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Press Conference by Prime Minister Naoto Kan

Friday, August 26, 2011
[Provisional Translation]

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

Opening Statement by Prime Minister Naoto Kan

PRIME MINISTER KAN: I have something I would like to report to the people of Japan. Today, thanks to the tremendous efforts of the ruling and opposition parties, the Diet passed the Bill on Special Provisions concerning the Issuance of Government Bonds and the Bill to Promote Renewable Energies. Adding these to the second supplementary budget, all three pieces of legislation that I previously identified as particularly important have passed. Since the passage of these bills has been achieved, as promised, I shall step down as leader of the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), and following the election of a new DPJ President, leave the post of Prime Minister.

I have many things I wish to communicate to the Japanese people. Since becoming Prime Minister on June 8 of last year, I have been encouraged by many and reprimanded by many others. I want everyone to know how very pleased I am to have received both the warm words of encouragement, and the harsh criticisms. I am truly grateful to the people of this nation for all of it. I also want to express my gratitude for all those who helped us attempt political reform. I want to thank my Cabinet, the three top ministry officials, our public servants, and the Diet members of both the ruling and opposition parties, all the members of the DPJ and our supporters across Japan. Without all of you, the Kan Administration could not have accomplished a single thing.

Immediately after I took office, the DPJ lost control of the House of Councillors, creating a 'divided' Diet. Within the DPJ as well, while I was able to maintain my position as President in the party election of last September thanks to the support of a number of people including members of the party across Japan, the situation since then has not been an easy one. But regardless of the situation in the Diet or the DPJ, necessary policies must be put forth for the people of Japan. The Kan Cabinet has exerted every possible effort over the past one year and three months on every kind of domestic and foreign issue fueled by this belief. If I may give you all my honest feelings as I stand ready to leave this post, I believe I did what needed to be done, given the difficult circumstances. The work of the Cabinet has made certain progress including on recovery and reconstruction since the Great East Japan Earthquake, on bringing the nuclear accident to an end, and on the comprehensive reform of social security and taxation systems. I might just be an optimist, but when I think of what my Cabinet accomplished under such harsh conditions, I feel a certain sense of achievement.

I was not born into a political family. I started my career in a citizens' movement. That I was able to take up the responsibilities of this post and accomplish the things I wanted to accomplish, is something that was only made possible thanks to the support I received from the public, and in particular the many supporters in the local electorate who cheered me on without any demands for personal gain. I am truly grateful to you all. When I took up this position, I said that I wanted to create a society with the least unhappiness. Regardless of the era or nation, I firmly believe that the aim of politics must be the lessening of unhappiness among the people. This belief is the reason why I focused so much attention on employment creation in the economic area. Because the loss of employment is not just an economic problem. It is a human one. It is the loss of a place to belong to, and of a role to play in society. It is one of the major reasons why people become unhappy. When I created the New Growth Strategy, I placed heavy emphasis on seeing what the Government could do to create employment. Furthermore, I established a number of task force team on a wide range of issues overlooked by past administrations. Among these, I have worked to seek the recovery of the remains of war dead from Iwo Island, to fight against incurable diseases and viruses, and to prevent suicide and social isolation.

And then, on March 11, there was the Great East Japan Earthquake, and the subsequent nuclear accident. These experiences only strengthened my feelings about the realization of a society with the least unhappiness. Japan is one of the most earthquake-prone islands on this planet, and we also have many nuclear power stations. The extreme danger posed by the experience this time taught us that even one accident can threaten the future of this country and its people. My insufficiencies as a Prime Minister and my lack of preparation are two things that pain me deeply. Because of these inadequacies, we were unable to prevent the accident in Fukushima from occurring, a fact that has cause many people to suffer. I have heard the voices of the people on this issue, particularly the strong concerns expressed by those with small children. I will continue to do my utmost on this problem until my last day as Prime Minister.

