Member of the House of Councillors Seiko Hashimoto has participated in seven Olympics in two events: speed skating and bicycle racing. After winning a Bronze Medal, she became a member of the National Diet to get involved in sports policy and is currently in her 24th year. Toshio Motoya spoke with Hashimoto, who is also a vice president of the Japanese Olympic Committee, about topics including preparations for the Olympic and Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020, her enthusiasm to make the games a success, and the Liberal Democratic Party’s efforts for constitutional reform.
(M) Thank you for joining me on Big Talk today. I’m sure there are no Japanese people who don’t know your name. You’ve competed in four Olympics as a speed skater and three as a bicycle racer. You were also the first Japanese woman to win a Bronze Medal in speed skating. How many years have you been a member of the House of Councillors?
(H) Twenty-three years have passed, and I’m now in my 24th year.
(M) You’re also the chairperson of the General Assembly of Party Members of the House of Councillors.
(H) Yes, I’ve served two years of my three-year term of office.
(M) What committee are you part of?
(H) I became a member of the National Diet because I wanted to be involved in sports administration and policy, so I’m a member of the Committee on Education, Culture and Science that handles this field.
(M) So is Hiroshi Hase, who writes a column for this magazine, Apple Town.
(H) We both have a special interest in this topic.
(M) You’re also the president of the Japan Skating Federation.
(H) Yes, and I’m also head of the Japan Cycling Federation and vice president of several sports associations.
(M) As a person who supports sports from the dual realms of politics and sports associations, you are also a vice president of the Japanese Olympic Committee. Less than two years remain until Tokyo 2020.
(H) Tokyo won the bid five years ago, and back then I thought seven years was a lot of time. However, in the blink of an eye, just two years are left.
(M) I feel like young Japanese athletes are working hard and achieving great things in many different sports since Tokyo won the bid. The other day the Japanese volleyball team beat Serbia, the previous Silver Medal winner in Rio de Janeiro, in the Women’s World Championship.
(H) Athletes definitely want to take part in Olympic Games held in their own countries. I also think they’re more focused on winning medals. The National Training Center was completed in Kita City, Tokyo 10 years ago, close to the Japan Institute of Sports Sciences. They carry out comprehensive research on medical care, informatics, equipment, and other topics, and the results help support athletes. Research is underway on various human mechanisms, such as elucidating fatigue through neuroscience. They also provide psychological training in the mental realm, for instance guidance on image training and mind control.
(M) Scientific research and guidance has become the mainstream, rather than mental aspects. I feel like this has been successful. Suguru Osako set a new Japanese record (around 2:05) at the recent Chicago Marathon. The world record is around 2:01, and I think someone will eventually complete it in less than two hours. People used to say that a 100-meter short-distance race couldn’t be done in less than 10 seconds, but today Japanese athletes have proven this wrong.
(H) Yoshihide Kiryu ran it in around nine seconds last year, and I think two more Japanese athletes will do so as well.
(M) That’s an amazing accomplishment that couldn’t have been imagined in the past. Is this the result of scientific training, both mental and physical, and efforts such as dietary control?
(H) Athletes can’t compete against top global figures if any of these are lacking.
(M) I also think equipment is of great importance.
(H) It is. In speed skating, the part of the skate that directly touches the ice is called the “edge.” We adjust the edge at the millimeter level to find the shape that enables the best performance.
(M) So each person has a different setting?
(H) Yes, after all, it’s a sport that depends on hundredths of a second. It’s actually measured down to the thousandth of a second. If the time, measured in hundredths of a second, is the same, photographs are used to judge, and victory can depend on differences of several centimeters.
(M) In speed skating, what body part has to cross the finish line to win? I’ve heard it’s the torso in track and field.
(H) The tip of the edge.
(M) I see.
