Shoheijuku in Kanazawa. He’s acting very strange. Hase is a member of the Machimura Faction that Prime Minister Abe also used to be a part of, so perhaps he has been told to get ready for an election.
Akiba Well, I belong to no political faction… (Laughs)
Motoya I heard from other influential people that preparations should be made as well.
Akiba Is that so? The double election is beginning to seem real.
Motoya I suspect that the Japan Restoration Party and other parties could not put out candidates. There is a high possibility that deposited money would be seized, so they cannot collect funds. However, the LDP, Japanese Communist Party, NKP, and DPJ have plenty of capital. Parties like the LDP with lots of funds will probably be able to come up with good candidates. I hope you will aim to become a minister after the next election.
Akiba Thank you for expecting so much of me. I have been involved in politics as a long time as a member of the prefectural assembly and National Diet, but I’ve never seen the LDP have an approval rating of 30% or greater like it does now. We will work to accomplish things so that we can maintain this high approval rating.
Motoya The Japan Restoration Party probably doesn’t want an election to take place. I think the LDP will be the sole winner, and will become the single strong party.
Akiba I don’t just want the LDP administration to continue for a long time because it is my own party. Rather, I believe the current Abe government is the last chance for Japan – which has declined on the world stage – to recover its presence. If we do not free Japan of deflation, Japan will never be able to rise again. I feel a sense of impending crisis about these things. To that end as well, the ideal would certainly be to resolve the divisions in both houses, and for the LDP to gain a majority in the upper and lower houses alike.
Motoya Because continuity is lost for political measures, in other countries it would be impossible for the top leader to change every single year.
Akiba That’s right. At summits and other events, the leaders greet each other by saying, “It’s been a long time.” Only the Japanese prime minister always starts with, “Nice to meet you.” It’s impossible to carry out forceful diplomacy in this way.
Motoya Still, the first Abe administration ended according to the will of the U.S. The “breaking free from the postwar regime” that Prime Minister Abe aimed for meant, in fact, independence from the U.S. And because the American and Japanese bureaucrats are in collusion with each other, the opposition forces were too strong. Prime Minister Abe’s awareness of this was insufficient as well. But Prime Minister Abe has changed greatly over the following five years. In a sense, he is running the government in a cunning way.
Akiba Yes, he is making progress in a very deliberate way. In addition, the National Diet rules need to be revised in regards to diplomacy; the prime minister is overly bound to the National Diet. In England and Germany, the prime minister is bound to the diet for only one month of the year. Yet in Japan’s case, the prime minister must basically attend the National Diet during every day of its 150-day session, except for weekends and public holidays. The same applies to cabinet ministers. Vice ministers – a lower-ranked position – must often go to the international conferences that cabinet ministers should be attending. Counterparts are vital for international relations, so cabinet ministers should deal with cabinet ministers. This is the reason that foreign travel increases just as the National Diet session ends.
Motoya A sole-party regime, accomplished through an overwhelming majority, is also important so that cabinet ministers could travel abroad freely. I am sure this can be achieved in the next election.
Akiba I hope so, too.
MotoyaEven if approval is obtained with two thirds in both houses – the required number for proposals – the next barrier to constitutional reform is the national referendum. The media will probably do all it can to agitate people and impede amendment. Nowadays the media continues making one-sided reports on the “Abenomics” economic policies, such as saying that these policies are good for exporters but that importers are struggling. A national movement should somehow be created, and victory must be obtained in the national referendum.
Akiba Japan is the only developed country that has not revised its constitution even one time since World War II. That is actually very strange. We must create an exemplary constitution by changing its content in a flexible way according to the times.
Motoya Yes, that’s right. Japan would become greater by revising the constitution and creating an army for national defense. If that were done, Japan’s right to speak with foreign countries and at the United Nations would be remarkably stronger. The preliminary step is that the Senkaku Islands issue is on its way to resolution since Abe became the prime minister. In May, Prime Minister Abe referred to submarines in the contiguous zone while concealing their nationality. But Japan, in cooperation with the U.S., is fully aware of the positions of warships including Chinese submarines. Japan is in full control of the seas and air right now, which China knows well. No one would begin a losing war; the People’s Liberation Army will definitely not attack since it knows Japan is in the superior position. The Japanese media, which doesn’t understand this, thoughtlessly continues crying out that China is a threat.
Akiba That trend certainly exists.
Motoya Wars occur when the balance of power breaks down. Japan is situated between the withdrawing U.S. and the expanding China, so it should skillfully create a balance of power. A national defense army is required to that end as well. Countries without independent armies are not independent countries. We should reform the constitution for that purpose. We must also recognize that the Constitution of Japan and Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security Between the United States and Japan (U.S.-Japan Security Treaty) were created as a set. The U.S.-Japan Security Treaty restrains Japan’s military expansion. Therefore, so that Japan can become a truly independent nation, we must make the U.S.-Japan alliance into a relationship of equality and mutual benefit, like the Anglo-Japanese Alliance. It will probably take a great deal of toil and time to make the U.S. recognize Japan’s indolence while maintaining a good relationship, and for Japan and the U.S. to enjoy equality and mutual benefits.