Thinking back, for a week after the earthquake, a time when I did not leave my office for even a moment to tackle the situation, I remember being faced with multiple damaged nuclear power stations. Hydrogen explosions were happening one after the other. Working to prevent the damage from the nuclear power stations from spreading was terrifying. It chilled me to the bone every waking moment of each day. Considering the nature of the nuclear accident we face, should the situation worsen, a wide-scale evacuation and long-term effects will be unavoidable. How should we deal with the risk that nuclear power might cause our country to perish? This question is what led me to propose the creation of a society free from dependence on nuclear power. It is my own answer. It was developed out of the renewed realization that the background to the nuclear accident included issues stretching from the question of how we should inspect and regulate nuclear power - a problem represented by the term "nuclear villages" - to the question of how government administration and industry should be structured, and even cultural issues. I came to believe that we must not just work to bring the nuclear accident to a conclusion, we must also implement a thorough reconsideration and reform of nuclear energy administration and energy policy. I have just started public debate on this. Everything must be on the table in these debates, from the safety and cost of nuclear energy to the issue of nuclear fuel cycles without any sanctuary. Even after I step down, as the single politician working as Prime Minister during the Great East Japan Earthquake and the start of the nuclear accident, I intend to continue to exert every possible effort to listen to the stories of those affected by these disasters. I will continue to work on measures against nuclear pollution and for the fundamental reform of nuclear energy administration. I will also continue to help create a society free from dependence on nuclear power.

Together, we, the Japanese people, were able to come together as to withstand and overcome the unprecedented disaster, the Great East Japan Earthquake and nuclear accident. Watching the activities of the many police officers, firefighters, Japan Coast Guard personnel, Self Defense Force personnel, and nuclear power station workers who have been risking their lives since right after the earthquake for support and rescue activities and work at nuclear power stations, I am filled with tremendous pride. The activities of the Self Defense Forces in particular have shown the public the true significance of maintaining the defense forces to support this country and its people, something that, as their commander, fills me with an emotion that words are inadequate to express. And while I am on the topic, I want to take this opportunity to also state my deep respect and gratitude for those affected by the disaster who are now working so hard to create a better tomorrow, for the local municipalities of the disaster-affected region that assist them, and for the many people of this nation who have continued to provide them with such warm support.

The great spirit of compassion and consideration shown by the Japanese people following the earthquake is something that has been commended around the world. After the disaster, we received both material and spiritual support from so many of our friends in other countries. And so we must now reconstruct. We must become a Japan that can repay the debt we owe the world. I feel this now more than ever. I want to highlight Operation Tomodachi of the United States in particular. This Operation again proved the true importance of the Japan-US Alliance in a tangible way. Viewed from a security perspective, the world continues to be in an unstable state. Japan must maintain a strong commitment to protecting its own security and the security of the world by continuing forward with foreign policy based on the Japan-US Alliance. I also want to mention the Japan-China-Republic of Korea Trilateral Summit held in Japan in May. During the Summit, both visiting leaders took a trip to the disaster-afflicted region. I believe that this experience allowed us to share an understanding of the importance of supporting our partners during disasters and in times of need.

Many governments around the world are currently facing very difficult fiscal situations. In the House of Councillors election right after I became Prime Minister, I called for the start of discussion on social security and consumption tax as a means to raise funds for it. Since then there have been a number of debates on this issue, and as a result, this June we completed a final draft plan for the comprehensive reform of social security and taxation systems. Securing the sustainability of the social security and taxation systems is an issue that no administration can avoid. It is also the foundation of efforts to realize a society with the least unhappiness. Looking at the examples set for us by other countries, it is obvious that we cannot put the reform off any longer. This is a very difficult issue, but it is something I want to gain the understanding of the people on, and something I want both ruling and opposition parties together to push forward. Please, make this reform happen.

I will leave the question of how my activities in office are to be evaluated historically up to the judgment of future generations. All that has ever mattered to me is that I have issues in front of me; issues that I must make progress on within the given conditions. That is all. I feel deeply apologetic that I was not able to express my thoughts better to the public and that I was not able to push matters forward more smoothly within the confines of the "divided" Diet. However, even so, I took risks and made progress on difficult issues which are very controversial among the Japanese people. As a member of the baby boom generation, I have been driven by the strong conviction that we must not leave the problems we created for future generations to clean up. Fiscally sustainable governance, the social security system, the creation of a reformed agricultural industry that younger generations can participate in, the issue of energy supply and demand following the Great East Japan Earthquake - I believe these are all problems which my generation has a responsibility to resolve before we pass the baton of leadership to the young. If nothing else, I only hope that whoever takes up this responsibility after me absolutely shares this belief. I pray for this from the bottom of my heart. And with that, I announce my resignation from the post of Prime Minister.


CABINET PUBLIC RELATIONS SECRETARY: We will now move on to the Q&A session. For those who would like to ask questions, we would appreciate it if you would first state your name and affiliation. Thank you. Mr.Tanaka, please.

