Big Talk

Many People Should be Aware of Japan’s Wonderful Culture and History

Governor of Saitama Prefecture Kiyoshi Ueda has accomplished many things during his 14-year term of office including reducing the number of high-school dropouts and cutting the number of government workers. Undaunted by four continuous election losses, he has a spirit of fortitude and was successfully elected to the National Diet on his fifth try. Toshio Motoya spoke with Ueda about the reasons he wanted to become a politician and Japan’s wonderful history.

Ueda won his first House of Representatives election on his fifth try, 13 years after his first election

(M) Thank you for joining me on Big Talk today.

(U) I’ve been looking forward to speaking with you.

(M) Before becoming governor, you were a member of the House of Representatives where you helped establish a caucus on the abduction issue and were one of its first members.

(U) I started it with Katsuei Hirasawa and Takeo Hiranuma. Jin Matsubara inherited my position after I became prefectural governor.

(M) Since then you have also been working on educational issues. How many years have you served as governor?

(U) Four terms totaling 14 years.

(M) That’s quite a long time. Did you dream of becoming a politician when you were young?

(U) I was born in Fukuoka City and grew up in Omuta City, where the Mitsui Miike Coal Mine was located. The Mitsui Miike labor dispute was going on when I became old enough to notice what was happening around me. The town was filled with people who had lost their jobs and there was a huge number of so-called “juvenile delinquents.” I was just a child, but I thought these young men were delinquents because they had bad teachers, and I decided to become a teacher to fix that. However, my thinking changed after reading the Forest of Education series in The Mainichi Shimbun newspaper when I was in my second year of high school. If I became a teacher, I could only teach people of one class – I couldn’t teach many kids without changing the educational system itself. Systems are determined by laws, and laws are made in the National Diet. That is when I decided to become a Diet member.

(M) Did you have any connections?

(U) Not at all. I went to college in Tokyo, and when I came back to Fukuoka I worked hard to make myself known to the public, such as serving as a counselor to my high school alumni association. I ended up running from Saitama Prefecture, so these efforts came to nothing.

(M) Did you run for the House of Representatives from Saitama as well?

(U) Yes, I ran for the first time in 1980, when I was a New Liberal Club policy staff member. Back then the rule was that you had to run as an independent unless the party had 25 official candidates. The House of Representatives was suddenly dissolved, just like this year, and there were just 16 candidates so we had to somehow find nine more. That is why I ran from Saitama as the 24th candidate. Later I regretted my statements in newspapers and TV programs that I would work hard for the sake of Saitama and Japan – If I ran from Fukuoka Prefecture in the future and become a great politician, people would attack me for lying about my dedication to Saitama (laughs). I made up my mind that I had to devote myself to Saitama.

(M) Did you win?

(U) No, it was a terrible loss, and I was defeated four times in succession. I finally won my fifth election, 13 years after my first try.

(M) That’s a difficult history. I applaud you for running so many times.

(U) Other people focused on my losses, but I saw that my votes were steadily increasing and felt that I was making steps towards victory.

(M) Did you mostly work on educational issues since your time in the House of Representatives?

(U) I was a member of the Committee on Finance. Of course we discussed educational policy, but we couldn’t implement policies without knowledge of the specific financial situations that are the foundations to these, such as the tax system. I couldn’t leave that committee during my time in the House of Representatives, partially due to the financial crisis after the burst of the bubble economy.

Improving school attendance and working to resolve educational issues

(M) You have made serious efforts about educational issues since becoming governor, is that right?

(U) Yes, my first initiatives were related to school non-attendance and drop-outs. Of course it’s not always a bad thing to drop out, and I think some students quit because they discover different future paths while in school. When I took up my post there were 155 prefectural schools in Saitama. There were some to which 200 students matriculated each year and then only 100 – half of the initial number – ended up graduating. Summer vacation was the worst timing, and I saw schools where 70 students had dropped out when the new semester started. In the ranking of high school drop-outs by prefecture, Saitama ranked 46th from the bottom, meaning it had Japan’s second-highest percentage of drop-outs. I held thorough talks with the superintendent of education and considered policies to resolve this issue.

(M) What policies did you implement?

(U) It’s pointless to tell students with bad grades and huge inferiority complexes to study, which is why hands-on learning is good for them. One example is a female student working for one week as a helper at a daycare center. Small children like young people and become attached to the student. This improves her self-esteem and makes her believe she is capable. She would need a certification to become a childcare worker, which necessitates study. Rather than studying for no purpose, I helped encourage students to study as a way to fulfill their goals. This steadily reduced the high school drop-out rate and today Saitama has the 12th-lowest percentage.

(M) I think the lack of in-home education is one factor behind the high school drop-out issue. This is probably because the extended family has broken down. After World War II, the American occupation army destroyed the family-headship and extended-family systems through education that emphasizes equality. This has transformed big families into individual ones, and it is harder to pass down wisdom inside families.

(U) People from big families withstand stress better. If they give in to stress, they cannot stand up to bullying.

