Member of the House of Representatives Takuo Komori was a bureaucrat in the Ministry of Finance when he was sent to the Ishikawa Prefectural Government Office to work with the Hokuriku Shinkansen and IR Ishikawa Railway, which strengthened his ties with Ishikawa. Rather than running in his father-in-law’s district, Komori responded to the Liberal Democratic Party’s public call for candidates and was victorious in last year’s general election. Toshio Motoya spoke with Komori about topics including the tasks he wants to tackle in the National Diet.
(M) Thank you for joining me on Big Talk. You won your first House of Representatives election last year. I invited you here because you were elected from a district in Ishikawa, my home prefecture. I’ve known of you since before your campaign, and my wife, the president of APA Hotel, is close to your mother-in-law.
(K) I look forward to talking with you today.
(M) I heard you are from Kanagawa Prefecture.
(K) Yes, my father is from Gifu Prefecture, but he was transferred frequently for his job. I spent part of my childhood in Fukuoka and Osaka, too. My father bought a home in Yokohama, where I lived when I was very young as well as from my fourth year of elementary school. My parents still reside in Yokohama today.
(M) You went to the University of Tokyo and then became a bureaucrat, is that right?
(K) Yes, I got a job at the Ministry of Finance (MOF), where I did many different types of work. I was sent to the Ishikawa Prefectural Government Office for three years starting in 2011. My job included preparing for the opening of the Hokuriku Shinkansen.
(M) Did you ask to be transferred?
(K) I requested a position at a local government.
(M) Did you have any particular ties to Ishikawa?
(K) No, only that my brother-in-law was born in the Yamanaka area of Ishikawa. In 2014, right after my assignment concluded at the Ishikawa Prefectural Government Office, I married the oldest daughter of Shigeo Kitamura. He was elected to the House of Representatives from the Ishikawa 3rd District. That was the start of my connection with Ishikawa, and we travel there for the New Year and other occasions.
(M) Yet you ran from the Ishikawa 1st District after you responded to a public call from the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and were chosen as a candidate. I sense a strong intention behind that decision.
(K) My father-in-law announced during the 2017 election that he would leave the National Diet. There was talk about me running, but it was all too sudden and I ended up declining. But in this quickly changing era I began feeling more and more that I wanted to do something bigger, which is why I submitted my candidacy in the 1st District. Politicians are playing larger roles in policymaking every year, and I decided that I wanted to enter the world of politics because I believed politicians with actual administration skills will be even more essential in the future. I was supported by many people during my successful run in last October’s election.
(M) Did you feel you had reached your limit as a government official?
(K) My job as a central manager in the Financial Services Agency was very worthwhile. I know that my retirement posed difficulties to people in my workplace, but the office saw me off cheerfully in the end. While bureaucrats can do many things, it is a vertically segmented job.
(M) In contrast, Diet members can get involved in many different fields if they want to. National security is one example. I think Diet members – particularly those in the lower house – have the important task of deciding how to interact with China, which is expanding economically and militarily while becoming increasingly hostile to the United States.
(K) I want to make efforts to establish decent security policy. China’s defense spending has increased 42 times over the past 30 years. Its current defense budget is four times bigger than Japan’s. Japan used to provide official development assistance (ODA) to China, but its economy is larger than ours today. People say its gross domestic product (GDP) will outstrip America’s in the 2030s. It won’t be easy to maintain peace and security in Japan unless we change our past way of thinking.
(M) I agree. For a long time China has been a continental country with a huge population, which is the reason for its internal division and poor administration of the past. However, the Communist Party of today is extremely skilled at integrating different regions and augmenting its power. Japan must be able to stand against China, our neighbor. In terms of economic strength, China’s GDP is already three times the size of Japan’s. As a nuclear power with intercontinental ballistic missiles that can strike other countries, it’s fully possible that China could make demands of Japan in the future backed by its nuclear strength. Japan must enact policy based on this awareness.
(K) Things will be even more difficult in the future, and we will need to respond with foresight regarding the actual circumstances.
(M) Some people probably believe diplomacy is the important thing, and that we should try to get along with China. But that way of thinking will lead to Japan being consumed by China. Japan attempted to gain control of Southeast Asia during World War II, and China is planning something similar today. I think what China wants more than anything is Japan, a country with industrious people and advanced technical prowess. It seems China is watching vigilantly for opportunities to bring Asia’s assets under its command. And because China is a nuclear state, Japan must reexamine its beliefs about nuclear weapons. Instead of asserting that we will not have nuclear weapons according to the Three Non-Nuclear Principles, we should adopt a strategy of ambiguity and avoid clearly stating whether we possess them or not. That would provide better deterrence. We didn’t need to do this when Japan had overwhelming economic strength, but things are different today. I hope Diet members will discuss topics of this sort.
