Member of the House of Representatives Yoshitaka Sakurada worked as a carpenter while attending college at night, then founded and grew his own construction company. He served on a city council and prefectural assembly before becoming a member of the House of Representatives and then a government minister. Toshio Motoya spoke with Sakurada about topics including Sakurada’s extensive political experience during seven consecutive terms in the lower house, the significance of constitutional revision, and the path to making Japan into a unified nation once again.
(M) Thank you for joining me on Big Talk today.
(S) I look forward to talking with you.
(M) You have been covered in the media, and I think you are now a fairly famous member of the Japanese National Diet. Moreover, you are a self-made person like myself, and you have worked extremely hard in the Diet. Test scores and academic background will not count for everything in the future. You enjoy popularity in your home electoral district as well, and I invited you here so our readers could learn more about you.
(S) Thank you very much.
(M) How many elections have you won?
(M) That is no easy task!
(S) I set a new record in my electoral district, breaking the previous record of four consecutive wins. Kashiwa City, my precinct, has annual population change of 8% per year. This means politicians cannot just maintain a base of support, but have to always consider these new transplants to the city.
(M) I imagine you have won seven elections because people appreciate your track record, and how you have sufficiently promoted your policies.
(S) I am constantly working hard to earn a positive evaluation. However, I think you are doing much greater things for Japan than I am!
(M) Japan was defeated in World War II because our overly strong Bushido spirit prevents despicable behavior. I think that’s also why we are so bad at information warfare. The Japanese naval and diplomatic codes were deciphered by the United States.
(S) History shows that Japan lacked a sufficient information strategy.
(M) Nothing has changed today. Now, the main type of warfare is conducted with drones, in the cyber realm, and through information, rather than soldiers exchanging fire. I think Japan must be ready for this.
(S) Other countries are devoting a great deal of human resources and money to study space and cyber warfare.
(M) North Korea is said to have a cyber force with thousands of personnel.
(S) A bill to reform the Basic Act on Cybersecurity was passed in the National Diet last December, when I was cyber-security minister. Unfortunately, I left that position before I accomplished everything I wanted to.
(M) Yet you are popular. Eitaro Ogawa recently spoke on your behalf at an APA party. You caused a dispute with your comment on the falling birthrate, but I feel you were just voicing your honest feelings about how to fix it.
(S) I regret that I sometimes can’t fully express what I want to say, and often my message isn’t conveyed correctly.
(M) In general many politicians are dishonest, and I see you as making very honest efforts in the political field. The media used to be more broad-minded, but today its job seems to be finding fault with others.
(S) I hope to build a well-mannered relationship with the media.
(M) The media is constantly observing politicians to see if they say anything worthy of attacking, and they highlight any statements with slightly weak defenses. President Donald Trump is always criticized for his remarks, but he fights back.
(S) It’s quite difficult to speak in a way that all people will understand.
(M) Kakuei Tanaka was censured and sharply questioned in many ways, but he overcame this and was even nicknamed “Imataiko” (“Regent”). Politicians of the past had great valor, but today they are more reserved.
(S) Many Diet members are former bureaucrats or second-generation politicians, and few have experience in city councils or municipal assemblies like I do. I am also no one’s successor, so I can act freely without hesitation.
(M) That must be one reason you are so popular. Another problem with the media is its uniform tone – newspaper companies and broadcasters should not all publish the same news, but many people are taken in by these consistent reports and end up with the same values.
(S) I agree entirely. I wish more people with diverse ways of thinking would enter the world of journalism.
(M) Even more than you, I have been able to say and do what I want while still achieving major business success.
(S) The Western world used to say the Japanese hotel industry lacked competitiveness. It’s wonderful that APA Hotel has grown so large and even expanded overseas.
(M) More European and North American tourists are staying at APA Hotels in Japan. Americans comprise the largest number of foreign guests at APA Hotel Pride National Diet Building (opened in March), followed by Europeans.
(S) I see. Still, I am amazed by the fast pace of your hotel building. My pet theory is that hotels are a type of culture – they play an important role of creating the culture of their regions.
(M) We are building more wholly owned and franchise hotels in Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto, and Fukuoka, cities of particularly high demand. If we expand into areas with low demand, we end up putting pressure on the existing hotels. Still, APA Hotel has a cumulative number of 15 million members, who want hotels where they can earn APA Points across the country. To that end, we are offering more facilities in rural areas where they can earn points through partnerships, franchises, buy-outs, and other methods. Over the three-month period from January to March, we simultaneously started designing and constructing a total of eight hotels in Fukuoka. We bought land for six new hotels, and there are two newly built franchise hotels as well. Our targets are foreign tourists visiting Fukuoka, a place with great demand and accommodation prices that are similar to Tokyo. It’s close to Taiwan, South Korea, and other Asian countries, and many tourists go through Fukuoka to get to Tokyo.
(S) But unlike Fukuoka, many provincial cities are declining.
