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Koizumi Cabinet E-mail Magazine No. 192 (June 16, 2005)

[Lion Heart -- Message from Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi]
(Provisional Translation)

Prime Minister Junichiro KoizumiProfile Japanese

[Lion Heart -- Message from Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi]
(Provisional Translation)

"Lion Interview" One

--- In this first Lion Interview, I would like to take up some of
the many and wide-ranging questions raised by the readers of the
e-mail magazine.

(Prime Minister Koizumi)

<< Stress relief and leisure time >>
---One of the most popular questions was on how you relieve stress
and how you spend your leisure time. Let me start by asking,
what do you do to relieve stress?

I make a point of taking a break when I can. By that, I mean sleep. I think lack of sleep can be a cause of stress.

When you do not get enough sleep, you are tired, and sometimes you do not even have the energy to think. So getting some rest to recharge your batteries is very important. That is why I try and take it easy during my days off.

Then again, just lying around idly tires me out even more, so I listen to music. There are many times when listening to the music I drift off naturally into sleep.

---What kind of music have you been listening to lately?

I listen to an extremely broad range of music. I play classical CDs, but also listen to the new pop songs, and lately I have also been delving into Chinese and Korean music. When I say classical music, I don't just mean opera. I mean concertos, symphonies, instrumental solos and movie soundtracks. Part of the enjoyment of listening to music is being able to put on a CD when you feel like it that matches the mood you are in.

Once I feel well rested, I read books. Sometimes I must admit I get sleepy when I read through official papers, but with interesting novels, I am surprised at how quickly I can go through them. I suppose what I read most are historical novels.

---So you mainly spend your days off reading or listening to music?

Mainly reading, listening to music, lying around and doing stretching exercises. I devised the stretching exercises myself.

---Do you exercise every day?

Yes, every day. I am sure you remember primary school days when, all sleepy-eyed, you had to get up early in the morning during summer vacation to attend those radio physical exercise sessions and get your card stamped for each session you attend. I guess it has just grown to be a part of my routine because I have been doing it for so long. So I do a little exercise every day using my own special stretching method.

---Would you recommend this exercise to the readers?

I definitely recommend it.

In the beginning, you may find it difficult to reach your toes without bending your knees, but eventually you will be able to do it. Everyone should exercise at a pace that is right for them and not push themselves too hard.

<< Childhood dreams >>
---Next, readers of this e-mail magazine seem to be highly
interested in your childhood. Please share with us your
childhood dreams or what it was that led you to become a

When I was a child I certainly didn't want to become a politician.

My childhood dreams were not too out of the ordinary. Whenever I watched a movie I liked, I would imitate the characters in it. Tarzan and Kurama Tengu are movies that occupy a special place in my memories. After coming back from seeing Tarzan, I immediately went to a hill behind my house, attached a rope around a tree branch and swung around on it. I thought Tarzan was really cool. Then there was Kurama Tengu. I am not sure if young people know who that is. He did all these eye-catching swordfighting moves that I found very appealing. He was another of my heroes.

---Then why did you become a politician?

You never really know the way life is going to turn out. It wasn't until I went to university that I had any interest in politics.

Until then, I tried my best not to attract people's attention. I was very shy and didn't like being in front of people much, so I always thought I would not make a good politician.

It was after I entered university that I helped out on one of my father's campaigns and began to think that maybe I also had what it takes to become a politician.

---At that point, did you think of it as a career that you should

I remember listening to my father's speeches, talks and discussions, and sometimes I met people on his behalf. I guess that is how I started to think that I should try it myself.

---If not a politician, what would you have become?

I can't imagine myself doing anything else.

The first time around, I lost the election, and I considered throwing in the towel if I were to lose a second time. But I have no idea what kind of career I would have chosen if that had actually happened.

---Did it ever cross your mind that you would have to think about
what to do if you did not get elected?

I didn't see any point in worrying about that. I've always believed that you've got to play the cards that life deals you.

---You have a very positive mindset.

That's right. I knew things would work out in the end. That is, if I lost one election, I knew I could win the next one. If you don't think that way, then you just sink into negativity and all your positive energy disappears. That is why, no matter what, you have to remain optimistic. When you campaign, it is important to be confident that you will win and not give up without trying. Otherwise you would lose your motivation.

---I have heard that you wanted to become a baseball player.
Is this true?

There was a time when I was obsessed with baseball and I did at one point want to become a baseball player. But I soon realized that I didn't have the gift for it.

On March 30, the opening game for the Major League Baseball season took place at Tokyo Dome between the New York Yankees and the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. Mr. Rudolph Giuliani, the former mayor of the City of New York and I threw the ceremonial first pitches.

---You made a beautiful straight pitch.

I am glad that I was able to make a decent pitch. I practiced a bit in the bullpen. There Mr. Giuliani taught me a trick on how not to throw balls that fall short. His advice was to aim a bit higher. It felt like a dream come true to be able to pitch at a Major League Baseball game. It was a real "Field of Dreams."

---How did you enjoy the game?

It was a good game. I could feel the intensity and speed of the Major League players. Matsui hit a double in his first at bat.

Although effort is important, I feel that first-class players have that certain something that makes them special. Matsui works very hard, but effort alone could not have taken him that far. The best players have a natural gift in addition to working extra hard.

<< Pension >>
---There were many questions about structural reforms proposed by
the Koizumi Cabinet, and primarily concern was expressed on the
future of the pension system. A 30-year old company employee
remarked, "I am worried about whether I will actually be
receiving pension although pension premiums are being deducted
from my salary." Please share with us the future prospects of
the pension system.

