Big Talk

Sufficient Preparation is Essential, Both for Disasters and Security Issues

Member of the House of Representatives Jiro Kimura
Chairman, APA Group Toshio Motoya

Member of the House of Representatives Jiro Kimura comes from a family with three generations of politicians, yet he ended up in the National Diet after his life changed drastically at an unexpected timing. He has served as parliamentary secretary for land, infrastructure and transport, as well as parliamentary secretary for defense. Toshio Motoya spoke with Kimura about issues with Japan’s disaster planning and security structures, possible solutions, and other topics.

After his brother’s premature death, Kimura left the prefectural government and ran for the Diet


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

(K) I look forward to speaking with you.

(M) I heard you were born in Aomori Prefecture, and that your father was also a National Diet member.

(K) Yes, my father, Morio Kimura, passed away last year. He was secretary to Ichiro Kono, former minister of construction and grandfather of Taro Kono. My father then became a prefectural assembly member and fulfilled his goal of entering the House of Representatives. His final position was governor of Aomori Prefecture. My grandfather also served three terms in the lower house.

(M) When your father was governor, your older brother Taro won a seat in the House of Representatives.

(K) Yes, his first successful election was in 1996, along with former Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and Taro Kono.

(M) So there are three generations of politicians in your family.

(K) When my brother was in the lower house, I started working at the Aomori Prefectural Government after graduating from university. However, Taro passed away at the age of 52 in 2017. The local community told me I should be his successor, and supported my run for the lower house that year, which is why I’m a Diet member today. My life changed drastically at that unexpected timing.

(M) That was seven years ago, and today you’re in your second term. You’ve also served in several important positions. What parts of your job have been the most memorable since you became a politician?

(K) In the Diet, I was appointed parliamentary secretary for defense and parliamentary secretary for land, infrastructure and transport. Significant things happened during both of those periods. I was parliamentary secretary for land, infrastructure and transport in April 2022, when the Kazu I tourist boat sank off the coast of Hokkaido’s Shiretoko Peninsula. It was a horrible accident; none of the passengers or crewmembers survived. My jurisdiction included the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism’s Maritime Bureau, which is in charge of marine traffic safety, and the Japan Coast Guard (JCG), which performs search and rescue. We spent around three weeks in Hokkaido commanding the search efforts, during which the vice minister and I took turns remaining at the local task force, from right after the accident. We also reported daily to the passengers’ families. The search involved a large number of people, including the JCG, Hokkaido Prefectural Police, and Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF), but unfortunately not all victims were found. Some of the discussions with family members were extremely difficult. I learned a lot from that experience as a politician.

(M) That was certainly a tough job. Was the boat found?

(K) Yes, the underwater search located the boat, and it was salvaged. There were no bodies inside, likely due to the tides.

(M) Why did that tragic accident occur?

(K) The direct cause was the hatch fastener on the bow that had degraded over time. It didn’t work properly, so the hatch wasn’t sealed. There was rough weather that day. Water flowed into the engine room, and the engine stopped. The boat filled up with water and sank. There were other factors as well, including carelessness by the company operating the boat tours. Other tour operators advised cancelling the trip because of bad weather, but the boat departed anyway. I think this major accident can be attributed to the company president’s lack of experience and the way he neglected his responsibilities. Issues were pointed out with the process used by inspection institutes, which will be improved.

(M) Because they carry people from place to place, public transportation companies must take careful, deliberate measures to ensure safety. What happened when you were parliamentary secretary for defense?

(K) North Korea was frequently launching ballistic missiles, which is still happening today. They even set off some J-Alert broadcast warnings. A Cabinet decision was made in December 2022 on the three defense documents, which set forth a plan to increase defense spending. This will also enhance living environments for Japan Self-Defense Force (JSDF) officials. In my opinion, these documents create a path for Japan to make better preparations as a way to prevent crises, based on the concept of winning without fighting.

(M) It’s just like the saying, “Victorious soldiers win before going to war.”

(K) Yes, I agree.

Changing the media and education system would inspire a spirit of self-defense


(M) It’s a major problem that North Korea is invading Japan’s airspace by shooting ballistic missiles without permission. We should be dealing with this more harshly.

(K) The two countries have no diplomatic relations. Japan is protesting each missile launch via specific routes, but its messages aren’t really getting through. I think we should take further steps and put stronger pressure on North Korea, which claims security as the reason for its missiles and other types of military development. We must make North Korea fully understand that there is no reason to point these missiles at Japan.

(M) I think so, too. All countries have militaries for self-defense while relying on allies for assistance as needed. In Japan, there is a pervasive feeling that the United States will protect us according to the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty. We need to make the public realize they must have the mettle to protect their own country. I think this will require changes to our educational system and media. I hope Diet members will have more discussions on these topics.

