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Press Conference by the Chief Cabinet Secretary

Wednesday, October 23, 2013 (AM)

Press Conference by the Chief Cabinet Secretary (Excerpt)

[Provisional Translation]


  • The issue related to emergency warning for remote islands
  • The application of washoku to be inscribed on the list of UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage
  • The Government's recognition on the leakage of contaminated water
  • The Diet reform
  • The review of English language education in elementary school

REPORTER: During this morning's Budget Committee meeting of the House of Councillors, Minister of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ohta responded that an instruction that would be equivalent to an emergency warning will be issued for remote islands. Can you please explain this in a little more detail?

CHIEF CABINET SECRETARY SUGA: As was evident from the recent case in Oshima, even in areas that are not large in size, such as remote islands, massive damages on the same scale as those resulting from past disasters for which an emergency warning had been issued could occur. Indeed, such damages have actually occurred. In order to address this issue, the Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA) is now studying measures to improve this situation, including ways in which information can be conveyed under such circumstances.

REPORTER: So you are saying that an emergency warning itself will not be issued but something alternative will be issued?

CHIEF CABINET SECRETARY SUGA: There are a variety of criteria for issuing an emergency warning. I understand that it is quite difficult to issue one for remote islands. On the other hand, it is a fact that damages of this magnitude have taken place in the latest disaster. Nevertheless, JMA did issue evacuation advisories and other alerts several times to Oshima Town in advance. These alerts were not followed. In studying various scenarios, we consider that emergency warnings do in fact have a lot of impact. Therefore, in this sense, I believe that in response to questions asked at the Diet today, the Minister of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism answered that we should consider something that would be the equivalent of an emergency warning for remote islands.

REPORTER: To confirm then, you are saying that the current criteria for emergency warnings will not be reviewed?

CHIEF CABINET SECRETARY SUGA: Rather, I believe they will be reviewed in some form for remote areas. I believe this is currently under review.

REPORTER: It is expected that washoku, or the dietary cultures of Japan, will be inscribed on the list of intangible cultural heritage of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). Can you please share your views on this?

CHIEF CABINET SECRETARY SUGA: Yesterday, the recommendations of UNESCO's subsidiary body regarding the list of intangible cultural heritage were released. The Government of Japan sincerely welcomes the subsidiary body's recommendation to inscribe washoku, as proposed by Japan. During the session of the Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage, which will be held from December 2, deliberations will take place bearing in mind these recommendations, and a formal decision will be made regarding whether or not to inscribe washoku. The traditional dietary cultures of Japan, which are based on the spirit of the Japanese people of respecting nature, are very healthy and well-balanced. In this sense, the inscription will contribute to passing on these cultures to future generations. Therefore, looking ahead to the Intergovernmental Committee session in December, we will make every effort to ensure that the inscription is realized.

REPORTER: I have a related question. Do you believe that if the inscription is indeed approved, this will contribute to promoting the overseas exports of Japanese food ingredients over which there are some anxieties as a result of the Fukushima nuclear power station accident?

CHIEF CABINET SECRETARY SUGA: In any case, although the traditional dietary cultures of the Japanese, which respect nature, as I noted moments ago, are acknowledged and praised throughout the world even now, we believe that the inscription will further increase the world's awareness about one aspect of what makes Japan such a wonderful country. Naturally, the Government will make efforts to ensure that the inscription will lead to greater understanding about the fish and other food products of Fukushima Prefecture, which is the victim of harmful rumors.

REPORTER: Regarding the remarks that the Prime Minister made about the contaminated water issue at the Budget Committee meeting, today, I believe he revised his statement again by saying that the situation as a whole was under control. As this is different from what the Prime Minister stated at the International Olympic Committee (IOC) Session, I believe we can interpret this to mean that the recognition of the Prime Minister may have changed. Can you once again explain what the current recognition of the Government is regarding the leakage of contaminated water?

CHIEF CABINET SECRETARY SUGA: I was also at the Budget Committee meeting and listened to the Prime Minister's response. I believe that the recognition has not changed at all from the past.

REPORTER: Then what is the meaning behind the change in the Prime Minister's words?

CHIEF CABINET SECRETARY SUGA: I did not find that to be the case. I believe the Prime Minister was saying that the situation as a whole was under control. My understanding is that the responses have been consistent.

REPORTER: Changing the subject, my question concerns Diet reform. This issue has been raised repeatedly here, and it seemed that it had been moving along steadily up to now. However, it seems that after reaching this current stage, now there are protests from the Japan Restoration Party (JRP), which was originally the party promoting this. Other elements of uncertainty have emerged as well, such as proposals to carry out Diet reform in a united effort among all the parties. What is your take on this?

CHIEF CABINET SECRETARY SUGA: I do not think that is the case at all. Even during yesterday's question and answer session with Budget Committee member Nakada from the JRP spoke passionately about JPR's view that the Diet reform is necessary across party lines. I would like to express my respect to the JRP for this.

I understand that Secretary-General Ishiba of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) urged that first discussions should be held on this matter with all parties present. However, ultimately, as I am sure you are all aware, Diet reform is a critically important issue for Japan in light of the fierce competition it faces from around the world. The importance of summit diplomacy, meetings among relevant ministers, and meetings of international organizations has increased considerably. Furthermore, each minister takes the lead and manages government administration by exercising their political leadership. In light of this, we believe that this reform is necessary not for our own interests as members of the Government, rather it is needed for the sake of Japan's national interests. Therefore, we hope that we can work across party lines to achieve this Diet reform.


REPORTER: Chief Cabinet Secretary, this morning, it was reported that the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) plans to start English language education in schools from an earlier age, moving the starting age from the fifth year of elementary school to the third. Have you been briefed anything about this?

CHIEF CABINET SECRETARY SUGA: I am aware that currently, the system of English language education offered at elementary, junior high, and high schools is being reviewed, including starting English language education at an earlier age at elementary schools, increasing the instruction hours, and the creation of teaching materials. Against this backdrop, the Courses of Study need to be revised, and textbooks need to be revised. However, the Courses of Study are generally revised once every ten years and the last revision took place in 2008. With these matters in mind, I believe the review of English language education will be studied to identify more concrete measures, including whether or not to start English language education at elementary schools at an earlier age than year five, as it currently stands.

REPORTER: If I may ask an additional question. According to the news reports, the Government aims to place the plan to start English language education from the third year of elementary school by 2020 as the main subject of such discussions.

CHIEF CABINET SECRETARY SUGA: I am aware that a variety of discussions are taking place. In any case, I am aware that discussions are being held on moving up indeed the starting age in light of the progress of internationalization.

REPORTER: According to the news reports, the target year is 2020. Furthermore, as you mentioned just now, the Courses of Study can only be revised once every ten years. It seems to me that in the context of competing with other Asian countries, there is a huge lack of urgency in Japan, despite the fact that competition in Asia has intensified to such an extent and Japan is already falling significantly behind other Asian countries in terms of English language education, among other matters. What is your impression?

CHIEF CABINET SECRETARY SUGA: I feel the same way. In any case, as I mentioned earlier, I believe MEXT is now reviewing matters regarding the system of English language education at elementary schools, such as whether or not to start at a younger age and whether or not to increase teaching hours. In this sense, to be honest, I myself have doubts about the timeframe.

REPORTER: Does the Abe administration intend to deal with this matter a little more quickly, that is, with a sense of urgency?

CHIEF CABINET SECRETARY SUGA: The Courses of Study are generally revised once every ten years. I understand that the last revision was in 2008.

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