(K) It’s true that Japan’s defense budget has been mostly the same for the past 30 years. Our way of thinking about security hasn’t changed, either. However, the East Asian security environment is transforming significantly. We can no longer just boast about Japan’s immense economic power compared to the rest of Asia – we must come up with security policy aligned with these circumstances. The LDP Research Commission on Security played a central role in conducting 19 discussions on future security policy, and it submitted a proposal to the government in April. Based on this, three national defense documents will be revised by the end of the year: the National Security Strategy of Japan, National Defense Program Guidelines, and Mid-term Defense Program. This is a concrete way to drastically strengthen our defense capabilities.
(M) How often are these documents revised?
(K) I think the changes will be made while considering the future about 10 years from now. This year is the greatest turning point in Japan’s postwar security policy.
(M) Of course nuclear weapons and military strength provide deterrence, and also serve as the backdrop to negotiation abilities. I’m sure the Japanese government has to take many things into consideration, but I want it to enact security policy with maximum priority on our national interests. I am concerned about the tone taken by the media and opposition parties when they discuss this issue. For instance, they state that we should compare the defense and education budgets and direct money from defense to education. I think LDP Diet members should take on the task of rectifying this.
(K) Everything should be premised on ensuring Japan’s peace and safety. My intention is to accomplish what must be done without being overly influenced by the atmosphere of these times, and based on the trust that citizens place in us. Crises occur suddenly, like Russia’s recent invasion of Ukraine. I think it’s important to sufficiently prepare, which is how we can prevent serious regrets.
(M) Yes. As the constitution says, the Diet is “the highest organ of state power.” It must make security-related decisions while considering the worst-case scenario. Feeling at ease is a type of negligence. I’m sure Diet members have many different thoughts on this, but I hope they will overcome any objections and carry out measures according to our national interests.
(K) I plan to be on guard and solemnly work to safeguard Japan’s interests.
(M) Ishikawa is roughly 1/100th of Japan’s area and population, which is why people call it the “1/100th prefecture.” However, it’s probably an even smaller piece of Japan’s economy. In 2002 we moved our Head Office from Kanazawa to Akasaka, which was great timing. This expansion into Tokyo helped accelerate APA Group’s growth all at once. People in Hokuriku knew about our office, but it was totally unknown across the nation. Things are entirely different in Tokyo, which is the center of Japan. It’s also home to the three powers of government: the National Diet Building, Supreme Court, and Prime Minister’s Official Residence. We bought a building in Akasaka and set up our headquarters there, gaining us more recognition and brand power, which has helped our business go smoothly. The building was full of tenants and at first our Head Office was limited to the fifth floor. We gained access to the other floors as their leases ran out. But we still needed more space, so we purchased two more buildings on the same street and used some parts as offices while renting the rest to tenants. It means a lot whether a company’s head office is in Tokyo or another region. It’s important to be based in the heart of Japan and to become the top in your industry. Perhaps the same can be said of politics.
(K) I see.
(M) Actually, APA Group first opened a Tokyo branch in Shinjuku 3-chome in 1985. Afterwards, we rented the eighth floor of the ARK Mori Building in 1990 to use as a Head Office. The global stock market crash occurred on Black Monday in October 1987. This made me determine that Japanese land prices were too high compared to the profit return method generally used for real estate valuation in the U.S. We promptly sold off our assets and withdrew from Tokyo. Business involves ups and downs, but you have to avoid damage that prevents you from making a comeback. I believe the courage to retreat can sometimes be the first step towards an eventual victory. Of course, this can put a damper on the spirits of your employees. APA Group left Tokyo right before the bubble economy collapsed, and a huge number of people were opposed to our withdrawal. But I made a strategic retreat as a management decision, and as a result we weren’t directly affected by the bubble burst. In fact, we delayed our profit from the sale of assets by investing it in the aircraft leasing business, and we were able to build a foundation for today’s success.
(K) That was some keen insight. Many people chose the wrong moment to quit and ended up suffering greatly after the bubble burst.
(M) I’m glad we withdrew while we were still a powerful company. It’s also important to have a constant sense of determination about coming back to Tokyo, like when Douglas MacArthur declared “I shall return” upon leaving the Philippines. When we returned to Tokyo in 2002, I was focused on owning rather than renting our Head Office. Buying and selling land isn’t our style – we construct buildings on our properties to create added value and earn profit. Renting out buildings also brings stable revenue. Today we might lease our three buildings in Akasaka, but we won’t rent other buildings to use as offices.
