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Press Conference by Prime Minister Naoto Kan

Friday, April 22, 2011
[Provisional Translation]

CABINET PUBLIC RELATIONS SECRETARY: We will now begin the press conference with Prime Minister Naoto Kan. Prime Minister, your opening statement please.

Opening Statement by Prime Minister Naoto Kan

PRIME MINISTER KAN: My last press conference was held exactly one month after the Great East Japan Earthquake. Approximately ten days have passed since then. Today, I would like to explain to the people the progress we have made during this period, as well as our policies and vision for the future. I hope to continue to do this moving forward.

First, yesterday I visited Fukushima Prefecture. Although I met many disaster victims, the words of one person in particular stuck with me. Those words were, "My house is now farther away to me than the United States. I can visit the United States in about 10 hours, but I may not be able to visit my own house in weeks, maybe even months. I want to go home soon. Please help me." These words touched me more than anything else I heard. The Government must do everything in its power to help those who had to leave their homes because of the incident at Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station. We must help them return home at the earliest possible date. I felt this yet again very strongly during my trip.

While I was in Fukushima Prefecture yesterday, a declaration was made regarding the establishment of a No-entry Zone. Today as well, Planned Evacuation Zones and Emergency Evacuation Preparation Zones were established. We placed the highest priority on the safety and health of residents in making these decisions. The specifics of each zone have already been explained by the Chief Cabinet Secretary and others. The area 20km around the nuclear power station was basically already evacuated before we issued the order declaring it a No-entry Zone. The decision this time imposes legal restrictions on the area in light of public safety concerns, including with regard to burglaries.

Alongside the establishment of these zones, I hope to sequentially and systematically implement measures allowing the residents of the area to briefly return to their homes. I would like to take steps to make it possible for those who evacuated with only the clothing on their backs to briefly visit their homes and collect needed belongings.

On April 17, Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) released a roadmap detailing the steps to be taken for the incident at the Fukushima nuclear power stations moving forward. The Government would like to see this roadmap implemented as planned. The roadmap calls for a time period of three months for Step 1, and an additional three to six months for Step 2. If possible, we hope to see the early completion of Step 2. Once it is completed, we believe we will be able to propose a method by which the evacuees from the area can return home.

Over the past few days, recovery work has progressed gradually. We have made steady advances, including the reopening of Sendai Airport and the resumption of all Tohoku rail lines. In addition, the Cabinet today approved the estimated sum for the first supplementary budget. Next week, a supplementary budget for recovery work, including the removal of rubble, will be submitted to the Diet. We aim to enact this budget during the Golden Week holiday period. We are also planning to begin submitting disaster-related legislation to the Diet soon.

The construction of temporary housing is going to be a major issue in the short-term. I am grateful to the people of each prefecture working tirelessly to build such housing. The national government is exerting every effort to secure materials for this. I hope to begin work quickly in each area that local governments decide they can offer to us. By the end of May, we want to complete 30,000 houses. And at the end of our efforts, we aim to provide evacuees with 100,000 houses, including both temporary housing and rental units.

Along with the continuation of recovery work, discussions on reconstruction are now in full swing. On April 14, the Reconstruction Design Council held its first meeting. Tomorrow, the Council will meet for the second time. I have asked the Council to propose a roadmap and vision for reconstruction, preferably by the end of June. I do not intend to merely return the concerned region to the way it once was - I want to implement reconstruction to ensure that the region will have a truly wonderful future. And I believe that many others share my view.

In thinking about the reconstruction, it must be recognized that the problem of earthquake and nuclear power station incident is not just a crisis, but a crisis in the midst of a crisis. For more than 20 years, the Japanese economy has stagnated and the number of annual suicides has regularly been above 30,000 - to an extent we have been experiencing a social crisis. And the earthquake and nuclear power station incident occurred on top of that. A crisis in the midst of a crisis. This is how I view the situation.

