Originally a nameless homemaker, Haruko Arimura successfully ran in the House of Councillors election (national constituency) without the backing of any powerful groups. During the 21 years since then, she has continued making steady efforts as a conservative politician to defend the sanctity of life, regional and family ties, and the dignity of the nation according to a solid perspective of the nation and a grounded view of daily life. She has also drawn on her experiences as a mother of two while serving as the first minister in charge of women’s empowerment and minister of state for measures for declining birthrate in the Abe Cabinet. Arimura says the 50th anniversary of Okinawa’s reversion on May 15 should be a major turning point in Japanese history. Toshio Motoya spoke with her about topics including what Japan should learn from the Ukraine issue and her thoughts on creating an autonomous constitution.
(M) Thank you for joining me on Big Talk today. I understand you were born in Kanazawa City.
(A) Yes, I was born when my family lived in Kanazawa. My father worked at a securities company that often transferred its employees to different locations. I was actually born in the same hospital as Member of the House of Councillors Naoki Okada, chairperson of the LDP Diet Affairs Committee. I feel like we are siblings for this reason (laughs).
(M) My main home is in Kanazawa’s Nagamachi Bukeyashiki District. I’m still a registered resident of that city.
(A) Really! I’d love to see your luxurious home (laughs). I was born in Kanazawa and raised in Shiga Prefecture, where my mother is from. Ishikawa Prefecture is my place of birth.
(M) What inspired you to become a politician?
(A) I thought it would be a wonderful thing to be involved in creating our future. Based on my view of the nation, I still see the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) as the only party for me. Back in 2001, many years had already passed since the LDP was formed in 1955. I wanted to get involved in politics because I thought the LDP needed the perspective of young people and women to resolve any institutional fatigue. I was such a fringe candidate that a weekly magazine predicted the possibility of me winning as “exceedingly low.” Yet I somehow managed to win write-in votes from 114,261 people in 47 prefectures. It’s been 21 years since that first miraculous success.
(M) You have blazed trails for women in society as a National Diet member and mother, and as the first minister in charge of women’s empowerment. What are your ambitions as a politician?
(A) From my very first term I have put importance on defending the sanctity of life, regional and family ties, and the dignity of the nation according to a solid perspective of the nation and a grounded view of daily life. In politics I want to utilize the viewpoint of our country’s future, as well as that of our daily lives. My experience as a woman who gave birth to new life led to my efforts for promoting the maternity badge given to expecting women across Japan. My vital life’s work is supporting early childhood education, childcare, and parenting. At the same time, it’s also important that we set our eyes on Japan’s standing in the global community. I want to be a conservative politician who sufficiently protects those things that must be safeguarded so Japan can continue as an advanced country that is safe and secure. In the Abe Cabinet I was named the first minister in charge of women’s empowerment, and I hope to calmly give an impression of my female perspective, my personal feelings as a mother raising children, my dignity as a conservative politician working for the citizens, and a sense of stability and trust in my ministerial experience.
(M) I agree that protecting the dignity of the nation is extremely important.
(A) Regretfully, Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24. That day a joint statement condemning military aggression by Russia was released at the emergency virtual G7 Summit. Despite this, all important officials in the Japanese government continued using the term “invasion” even on February 25.
This Ukraine crisis is definitely not just a question of a foreign military or armed group being stationed in another country. Russia has been committing an act of aggression against Ukraine from the moment it used military power to violate the sovereignty and territory of that independent state. It is a challenge to the international order that prizes world peace and stability, and I suggested that we use “aggression,” which is the strongest possible word.
(M) So your proposal led to the changed terminology.
(A) We discussed it the morning after the Russian invasion in the Headquarters for Measures on the Ukraine Issue formed of LDP Headquarters board members. I pointed out that the situation was not an invasion, but had already reached the level of aggression. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) was hesitant at first, but I stated the importance of maintaining solidary with the G7 by denouncing Russia in the strongest possible way, since it had actually infringed upon the sovereignty of an independent state. After directly listening to these deliberations, Secretary-General Toshimitsu Motegi agreed with me. He said the LDP should use “aggression,” and told the MOFA that the government should consider doing the same to express a maximum level of condemnation. That was at 11:00 a.m. on February 25, the day following the invasion. As a result, since that evening important government officials – including the prime minister and minister for foreign affairs – have consistently spoken about Russian aggression at press conferences and international conferences. The government is collaborating with the international community to put strict economic sanctions on Russia.
