Big Talk

Constitutional Reform is the Next Challenge for the Abe Administration

As a conservative politician, Member of the House of Representatives Takashi Nagao has worked with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and other politicians close to him since Nagao was a member of the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ). He left the DPJ and joined the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) because of his dedication to constitutional reform and is actively supporting the Abe administration. Toshio Motoya spoke with Nagao about topics such as the Abe administration’s accomplishments and how Donald Trump’s presidency would impact Japan.

Two Okinawan newspapers pose various problems

Motoya Thank you for joining me on Big Talk today. Our dialogue marks the 300th Big Talk, and I wanted to invite you because you are the head of the Shoheijuku Kansai Branch and a person I feel great ideological solidarity with. Thanks to you, each session of the Kansai Shoheijuku is full to capacity.

Nagao Thank you for inviting me. I think the prosperity of the Kansai Shoheijuku is due to great efforts by the staff members involved.

Motoya I would like to ask you about many different things. You were born in Tokyo, but your electoral district is Osaka. Can you start by telling me about that?

Nagao Yes. I was born and raised in Tokyo, but my father is from Oita Prefecture and I had many relatives in western Japan. My father also has nine brothers, of which he is the second youngest, and was born in 1912. I was born when he was 50 years old. For that reason, most of my father’s siblings are from the Meiji Period. He educated me with extreme strictness – I think his educational policy was aimed at children being able to stand on their own as quickly as possible. I left home and went to Ritsumeikan University in Kyoto.

Motoya You then entered Meiji Life Insurance after graduation.

Nagao Yes, I worked there for 17 years. I was frequently transferred and lived in various locations. I had connections with Kansai in particular, which is why I decided to run in the election from Osaka.

Motoya You are currently a National Diet member from the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), but you first ran as part of the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ).

Nagao Many people ask me about that (laughs). Health, labor, and welfare is my area of expertise, and I especially wanted to improve social security systems, which is why I entered the political world. The DPJ recognized this and reached out to me. The DPJ was a different party at that time; it had a positive stance on constitutional reform and also wanted to study and consider the exercise of the right to collective defense. However, the DPJ became strange in 2010 with the incident in which a Chinese fishing boat rammed into a patrol boat at the Senkaku Islands. I even ended up serving as an assistant to the chairman of the DPJ Policy Research Council and had a hand in putting together the manifesto that no one talks about any more. Incidentally, the party decided at the Policy Research Council Board of Directors Meeting to not discuss the issue of constitutional change. That made me keenly feel that I must not remain in the DPJ, so I left the party in 2012.

Motoya I have communicated with some Diet members from the Democratic Party who have conservative ways of thinking. I do think an attitude is also required of trying to change the party from inside. Some people ran from the DPJ due to the electoral districts, even though they originally had ideologies that resembled the LDP’s.

Nagao Considering that, I was very fortunate. Even when I was in the DPJ, I often worked with Diet members who were close to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in the framework of conservatism. When the Japan Restoration Party was formed in 2012, veteran Diet members who ran from the 14 wards of Osaka – rivals in my electoral district – left the LDP for the Japan Restoration Party. I did not expect those LDP Diet members to switch parties, so I was very lucky. Abe approached me afterwards, which led me to where I am today.

Motoya You then joined the LDP and are actively upholding the Abe administration. You oppose the system allowing spouses to retain separate family names and advocate for the Takeshima issue being settled in a private international law court. I agree entirely. I also have the same opinion regarding the biased Okinawa Times and Ryukyu Shimpo. A problem arose when lecturer Naoki Hyakuta criticized these two Okinawan newspapers last year at the Culture Art Social Gathering. You also attended that gathering.

Nagao Hyakuta’s statement affected me greatly. Two other Diet members spoke critically about the news reports by the general media. However, I pointed out that citizens’ campaigns are a front for antisocial activities in Okinawa, and asked why these two Okinawan newspapers do not report on this.

Motoya If there are two newspapers in a given area, they are usually divided along the line of left- and right-wing views. But these two Okinawan papers have the exact same stance. The national papers arrive in Okinawa in the afternoon, so most people subscribe to one of these papers and end up having the same way of thinking. The anti-base conflict was incited more by left-wing activists on the mainland, rather than being for the benefit of Okinawa. The two newspapers report on this as if it were the public opinion in Okinawa.