I believe that the people are now looking to the Government to simultaneously solve both of these crises. What's more, the Great East Japan Earthquake has made many feel that they themselves must do something. It is now up to us to take these feelings as motivation, turn our focus toward reconstruction, and overcome every crisis we face, including those which we struggled with from before the time of the earthquake. I want the revitalization of Japan to support the revitalization of East Japan, and the revitalization of East Japan to lead the revitalization of Japan.

With this in mind, we will propose an overall direction for the revitalization of Japan which includes policy on macroeconomic measures. For this purpose, just as we did this morning, we shall hold another meeting of the Council on the State of the Economy right after the Golden Week holiday period. I want the Council to announce an overall direction for us to follow at this meeting.

In consideration of the efforts of the Reconstruction Design Council and macroeconomic forecast for our country, it is time for us to begin discussion on a framework for the implementation of actual work for reconstruction. We must consider setting up a Reconstruction Headquarters - although this is just a provisional name. The cooperation of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), New Komeito, and every other political party is indispensible for the great effort which will be required for reconstruction. In establishing the Reconstruction Headquarters, I hope very much to earn the cooperation of these parties, beginning with the two I just mentioned.

Those who perished in the Great East Japan Earthquake are calling out to us. They are sending us their voiceless prayers. They are urging those of us who survived to come together and build an even greater Japan. I believe that this is what they would want.

I also believe that it was fate that I was in the position of Prime Minister when this disaster struck. I intend to do everything in my power to realize the wishes of those who passed away. I will do everything I can to achieve this. My feelings about this are as strong now as they have ever been.

We continue to receive support and encouragement from abroad. A few days ago, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton came all the way out to Japan to pay a courtesy call and offer her condolences. Yesterday, the Prime Minister of Australia visited Japan, and there are plans for her to take a trip tomorrow to the area where a team of Australian emergency specialists carried out a disaster relief operation. Today, I had an exchange of opinions with OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurria. Each of these dignitaries made a point of coming to Japan at this time to give us encouragement. And I gave each of them a message to take back to the rest of the world. We will revitalize Japan. Absolutely.

By having those that visit us travel around to the various regions of our country, I hope to have them also take back the message that Japan is entirely safe for foreigners to visit except for a certain area. It is safe to come to Japan, it is safe to eat our food, and doing so is a tremendous contribution. I want each person who visits us to take back this message in particular, and I cannot thank them enough for doing so.

No matter what happens, we will meet the expectations of each of the dignitaries that have visited us. We will cooperate in a transparent way with the international community, including on the issue at the nuclear power station, and move forward with rebuilding and revitalization initiatives.

At my last press conference, I implored everyone to stop exercising excessive self-restraint and start participating in events again, as this would return vigor to Japan which in turn would help support the disaster-affected region. Unfortunately, it seems that there continues to be a mood of self-restraint in some parts of Japan. In contrast to this, in Rikuzentakada City, a place I myself have recently visited, I have heard that a cherry blossom viewing party of some hundred people has been held. Citizens there dug up taiko drums from among the rubble and put on a performance to bring cheer back to those who suffered in this disaster. This kind of gathering, festivals like this, are extremely important for strengthening the regional kizuna have existed since days long gone. These gatherings invigorate Japan. In the near future, the people of Sendai City will hold the Sendai Tanabata Festival, Morioka City will organize the Sansa Odori Festival, and the Soma Nomaoi Festival will be held in Minamisoma City. Although these areas have been through a disaster; or rather, especially because these areas have been through a disaster, they will continue to hold these festivals this year. Similar festivals are being announced in other parts of the disaster-affected region one after another. I admire the courage of each of these areas, and hope that the entire nation will join me in cheering on the people organizing these festivals.

Although most people are currently gathering together in the spirit of supporting the many affected by the disaster, some have pointed out situations which have shown a certain lack of empathy. Today, I implore everyone to be considerate of each other and work to make sure that these kinds of situations no longer occur. A string of national holidays will begin next week, and there may be those among us who have decided to hold off on taking a trip this year. However, as I said a moment ago, I would like everyone to get out of the house as much as possible and participate in events, particularly those to be held in East Japan or the Tohoku area. If you can't visit these places, eat their vegetables or purchase their liquor and crafts. Doing so will bring cheer back to the area. I believe that there are also many who will use the national holidays to visit the area as volunteers. Today I ask everyone to consider using the Golden Week holiday period in such a way. I want everyone to think about what they can do, and then do it. Let's use this Golden Week to cheer up East Japan.