The lower house adopted a resolution to censure Russia for its aggression in Ukraine on March 1, and the upper house did the same on March 2. The draft used the word “invasion,” but we were able to clearly state the will of the Diet by harshly criticizing Russia’s aggression.
(M) I imagine Russian President Vladimir Putin thought he could easily occupy Ukraine, but Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has remained in the capital city of Kyiv and the Ukrainian army is putting up a brave fight around the country. Some Japanese people say Zelenskyy should immediately surrender to preserve the lives of his people, but that would be a mistake. It’s important to fight. Rather than being resigned to this territorial violation, as a sovereign nation Ukraine should properly meet the invasion with armed might. I think these achievements will have great influence on Ukrainian people in the future, and I believe Japan should be prepared to do the same thing. Article 9 says the Japan Self-Defense Forces can fight if Japan is the victim of aggression. My opinion is that all citizens should draw together in the event of a national crisis in Japan, as a nation capable of independent self-defense.
(A) A public opinion poll in a national newspaper showed that many citizens do not see Russia’s aggression as someone else’s problem – they are watching with bated breath because of similarities to the security situation in Asia, with what is happening in Taiwan. Okinawa’s Yonaguni Island is just 110 kilometers from Taiwan. A crisis in Taiwan would directly affect Japan’s national security. At the same time, I believe China is vigilantly studying what happens in Ukraine and the resulting international circumstances. I think it will refer to this as an ideal experiment for considering its future actions.
(M) I think the Ukrainian soldiers defending their country have better morale than the Russian soldiers committing aggression against their neighbor. The Ukrainian army is drawing on its full force to make the Russian army suffer.
(A) Ukrainians are striving to protect their families and country from Russian attacks by hiding in home bomb shelters from World War II or picking up guns to fight.
(M) In the news I’ve seen images of regular Ukrainian citizens making petrol bombs and receiving guns from the government. It’s important to show the enemy that you are willing to fight, even resorting to guerilla warfare, without simply accepting the occupation. This conflict may become prolonged, but Ukraine could not maintain its dignity if it instantly yielded to Russia’s outrageous demands.
(A) If the world gave tacit consent to and allowed Russia’s reckless actions, it would send the mistaken message that strong countries could use military power to commit aggression against and pillage weaker countries. A global order in which countries do not tolerate this type of brutality was built via two world wars. I think unity in the global community and effective sanctions will determine whether we can make Russia truly realize it must pay a high price for its defiance and provocation against the international order that values peace and stability.
An independent state must be in possession of citizens, territory, and sovereignty. In school we learn that the three principles of the Japanese constitution are sovereignty of the people, fundamental human rights, and pacifism. But this does not sufficiently convey the value of sovereignty, which is the foundation of an independent state. I don’t think most Japanese people have a great sense of what “sovereignty” means.
Sovereignty is the right of a country to make decisions about its own government. I think it’s easy to understand if we consider it as the right of self-government and administration without control or interference by other countries. Even a small independent nation will definitely not allow its sovereignty to be violated by another country. Unexpectedly, this Russian aggression against Ukraine is an opportunity for Japanese people to keenly feel just how crucial sovereignty is.
We should also consider that the Japanese constitution was established during the occupation by the United States and other countries that defeated Japan in World War II, when Japan lost its sovereignty. It’s a mistake to think that a victorious country, when leading the process to establish a constitution for a defeated country, would include text about the value of maintaining independence or sovereignty.
(M) Of course, we should work to establish an autonomous constitution.
(A) The constitution extols the sovereignty of the people, but it does not reflect the opinions of the citizens who are supposed to be sovereign persons. If Japan is a truly sovereign nation – and if its people can exercise their sovereignty – I hope we can revise the constitution according to a legitimate, democratic process (national referendum) to reflect the true views of the people.
(M) Today I hear many people calling for constitutional reform, but the thinking of the late Shintaro Ishihara – who wanted to create an autonomous constitution – is not yet widespread. He felt that we should annul the current constitution and establish a new one. I also question whether we should so devotedly maintain this constitution written during an occupation.