Nagao These two newspapers have dedicated readerships for another reason. Okinawa has a culture of reverence for ancestors, which leads to great demand for obituaries. Both papers have popular obituary sections spanning two pages. Even if the national papers installed rotary presses on the main island of Okinawa and delivered papers in the morning, no one would subscribe if they didn’t run obituaries in this way.

Motoya I see. So that’s another reason.

Nagao Both the Times and Shimpo also have online news sites. People from across the world view these websites and assume they represent the consensus of opinion in Okinawa, which is a problem.

Motoya There are also many intentionally warped articles. An example is the number of people at meetings; looking at actual photographs clearly shows the numbers are inflated significantly. Robert D. Eldridge (former deputy assistant chief of staff of government and external affairs, United States Marine Corps in Okinawa), who won a prize in last year’s “True Interpretations of Modern History” essay contest, also indicted these two papers for their awful falsified news. To expose them, he gave a video from a base surveillance camera to the external media, which led to his dismissal from the Marine Corps. This might not have become a hot topic in the past, but the circumstances have changed. The world is becoming increasingly conservative and many people are talking about issues like the biased Okinawan media because they were woken up when Toshio Tamogami – who is not well versed in law and was arrested for illegal payments after the Tokyo gubernatorial election – won the Grand Prize (Fuji Seiji Prize) in the “True Interpretations of Modern History” essay contest.

The LDP is changing under Abe, including its advocacy for reformed ways of working

Nagao I think this trend of growing conservatism is founded on the theme of “breaking free from the postwar regime” that was raised by the first Abe administration. I got goose bumps all over my body when I heard that for the first time. Japan grew into the world’s second-largest economy thanks to the postwar government and strength of its citizens. But because we have entrusted the U.S. with our defense, Japan has avoided having a fundamental discussion about the form of the nation. The phrase “breaking free from the postwar regime” summarized the postwar LDP, which has directly focused on this issue, and I think it is a wonderful viewpoint.

Motoya I also felt like we had finally entered a world in which those words could be spoken. Yet Abe was subjected to extremely fierce outside pressure from the U.S. due to his statement, and he ended up in poor health and was forced to resign his position after one year. However, he once again became president of the LDP and then prime minister five years later. It’s amazing that a prime minister who once resigned could regain that position…

Nagao I think it was a miraculous achievement.

Motoya Yes. Before the public announcement that Tamogami won the Grand Prize in the 1st Annual “True Interpretations of Modern History” contest in 2008, I actually showed his essay to Abe. Thinking it would be difficult for Abe to become prime minister a second time, I asked him if he would be the chairman of a truly conservative society I was going to form, considering the movement towards genuine conservatism instead of pro-American conservatism. After all, I was the vice-chairman of the Society for Making Shinzo Abe Prime Minister before he became prime minister for the first time. Abe thought for several days about my request, and then declined because he thought it was premature. But he knows very well how I think, and has implemented policies that I agree with in both his first and second administration.

Nagao Is that so?

Motoya Abe has grown greatly in his second stint as prime minister, and is administering the government in a pragmatic way. Avoiding direct statements like “postwar regime,” he instead engages in a detour strategy while gradually moving Japan in the direction he wants it to go. It’s clear that he is making great efforts so many people understand controversial matters like the security legislation, Trans-Pacific Partnership, and Japan-South Korea agreement. His next major challenge is constitutional reform. Many people support him on this issue, so I think he will push forward with an approach of first revising the constitution once. After several revisions, we could approach the ideal amendment plan of today. Yet there are extremely high hurdles in place: agreement by two thirds of Diet members in both houses and a majority in a national referendum. In the national referendum in particular, it’s likely that organizations like the nationwide Article 9 Association would put up strong opposition. The next House of Councillors election is extremely important for constitutional change, and I think there is still potential for a double election.

Nagao I think so, too. If there is a national referendum, it’s likely that advocates of the current constitution will engage in a desperate struggle.

Motoya The media would definitely report on this in an excessive way. I think constitutional change cannot be achieved unless we can conquer that.

Nagao Abe is working deliberately to get rid of obstacles regarding various issues, including constitutional change and the visit to Hiroshima by President Barack Obama that will take place on May 27. That’s how I feel about his management of Diet affairs, too.

Motoya He seems more patient than he was in his first administration.