(K) Many Liberal Democratic Party members frequently talk about these topics in its Security Research Council. Of course we must have a solid alliance with the U.S., as is discussed at the council. Japan also needs to enhance its independent security structure. We must make the government, JSDF, and all citizens aware of how important this is. An international survey asked respondents whether they would fight for their country. The number of Japanese people who responded affirmatively was much lower than other nations. I believe we must sufficiently teach our young people about history so they are aware of the need to protect their country if an emergency occurs, and I feel strongly that the national government should be making efforts to that end.

(M) I agree. We need deterrence provided by counteroffensive abilities that discourage enemies from attacking. Wars break out when the balance of power crumbles. We have to augment our military strength to prevent wars and maintain balance. That’s why we must stop thinking about security in an unrealistic way by saying that our pacificist constitution keeps us safe, or that the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty protects us. Japan must be more pragmatic. We need to consider defense policy focused on enhanced deterrence that discourages neighboring countries from invading. I think this complacency stems in part from the fact that Japan is an island nation. Continental countries, like those in Europe, are in a constant state of tension because they share borders with other states. People here feel peace of mind because they are surrounded by oceans. Diet members should take the initiative to teach citizens about the true circumstances facing Japan.

(K) Yes, and I think we could earn more trust from the U.S. by demonstrating that Japan can stand on its own two feet.

(M) Normally, war would break out if another country launched a ballistic missile without warning above our heads, like North Korea is doing. No progress is being made to bring Japanese abductees home from North Korea, either. I think this is pitiable. For a long time, I’ve insisted that Japan must strengthen its military power to deter war. I share my views with the world through my essays and these interviews. It’s problematic that society seems to think that all wars are bad – sometimes a country has to defend itself, like the recent war in Ukraine. In particular, China is using its economic growth to increase its military force, and is spending several times more money than Japan does for defense. Japan will be in serious danger unless it builds up its military to maintain a peaceful balance of power with China.

(K) I think so.

(M) Drones and other modern weapons are being used in the Ukraine war, but I think submarines are the most important part of Japan’s security. China would have to send its soldiers overseas to carry out military operations in Taiwan or Japan. A high level of deterrence would be achieved with submarines that can attack boats from the ocean. Japan is said to have the best conventional submarine technologies in the world. The JMSDF has 22 submarines, but I think we need more.

(K) Japan has long had outstanding boatbuilding technologies, which I think led to these submarines. Just like fighter aircraft, submarines must have stealth performance today, something that the JSDF is technologically capable of. As you described, I also hope for submarines to play a major role in Japan’s defense capabilities. Compared to past defense policy, the three defense documents were groundbreaking because they clearly state that Japan will have counterstrike capabilities. The plan is to obtain deterrence not only by shooting down enemy missiles, but through the ability to defend ourselves via standoff attacks against missiles and other weapons in enemy territory. This includes developing long-range missiles that can be launched from JSDF submarines. Japan has taken many steps to enhance its security structure, including the emergency legislation approving the right to collective defense, since the second Shinzo Abe administration. There is still work to be done, however. Future wars will incorporate advanced unmanned weapons and artificial intelligence, and more will be fought in space or the cyber realm. I believe the ruling party must continue our discussions on building a suitable defense structure in light of these new, increasingly complex circumstances.

A second Seikan Tunnel would solve numerous issues


(M) Security is a major challenge. Also of extreme importance are measures against Japan’s many natural disasters. Looking at the Great Kanto Earthquake that struck Tokyo 101 years ago, approximately 90% of casualties were caused by fires, not falling buildings. We should consider constructing a wide road, like the handful of roads that are 100 meters wide, to function as a fire belt in Tokyo. A long, straight road could also be used as a fighter runway during crises. I want to see more discussions of this sort on national land planning, including the concept of roads that would be useful for both disaster planning and security. What do you think?

(K) I don’t think much progress has been made on national land planning from that viewpoint, but roads are certainly important. It’s said the JSDF and other organizations couldn’t provide prompt relief after the Noto Peninsula earthquake on New Year’s Day because the roads were torn apart. Perhaps roads could become runways for supply transport from the air. On a related topic, all Japan’s nuclear power plants are being inspected and restarted. Along with roadways, they are a very important consideration in evacuation plans drafted by local governments. I’m from Aomori Prefecture, which has a nuclear fuel recycling facility and nuclear plant on the Shimokita Peninsula. Roads are required as evacuation routes. Aomori has begun full-scale discussions on emergency shelters. We should talk about infrastructure that can keep our citizens safe, from a multitude of viewpoints.