(A) That makes a lot of sense to me as a general principle. The Japanese constitution actually says nothing about the value of maintaining national independence. We have grown so accustomed to it over the years that Japanese people are no longer vexed by the fact that it does not clearly stipulate this. So how are we to maintain citizens’ safety, which is the most fundamental and essential thing in our lives? The constitution has hundreds of articles, but only one mentions the issue of security at all.
The preamble reads, “we have determined to preserve our security and existence, trusting in the justice and faith of the peace-loving peoples of the world.” I question whether Japan is surrounded by wonderful countries that we can depend on for our security and existence, trusting in their justice and faith. It’s clear to see that China, Russia, North Korea, and other nations are not countries with high moral principles or great justice and faith.
(M) The media should work to inform more people about this.
(A) You create opportunities for people to think seriously about Japan’s future by publishing Apple Town magazine every month. You also started the “True Interpretations of Modern History” Essay Contest, APA Japan Restoration Grand Prize, and Shoheijuku academy. In this way, people of various ages and positions are engaging in profound discussions about Japan’s ideal state.
(M) All people who learn the truth through such discussions end up with a conservative way of thinking. If something is given to us, it will someday be taken away, but people work desperately to protect what they have produced or obtained. The Japanese constitution was created for us. We should establish a new constitution that allows for independent self-defense so we can protect our country.
(A) Conducting a national referendum to properly reflect the views of the people on the national stage – and establishing our own constitution – would be the most significant exercise of sovereignty and would prove that Japanese are sovereign people.
(M) Because our country is peaceful today, many people don’t realize the fragility of our constitution. I think they would bemoan this weakness if we experienced a crisis like Ukraine. We should do something before that happens.
(A) That’s an important point. People across the globe are criticizing Russia in unison for violating international law. I think they’re inspired by watching citizens of every gender and age clearly demonstrate their will to defend Ukraine against Russia, which is a much more powerful country.
(M) I want us to emulate the fighting spirit of the Ukrainian people. I strongly sense that Japan is peaceful today only because we were granted peace. Since we did not win it through fighting, it could be taken away at any time.
(A) You are planning to open 19 new APA Hotels this year. My impression is that you put a great deal of sweat and blood into building these hotels. You must feel very strongly about them.
(M) I choose the property for each hotel, and I’m also involved in the design and ordering processes. First, I look at the plot of land and promptly calculate in my mind how much we can charge for each room and how much profit can be expected. I decide if we should buy the property based on that. Sometimes people lobby for us to build near train stations that don’t have any hotels, but I do the same thing in that case and make the decision according to expected earnings. It’s one thing to talk about regional revitalization, but our business would be steadily ruined if we opened hotels in places without enough demand to support them. And if we had to close a hotel, I imagine the people in that area would feel less positively about our company, too. You have to think about hotels over the long term 30 or more years down the line, rather than the immediate future. If you ask me what defines a good hotel, I respond, “One that makes money.” They have to be profitable over the long term. All APA Hotels are in the black.
(A) So every hotel stands on its own.
(M) I make all the decisions and I also bear full responsibility. Many hotel chains have different companies in charge of ownership, management, and branding. For example, separate companies own and operate the Sheraton and Hilton brands. Our company handles all of these three areas, which is why we had sales of over 100 billion yen and profit of 35 billion yen before the COVID-19 pandemic. Our profit rate was high, over 35%. A rate of 10% is regarded as good, and most hotels are barely breaking even. Only APA Hotel can make such a large profit because we do everything ourselves.
(A) You work hard in a proactive manner, with a sense of autonomy and a lack of concern about what other people may say. I think that’s exactly why you can express yourself without reserve in Apple Town and your other writings. The true essence of your position resembles the way Japan should exist in the world today amidst tension about Sino-American conflict: maintaining independence, sovereignty, security, and prosperity.
During this ordinary Diet session I am asking questions about legislation being debated in regard to economic security. A nation loses its economic autonomy if it depends too heavily on other countries for resources and advanced technology. We must incorporate the perspective of security into our economic activities so we do not have to yield to interference and threats from other countries utilizing this economic dependence. We have come to an exceedingly important timing in terms of Japan’s economic security.