Akiba Yes, politicians must hold up higher ideals about how things should be.
Motoya The Anglo-Japanese Alliance was created because England wanted Japan to serve as Great Britain’s watchdog in East Asia. Right now, the line that connects the Senkaku Islands, Okinawa, and the Japanese islands is preventing China from advancing into the Pacific Ocean. There is a geopolitical meaning to Japan’s existence, so Japan should become a key nation for the power balance in East Asia while emphasizing this fact. Japan should also spend a great deal of time to make its relationship with the U.S. an equal one. During World War I, the Japanese fleet was dispatched to guard transport ships according to a request from England based on the Anglo-Japanese Alliance. People even died in battles with German U-boats, and there are still graves of Japanese soldiers in a British naval base on Malta. In the same way, in the future it’s unlikely that Americans will shed blood but Japanese will not. We need to be ready for this.
Akiba I agree completely.
should be improved and turned into an international growth industry
Motoya Can you please tell me about the work you are involved in right now?
Akiba The work of the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare (MHLW) spans a wide range of fields such as medical care, support for child rearing, and nursing care. The two main “arrows” of Abenomics are monetary easing and fiscal action. The issue is growth strategies, the third arrow. The first and most important part of this is the medical care field. We need to fully show the presence of MHLW while cooperating with the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry and other institutions. It seems like great efforts are being made in the Japanese medical equipment industry, including gastrocameras and examination machinery like CTs and MRIs. But in actuality, there is an excess of imports to the tune of 600 billion yen – a trade deficit. The excess of imports for medical supplies is 1.2 trillion yen. This shows how much Japan is actually depending on foreign products. On May 24 a cabinet decision was made on a new law on regenerative medicine, such as induced pluripotent stem cells, and a reform bill for the Pharmaceutical Affairs Act. After fully ensuring safety, the approval process will be simplified for regenerative medicine, which will be implemented at an early stage. These also include the strengthening of organizations to expedite clinical trials, as well as measures to make the approval process a smoother one. We are aiming to have this approved in the current National Diet session, but this will be difficult unless the session is extended.
Motoya I have visited 77 countries across the world, and have held dialogues with 41 ambassadors in Japan. Based on these experiences, I think what is important for a nation is education and medical care. Japan is aiming to be a country based on science and technology; it could contribute to the world by becoming an international leader in the medical care field.
Akiba Yes. The Health and Medical Care Strategy Office was established in the Cabinet Secretariat in February, and the MHLW has dispatched several personnel there. This office will serve a central role in thinking of strategies for embarking into the world, by making medical care, supplies, and equipment into a growth industry.
Motoya I think victors in life are those that are broad-minded and long-lived. Medical care is essential for that purpose.
Akiba You are correct. According to the 2013 World Health Statistics of the World Health Organization (WHO), the average life expectancy of a Japanese person is 83 years old – 79 for men and 86 for women. Japan has had the world’s longest life expectancy for 28 consecutive years since it attained that position in 1985. That is a wonderful thing, but healthy longevity is what is important. Healthy life expectancy – namely, being able to live in a healthy, independent way without primary nursing care – diverges significantly, with the average being 70 for men and 73 for women. The MHLW began the second stage of its Kenko Nippon 21 campaign this year. Plans to increase healthy life expectancy will be implemented according to multiple targets.
Motoya In her recent lectures, the president of APA Hotel has been advocating for the concept of “living a long life and then dying suddenly,” which she calls the “New GNP Declaration” (laughs).
Akiba That sounds good (laughs). In any case, it is very important to maintain and increase health. Medical expenses are increasing on the scale of one trillion yen each year. This year, they total 38 trillion yen.
Motoya That’s an amazing amount.
Akiba There are around 4.8 million elderly patients with cognitive impairments in Japan right now. Unfortunately, there is currently no cure for dementia, although proactive developments are taking place in the field of regenerative medicine. Regenerative medicine in Japan is some of the most advanced in the world, so I hope the MHLW will expand this even more in the future. People say that half of the parts in iPhones are made in Japan, but the only party that gains major benefits from this is Apple. If Japan doesn’t design actual products, it will not receive great profits. As a politician, I hope to provide even more bold support for the medical care field as a growth industry.
Motoya I look forward to your future efforts. At the end of the interview, I always ask for a “word for the youth.”
Akiba I am still young, myself (laughs). Rather than being dragged down by negative thoughts, I wish for young people to have dreams, hope, and an attitude of never giving up while fully taking on challenges.
Motoya I agree. Thank you very much for joining me today.
Born in 1962 in Miyagi Prefecture. After graduating from Chuo University’s Faculty of Law, Akiba completed the master’s course in the Graduate School of Law at Tohoku University. Afterwards, he became part of the ninth class at the Matsushita Institute of Government and Management, where he was the first student from Miyagi Prefecture. After graduation, he served three terms in as a member of the Miyagi Prefectural Assembly. He became a member of the House of Representatives, where he is currently in his fourth term. In the second Shinzo Abe administration, he serves as senior vice minister of health, labour and welfare and senior vice minister for reconstruction.