Through the pension system the elder and younger generations support each other.

Currently, elderly people are receiving about five times as much in pension than what they paid as premiums when they were young. However, I know that some people in their 20s and 30s are afraid that the pension benefits they will receive will only be about twice what they are contributing now, or even less than the amount they pay in.

---I have heard that before too.

However, this is not true. Under the amendment bill proposed by the government, pension benefits in a typical case would be set at around 50% of the average income of the current working generation, and have a ceiling for premiums at 18.3% of monthly earnings.

The public pension system is supported by tax money while private insurance and savings are not. That is why the pension system has a higher yield than any other type of savings.

I know that it is difficult for people in their 20s and 30s to imagine turning 65 because it seems ages and ages away. That being said, I do understand the people who are reluctant to pay premiums now, when the future is so far away and uncertain, but they should really rest assured in the knowledge that the public pension system is a better investment than any private insurance plan.

In the old days, children sent money back to their parents. Nowadays, on average pensioners receive about 200,000 yen per month under the employees' pension plan. Would people in their 20s and 30s be able to send the same amount from their salary to their parents who are around the age of 65? I doubt it.

Back then, people who were relatively well off sent money out of their salary to their parents and supported them. However, there were only a limited number of such people and the public pension system was established so that the younger generation as a whole could support the entire elderly generation.

Currently, if a beneficiary of employees' pension around the age of 65 receives on average somewhere around 200,000 yen per month as old-age pension, then the premiums imposed on the younger generation is on average somewhere between 20,000 yen to 30,000 yen per month. By paying this amount, their parents' generation is able to receive about 200,000 yen as pension per month. It is an intergenerational support system. Everybody has got to understand this.

It used to be the case that average life expectancy was said to be 50 years, and around 2.7 million babies were born per year. There were many more young people in the population then. Now the norm is that average life expectancy is 80 years, while the number of newborn babies per year has fallen short of 1.2 million.

It is a system that was started in order to provide pension from age 60 onward when the average life expectancy at the time was 50 years. The current pension system is one that provides benefits from age 65 onward where life expectancy of 80 is no longer atypical. The number of years people receive benefits is increasing and so is the number of beneficiaries itself. At the same time, the number of people paying premiums is showing a constant decline.

There was an old practice of celebrating one's 70th birthday as "koki" which came from the saying that, "Since ancient times it is very rare to live for seventy years." When the average life expectancy was around 50, living until age 70 was something exceptional, hence "koki" used to be celebrated.

Today living past 70 is nothing astounding. There are now more than 20,000 people who are over the age of 100. That is why, if the benefits of the pension system are kept at the same level, there is no way out other than raising premiums. Those who oppose raising premiums should remember that the only other option is to decrease benefits. If neither strategy is acceptable, then more tax money must be used.

The key to the pension system is to consider the amount of benefits to be paid out while thinking about the burden that will be imposed on the younger generation that contributes to the pension benefits - the balance between the premiums and benefits, and injection of tax revenue collected from the people.

The government has presented actual numbers in this amendment bill on pension. From now on, the premiums will gradually be increased instead of taking the conventional approach of reviewing them every five years. The plan is to keep the premiums under 18.3% of income even after a decade when the premiums are expected to be at their highest. In the case of a salaried worker, half of the premiums will be provided for by the employer, so the maximum amount to be covered by the individual will be 9.15% of their income. As for the benefits, people are currently receiving benefits equal to about 60% of the average income of the current working generation, but the amendment bill proposes to gradually decrease this amount to about 50% by 2023. The deficit will then be compensated for by using tax revenue for the basic pension which will then be comprised half by tax revenue instead of just a third.

Many people have made comments and criticism about our plans for pension reform. Still, nobody has come up with a better alternative proposal that is supported by actual numbers.

Given the greater number of the elderly and the decreasing number of the younger generation, the only step to take without reducing benefits or raising premiums would be to increase tax.

Adjustments must be made somewhere.

---So regarding pension, your strategy is to provide everyone with
choices and have them choose?

Among the young people, there may be some who are thinking, "I don't want to grow old," but 60 is just around the corner. When I was young, I too considered 60 to be old, but being 62 myself, I think I am still young. I guarantee that time will just fly by.

Even if people cannot send 200,000 yen per month to their parents, paying premiums of 20,000 yen per month will afford their parents' generation with around the same amount in pension, so I think it all works out. In life we need to support each other.

Yet at the same time, I ask the people currently receiving benefits to realize that on top of the premiums that they themselves have paid, their benefits include part of the premiums and taxes paid by the younger generation.

I repeatedly ask for everybody's understanding that pension is not necessarily about winning or losing, but is a system built on the concept of mutual support.

---Thank you very much. Next week we will continue with the next
round of the Lion Interview.

* "Lion Interview" Photo

* The title of this column "Lion Heart" is a reference to the Prime Minister's lion-like hairstyle and his unbending determination to advance structural reform.

[What's up around the Prime Minister]

- Prime Minister Throws the Ceremonial First Pitch at the Major League Baseball Opening Match (March 30, 2004)
Prime Minister Koizumi and Mr. Rudolph Giuliani, the former Mayor of the City of New York, threw ceremonial first pitches.

- The First Meeting of the Council of Related Ministers for the Promotion of Economic Partnership (March 30, 2004)
The Council was newly established to carry forward comprehensive efforts on economic partnership.

- Press Conference by Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi on the Passage of the FY2004 Budget (March 26, 2004)

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General Editor: Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi
Chief Editor: Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda
Publication: Cabinet Public Relations Office
1-6-1 Nagata-cho, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo 100-8968, Japan

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