(M) I agree. As the owner of a company I started from nothing, I’m in the position of being able to do business the way I want without depending on any specific groups, governments, or countries. And because I hold all of the shares, I am not influenced by powerful stockholders’ opinions and can avoid short-sighted management.
(A) That’s a benefit of being independent. You have the great ability to execute audacious ideas.
(M) Interest rates are so low in recent years that they are basically zero. This makes it possible to implement our current strategy of buying land with borrowed money. Although rates may rise in the future, we have enough leeway that a slight increase wouldn’t affect anything. I use this foresight as I do business. Just like last year, we recorded a profit in the fiscal year ended November 2021 during the pandemic. We’ve never had a deficit since the company was founded.
(A) You have no intention of taking the company public?
(M) There’s no need – we have enough money from our own funds and loans with ultra-low interest rates. I always remain in full control. If I went beyond the scope of my own abilities, the business would fail. You have to improve your strengths if you want to grow your business. I am always conscious of doing business in a natural manner without trying too hard. That’s why we own all of our real estate, and we fully calculate depreciation when determining profit, even though it’s not entirely required under tax law. I think this is a very healthy way of doing business. I may seem daring, but I’m actually extremely deliberate.
(A) Your bold actions and decisions are backed by precise planning and careful consideration. Today sustainability is a serious issue across the world. It seems like you’ve maintained good performance during the pandemic because you make decisions based on constantly level-headed business observations.
(M) As the founder and owner I am fully responsible, unlike company presidents hired by listed companies.
(M) The postwar educational system teaches that Japan did bad things during World War II, yet many countries across the world would probably still be Western colonies if Japan hadn’t participated in that conflict. Japan’s victory in the Russo-Japanese War lent great courage to many people of color. I think we should learn about wars in an impartial way; rather than simply saying all wars are bad, we should also cover the positive historical aspects. But schools today merely teach that the bad country of Japan was defeated and turned into a good country by the U.S.
(A) For Japan to better protect itself as an independent state, I think it’s important for us to honor and appreciate the people who gave their precious lives and died in battle during national crises.
May 15, 2022 is the 50th anniversary of the reversion of Okinawa. The people of Okinawa made great efforts with clear determination to live as members of the Japanese nation. In solidarity, citizens of other prefectures said that the war would never end until Okinawa was returned to Japan. Their goal was achieved. Okinawa Prefecture and the national government have been working together since 2020 to hold an official memorial ceremony on May 15 for the genuine growth and prosperity of Okinawa, and also for Japan’s future safety and prosperity. We can regard Okinawa’s reversion as the day when sovereignty was restored to all 47 prefectures.
(M) At the end of the interview, I always ask for a “word for the youth.”
(A) In light of the Ukraine crisis, I hope we can all fully comprehend the priceless value of sovereignty as an independent state and the importance of defending our sovereignty. Now is the time to open our eyes, look at the world, and think earnestly about how to ensure Japan remains a safe, affluent, and advanced nation. Good and bad things happened in every part of Japan’s history. Instead of focusing solely on the negative aspects, we should think about history in a multifaceted way and be able to shine a light on the great efforts of our predecessors.
(M) I think that would lead to a sense of pride in Japan. Thank you for joining me today.
(A) I learned about your dynamic ideas and the careful way you think about things. I was honored to speak with you today. Thank you.
Won her first House of Councillors election (proportional representation; national constituency) in 2001 and is currently serving her fourth term. Her past positions include parliamentary secretary for education, culture, sports, science and technology; chairperson of the House of Councillors Environment Committee; and acting chairperson of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) Policy Research Council. She was the first minister in charge of women’s empowerment in the Abe Cabinet and minister of state in charge of measures for declining birthrate, administrative reform, national public employee system, regulatory reform, gender equality, consumers, and food safety. She was appointed chairperson of the LDP Policy Board in the House of Councillors, chairperson of the Political Ethics Hearing Committee, chief judge of the Judge Impeachment Court, and chairperson of the LDP Public Relations Headquarters. Her current roles include deputy chairperson of the Headquarters for the Realization of Revision of the Constitution and House of Councillors LDP deputy chairperson.