(M) I feel the Olympics, held every four years, serve as great motivators and goals to many athletes. Some people and media outlets take a negative view of these games and try to put a damper on the excitement with their criticisms. There was an outcry that resulted in Zaha Hadid’s design for the New National Stadium, the main stadium of Tokyo 2020, being scrapped because it was too expensive. However, the Tokyo Olympics will bring economic ripple effects of several trillion yen, so it’s worthwhile to invest hundreds of billions of yen. Hadid was known as a genius, and her design would have been an advanced building that remained for future generations. Yet they prioritized cost, and now we’re getting a stadium with no air conditioning…
(H) It was an unfortunate scandal.
(M) More and more foreign tourists are coming to Japan, and many people are anxious that these numbers will fall sharply after the Olympics. But what about past Olympics? In many cases the number of tourists did fall in the following year, but then they started increasing after that. The Olympics have an amazing ability to boost a country’s recognition. People are also saying there will be a hotel surplus, but it will be temporary. Japan is the most fantastic country in the world, even from an objective viewpoint. It’s safe with delicious food and on-time transportation. Newspapers recently reported that Condé Nast Traveler, an American travel magazine, published its Best Cities in the World 2018 list. Tokyo was number one, Kyoto was number two, and Osaka was number 12. I think this is affected by Tokyo 2020, and that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s biggest accomplishment was winning the Olympic bid. I believe the members of the Tokyo Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games, including President Yoshiro Mori, are devoted to making the games a success. Mori and I previously had offices close to each other in Komatsu City, and I’ve been friendly with him for a long time.
(H) Mori unites the Organising Committee. Tokyo 2020 is approaching, staff members are being dispatched to help from sponsor companies, and the Organising Committee is now a large group of 5,000 people. We plan to mobilize a total of 100,000 volunteers including 80,000 in Tokyo and 20,000 in other areas for preliminary events and other purposes. It’s a big job just to manage this structure.
(M) It sounds difficult to bring together that many people. Are they paid daily wages?
(H) Some people say volunteering should be free, but it’s hard to attract volunteers without paying them. Volunteers at the games will be given a daily allowance roughly equivalent to transportation costs. The Organising Committee is also working with universities based on the belief that student volunteering is one part of next-generation education, for instance giving them academic credits.
(M) I’ve attended every Summer Olympics opening or closing ceremony since the 1976 Montreal Olympics, excluding the Moscow Olympics that Japan didn’t participate in. The opening ceremonies show that the Olympics aren’t just a sports event or festival, but rather a showcase of a country’s fantastic qualities such as entertainment and art. Keita Asari directed the 1998 Nagano Olympics opening ceremony, and Kyogen actor Mansai Nomura will oversee Tokyo 2020. This is a chance to display Japan’s talents to the world, so I look forward to seeing what Nomura – who is well versed in Japan’s traditional performing arts and also knowledgeable about other countries – comes up with.
(H) Your perception is quite correct. In general, many people regard the Olympics and Paralympics as the top sports events in the world. After taking part in seven Olympics, I think that’s a misunderstanding – the Olympics are also economic and cultural competitions that determine the prestige of nations. Many tend to think the Olympics were successful if their country won many meals, but that’s not right either. Success is determined by whether the host country is able to provide sufficient stages for athletes from across the world to compete.
(M) You’re right, it is odd to focus on the number of medals alone.
(H) Some host cities use the glory of their athletes’ victories to conceal the points that should have been improved in their administration. Japan is a mature nation and the Olympics is being held in Tokyo, our most developed city. I hope to make the games a success by carrying them off without a hitch and clearly connecting them to the next era.
(M) The media and public have a tone of extensively bashing Tokyo 2020 for various “issues,” such as the cost of the New National Stadium, logo plagiarism, and volunteers. As you pointed out, they should understand the significance of these games from a broader viewpoint. I’m sure more small issues will come up like the weather, transportation, and ticket sales. I hope we can resolve these with technology and knowledge to make the games into an event that showcases Japan’s comprehensive abilities.
(H) Yes, and I will work hard to that end.