CABINET PUBLIC RELATIONS SECRETARY: We will now move on to the Q&A session. Although I will be calling on you to ask questions, we would appreciate it if you would still state your name and affiliation. Thank you. Aoyama-san, please.

REPORTER: I am Aoyama of Nippon TV. You just spoke of the launch of the Reconstruction Headquarters and appealed to opposition parties to take part in that framework. My first question is, what type of rights and responsibilities are you planning on instilling in this body? Currently, People's New Party representative Shizuka Kamei is making similar appeals to the opposing parties. While the People's New Party can be considered as part of the same ruling coalition, why is it representative Kamei, the head of a separate party, who is making such important appeals? Also, in relation to this, representative Kamei is asserting that you have conveyed that you are no longer attached to your position as prime minister. Do you intend to consider leaving office once the prospects for reconstruction become evident? What have you discussed with representative Kamei? Please be sure to answer this question in particular.

PRIME MINISTER KAN: First, we have examined various past examples in considering how to organize the Reconstruction Headquarters. If possible, I will discuss this and other issues with the opposition parties and we will begin to give shape to the organization. That is my plan. Regarding the appeal made by representative Kamei of the People's New Party, with which we have formed a coalition, representative Kamei asked me for my views as he also believed that having the LDP, New Komeito, and all other parties involved in this would be desirable. I told him that I would be very grateful for his efforts in working towards achieving this. That is my view. I understand that representative Kamei is putting forth a great amount of effort.

Finally, as I mentioned earlier, I take it as fate in some sense that I was in the position of Prime Minister when the earthquake and nuclear emergency occurred. As such, I plan to do everything I can to pave the path for recovery and reconstruction in response to this situation, and towards overcoming the two crises we face. I will be satisfied as a politician if that path becomes visible.

CABINET PUBLIC RELATIONS SECRETARY: Yes, next please, Igarashi-san.

REPORTER: I am Igarashi of the Yomiuri Shimbun. I would like to ask about the response to the nuclear power station problem. You just mentioned that the Government intends to allot every effort to this so that evacuating residents can return to their homes as soon as possible. In order to strengthen the Government's response to the problem, do you intend to, for example, assign a minister to oversee the response to the nuclear power station problem?

At the same time, various councils and headquarters' are being set up to respond to such issues as the nuclear power station problem, the earthquake and tsunami, and recovery and reconstruction. Some people have voiced that this approach is inefficient. Do you not intend to consolidate, integrate, and streamline these councils and headquarters?

PRIME MINISTER KAN: We have the administration's three top officials working around the clock to complete an enormous workload which consists of the response to the earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear power station incident, as well as the regular work that we had before the disaster took place. However, the maximum number of ministers, parliamentary vice-ministers, senior vice-ministers, and aides are regulated by law. If possible, I plan to increase the number of such posts to a certain degree and assign capable individuals to positions addressing each of these problems.

In that context, I have been discussing an amendment to the Cabinet Act with individuals from the LDP, New Komeito, and other parties through their secretaries-general and other channels. This has yet to be realized, but I expect to obtain their understanding on this matter.

It has also been pointed out that the situation seems confusing due to the various different headquarters that have been established. I first and foremost ask everyone to understand that basically we have no choice but to employ a two-pronged strategy. That is to say, we first established the Headquarters for Emergency Disaster Response in response to the earthquake and tsunami, which are both natural disasters. This was mandated by law. Meanwhile, in response to the major nuclear power station incident, we established the Nuclear Emergency Response Headquarters, which is also required under the Act on Special Measures Concerning Nuclear Emergency Preparedness.

