Abe Cabinet E-mail Magazine No.19 (March 1, 2007) ============================================================
"Hello, this is Shinzo Abe" -- Message from the Prime Minister
Last week, I made a trip to Niigata Prefecture.
I visited Ojiya, one of the cities struck by the Niigata-Chuetsu Earthquake in 2004. Ojiya is also known for its historic Boshin War sites, where fierce battles took place in 1868-69 between the new government forces and the Shogunate alliance during the Meiji Restoration. The new government forces, which included soldiers of the Choshu domain, were called the "Seigun (West Force)," while the Shogunate alliance, comprised of domains such as Nagaoka and Aizu, was called the "Togun (East Force)."
In the spirit of the belief that "everyone becomes a Buddha when they die," the people of Ojiya have mourned not only the deaths of the Togun troops allied with their domain, but also the many young Seigun soldiers who fell on enemy soil. To this date, for almost 140 years, they have continued to pray for the repose of the war dead of both armies. The city is the place of eternal rest for approximately 200 war dead, including some from my home prefecture, Yamaguchi.
Despite the devastation they themselves suffered, the people of Ojiya were quick to restore the cemetery when these historical tombstones were damaged in the earthquake. I was deeply moved when one of the residents told me, "My heart went out and tears welled up in my eyes at the sight of the Seigun gravestones toppled over on the ground."
Back when I was serving as Chief Cabinet Secretary I had told representatives of the reconstruction assistance group who came to report the completion of the cemetery restoration that I wanted to one day visit Ojiya to pray for the souls of those war dead. I am glad that I have now been able to carry out my word.
In Nagaoka City, I met people who are still living in temporary housing units two years and four months after the earthquake. Although I can only barely imagine how difficult their third winter in temporary housing must be, I didn't come across a single gloomy face. To the contrary, I heard people saying: "I want to build my house this year," "The elementary school has started up again. The children of the Yamakoshi region are working hard too," and "We want to make a great hometown." I felt in these words the enthusiasm of the people to encourage each other no matter what the situation and to overcome any and all difficulties with a sense of solidarity.
Tsubame City, famous for producing Western-style tableware, is home to a large number of micro-sized enterprises that boast outstanding skills and techniques. The workers shared with me that they are facing steep competition from cheap overseas products, as well as the serious issue of a lack of people to replace them as they retire. I met people who have launched a joint project called the "Polishers' Syndicate" amidst this difficult situation in an effort to increase the number of job orders. People from micro-sized polishing enterprises are working together to boost their collective job orders using the Internet. This is indeed the power of unity. I hope that they will continue to embrace new possibilities.
In Niigata City, I had dinner with Mrs. Hitomi Soga, Mr. and Mrs. Chimura, and Mr. and Mrs. Hasuike, abductees who have returned from North Korea. It had been quite some time since we last met as a group. I was relieved to hear that their children are enjoying their lives in Japan and that their families as a whole are getting used to life in this country.
I am sure that all of them still encounter various difficulties. However, they put their problems aside, and were instead concerned for the abductees who have not yet returned to Japan. I was encouraged by their words: "We want to help out in any way we can."
During this visit to Niigata Prefecture, I met many compassionate people who are always thinking about others despite the hardships they themselves may be facing. I believe this is a kindness born from their strength to remain positive in any situation. I am grateful to the many people who have given me courage.
I will endeavor to return what I received by taking all possible measures against disasters, supporting striving regions, and continuing to do my utmost to resolve the abduction issue.
- SONG FOR MEGUMI -Noel Paul Stookey-
- Japan-Mongolia Summit Meeting (February 26, 2007)
- 8th Meeting of the Innovation 25 Strategy Council (February 26, 2007)
- Prime Minister Visits Niigata Prefecture and Meets with Returned Abductees (February 25, 2007)
- Japan-Romania Summit Meeting (February 22, 2007)
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