(M) People are revising their views of nuclear power for the sake of decarbonization, and these technologies are becoming more advanced as well. Perhaps it would be easier to provide electric power during emergencies with many small-sized nuclear plants that service specific zones, rather than large plants covering extensive areas. The latest small modular reactors (SMRs) are naturally cooled, which prevents meltdowns even if the plant loses power. I think these are extremely safe ways to utilize nuclear power.

(K) It may be possible to build plants of that type. Speaking of transportation networks, I’m hoping for progress in the plan to construct a second Seikan Tunnel. The tracks in the existing tunnel, which links Aomori and Hokkaido, are used by Shinkansen and freight trains. Shinkansen can travel at a speed up to 260 kilometers per hour, but they are limited to 160 kilometers inside the tunnel because their wind pressure can damage containers on passing freight trains. It’s unfortunate that Shinkansen can’t be used at their maximum performance, and it goes without saying that freight trains serve an essential role in transporting agricultural produce and other items from Hokkaido, where a great deal of Japan’s food is grown. More Shinkansen could travel at faster speeds between Tokyo and Sapporo if we dug another tunnel to separate the tracks. It would also be useful during emergencies. There are many JSDF units and munitions stockpiles in Hokkaido. Soldiers and ammunition must be transported by ship or airplane if a crisis occurred in the southwestern part of Japan, but they can only bring so much that way. With an additional tunnel, trains could bring them in larger volumes and with greater speed. A secure food transport route between Hokkaido and the main island would also be beneficial for Japan’s food security. We recently started a study meeting about the second Seikan Tunnel, which will be a fundamental solution to many different issues.

(M) I hope to see some progress. It’s possible that tunnels could also be used to store emergency food supplies and ammunition. I’ve heard the JSDF has very few ammunition stockpiles – a particularly important part of efforts to increase Japan’s ability to continue fighting.

(K) Going forward, I think steady efforts will be made to increase ammunition stockpiles at each base using the expanded defense budget.

Young people should think of others while working to achieve their dreams


(M) I’m from Komatsu City in Ishikawa Prefecture, home to the Japan Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF) Komatsu Air Base. To me it seems vulnerable to attacks from the air, including its fighters, ammunition, and fuel stores. Without bunkers, underground facilities, and other measures to guard against air attacks, they would probably struggle to keep fighting. We cannot assume wars will never occur; we must be ready based on the premise that a war will happen at some point. When people say Japan should strengthen its military capabilities, the media criticizes them as war agitators. But how can we protect our country while being so critical, even of deterrence? Switzerland is lauded for its permanent neutrality, but it has a universal conscription system in which all men aged 20 to 50 must take part in military exercises for a specified period of time as reserve soldiers. Each household is lent automatic rifles and ammunition to fight when necessary. Swiss neutrality is upheld by its military strength that discourages invasions. Diplomatic relations with neighbors are of course important, but we have to assume any of them could become enemies if the circumstances changed. Japan prepares for earthquakes based on the assumption that a major one could strike anywhere. Buildings must meet a high level of seismic standards so they can withstand shaking from Upper 6 to 7 on the Shindo seismic intensity scale. We also take measures against fires and tsunamis, and should be similarly prepared for wars. The Ground Self-Defense Force was concentrated in Hokkaido to repel a Soviet invasion during the Cold War, with backup from the U.S. Military and JASDF at Misawa Airport in Aomori. Today, we must decide how to deploy our forces to prevent ballistic missiles and other types of attacks. I think Diet members will need to do the essential work of building a resilient nation, from disaster planning to military preparations.

(K) I agree.

(M) It seems like the opposition parties are saying that Japan should restrict its military preparations to avoid war. Their way of thinking is limited by the long-lasting impacts of the Tokyo Trials. At this point, it’s unthinkable that Japan would violate international law to fight another country, but it’s fully possible that we could be drawn into a war started by another nation. Naturally, deterrence is needed to prevent military actions by enemies. If the unfortunate happens and a war breaks out, we need ample ammunition and other supplies to continue fighting as long as necessary. As you mentioned, the increased defense budget includes funds for emergency stockpiles. I truly hope these preparations will be carried out. At the end of the interview, I always ask for a “word for the youth.”

(K) I’ve been speaking at lots of graduations lately. I always state the importance of working hard to accomplish their dreams and objectives, and to have the willingness to always try new things. Like national defense and disaster planning, lofty ambitions are necessary for continual efforts. I hope young people will take steady steps forward with an awareness of helping their country, community, and other people.

(M) I think so, too. Thank you for joining me today.

(K) Thank you.


Jiro Kimura

Born in Fujisaki Town, Aomori Prefecture in 1967. Began working at the Aomori Prefectural Government after graduating from Chuo University’s Department of Law, Faculty of Law in 1991. Successfully won his first House of Representatives election in 2017. Has served as parliamentary secretary for land, infrastructure and transport, as well as parliamentary secretary for defense.