Abe Cabinet E-mail Magazine No.21 (March 15, 2007) ============================================================
"Hello, this is Shinzo Abe" -- Message from the Prime Minister
"Work safely, everyone. I'm Shinzo Abe of the Processing Section, in charge of heavy plates."
It had been quite some time since I last greeted the employees at the Kakogawa Works of Kobe Steel, a company that I had worked for 26 years earlier. "Work safely!" is a greeting exchanged daily in the plant, filled with a feeling of concern for one another's safety in this demanding workplace.
This was where my career began. I still remember the plant's unusual severity and the care and pride we took in our job of producing steel, "the rice of industry."
We have a saying, "Steel is the backbone of the nation." The steel industry has consistently served as the engine of Japan's growth as one of our country's staple industries. It has supported our nation's manufacturing power, riding out the waves of various challenges including the appreciation of the yen after the Plaza Accord, trade friction between Japan and the U.S., and intensifying global competition. Even after the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake, the people of this plant kept their furnaces burning and restored their manufacturing lines right away. I believe a strong sense of responsibility was the driving force behind their dedication.
I could feel the heat of the flames from the blast furnace hitting my face just as they had 26 years earlier. The textures of the work wear, the helmet, and the gloves -- none of them had changed. Even in a modern plant that has incorporated advanced technologies, it still takes a certain mastery to identify the components of a flame just by looking.
The Japanese steel industry's measures to address environmental issues today are drawing the attention of the world. At the Kakogawa Works energy efficiency has increased by 30 percent since my time there as the result of the introduction of advanced environment-friendly and energy-conserving technologies. We should take further advantage of these advanced technologies as one of the strengths of our nation.
On the same day, I also visited a juvenile training school in Hiroshima Prefecture where corrective education is provided. The results of last year's probationary supervision of juveniles from this facility showed a recidivism rate of only 1.1 percent, with none of the youths sent back to the school. I was eager to learn about the corrective educational measures that have produced such remarkable results over the past few years.
At the facility, juveniles suffering a sense of isolation and bruised self-esteem are taught to nurture a sense of social connection. I believe that building up feelings like affection and trust is the key to forming social adaptation skills.
One boy who once accused his parents of "selling" him to the facility and another who admitted that he was unable to trust anyone after being bullied when he was a third grader in elementary school told me that spending time at the school has been good for them. They said that even when they made mistakes, and no matter how hard or tough things were, they were able to overcome them with the help of their instructors and friends in the dormitory.
I was deeply moved seeing the pure eyes of a boy who told me, "I want to take things one step at a time so that I will never make a mistake in my life again."
Realization of the importance of trusting others after making repeated mistakes and the strength acquired from overcoming one's mistakes are qualities that will unquestionably play the core role in forming these youths' personalities and support their lives in the future. They may have taken a circuitous route, but I sincerely hope that these young people will straighten up and step into society to live their lives striving for their dreams.
The Central Council for Education has reported the results of its deliberations on rebuilding education. People have varying opinions on education, but to my thinking the Government must bear the ultimate responsibility for matters that affect children's lives and safety or interfere with their right to receive an education. It is from this standpoint that I issued instructions for the swift submission of bills for rebuilding education.
Budget deliberations have started in the House of Councillors and vigorous discussions are taking place. There is a backlog of critical issues directly connected to our everyday lives that have yet to be addressed. I am steadfastly determined to resolve them all, one by one.
Sympathy and Likeability -- What I saw at the Cabinet Office, Government of Japan
By Nakako Kondo
It was just last December that I first walked through the doors opposite the Prime Minister's home, into the Government Cabinet Office. Quite an unusual experience for a normal university student -- in fact, I had never imagined I would be standing there.
I was appointed to become one of twelve members in the Government PR Policy Assessment Committee. Being the only student on the committee board, it was awkward trying to introduce myself without a mei-shi (business card) and uncomfortable, realizing that the other committee members sat at least a mile (or that truly was what it felt like) away from one another. Becoming aware that I had to speak into a microphone, my nervousness must have been noticeable from afar -- I was somewhat relieved when someone patted me with comforting words, telling me to "feel free to give lots of opinions, ok?" I was eager to do so (nervousness and all awkwardness aside); for taking part in Government PR has always been at the heart of my passion.
Having lived in various countries ranging from the U.S., South-East Asia, U.K. and Japan, I have been fascinated by the extent to which Japanese culture and Japan's political remarks were "interpreted" differently in local places.
That Japan lacks the PR gene has become a widely shared conception. Some say that Japan is a collectivistic community of "perfect synchronicity" in which explicit explanation is made redundant, as people "sense" meanings without words. Moreover that many aspects of the Japanese psyche -- for example that "men should not care to explain details" -- invite ambiguousness. That ambiguous attitude is what gives others the incentive for interpretation has been my general understanding of Japan's relations with its PR.
PR (Public Relations) is the building of "likeable" relations. What became quite apparent from the meetings, in fact, was that one of the Cabinet Office's overarching concerns was precisely that of improving Japan's likeability. It was puzzling, then, why Japanese PR in general should be seen to be so tactless.
In discussing the government's international PR, it was asserted that the adequateness of any PR material be measured by "how much people would sympathize with the material." Sympathy is profoundly subjective (and cultural). Moreover sympathy is not the sole condition for likeability. It is not advisable to rely on one's "senses" in PR -- as sympathy surely does -- for if we do, we have no choice but to cross our fingers and hope that "everyone will understand."
Having seen Japan failing to communicate well and not being able to convey messages efficiently, I have always wanted to contribute to the improvement of Japanese PR. That was why I had aspired to become a journalist since the age of 14, and that is why I feel very fortunate to be given the opportunity to participate in the government's PR Policy Assessment Committee. I have said all this because I truly hope that some of the better things about Japan be shared by the wider people in the global community, and most of all, by the Japanese people themselves.
- Prime Minister's Week in Review
- An Invitation to Noh (coming soon)
- Japan-Australia Summit Meeting (March 13, 2007)
- Winners of High School Speech Contest on the Northern Territories
Pay Courtesy Call on Prime Minister (March 12, 2007)
- Japan-Liberia Summit Meeting (March 12, 2007)
- Japan-Georgia Summit Meeting (March 8, 2007)
- Reader's Comment on the e-mail magazine is available only to the subscribers.
- Click below to make comments on administration of Japan
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