REPORTER: I am Tanaka of the Mainichi Shimbun. While you formally announced your resignation today, it has been pointed out that meetings with overseas leaders have hardly taken place over the past three months and that Japan is falling into a political vacuum. What are your views on this matter? Also, regarding the reasons for your resignation, a few days ago, in reference to a comment about resigning "once a certain degree of progress has been made," you noted in your response to a question asked at the Diet that you were concerned that the Cabinet would not be able to function had parliament members rebelled against you in the no-confidence motion on June 2. If you have any thoughts as the President of the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) on the fact that the party even reached such a situation, please share them with us.

PRIME MINISTER KAN: First, over the past three months, as examples: the Basic Act on Reconstruction was established; the second supplementary budget was passed; and regarding nuclear energy administration, a Cabinet decision was taken to detach the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA) from the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) and to create a new safety agency. In this sense, I believe these last three months were a very fruitful period for the implementation of policies. Also, in terms of foreign policy, I believe it was significant that I was also able to meet with Vice President Biden of the United States, which had been planned since the conclusion of the Summit at the end of May. You asked a number of questions about the reasons for my resignation. As I discussed a moment ago, my intention was to advance what needed to be taken care of, bearing in mind the difficult environment within the party.

CABINET PUBLIC RELATIONS SECRETARY: Next person. Mr. Imaichi, please.

REPORTER: I am Imaichi of TBS Television. It has been decided that campaigning for the DPJ presidential election to decide on your successor will start tomorrow. What are your hopes for the next prime minister? What do you want to entrust to the next prime minister? Also, you said that you wished to pass on various responsibilities to the younger generation. What kind of person do you wish will succeed you? Several parliament members have already announced their intentions to run. Who do you intend to support in the presidential election?

PRIME MINISTER KAN: As I said in my opening statement a moment ago, I believe a person fit to be a leader of Japan is indeed someone who, in these very difficult times, does not put off addressing matters of any sort, but faces up to difficult challenges with his/her own responsibility and advances the situation while obtaining the understanding of the people of Japan. In this context, I would like someone who can fully see to it that the current measures achieve recovery and reconstruction as well as the conclusion of the nuclear accident to become the next President and Prime Minister.

CABINET PUBLIC RELATIONS SECRETARY: Next person. Mr. Matsuura, please.

REPORTER: I am Matsuura of Kyodo News. When the nuclear accident occurred, you went to the site the day after the accident. This generated various criticisms, including whether your visit did not interfere with the work on-site and whether it was right for the leader of a country to go to the site at the risk of being exposed to radiation. At this present time, do you have any regrets about going there? Also, one more question. If a similar major nuclear accident were to occur in the future, do you believe that whoever is prime minister at that time should go to the site immediately after its occurrence?

PRIME MINISTER KAN: During the period since the accident occurred until today, I came to understand various things I did not understand initially. After the nuclear accident occurred, at least for a while, unfortunately it was difficult to get a sense of the true situation at the reactors. Since many messages were being sent back and forth, it was difficult to get a sense of what was going on at the site. In that respect, I believe being able to go to the Tokyo Electric Power Company's (TEPCO) Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station site and meet and exchange views with the director who was responsible there, along with making observations of earthquake and tsunami damage in the early morning of March 12, were very significant for later tackling this problem. In that sense, I personally believe it was an extremely meaningful action.

Now, that said, if I may say so, a variety of manuals actually existed for all of this. For example, it was decided in advance that we were to gather and make decisions at a place called an off-site center. However, at the off-site center, the electricity could not be turned on, the telephones did not work, and even if people wished to go there they could not access the highways because of the earthquake. The anticipated response could not be taken. So yes, it is important to consider generally how a response should be taken. However, when what you had originally planned is not possible, do you then leave that as is and try to move things forward based only on the information that comes to you? Or do you yourself then go to the site of the problem and directly attempt to grasp the situation? I believe this is a decision one can only make on a case-by-case scenario. To this day, I believe going to the power station based on this sort of judgment was extremely significant for the activities which followed in order to bring the situation under control.

CABINET PUBLIC RELATIONS SECRETARY: Next question please. Go ahead, Ms. Yamaguchi.

