Abe Cabinet E-mail Magazine No.16 (February 8, 2007) ============================================================
"Hello, this is Shinzo Abe" -- Message from the Prime Minister
Last week many readers responded to the e-mail magazine with criticism of the remark made by Minister of Health, Labour and Welfare Hakuo Yanagisawa. It was a highly inappropriate statement, and I too offer my heartfelt apologies.
I expect Minister Yanagisawa to reflect on his mistake and always consider national sentiment in conducting the administration of national health and labor affairs and implementing countermeasures for the declining birthrate.
Last weekend I visited Daisen City in Akita Prefecture. Even though the Japanese economy is marking a steady recovery, some regions are still facing difficulties. I decided to make this trip because I wanted to learn about the actual situation in such regions by speaking directly with the people who live there.
After a 3.5-hour bullet train ride from Tokyo, I stepped into a world of glittering white snow in Akita. The cold air stung my skin, but the snow-covered mountains before my eyes were as beautiful as an ink painting.
"A shuttered street" is how I would describe the first stop on my trip, a shopping district near the city's train station. A large number of shopfronts there are vacant, and the district is having a tough time. However, as I sat and spoke with members of the community, I could strongly sense their enthusiasm and desire to make their community a better place.
One woman doing volunteer work shared with me that she and her colleagues believed it was important to start from wherever they could, and they had created a recreational space in the shopping district that everyone, from children to senior citizens, could enjoy. She said, "Hearing someone, whether they be a senior citizen, a child or a mother, saying that they enjoy their time in the space we created -- that's the best reward for us." In her face I saw pride and affection for her community.
This area is famous throughout Japan for an event called the Omagari Fireworks Festival. The shopping district that I visited is actually called "Hanabi-dori (Fireworks Street)." The people there are eager to discuss ideas on how they can vitalize their community and even compete against the large-scale suburban stores. In fact, they are taking advantage of their well-known fireworks festival to market fireworks-related products. A highly motivated representative of the fireworks club shared with me his dream: "We want to host a Fireworks World Cup."
Although Akita's farmers face extremely harsh winters, one farming couple I visited has turned the bitter cold to their advantage. They grow crops year-round, from spinach (its sweetness enhanced by the cold temperatures) and asparagus in the winter to rice and tomatoes in the summer. I sampled one of the spears of asparagus, which stuck straight up out of the earth, pointing toward the sky. It was my first time eating just-picked asparagus, and its crisp texture was a fresh experience for me.
I also visited a brewery that makes sake from local Akita rice. The snow-covered brewing house stood in serene silence. Inside, huge barrels held the raw sake, freshly made using the hard water of the Ou Mountains. Although I am not much of a drinker, I was given a cupful to taste. As I took a sip and rolled the liquor over my tongue, its subtle, soft fruity fragrance spread in my mouth.
Sake made from the delicious rice and pure water of Akita is sent out from brewing houses in that mountain-bound region not only to other areas throughout Japan, but also globally, including the United States and European and Asian countries. The people of Akita are making use of their local blessings and bringing pleasure to people around the world.
Each region has its own appeal, which is best understood by the people who live there. With strong motivation and unique ideas, they are harnessing these strong points to overcome the difficulties they face in order to vitalize their communities. I realized yet again that the Government needs to support those people who are working so hard and doing their best in their communities.
Government should not force policies on people, but rather support ideas raised by each region. Listening to the stories of the hardworking people of Akita, I felt reassured that my views on regional revitalization are on the right track. With renewed conviction, I will now proceed further in advancing measures for vitalizing the regions.
- Onsen, Hot Springs - Beppu & Yufuin -
- Prime Minister Attends the 2007 National Rally to Demand the Return of the Northern Territories (February 7, 2007)
- Prime Minister Visits Akita Prefecture (February 3, 2007)
- Japan-Kiribati Summit Meeting (February 1, 2007)
- 1st Meeting of the Council for Regulatory Reform (January 31, 2007)
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