The functions of these headquarters partially overlap in terms of assistance and other areas, however each of the problems - such as the issue of compensation or the problem related to evacuation - involve disparate systems and implications. That is why we established two major headquarters, under which we then set up implementation units for such specific issues as, for instance, compensation and evacuation. The organization of these bodies might appear complicated to everyone, perhaps more so because we used the term "headquarters" for these units as well. Nevertheless, it should be easy to understand if you think about it as a group of different teams, or project teams, that are situated under two major headquarters and work to tackle various different issues.

Moreover, the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) is also undertaking various activities, and the headquarters for the party is different in character from those in the Cabinet Office. The headquarters each extend to a rather wide range of directions and the situation is sure to change with time. That is why I am having the Chief Cabinet Secretary work to better organize and integrate these functions.

CABINET PUBLIC RELATIONS SECRETARY: Now let us hear from the next person. Matsuura-san, if you please.

REPORTER: I am Matsuura of Kyodo News. I would like to ask about the source of funding for reconstruction. Within the DPJ, there are discussions to the effect that there is little choice other than to finance the reconstruction through tax increases. In opinion polls also, there is a certain degree of approval for this. With that in mind, do you have any thoughts on the financing of reconstruction through tax increases? In doing so, do you intend to raise consumption tax in particular?

PRIME MINISTER KAN: To begin with, in the first supplementary budget, rather than relying on government bonds, we have proposed a rough estimate sum obtained from reshuffling the various conventional items of expenditure and other savings.

As for the subsequent second supplementary budget for full-fledged reconstruction, the majority of people envision that this is likely to be of a considerable scale, and I believe that as well. If that is the case, then the question is how to procure the financing. This, I feel, is both an issue of time, and of details. First of all, when it comes to proceeding on with reconstruction, it is clearly undesirable for us to be unable to start work due to a lack of funds. So in that sense, I think it will be necessary to devote the required funding, which will include the temporary application of instruments like government bonds, to that endeavour.

In that case, by what financing, and by what time will the bonds in question be paid back? I acknowledge that there is a substantial debate on this. It seems that there are already a range of opinions to be heard, regarding such issues, even within the Reconstruction Design Council, and I therefore await further debate. This leads us to ask what the various forecasts for the future are, and how the market views the Japanese government bond market. I hope to engage in a serious discussion, which also addresses these questions.

CABINET PUBLIC RELATIONS SECRETARY: Next we would like to call on a member of the foreign press. Ishida-san, please.

REPORTER: I am Ishida of Media Corporation of Singapore. A moment ago, you touched upon the support and encouragement Japan is receiving from abroad, and you said that you had a message you wanted the Secretary-General of the OECD and the Australian Prime Minister to take back with them about the safety of Japan.

However, the reality is that many countries are concerned about the radiation levels in Japan. Among these are those with the impression that the entirety of Japan is irradiated. I want you to tell the world to be at ease. Please tell everyone that the entirety of Japan has not been irradiated.

PRIME MINISTER KAN: Some time ago I requested that advertisements be taken out in the newspapers of countries around the world, expressing gratitude for the support we have received from abroad. I also submitted an article to many of these newspapers, and quite a few agreed to publish it. In these articles and advertisements, I assured the world that even if there are certain foodstuffs, for example, with higher levels of radiation, these products are not being put on the market. We are working to receive the understanding of the world about the safety of Japan through these and other actions. This is what we are doing.

As one part of this, we are extremely grateful for the messages sent out by those who have visited Japan. Of course, the Government as well will continue to seek out opportunities to spread our message.


REPORTER: I am Matsuyama of Fuji TV. The time between the Government's announcement of the No-entry Zone and its implementation was rather short. As a result, I heard that some residents, such as those living along the roads leading into the No-entry Zone, did not hear about it before it was imposed, causing some trouble.

Furthermore, the zoning was imposed without any specific policies pertaining to the evacuation of livestock and pets to areas outside the zone. This has given rise to criticism from the opposition parties. Does this mean that you have imposed the No-entry Zone based on the assessment or the awareness of the fact that the situation calls for such urgency?