Nagao In the field of health, labor, and welfare, which is my specialty, the LDP is advocating for concepts it never has before. These include reforming ways of working, same wages for the same work, and the dynamic engagement of women and all citizens. The LDP is being greatly transformed in this way.

Trump’s presidency would be a favorable chance for discussing constitutional reform

Motoya Returning to the topic of the Japan-U.S. relationship, to construct a genuinely friendly relationship, I believe Japan must recognize the true purpose of the atomic bombs: by dropping them, the U.S. wanted to change World War III from a fierce fight into the Cold War. In the closing days of World War II, the U.S. provided extensive military assistance to the Soviet Union to destroy Nazi Germany. As a result, the Soviet Union became a military monster, and likely would have ended up communizing Europe, Asia, and even Africa if things had continued in that way. To prevent the communization of the globe, the U.S. created reasons for dropping the bombs through a range of different maneuvers, and then bombed Japan as a way to restrain the Soviet Union. If Japan recognizes this, the U.S. would no longer have to portray Japan as a bad country, and I think it would begin using vast amounts of evidence to proactively negate the Nanking Massacre and comfort women stories. This would definitely shorten the distance between Japan and the U.S.

Nagao I think that is a very astute analysis. Some people say that Obama’s impending visit to Hiroshima is meaningless if he does not apologize. I feel the same emotion, but I think that’s a bit wrong in terms of a political response. Because 70 years have passed since the end of the war, it is important that the lingering feelings in both countries – which have avoided consensus in the discussion of which country was at fault – lead to actions toward the future.

Motoya Yes. That type of future-oriented thinking is important, and we must know the truth presupposed on that. The U.S. occupied Japan after the war, bound the media with the Press Code, ousted 200,000 Japanese public officials who knew the truth from the center stage, created the Japan Teachers’ Union, and implemented education that uses biased historical textbooks. All of these measures were so the U.S., which dropped the bombs, would be seen as a righteous country and Japan, the victim, as a bad one.

Nagao The Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers (GHQ) created a group of professionals to conduct its occupation policy, and it carried out extremely minute policies of various types.

Motoya The U.S. began planning for a war with Japan as soon as Japan won the Russo-Japanese War.

Nagao Yes, with War Plan Orange. I think Japan must have been a thorn in the side of the U.S., which wanted hegemony of the Pacific Ocean.

Motoya Exactly. Donald Trump, the Republican presidential candidate, says it is bizarre that the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty is a unilateral treaty in which Japan does not have to protect the U.S. in the event of an attack. What he doesn’t understand is that the Constitution of Japan and Japan-U.S. Security Treaty were enacted together as a joint yoke to prevent Japan from becoming a major military power once again, and to maintain the American hegemony of the Pacific Ocean desired by the U.S. since the arrival of Commodore Matthew C. Perry. But in a fundamental way, what Trump says is proper – the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty must be made into a bilateral treaty. Trump’s presidency would be a chance for Japan to amend the constitution and complete rearmament in a form that stresses deterrence with offensive abilities, rather than just nonaggressive defense.

Nagao I agree. I think Trump’s presidency would provide an opening for Japan to change the constitution and rearm. The phrase “nonaggressive defense” sounds good, but it means that Japan cannot wage a counterattack unless some Japanese people are sacrificed first. Would anyone want to be sacrificed to that end? I can’t help but feel this regards human life too lightly.

Motoya People no longer notice these obvious things due to the imprinting after the war.

Nagao Yet today we have the tool known as the Internet. Truths and lies are mixed together online, but it is certainly an environment where people can be the judges of information.

Motoya It is significant that people can research on their own, which means there is potential for awakening. Some people say the popularization of video was one cause for the collapse of the Soviet Union – seeing videos of the affluent lifestyles of the West, which were not broadcast, led to mistrust of the system. The Internet has since fulfilled that role. I think an era will come in which most people regard as ridiculous the brainwashed claims of the faction in favor of protecting the constitution.

Nagao A silent majority is taking notice of the strange nature of sponsored media reports, such as TV and radio broadcasts. We politicians must create opportunities for them to be active. The left wing is more skilled at this, however. It seems like the left wing has many activists, while the conservatives are mainly commentators.

The withholding of union dues should be prohibited to cut off the left wing’s source of funds

Motoya One idea for turning society in a decent direction is a law that prohibits the withholding of labor union dues from salaries.

