OPINION;Opinion leaders identify Japan's challenges in 2011

January 25, 2011

The Genron NPO collected comments from Japan's prominent opinion leaders about what they thought would be Japan's major challenges in 2011 at a Tokyo reception in late December to mark the 9th anniversary of the group's founding. The following are excerpts of their remarks.

(Yotaro Kobayashi, former chairman and CEO of Fuji Xerox Co. and former chairman of the Japan Association of Corporate Executives)


What Japan needs most now is a forum for high-quality public debate, and it is imperative for high-spirited people with a clear and firm vision to work hard and facilitate such public debate for dissemination to the world. Top leaders in the political and business worlds are now under criticism for being small-minded or imponderable. We must search our hearts about our very way of thinking as a basis for our spoken words. Through the activities of The Genron NPO, which aim to provide a forum for public debate in diverse ways and will help to enhance the quality of public debate in Japan, I firmly believe that the significance of Japan's presence will be recognized in this fast-changing globalized world through the facilitation of high-quality public debate.

(Yasushi Akashi, former U.N. Undersecretary General)


It is imperative for democracy to be sustained by a robust civil society. Sometimes, our efforts seem to be coming to nothing. Nevertheless, it is becoming quite meaningful for us to extend as many horizontal pipes as possible among people at a time when the situation in East Asia is turning increasingly severe. In the vertically structured Japanese society, in particular, horizontal connection of such personnel networks would open a crack in the status quo. In this context, I am convinced that The Genron NPO is playing a significant role in making Japanese democracy a genuine one. I am also confident that endeavors by organizations such as The Genron NPO to facilitate high-quality public debate on political and diplomatic issues would help to maintain Japan's independence and prosperity, as well as to prevent Japan from being tempted to drift toward parochial nationalism.

(Tsuyoshi Sasaki, former president of the University of Tokyo, and current professor of politics at Gakushuin University's Faculty of Law)


It may be misleading to say so, but I thought that the world had been far too simplified for the past 20 years since the end of the Cold War. Earlier, there were diverse schools of thought including the one that vociferously insisted upon "the heterogeneity of Japanese." I don't know whom I should credit--maybe former U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson -- for causing the Lehman shock of 2008. As such, there have been many controversial consequences. I am convinced that public discourse or debate will help us to have policies or opinions take root in society only when we have the tenacity and endurance to address any given challenges. I presume that now is the time to proactively facilitate public discourse in order to discern what lies behind the naked eye, to enhance the acknowledgement of reality and to tackle policy challenges with caution.

(Toshiro Mutoh, formerly vice finance minister and deputy governor of the Bank of Japan, and currently Chairman of the Institute, Daiwa Institute of Research, Ltd.)


I am deeply concerned about the lack of opinion leaders in Japan. While the political world lacks true leaders, the private sector lacks opinion leaders. By the lack of opinion leaders, perhaps that's why we don't have a government whose performance exceeds the expectations of the people. It is one deficiency of democracy. Although it is like reaching for the moon, we must strive to enhance the quality of the nation as a whole and create a forum for public debate. Time-consuming, it may be, but it is a correct prescription.

(Susumu Takahashi, Vice Chairman of the Institute, the Japan Research Institute, Ltd.)


There already exists a whole list of policy measures that must be implemented immediately, but the problem is that these policy measures are contradictory. In such a case, it is the responsibility of the elected government to prioritize these policies. However, the government and the opposition parties have been unable to do this. Therefore, the civil society must signal preferences or intentions, and act as a catalyst to push for policies to be prioritized. We have numerous research institutes in the civil society, but in my opinion, there is no true think tank in Japan. In this context, I think the The Genron NPO has potential for developing into a think tank.

(Yuji Miyamoto, Chairman, Miyamoto Institute of Asian Research, Former Ambassador to China)


In 2011, what is required of us is to determine our vision for the country and the way we live as a nation. We don't need to worry too much about our international relations. Rather, we should focus on how to make Japan a respected country, which will remain safe and reliable even after 10, 20, or 50 years. We have to be concerned not only about economic policies, but also about how to make democracy take root in Japanese society. Needless to say, the basic principle of democracy is public debate. It is not until the formation of a much-dignified and high-quality civil society that Japan's democracy will be near completion.