(M) That’s right.

(U) Non-attendance in junior high school is also connected to dropping out from high school. However, I have no authority over junior high schools run by municipalities under the jurisdiction of each board of education. Looking at the rates of junior high school non-attendance in the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology’s Fundamental School Survey, Saitama has the eighth-highest rate (3.3 out of 100 students). The heads and superintendents are unaware of this, so I started distributing non-attendance data from the Fundamental School Survey to municipal boards of education each year. Today the non-attendance rate has fallen significantly and Saitama has the seventh lowest rate. In this way, I am doing all I can to help resolve educational issues within the scope I am capable of.

(M) What about the selection of junior high school history textbooks? It seems like few schools choose the textbooks from Jiyuusha or Ikuhosha Publishing. They should teach correct information, not fallacies.

(U) Reforms are quite difficult to implement. There is just one prefectural junior high school, directly connected to a high school for six years of integrated education, that decided to use Ikuhosha Publishing textbooks. It was subjected to immense criticism for this.

(M) Nagoya Mayor Takashi Kawamura was also intensely criticized for saying that the Nanjing Massacre is not real. China censured me by name in January for putting copies of my book that denies the Nanjing Massacre in APA Hotel rooms, which conversely gained me acclaim. We’ve had fewer Chinese customers but people from Japan, Taiwan, and other countries are staying with us to show their support. Our performance has not worsened, and we actually keep setting new records.

(U) I went to Nanjing in the 1970s. That was just 30 years after the end of the war, and people should have been throwing rocks at me if a massacre had occurred there. That didn’t happen, though.

(M) The slaughter of 300,000 people should have been a huge topic of conversation starting from the time of the incident. Chiang Kai-shek, who was always holding press conferences, did not object to a massive killing in Nanjing. No reports were filed by the many special correspondents from foreign countries staying in Nanjing. I find it bizarre that this fabrication is included in textbooks. It is also absurd that Japan has to take the views of other countries into account when producing its textbooks. This rule does not exist in the countries that are criticizing Japan.

Japan dispatched troops to Korea in the 4th and 5th centuries

(U) Old textbooks mentioned the Mimana Nihonfu government, which is left out of textbooks today. According to the Chinese Book of Song, the five kings of Wa sent tribute to Song China and asked for official titles in the 5th century. It is thought that the “five kings of Wa” refers to the Japanese emperors. As a reward for the tribute received in 478, the Song Dynasty bestowed upon Emperor Yuryaku (listed in the Book of Song as one of these five kings) the title “King of Wa and general of the six kingdoms of Wa, Silla, Mimana, Gaya, Jinhan, and Mahan.” This has not been accepted in some eras, and some books still state that he gave himself this title in 425. The Inariyama Sword was discovered in Gyoda City, Saitama Prefecture in 1968. It has been proven that this sword was made in 471 for a person who was likely an imperial guard serving Emperor Yuryaku.

(M) It seems many people don’t know that Japan had expanded onto the Korean Peninsula at such an early date.

(U) I think so. Also, writing on the Gwanggaeto Stele in China, near the border with North Korea, says that Japan crossed the ocean in 391 and defeated the kingdoms of Baekje, Kara, and Silla, making them Japanese subjects.

(M) I know that Toyotomi Hideyoshi invaded Korea in the Imjin War at the end of the 16th century, but the Japanese army also crossed the Genkai Sea 1,000 years before that.

(U) One theory is that there were Japanese people near Mimana and Baekje, which served as bases for gathering troops from the Korean Peninsula. In other words, some say the number of troops sent from Japan might not have been very large.

(M) I see. That makes sense.

(U) I love comparing world civilizations. The world’s four main civilizations – the Egyptian, Mesopotamian, Indus, and Yellow River civilizations – are said to have appeared around 5,000 years ago. However, research at the Sannai-Maruyama special historical site in Japan’s Aomori Prefecture shows that people were living in large buildings and growing crops at about the same time, roughly 4,500 years ago.

(M) Those four civilizations weren’t the only advanced ones.

(U) Right. Saitama Prefecture is a sister state of Ohio in the United States. I went there once and brought with me Hina Dolls, whose costumes stem from around 1,000 years ago. The governor of Ohio was shocked when I said the Japanese Imperial Family still wears garments of this sort.

(M) That’s only natural, since the U.S. is just 240 years old.

(U) Japan is a country that esteems tradition, but in terms of history it places too much importance on foreign sources. For instance, the Gishi Wajinden, a Chinese text about the kingdom of Wa, is highly trusted, yet the author never even visited Japan. It’s based on hearsay alone, just like how Marco Polo wrote about “Zipangu” as the “land of gold.” Japan in the era of Queen Himiko (the first half of the 3rd century) is described in the Gishi Wajinden as an extremely backward country. I cannot imagine a country like that being able to send troops across the ocean to the Korean Peninsula just 150 years later. Today’s textbooks are all dependent upon the Gishi Wajinden, but they should contain more information from the Japanese Nihon Shoki (“Chronicles of Japan”) and Kojiki (“Records of Ancient Matters”). Some people think the Kojiki is mythology, but I figure it can’t be an entirely imaginary tale. I think the proper interpretation is that it contains altered versions of things that really happened. In 1008, 300 years after the Kojiki and Nihon Shoki, Murasaki Shikibu wrote Genji Monogatari (“The Tale of Genji”), which is regarded as the world’s first novel.