Nagao The left wing definitely doesn’t want that to happen. I was a salaried worker for many years, and I didn’t pay attention to how much was regularly withheld from my wages, such as income tax. I didn’t know how much I paid in taxes, nor did I worry about what they were used for. At a DPJ meeting I stated that salaried workers should have to file taxes like in the U.S., and was met by a major backlash. I felt the discussion of withheld union dues is an untouchable issue.

Motoya These withholdings are left-wing fund sources, which is why they are able to mobilize so many people. They use these funds for demonstration participation costs and bus fare. The conservative faction doesn’t have funding of this type.

Nagao In Okinawa, our conservative demonstration once passed by a left-wing demonstration, and a married couple from the left wing mistakenly got mixed into the conservative demonstration. On their way home they asked for their daily allowance, which is how we knew they had been mistakenly drawn in. Many people take part in left-wing demonstrations to earn money.

Motoya I think a two-step assault would be good. First, we should create a law requiring the clear indication of how these withheld union dues are used. It seems they are even more obscure, to a large extent, than political funds. Next, we should make an issue of the fact that union dues are being used in this way and prohibit these withholdings.

Nagao I think that would also be a good start to making people more aware of the taxes paid by salaried employees. Thinking back, Tamogami’s essay inspired the conservative silent majority to appear. After reading it, many people have stepped up who felt the same way for a long time. I think it was an epoch-making event for the conservative movement.

Motoya It looks like this year’s election will be the next tipping point. The question is whether forces in favor of constitutional change can gain two thirds of the Diet seats. If the Abe administration does not change the constitution, I have no idea when it will be amended. I think this is our last chance. I also feel the LDP regulations should be revised so Abe is in office for three terms (nine years) instead of two terms (six years). And then, who will be the next prime minister? I declared that a future cabinet minister and prime minister will be former Shoheijuku students, and last year Hiroshi Hase became minister of education, culture, sports, science and technology. I hope that Tomomi Inada will be the next prime minister. My wish is that Abe will aim to create a long-term government and achieve unity in the party.

Nagao In Kasumigaseki and Nagata-cho, evil spirits are rampant and a sense of balance is exceedingly important. The Abe administration is different from past governments because the bureaucrats have abilities that are strong and favorably balanced. They do not wield their power indiscriminately, but run the government with a sense of this fear. The Cabinet Bureau of Personnel Affairs was formed in 2014, and today the Prime Minister’s Official Residence is in charge of bureaucratic personnel affairs. This is not evaluated very highly, but it is amazing.

Motoya The Abe administration has accomplished great things, so I hope it will be victorious in this year’s election and extend Abe’s term as a reward. The remaining two years and a few months are too few. I definitely hope the Abe administration will become a long-term government and amend the constitution, and I ask for your support to that end.

Nagao I understand. I am still growing as a member of the National Diet, so I will work hard to gain more experience and achieve a position of that sort.

Motoya At the end of the interview, I always ask for a “word for the youth.”

Nagao The voting age will be changed to 18 from the next national election. Of course, I hope young people will have the strong spirit to exercise both their right to vote and run for office. During the Edo Period, only people from samurai families were allowed to participate in politics. People from specific classes have affected politics up until now, but today things are different. My father was a salaried worker, and I used to be one too. In this environment people from different backgrounds can become politicians, even if their parents were not politicians. Everyone comes in contact with laws during their daily lives, so I think they should be more familiar with politics. I think society would be better if more young people wished to run for office.

Motoya People used to dream of being doctors or cabinet ministers, but what about now? I think many people don’t want to be persecuted for small issues such as how they use several 10,000s of yen. If society was a bit more easygoing, I think the number of people who dreamed of becoming politicians would increase.

Nagao Yes. Young people should think bigger and be more dynamic. I am still young, so I will work hard to be a leader in that way.

Motoya I expect great things of you! Thank you for joining me today.


Takashi Nagao
Born in Tokyo in 1962. After graduating from Ritsumeikan University’s Department of Business Administration (College of Business Administration) in 1986, he entered Meiji Life Insurance Company and worked there until 2002. He was elected to the House of Representatives for the first time in 2009, and serves in posts including executive board member of the House of Representatives Committee on Health, Labour and Welfare. He is currently in his second term.