New Year's Reflection by Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda
Happy New Year to you all.
"The success or failure of Japan's economic reconstruction rests entirely on your shoulders."
Precisely 60 years ago, then Prime Minister Tetsu Katayama rallied the Japanese people with the above sentiment. Given the difficult situation -- we Japanese had lost everything through the war and were wondering how we could begin again from the ashes of defeat -- there was no alternative but for us to believe in the fundamental strengths possessed by the Japanese people. This, I think, was the essence of the thought that Prime Minister Katayama put into words.
The power of that idea produced great results during the postwar years. Japan achieved a remarkable postwar reconstruction, experienced rapid economic growth, and developed into a world-class economic power. Moreover, hand in hand with this economic development, Japan pursued the goals of improving medical treatment and providing universal healthcare and universal pension coverage for its people, thereby forging a stable society; Japan is now the country with the world's longest average life expectancy. Achievements such as these, which have earned Japan a measure of respect from around the world and led to the country being described as "East Asia's miracle," have been primarily the result of the Japanese people's fundamental strengths and persistent efforts.
That said, in today's Japan the so-called baby-boom generation has started to reach retirement age, the population has begun to decline, and the aging society is becoming a reality. In addition, since the collapse of the bubble economy, for most of the last 20 years the scale of the economy and the level of national income have remained roughly constant; economic stagnation has been ongoing. In a situation in which the overall economy is not growing, one person's income increase has to be balanced by somebody else's income decrease, exacerbating the problem of income disparity.
Although we face these structural problems and despite the fact that we are beset by feelings of uncertainty and stagnation, Japan still possesses both the long-held skills and the spirit of manufacturing as well as advanced technological capabilities, beginning with those in the environmental and energy conservation fields. Japan has no reason to lose confidence. As it harnesses its fundamental strengths, I firmly believe that Japan can make great strides.
As the period of high economic growth has ended, and the low birthrate and the aging of society are challenges, the social situation in Japan has changed substantially. The era in which attention was focused intently on a production-first policy has come to an end and people's interest has shifted toward improving the quality of their lives. However, the fact is that the systems -- beginning with social security -- that support the people's lives remain essentially the same as they were when they were established in the postwar period, and are still used today, having undergone repeated minor adjustments. Against this background, a variety of problems have come to light in recent years, including the issue of the falsification of earthquake-resistance data for houses, the issue of incorrect food labeling, and the careless processing of pension records.
Now is precisely the time for those in politics and the administration, and also those in the business sector, to change their mindsets and stand in the shoes of the people and the consumers. At present, the government is undertaking a comprehensive review of all laws and systems from the people's perspective to see whether or not they truly take into account the people's point of view. I want to obtain the conclusions of this review as soon as possible. My wish is to make 2008 the starting year of Japan's shift toward becoming "a society in which the people and the consumers play leading roles."
In the past 30 to 40 years, there have been a number of problems in the way pension records were managed that have culminated in the current problems surrounding the nation's pension records. There is no silver bullet that would solve these problems. The government has started the Pension Special Notification Service, via which we are asking individuals to check their own payment records, and we will continue to do our very best to deal steadily and resolutely with each and every task ahead of us. To that end, I would like to ask everyone for their cooperation. We will also carry out a fundamental review of the currently troubled pension system -- taking the viewpoints of pension recipients and subscribers into full account -- and we intend to reform it into a pension system with an unprecedented level of security.
In order to proceed with the creation of dependable and well-thought-out systems that play important roles in people's daily lives -- such as the pension system and the medical care and nursing care systems -- we will establish a national commission to discuss the modality of social security this year. We will invite representatives from every sector and every layer of society, including workers, consumers, and women, to the commission, and ask them to discuss a range of matters from a broad perspective. These matters will include whether the social security system that Japan has been operating up to now, which provides medium-level welfare benefits and imposes medium-level burdens, should remain as it is, or whether it would be desirable to move in the direction of higher welfare benefits and higher burdens, a similar approach to the one practiced in Sweden. I would like the commission to deliberate on systems that would gain broad acceptance among the general public.
Although Japan has limited natural resources, we do have high technological capabilities backed by a wealth of human resources. In the environmental field in particular, Japan possesses the world's most advanced technology. Fully utilizing the knowledge and lessons learned through the oil shocks and the serious pollution problems of the 1960s and 70s, Japan has led the world's research and development activities in the environmental and energy conservation fields, and has continued to move steadily toward being an environmentally friendly country. These environmental capabilities are a major strength that will contribute to Japan's future growth.
Global scale environmental issues, beginning with global warming, have come to the fore, and Japan and all the nations of the world need to cooperate in addressing them. Japan can make a contribution and, indeed, play a major role by spreading the world's most advanced technology to other countries around the globe.
The G8 Summit will be held in Japan this year. There is no doubt that environmental issues will be among the major subjects on the agenda at the Summit. On July 7, the day of the Star Festival, or Tanabata, in Japan, world leaders will gather in Toyako in Hokkaido. While gazing up at the Milky Way as it spans Hokkaido's clear night sky, we will think about what we can do to ensure that our children live under clear skies. I intend to lead the world in that discussion.
Japan's regions, in particular, are having to deal with severe situations arising from long-standing economic stagnation. However, each region has its own unique characteristics, such as natural heritage and traditions. Each region has to draw on its own ingenuity to make good use of its unique characteristics: that is the first step toward regional revitalization. We will change the direction of central government so as not to impose policy on the regions, but rather to back up their initiatives and endeavors.
Furthermore, regions that continue such efforts will establish their own networks of people engaged in agriculture, small- and medium-sized companies and universities, as well as forge ties with other regions and cities, and even with places overseas. By means of these developments, flows of people and information will increase, sales routes will expand, and the regions will benefit from major synergy effects. The government will support the establishment of networks extending beyond regional boundaries by dedicating specialist civil servants to the task of carrying out overall coordination of each regional bloc.
International relations are of particular importance for the reconstruction of the Japanese economy and for further economic growth.
Japan is now in an era of low growth, and the population size is declining as well. In contrast, many neighboring Asian countries are continuing to experience high growth and rising populations. I firmly believe that Japan can develop together with these countries by taking up Asia's dynamism, if we make Japan "a country open to the world."
Since the end of the war, Japan has developed as a trading nation. We must continue to cooperate and deepen our interdependency with the international community in order for our nation to continue developing. For Japan, a peaceful and stable international community is an irreplaceable asset. Japan needs to help the international community as much as possible. Even at this very moment, out on the Indian Ocean, many countries are cooperating with each other in continuing the fight against terrorism. I wish to show that Japan is working together with other countries for the sake of the world at the earliest possible date.
Three months have now passed since I assumed the position of Prime Minister. A variety of endeavors are only now beginning to take shape, but I will make an effort to transform Japanese politics and Japanese society, to make them fit for the future of Japan. I also hope to achieve general progress so that each of you will be able to actually feel that something has changed by the time the end of 2008 comes into view.
From my heart, I wish each and every one of you a wonderful year ahead.
January 1, 2008
Prime Minister of Japan