REPORTER: I am Yamaguchi from AP. Many affected by the recent disasters and within the general population are expressing criticisms of the present reality in which political positioning is being given priority over policy debate, despite the fact that the country is facing so many problems, including the major earthquake, the nuclear accident, the historically high appreciation of the yen, financial difficulties, and so on. In the United States for example, the President serves for four years, but in Japan the next prime minister will be the sixth in that same time span. What is wrong with politics in Japan? Why is the prime minister immediately removed from office as soon as there is a policy deadlock or his public support falls? I think there is a lot of wondering going on about Japan's short-lived administrations overseas as well, so I would like to hear your views on this point - although I am sorry to ask you this question because I think you have worked harder in the last six months than any of your predecessors did when they were in office. Also please tell us what kind of policies you expect from the next prime minister, including policies related to foreign affairs.

PRIME MINISTER KAN: I think there are probably various reasons for the problem of prime ministers in Japan generally having extremely short terms in office, but I think one structural reason is that the House of Councillors election is held once every three years and the House of Representatives election is as well, meaning that there are national elections twice every three years. Moreover, before these elections there is always pressure to replace a prime minister whose support in the polls has fallen, and if the party loses that election there is pressure for the prime minister to resign and take responsibility for the loss, even if it was a House of Councillors election. In other words, national elections take place twice every three years, in the House of Councillors and the House of Representatives, and a change of administration often occurs before or after each election. So I think there is a structural background to this issue. Looking at other countries, immediately after Prime Minister David Cameron of the United Kingdom formed a coalition administration he announced the month and day five years into the future on which the next general election would be held, and although his support in the polls dropped as he subsequently adopted quite tough policies in political terms, I think that a precedent was set in the United Kingdom, and that in a sense, the general public and even the opposition parties assume that they will remain under the leadership of Prime Minister Cameron until the next general election. On this point, I think that it would be desirable for Japan too if we could establish a custom of continuing on with the same prime minister even when then party in power changes, for at least the full four year term of the House of Representatives. I would like for such a practice to be established in our society or political community.

CABINET PUBLIC RELATIONS SECRETARY: Next question please. Mr. Egawa, go ahead.

REPORTER: My name is Egawa and I am a freelance reporter. Thank you for taking my question. Previously you have said that you are determined to build a society free from dependence on nuclear power. However, after that, you changed the wording of this statement to suggest that this is just your personal view, so from our perspective, it seems as if you must be meeting with quite a lot of resistance from various quarters. What part of the current mechanisms of the national government do you feel pose the biggest threat to the creation of a society free from dependence on nuclear power? Also, some observers believe that the calls for you to step down have become much louder since you ordered the closure of Hamaoka Nuclear Power Station. Do you feel that way yourself? If so, where do you feel such pressure has come from? I would like you to talk about this issue.

PRIME MINISTER KAN: As I said in my opening remarks, there is this phrase that the media uses often, which is "nuclear village." These villages are said to be the result of the mechanisms of government administration, the nature of economics, special interest groups - including academic ones - and cultural problems. In terms of these issues and the goal of creating a society free from dependence on nuclear power, as a politician I have been first working to reform the government and its mechanisms. In addition to that, I feel that other initiatives are needed as well. Some people have observed that after I requested the closure of Hamaoka Nuclear Power Station, that pressure for me to step down, in some sense, grew stronger, but this is just a feeling and it is difficult to speak of in terms of actual evidence. I have myself felt that criticisms since then have been extremely tough, and have perhaps even grown stronger. However, on the other hand, I have also felt that we are seeing the beginning of a great movement that will exceed those criticisms and situations and rise up to meet the challenges before us. So going forward, I will continue working hard to realize a society free from dependence on nuclear power. I feel that the path toward achieving this is now clear.


REPORTER: I am Anai of the Yomiuri Shimbun. This question is concerning the DPJ Manifesto that led to the successful change in administration in 2009. The Kan Administration worked to revise a portion of the Manifesto, and debate is again being carried out on revising the Manifesto in the party presidential election. Have you ever considered that it might be possible to manage the administration without revising the Manifesto? Or did you decide that, unless the Manifesto was dramatically revised, it would be impossible for whoever becomes Prime Minister to manage the administration? What are your thoughts on this?