Japan’s wonderful culture and history

(M) Japan has a wonderful culture and history that are not accurately conveyed in textbooks. Young people would want to travel abroad if they were able to confidently share the good qualities of Japan with people from other countries. I think this is part of the reason why fewer Japanese people are studying abroad in recent years.

(U) That might be true. There are many other examples of Japan’s fantastic qualities. People say the Tokugawa Shogunate enacted a policy of national isolation, yet Japan continued trading with the Netherlands, then the world’s top country, and China, the major power in East Asia.

(M) The Netherlands wasn’t as zealous as some other countries, but in the past missionaries were sent as the vanguard before occupation. Spain proselytized and increased the number of believers to take over the Philippines.

(U) Japan had a high cultural level and the missionaries couldn’t make great inroads, which is why Japan wasn’t colonized. A surviving letter from Francis Xavier praises Japan as the world’s foremost country. He said there was no garbage on the city streets in the 1570s, and that the people were courteous and did not gamble. Gambling actually took place at temples, but he didn’t know about it because he naturally wouldn’t go to them.

(M) Only a few guns were imported, but the Japanese rapidly copied and mass produced them. This was probably because of the groups of skilled craftsmen. Japan has always had fundamental skills and excelled at taking in and creating its own versions of new things.

(U) They say Japan had more guns than all of Europe at the time of the Battle of Sekigahara in 1600.

(M) I can believe that.

(U) There were Japanese communities across Asia in the era of Hideyoshi and Nobunaga. I think this was possible because of the excellent Japanese sailing technologies. Hideyoshi could send roughly 160,000 soldiers to the Korean Peninsula thanks to the great transport and supply abilities at that time. Britain and Spain fought the Battle of Armada in Europe in 1588, but neither party had the ability to land their troops in the other country. It seems safe to say that Japan had the top military in the world around 1600.

(M) Yes, that’s true. In addition to military strength, Japanese people have the unique trait of pursuing mastery in everything from flower arrangement to tea ceremony. Japanese swords are a classic example of this dedication. They are ingeniously designed, including different materials on the tip and central part, and repeatedly heated and forged to create supple, sharp weapons that are as beautiful as works of art. I hope to share these superb Japanese qualities with many people to help Japanese people regain their pride. I founded the APA Japan Restoration Foundation for that reason and am carrying out projects to promote true history.

(U) It’s not good to be arrogant about one’s abilities, but I think we should clearly emphasize what Japan does well compared to other countries.

(M) Yes. Can you tell us about your past results in fields besides education?

(U) Saitama Prefecture offers many fantastic things. The ratio of government workers to the total population is the lowest in Japan, just 11 per 10,000 people. The Japanese average is 22, and some prefectures have as many as 50. The amount of increase for financial institute outstanding loans is number two after Tokyo. We have the smallest ratio of policemen to the general population, but there is an exceptional number of civilian crime-prevention patrols (6,000), and public safety is extremely good. Our economy is in good shape, too. Aichi Prefecture has Japan’s highest GDP growth rate, but Saitama is number two. I think Saitama is a very energetic prefecture in many different ways.

(M) To conclude, will you share a “word for the youth?”

(U) Young people today are very shrewd and able to determine what they are capable of at an early stage. There are many cases in which calm thought leads to the conclusion that something should be avoided, but that means that nothing ever gets done.

(M) They must also find something they want to do and work hard to that end. However, I feel that fewer people have clear goals of that type.

(U) I am very fond of what a student from Kasukabe Girls’ Senior High School said: “Dreams won’t run away. Your self is always what runs away from them.”

(M) That’s great. In my elementary school yearbook I said I wanted to become “president of the world federation” in the future. There’s still no sign this federation will be created, but I think I was able to succeed in the business world exactly because of my lofty aspirations.

(U) I agree. I also recommend that young people read biographies. I read biographies of approximately 120 great people in elementary school, which I feel gave me a sense of the great importance of honesty, responsibility, and morals.

(M) I hope you will work even harder to make Saitama and Japan great places. Thank you for joining me today.


Kiyoshi Ueda
Born in Fukuoka City in 1948. Graduated from Hosei University’s Department of Law (Faculty of Law) in 1971 and Waseda University’s Graduate School of Political Science in 1975. After helping found the New Liberal Club in 1976, he worked as a part-time lecturer at the College of Construction while also running for the House of Representatives. He lost four elections and then won for the first time in 1993. After serving three continual terms, he ran for governor of Saitama Prefecture in 2003 and is currently in his fourth term.