(M) People are drawn to Tokyo, and regional populations are falling. This is an issue with test-focused education. People end up studying in Tokyo or Kyoto because they want to go to more highly rated universities instead of local schools. Even with a great deal of income, a four-person family cannot enjoy an affluent lifestyle if they live separately because the children are off studying and the father is transferred somewhere by himself for work. Young people who study at Tokyo universities end up finding work there, so they never return to their home regions.
(S) Speaking of test-focused education, most Diet members graduated from the University of Tokyo (UTokyo). However, Kiichi Miyazawa was the last Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) prime minister from UTokyo; after him, all prime ministers have graduated from private universities.
(M) University entrance exams merely test 18-year-olds on how good their rote memory is. Some people gain new abilities after entering university, but I think some peak at that time and end up losing their ability to memorize things. I am impressed by how you have gained experience, improved your skills, and even served in ministerial positions. In fact, you remind me of Tanaka.
(S) Thank you. I will keep working for the sake of our country.
(M) Stores of experiences and knowledge can provide sparks of inspiration when necessary. The biggest factor behind my success is that I have read the newspaper since I was 11 or 12. I would look up unfamiliar words in The Year Book of the Contemporary Society, and ended up reading that book cover-to-cover as well. My experiences afterwards fleshed out my knowledge gained through reading.
(S) I see.
(M) My father was hospitalized when I was in elementary school. Back then Japan was a patriarchal society, and I figured that meant I, as the oldest son, was head of the household. I started reading the newspaper because I wanted to be like my father, who read during meals. I have long advocated that we should revive the extended family.
(S) We can learn many things from our parents and grandparents.
(M) Yes, but today there are many nuclear families, and one of three households has just one member. More people are dying alone as well. As you say, parents should be able to pass wisdom down to their children and grandchildren. We should use the tax system to encourage large families, such as cutting the real estate tax by two thirds for households where three generations live together. Fewer people would have to die alone, and people would be able to enjoy more affluence while paying fewer expenses. Less social assistance would be needed for childcare and elderly care, since families could take care of this themselves. Japan was originally an island nation separate from the continent, a warm place where people lived together in a friendly way. Today we have many means of getting around and the Internet connects us to people across the world, so we are transforming into a country with many visitors and a flood of information. We must encourage people to maintain our past solidary through tax breaks and other means. I hope you will draw on your experience to propose many laws of this type.
(S) The family is the foundation of Japanese culture, and I will work to safeguard this unity centered on family bonds.
(M) Conservative sentiment is undergoing a resurgence. The turning point was in 2008, when the media uniformly attacked the essay that won the 1st Annual “True Interpretations of Modern History” Essay Contest, which I started. Many people’s eyes were opened, which led to Shinzo Abe’s second stint as prime minister. That was the start of the movement to revive pride in our native country of Japan.
(S) We must revise the constitution to bring a true end to the postwar era.
(M) A proposal should first be submitted before the House of Councillors election, while two thirds of Diet members are in favor of constitutional change. I also think we should hold a double election for both houses appealing to the confidence of constitutional revision.
(S) This would be the first amendment in history, so I feel we should start with Abe’s suggestion of clearly stipulating the Japan Self-Defense Forces (JSDF) in Article 9.
(M) I agree. China is stepping up its marine expansion, such as by reclaiming reefs in the South China Sea, while the U.S. is gradually withdrawing from East Asia. Japan must gain strength to maintain a balance of peace in this region.
(S) The JSDF are critical for Japan today.
(M) Japanese people need peace that stems from a balance of power – not the peace of being ruled by another country, or the peace of being a vassal nation. We must add the JSDF to the constitution and enhance our ability to deter war to achieve this peace.
(S) I think advancing the Japan-U.S. alliance is also an important topic.
(M) There are numerous issues, but I hope you will work hard in your fields of expertise and become a minister once again. At the end of the interview, I always ask for a “word for the youth.”
(S) The first thing is to work hard. Genius is less important than hard work. I like Shugoro Yamamoto’s novels, and in one he wrote, “A life that seems unremarkable to others is a dramatic one to the person living it.” I think hard, dedicated work – without paying attention to what others think – is what leads to personal growth.
(M) One of my sayings is, “Life is full of trials and tribulations / A man of strong will delights in adversity.” We must work hard and enjoy facing various difficulties. Thank you for joining me today.
(S) Thank you.
Date of dialogue: June 7, 2019
Born in Kashiwa City, Chiba Prefecture in 1949. After graduating from high school, he worked as a carpenter while attending night classes in the Department of Commerce, School of Commerce at Meiji University, which he graduated from. He founded Sakurada Construction in 1976. He was elected to the Kashiwa City Council for the first time in 1987, then to the Chiba Prefectural Assembly for the first time in 1995. He won his first House of Representatives election in 1996, and has since served seven consecutive terms. He was appointed minister for the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games in October 2018, and stepped down in April 2019.