In addition, I have heard that residents may be subject to fines of more than 100,000 yen under the law in the event that they resist orders to evacuate. Do you acknowledge that such compulsory measures may also be enforced depending on the situation?

PRIME MINISTER KAN: I believe you are aware that the areas within 20km around Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station operated by Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) was already designated as an evacuation zone from an early stage. Basically, the request for residents to evacuate arose out of the possibility that remaining within the zone may cause health problems.

The No-entry Zone established this time carries legal penalties in the sense that it has a legal basis. This is how the two differ. However, the basic stance remains unchanged; in consideration of the health and safety of residents, those living within this zone have to be asked to evacuate.

Actually, there seems to have been a fair number of people who returned home since the declaration of the evacuation zone, and we would basically like to persuade these people not to do so. It is not our intention to apply strong regulations or employ legal force immediately just because there is an applicable law; rather, we would generally prefer to respond with verbal persuasion. I had a similar discussion with the head of the National Public Safety Commission today.

Moreover, we will successively put in place a system to allow residents from these areas to return to their homes temporarily to collect some of their belongings. I believe this measure will help us gain the understanding of the residents.

It is true that there are problems pertaining to livestock and pets, and we really have caused a great deal of trouble to the residents. However, since we have taken great care to explain the issue to the local governments in the area recently, if we could also have their understanding on what I have just explained, I think that many of the residents would see that these measures will bring them greater peace of mind in the end.


REPORTER: I am Nanao of Nico Nico Douga. Thank you for your time.

Watching TEPCO's daily announcements has given most people the view that there will be no speeding up of the operation schedule. I assume that in the event that things start to look as if operations will not proceed according to the set schedule, the degree of devastation felt by the Japanese people and especially the local residents will be great. Do you feel that the Government is currently exerting its full capacity in working toward the conclusion of the power station incident to ensure that this does not happen? Are you prepared to do whatever is necessary to respond to this issue?

PRIME MINISTER KAN: On April 17, TEPCO announced its two-step operation schedule. Step 1 is scheduled to conclude in three months, and Step 2 should complete in six to nine months after that. We in the Government feel it is most vital that we offer our cooperation - that we do our utmost to offer whatever we can, working together with TEPCO, to ensure that the roadmap is fully carried out.

As many issues exist, and as various new issues have arisen after we had already began undertaking certain initiatives over the last month, it is impossible for me to predict what future developments may take place. However, I do believe that if we, including the Government, steadily work according to the roadmap presented by TEPCO, it is absolutely possible for us to realize its goals as planned.

Furthermore, regarding the various events that could possibly take place in the process, we are simultaneously making considerations and verifications in advance to determine what needs to be done in case they occur. In this manner, the Government intends to do everything in its power to ensure that everything goes according to the roadmap.

CABINET PUBLIC RELATIONS SECRETARY: As we have exceeded our allotted time, we will conclude after the next question.

REPORTER: Regarding the second supplementary budget that you mentioned earlier, the Reconstruction Design Council is to compile a statement at the end of June. Does this mean, therefore, that the budget will be formulated after the statement is made at the end of June? If that is the case, since the Diet session ends on June 22, do you intend to allow it to close for a period and then call it into session again?

PRIME MINISTER KAN: I have asked the members of the Reconstruction Design Council to compile its plan by the end of June. I believe that we should consider, based on content of the plan and while compiling it, the scale of the second supplementary budget we are to formulate and how we should formulate it.

As such, since the deadline at this point is June, and I have not yet thought about - or rather, we are not at the point of deciding what to do about the Diet session. What we need to do during this Diet session, first of all, is to fully discuss and pass the first supplementary budget and the various legislation related to this, as well as the various other issues that have already been proposed for this session. As this is our first order of business, I do not believe we are at the point of discussing what is to happen after that.

CABINET PUBLIC RELATIONS SECRETARY: This brings the Prime Minister's press conference to a close. Thank you very much for your cooperation.