PRIME MINISTER KAN: Currently, efforts to revise the Manifesto are being carried out mainly by DPJ Secretary General Okada, and it is my understanding that today - I believe it was today - the mid-term evaluation on the Manifesto was announced. As I always say, the Manifesto is extremely important in that it is a commitment made to citizens. We have realized a significant portion of the 2009 Manifesto. However, in terms of whether we have achieved everything, or whether it will be possible to generate the financial resources as initially planned, it is my honest opinion that not everything went so smoothly, and that our forecasts were too optimistic. In that regard, I have admitted to this and apologized in the Diet. This proves that the importance of the Manifesto has not changed. Nevertheless, the DPJ has carried out a certain level of revisions on the Manifesto, and a degree of understanding was acquired within the DPJ, which led to the mid-term evaluation. That is how I understand the situation.


REPORTER: I am Matsuyama of Fuji Television. My question is also with regard to the DPJ presidential election. Amidst the large number of candidates in the current election, the trends of former President Ozawa's group are again becoming an important factor in determining the result of the election. How do you personally view the current situation, where the focus of discussion is on the removal of Mr. Ozawa's suspension as a DPJ member? Also, do you think that efforts should be made to form a united party, even if it means appointing someone else close to Mr. Ozawa to Secretary General or other key posts? Lastly, you have said that when the new DPJ President accedes as prime minister, that person should stay in office for the long-term. That said, do you believe that the new prime minister should conduct a snap general election?

PRIME MINISTER KAN: First, I have never thought that we should, nor have I tried to, expel a certain group. You asked about the suspension of party membership. As everyone is well aware, that resolution was made after carrying out lengthy discussions within the DPJ according to certain procedures. By no means did we target a certain person or a certain group. A decision would be made for whoever comes under such circumstances in accordance with party rules.

In that regard, I once said that the Cabinet comprised 412 people. That of course includes all Diet members, local assembly members, and party members belonging to the DPJ. It is desirable to have a party where the right person is selected for the right job in accordance with individual ability and qualifications. I hope that the new President will support the party in that manner.

REPORTER: Do you believe the next prime minister should also hold a snap election?

PRIME MINISTER KAN: As I just mentioned, generally speaking, in the event there is a change in administration, it would be appropriate if the term of the Prime Minister were four years, the same as a member of the House of Representatives. When asked about the best timing for, or whether we should, dissolve the Diet, I get the impression that what I am really trying to say is not being conveyed properly. I believe that it is desirable for a single prime minister to serve for around four years. If their term expires during that time, it will be the natural course of events that that individual will call for - I don't think the talk about "dissolving" is appropriate - an election upon completion of his or her term according to the rules.


REPORTER: I am Sakajiri of the Asahi Shimbun. I would like to ask about the issue of modifying the restricted area (no-entry zone) around the nuclear power station. The administration has continually said that a cold shutdown of the plant would take place in accordance with the completion of Step 2 in January of next year. Your position was that you were considering modifying the restricted area in light of this timing. Recently, however, I have heard that considerations are being made within the administration that suggest that the removal in the near future would be rather difficult, or that we must postpone the removal for a long time. Are there actually municipalities where modification will be postponed? Also, what circumstances led to the current administration changing the posture and what you have said up until now, at this point during the last moments of your administration?

PRIME MINISTER KAN: As you are aware, following the nuclear power station accident we expanded the Restricted Areafrom 3 kilometers at the first stage, to 5, 10, and finally to 20 kilometers. Furthermore, as you all know, on top of the concept of simply encircling areas, while we actually carried out monitoring operations, we implemented various responses including Deliberate Evacuation Area (planned evacuation zones) with particularly high radiation levels. In that regard, we decided today to push decontamination efforts into full swing using \220 billion in reserved funds, and the target has been incorporated. Put differently, residents living in areas with annual radiation levels of over 20mSv have basically been evacuated, and in order to allow them to return as soon as possible we will shrink the area, or, decontaminate it so that people can return. Furthermore, and this particularly concerns children, we will address decontamination operations in a solid, concerted fashion with local governments in areas measuring below 20mSv as well with the objective of reducing levels to 1mSv. The Government will focus all of its power on carrying out these efforts. We are currently having considerations carried out by experts and others on how effective decontamination efforts will actually be. I have requested that monitoring and consideration by experts be carried out to assess how long it will take to achieve such a target, or whether there are areas for which such a target will be difficult to achieve in the long-term.

The question I was just asked suggested that there was a change in policy direction. However, this is not the case. Our goal to have as many residents as possible return to their homes as quickly as possible has not changed. Nevertheless, in order to determine whether that is actually possible, we must carry out monitoring and investigate various facts, including the decisions of experts. I believe that we must make considerations, including on the decisions of experts, and lay out a future direction for these efforts.

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