(M) I think Abe also regards Tokyo 2020 as a great accomplishment, and the people around him should provide support to ensure everything goes well. I doubt Japan would be where it is today if Abe hadn’t become prime minister in 2012. He’s done great things over the past six years, and will be in office for three more. No one is better than Abe, and I even think he should serve four terms in office if three aren’t enough. However, I do believe a suitable politician will appear when Abe’s term limit is up.
(H) I hope so, too.
(M) The East Asian situation is growing increasingly severe, and I think things would be even worse if Donald J. Trump weren’t president. Today a new cold war has started between the U.S. and China, and a trade war is underway as they raise tariffs on each other. This is probably unavoidable, as the U.S. is losing tens of trillions of yen to China through intellectual property violations. I think this was caused by Barack Obama’s eight years as president. He made statements that sounded good, like calling for a world without nuclear weapons and saying the U.S. isn’t the world’s policeman, but during this time the situation became steadily more advantageous to China. I shudder to think what would have happened if Hillary Clinton, also a Democrat, had won the election. An American Democratic Party government would also likely oppose Japan amending its constitution to become capable of independent self-defense. A good Abe-Trump relationship is essential for constitutional reform. Abe indicated a specific path to constitutional change on the last Constitution Memorial Day, which made the media consistently bash him and report excessively on ridiculous issues like the Moritomo Academy and Kakei Educational Institution to try to effect a change of government. The same thing is happening to Trump. There is an adverse wind, but now – 73 years after the end of World War II – is the chance for Japan to reform its constitution and become a normal country. That is why I am working to cultivate a momentum to this end by penning my essays in Apple Town, operating the Shoheijuku school, and holding the “True Interpretations of Modern History” Essay Contest and APA Japan Restoration Award.
(H) How many entries do you receive in the Essay Contest?
(M) There are almost 300 entries each year, submitted by a wide range of ages from teenagers to 90-year-olds. This year is our 10th annual contest, and I am confident we have contributed greatly to an increasingly conservative sentiment in Japan. Then-Chief of Staff of Japan’s Air Self-Defense Force Toshio Tamogami, who won the first annual contest, was dismissed from his post but then found great success afterwards. He said Japan was a good country, which only makes sense as a top Japan Self-Defense Forces (JSDF) leader who safeguards the country. He was made to step down because his view was different from the government’s, which is the government essentially saying it believes Japan is a bad country. Many citizens thought this made no sense, which awakened them to conservatism. The media’s bashing of Trump resembles how it handles Tamogami and Abe – it’s trying to portray him negatively regarding issues about which there is little proof, like adultery and tax evasion, before the November 6 midterm elections. The media is much too irresponsible. It exaggerates suspicions for which there is questionable evidence, while also claiming it has the right to not report on actual accomplishments. Both the American and Japanese medias are biased, and I think we need a law to remedy this situation.
(H) There were some efforts, including to amend the Broadcasting Act, but I think there are also differing opinions regarding whether we should legally regulate the media. However, in recent years there are more instances in which I cannot feel a sense of pride in the mass media.
(M) Broadcasters in particular are allowed to use radio waves, of which there are a limited number, so I think their reporting should be as impartial as possible. Regarding the Moritomo Academy and Kakei Educational Institution, former Governor of Ehime Moriyuki Kato’s remarks in the Diet question session were mostly ignored. The Japan Broadcasting Corporation (NHK) is seen as impartial, but its reporting is actually the most biased in favor of China. The business world is also pro-China because many Japanese companies benefit in some way from that country, which has a population of roughly 1.4 billion, and consequently so is the Nihon Keizai Shimbun. The Sino-Japanese Journalist Exchange Agreement ensures that journalists who report negatively on China are not allowed in the country, so the media outlets consistently write sycophantic articles. Believing this, many entrepreneurs have expanded into China and lost huge amounts of money. Communism is supposed to take money from the rich and share it with everyone, but the top brass ends up taking everything. However, the media conspires to stay silent on this.