(K) Determination is very important.
(M) I also prioritize doing business with a sense of solidarity. We form good relationships in every community and avoid making enemies. In each region there are powerful figures who are visited by everyone who wants to do business there. When we open new APA Hotels, we always pay our respects to them. Doing business according to policies like this, we have been profitable for the past 51 years and have contributed to society by paying hundreds of billions of yen in taxes.
(K) That’s fantastic. Paying taxes is the most important way that a corporation can benefit society.
(M) At the end of the interview, I always ask for a “word for the youth.” What message would you like to share with the young Japanese people of today?
(K) I believe young people have infinite potential. Rather than ignoring this potential, I hope they will have a positive mindset and take on all sorts of new challenges. You can’t change the past, but you can steadily change the future depending on what you do. I want them to learn from people who are older, think for themselves, and blaze new trails. You often say that people who learn the truth become conservative. I hope young citizens will think by themselves about what is true.
(M) Yes, thinking for yourself is important. You shouldn’t just memorize what you have been taught. Because it is focused on rote memory, Japanese education turns out people who are simply talented at remembering things. No consideration is given to creativity and the ability to come up with ideas. You can’t master these things through written tests alone. Learning about history should be more than memorizing dates – students must understand what happened in the background of historical events, why they occurred, and what effects they caused. We must shift from education that prioritizes rote memory to teaching that cultivates the power of creativity and conceptual abilities.
(K) I agree. There are many issues in contemporary Japanese society, including our educational system and economy, but they aren’t impossible to comprehend. Reflecting on the past shows that our predecessors faced much worse circumstances in the period after World War II. They met challenges and overcame them. I think we lack an awareness of impending crisis in contemporary Japan. We could definitely see the way forward if citizens and politicians had a sense of danger as they worked to resolve these problems. I particularly hope that young people will get a sense of the threats we face.
(M) One of these is the major earthquake that will definitely strike the Kanto region in the future. If earthquakes occur in cycles, we are at a perilous point right now. We should simulate what would happen during a near-field earthquake right under Tokyo and take steps to prepare for it. The well-known saying is true: “If you are prepared, there’s no need to worry.” We must have better crisis management and take steps in advance. Japanese people are strong when they are united, but we are extremely bad at working individually. A man-made calamity could occur if people lost their presence of mind and turmoil broke out. The question is whether we could maintain solidarity in an emergency.
(K) Crises demand that we are prepared and able to make correct decisions.
(M) Assuming that an earthquake will hit Tokyo, I think we need an evacuation plan that makes skillful use of the subways. We should stock supplies in Tokyo’s subway facilities, which are ample and highly effective, and use them as temporary shelters. This would be much easier than building evacuation shelters from scratch. The media used to extensively cover the possibility of a large-scale Kanto earthquake, but I don’t hear much about it these days. Perhaps we should take measures like establishing a state of emergency ministry. Conflicts and disasters break out across the world, but people assume nothing could ever happen in the peaceful Japan of today. However, this earthquake is an inevitability.
(K) Things don’t just happen when they are convenient for us. I think the same must be true in the hotel business. All we can do is thoroughly prepare for emergencies before they happen and work to minimize the damage.
(M) Yes. APA Group exists today exactly because we were so prepared. We’ve employed many people and paid large amounts of taxes. I’ve met some businesspeople who brag about not paying taxes, but considering that we make use of roads and other social infrastructure, I don’t agree with their feeling of pride about not paying taxes on profitable businesses.
(K) I think APA Group has grown because of its gratitude towards society. Politicians and companies do not exist on their own; they make progress with support from the public. I will always keep this feeling in mind while I work as a Diet member.
(M) I look forward to seeing what you do. Thank you for talking with me today.
(K) Thank you.
Born in 1970 in Chiba Prefecture. After graduating from the University of Tokyo’s Faculty of Law he began working at the Ministry of Finance (MOF). Completed a graduate program at Princeton University in 1997. His past positions include head of the Planning Office, Policy Planning and Research Division, MOF and head of the General Policy Division, Financial Services Agency. He was transferred to Ishikawa Prefecture for three years starting in 2011, where he helped prepare for the opening of the Hokuriku Shinkansen Kanazawa Station as head of the Planning and Promotion Department and of the General Affairs Department. He was also involved in establishing the IR Ishikawa Railway. In September 2021 he submitted his candidacy in response to a public call from the Liberal Democratic Party of Ishikawa, and won a seat in the October House of Representatives election (Ishikawa 1st District).