(First of Three Parts)
What would bring together Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and world-class violinist Ryu Goto? Specifically, what would two men of different generations and of different worlds speak about if they were to look at the prospects of a new year amid the uncharted international turbulence and potential of the coming era?
In a dialogue moderated by Ms. Yoshiko Sakurai, president of the Japan Institute for National Fundamentals (JINF), for The Sankei Shimbun and JAPAN Forward, the Prime Minister and Mr. Goto discuss their hopes and expectations on the rescue of Japanese citizens abducted by North Korea and other issues.
We are publishing the interview in three parts.
Ms. Yoshiko Sakurai: This year will see so many highly important events in this country, and I think there will likely be major changes worldwide. So I would like to ask both about specific tasks you are going to address this year.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe: First, there will be the Imperial Throne succession this year. Also, the Group of 20 (G-20) summit meeting will be held in Japan for the first time this year. The G-20 meetings will be attended by leaders from all over the world to discuss key issues of the world economy. I strongly hope to see Japan giving full play to its leadership in forging a blueprint for the future of the world. In addition, Japan will host the 2019 Rugby World Cup, in which fiercely-fought games will be unfolding around the country. I sincerely hope to see the end of the Heisei era used to create the beginning of a new era — one that looks toward the future.
Mr. Ryu Goto: I think Japan’s position in the international community can change enormously, depending on what leadership role this country will be able to play.
Ms. Sakurai: I would like to focus on what can be done from the standpoint of the private sector to facilitate taking the first concrete steps toward revising the Constitution of Japan.
Prime Minister: As we all know, it is the Japanese people with whom sovereign power resides and who have the final say in deciding what the Constitution should be. It is vitally important that we deepen the national understanding and facilitate discussions among the public on the need for change. Ms. Sakurai, please help us by lending your leadership in this effort.
Ms. Sakurai: One concern shared among all three of us, Prime Minister Abe and Mr. Goto, is the abduction of Japanese nationals by North Korea. Mr. Goto, in 2017 and 2018 you gave a series of charity concerts aimed at enlightening Japanese youths about the abduction issue. You called it “Project R” after the three words of “Remember,” “Rachi (abduction),” and your first name “Ryu,” didn’t you?
Mr. Goto: Yes, I organized the concerts to help raise awareness of the abductions, which is not well-known among young people. Instead of using a professional orchestra, I decided on a collaboration with university student musicians, part of the younger generation, with a view to getting them involved.
Prime Minister: The issue is deeply regrettable. When the abductions first happened, the Japanese government should have firmly grasped the situation and forcefully appealed to the international community, including North Korea, explaining Japan’s position and the circumstances of the victims and their families. I think perhaps we lost a big chance to resolve the issue at that time.
Ms. Sakurai: Despite knowing at the time that Japanese citizens had been abducted by North Korea, only The Sankei Shimbun reported on the issue among the Japanese media, while neither Japanese politicians nor society made any effort at all to acknowledge it.
Prime Minister: That is so — there was no effort made at all at the time. Also, there were no laws and regulations to impose sanctions against North Korea over the matter in those days, so Japan would have been unable to press North Korea to return the abduction victims home on the strength of the pain from sanctions.
Ms. Sakurai: Goto-san, you were born and grew up in the United States, trekked around the world on concert tours, and have a wealth of other experiences. How is it that you came to take the abduction issue to heart?
Mr. Goto: Well, I first learned about the abduction issue from my mother and grandmother, who were passionately concerned and talked to me very earnestly about the problem from the time I was young. It has been in my heart and on my mind ever since. As the Prime Minister has just pointed out, I always wondered why the Japanese government didn’t do something to resolve the matter right away, why the government didn’t speak out against the abductions immediately.
I was born and brought up in the United States. Looking at it from an American point of view, it was natural to expect that, once a problem arose, some action would be taken to address it. From the beginning I couldn’t understand why Japan remained unable to do anything. Whenever I spoke to Americans and friends from other countries about the issue they would always say in response, “Why doesn’t Japan take more aggressive action to resolve the abductions?” So I became really frustrated by the situation.
Ms. Sakurai: It was not until the advent of the Abe administration that the government created a headquarters for tackling the abduction problem, with the Prime Minister as head. So for the first time it became possible to address the abductions as a top national priority.
Prime Minister: Before Ms. Megumi Yokota was abducted in November 1977 when she was 13 years old, there was another case that aroused suspicion. It was the disappearance in September of the same year of Mr. Yutaka Kume, then 52 years old. Investigators at the time suspected Mr. Kume’s case to have been an abduction perpetrated by North Korea. Had the Japanese government at the time recognized the full significance of that incident and conducted a thorough investigation, and shared the information properly both domestically and abroad, Megumi’s case might never have happened.
Ms. Sakurai: The abductions happened when Japanese were living happily and in affluence in the post-World War II recovery. For the first time we were pushed to wake up and address a significant problem affecting the nation as a whole, I think.
Mr. Goto: I agree, and the abductions made us aware of how ill-prepared we were as a country. Now that we are aware of the gravity of the abductions, we should never lose our momentum or resolve for ensuring the safety of the Japanese people.
Prime Minister: When I was deputy chief Cabinet secretary, North Korea sent materials to Japan, claiming the remaining abduction victims had already died. Among the materials were records about Ms. Megumi Yokota, up to the time North Korea claimed she passed away. Shortly after obtaining the materials, I handed them over to Ms. Sakie Yokota, her mother. She read them tearfully.
I asked her whether she would permit the government to make these documents public as they are. In reply, Sakie-san said, “Make them public, please. I want the public to learn what a hideous country North Korea is. However, I am sure that my daughter Megumi is still alive and I am determined to bring her home, whatever it takes.”
She showed the impressive strength of a mother and I have the utmost respect for her. It is painfully regrettable to me as prime minister that, after so many decades, the abductions have yet to be resolved.
(To be continued)
Author: The Sankei Shimbun and JAPAN Forward