(H) Is that so?
(M) Returning to the topic of constitutional reform, the major goal is to make Japan into a country that can independently defend itself. Article 9 and the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty function together as a set in which the U.S. protects Japan but the reverse is not true. That’s why Japan doesn’t need “war potential,” and why American military bases are wanted in Japan. However, that means Japan isn’t capable of defending itself. We should delete the two clauses of Article 9 to give the JSDF military strength. However, if that’s impossible at first, I think we should use a two-step process in which a clause is added clearly specifying the JSDF as Abe advocates, and then the two clauses are deleted afterwards. We have a chance to submit a constitutional change motion until next July, while Trump is president and Diet members in favor of constitutional reform occupy two thirds of seats in the House of Councillors as well. The new Emperor will ascend to his throne next year, starting a new era name, and we should create a new Japan that’s suitable for a new age.
(H) As you say, I hope we can somehow submit a motion and hold a national referendum on this issue.
(M) The national referendum has to be held within six months of the motion. If it seems like the people aren’t on board with constitutional reform, I think we could dissolve the House of Representatives and hold a double election with the national referendum. Perhaps that is one reason why House of Councillors members up for re-election next year and House of Representatives members from single-member constituencies, even from the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), are extremely cautious about constitutional reform. Some powers are trying to come up with reasons to put this off. For example, Former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi said for almost no reason that opposition parties will have to cooperate to achieve this, and that few members of the general public are in favor. However, I think these people are just trying to maintain the current constitution. The public opinion would change if a motion were submitted, and of course we would also need an extensive movement to gain support.
(H) I agree, and I think right now is our best chance. Discussions on this topic are approaching a conclusion. People focus only on Article 9, but there are other important points to revise like getting rid of the House of Councillors combined electoral districts.
(M) First, I think we should quickly suggest specific revisions. There can’t be even a slight sense of underhandedness – reform will only succeed if we tackle this issue head-on. LDP Diet members need to cultivate an atmosphere of doing everything necessary to successfully achieve constitutional change and support Abe. If we don’t reform the constitution to make Japan into a decent country at this timing, Japan will eventually end up as a Chinese autonomous region. I expect great things of Hakubun Shimomura, who was appointed chairperson of the LDP Headquarters for the Promotion of Revision of the Constitution. At the end of the interview, I always ask for a “word for the youth.”
(H) You mentioned your requests of the media, and there are many things I don’t understand such as where the media is trying to guide Japan and how much it recognizes the danger facing our country. At the same time, in the information society, young people have tools to gather various types of data. They must become people who don’t just accept what the media tells them. We are in the midst of remarkable innovations, like AI and big data, and today we can carelessly be swept up by these waves of information. I hope for young people to use their own skills to determine what is true and what values are correct. If we realize we have formed mistaken impressions from the media or online information, at that point it’s too late to go back.
(M) The past Cold War was between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, but today’s cold war is a Sino-American conflict. China is founding a strategic headquarters to systematically and carefully manipulate the Japanese media. This is why it reports so much on Koizumi’s statements and other information. The question now is how strategically we can respond to this systematic information warfare. We must somehow oppose it and reform the constitution. I look forward to seeing what you do. Thank you for joining me today.
(H) I will do my best. Thank you.
Date of dialogue: October 11, 2018
Born in Hokkaido in 1964. Graduated from Komazawa University Tomakomai High School in 1983 and then joined Fuji Kyuko Co., Ltd. She competed in four consecutive Winter Olympics, including the speed-skating event at the 1984 Winter Olympics in Sarajevo. In the 1992 Albertville Olympics, she was the first Japanese woman to win a Bronze Medal in the 1500-meter event. She has also participated in bicycle racing at three Summer Olympics, for a total of seven Olympics. She was elected to the House of Councillors for the first time in 1995 and is currently in her fourth term.