#12 Shinzo Abe
2012-06-28 / Interview: Rena Suno, Video and Photo: Junichi Takahashi, Editing: Dorian G. Stone
Shinzo Abe the 90th Prime Minister of Japan. After working for Kobe Steel including one year stay in New York as an expatriate, he entered a political world as an executive assistant of his father, Shintaro Abe, who was the Minister of Foreign Affairs at that time. We asked him about his plan on establishing a beautiful country and Japanese virtues that he think Japanese can proud of.
Interview with Shinzo Abe
– How did you lay out a vision of a “Beautiful Country” for your cabinet in 2006 and establish it?
I succeeded a position of the Prime Minister from Mr. Junichiro Koizumi, who spoke of the need for a period of painful restructuring in order to revive Japan. Thanks to his efforts, Japan regained power for its growth, but questions were raised among Japanese as to his vision and reasons for making people suffer pains by his reform. Therefore, I showed my vision of the country and proposed reforms that I would work on when I was appointed Prime Minister. Japan is a unique country endowed with distinct four seasons, beautiful nature, long history, tradition, and sophisticated manners. I thought I wanted to create the beautiful country that could be proud of them.
– Six years has passed since then, and is there any change for this vision?
Unfortunately, I resigned from the position only a year later, and I still have a lot of things that need to be achieved. I reiterated a 1947 law on the goals of education, because I thought education played an important role to form the beautiful country. The idea itself of the vision of a “Beautiful Country” has not been changed since I was the Prime Minister, and I am currently putting all my effort into the rest of the works that I have not completed as a member of the House of Representatives.
– At which point do you think your vision of the beautiful country is?
I cannot exactly say where we are standing because this is a long lasting theme. I would like to form a country that makes people from foreign countries think Japan is a beautiful country as well as Japanese by themselves feel they were from a beautiful country. Continuously working on the vision will help increase the number of such people.
– How did you like your life in New York? And how did this experience affect your work later on?
I was working for Kobe Steel at that time. My office is in the city, and I walked to there from my apartment on 40th street and 2nd avenue. I thought the USA was an interesting country to live in when you were young because this country had various aspects, which I noticed through a lot of business trips. New York is a dynamic city with art, economics and so on. I think we need to think of how Japan can take it in.
I only stayed in New York for a year, which was at the end of Carter’s presidency. It was an interesting time because the primary for the 1980 presidential campaign just started. Ted Kennedy was challenging incumbent Jimmy Carter while Gerald Ford was considering competing with Ronald Reagan at the Republican Party. Although these politicians were individually working, they promptly got together to the President to deal with the Iran hostage crisis, which showed tighten strength that the USA had on the verge of crisis.
– What do you think of unique Japanese tradition, culture and art, which have been inherited for centuries?
Although Japanese traditional culture and art have widely known in the world, we need to recognize Japanese virtues that we have not noticed yet and establish Japanese brands. I would like to export not only Japanese traditional culture such as Kabuki but also subculture including comics and cartoons. The comics and cartoons have gained popularity on a commercial basis, but it is hard to keep the traditional culture even inside Japan and furthermore get the understanding of it outside of Japan. However, it would be one idea to have the Japanese culture accepted in foreign cities such as New York and Paris to get more fans in Japan. I think it is necessary for the Japanese government to strongly support these activities.
– What do you think is required to preserve our beautiful country?
Since I was the Prime Minister, I have promoted to put Japanese related literature at libraries at foreign countries. I have worked hard to spare budget for it. I hope it will help it easier not only for foreign researchers to get the access to Japanese documents but also for researchers on Asian region to have a chance to know Japanese culture and art.
– Please let us know about your future plans.
I launched a project of a “Beautiful country” when I was at the position of the Prime Minister, and had a meeting with young politicians and people outside from politics to tell Japanese virtues and think of Japanese strengths. I would like to make this project bigger because Japanese people hesitate to be boast of our beautiful country due to our modesty, which is typical to Japanese.
Shinzo Abe is a member of the House of Representatives, who served as the 90th Prime Minister of Japan. Abe was born into a political family of significance including his grandfather, Nobusuke Kishi, and his grand uncle, Eisaku Sato. After college, he moved to the United States to study English and political science. He worked for Kobe Steel for 3 years from 1979 including one year stay at New York. In 1982, his father, Shintaro Abe, who was the Mister of Foreign Affairs at that time, asked him to become his executive assistant, which gave Abe a chance to enter a political world. After the death of his father, Abe was elected to the first district of Yamaguchi Prefecture in 1993 by succeeding his father’s position. In 2006, he was elected as the prime minister, and became Japan’s youngest post World War II prime minister and the first born after the war. He has relied on his political stand on his best selling book “Toward a Beautiful Nation”, which was published right before serving as the prime minister. You can find his current activities at https://www.facebook.com/abeshinzo.