He first talked about the significance of the new Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda. Okamoto had known the man for a long time and said that Fukuda was a honest, trustworthy, and a warm man. Fukuda has difficult tasks to face from the beginning, including Japan's refuelling mission in the Indian Ocean, and the challenge of accounting for 50 million pension accounts misreported, one of the issues that killed LDP in the last House of Councillors' Election and the Abe Administration.
Okamoto emphasized how his former boss Koizumi made great contributions to the Japanese economy because of his 'restructuring.' All the economic indices such as GDP, Price Index, bank lending, showed Koizumi's success in saving Japan from a decade-long recession and deflation. Abe, Koizumi's successor, however, had to pick up all the debris from Koizumi's restructuring. It was mostly the large companies that were increasing their profits, not small to mid-sized companies. The job security diminished as as the rate of part-time contractors rose rapidly against the full-time jobs. In 2006 and 2007, the land prices increased only in big cities like Tokyo, Osaka and Nagoya. In the last election Ozawa and his JDP party capitalized on the people's frustration over the rising gap between the rich and the poor, and between the urban and rural areas and became the No.1 party in the House of Councillors.
When it comes to the controversial Yasukuni Shrine issue, new Prime Minister Fukuda does not think it is necessary to go there. Fukuda is certainly more moderate and considerate than his predecessors Abe and Koizumi, of recognition of Japan's past aggression in Asia, and the debate over the revision of the Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution.
In the early part of his speech Okamoto briefly touched on Koizumi's visits to Yasukuni Shrine saying there were misconceptions around the issue, but did not really elaborate on it. So I asked him during the Q & A session to share what these 'misconceptions' were about. Okamoto said that Koizumi was not a hawk like many people had interpreted. Abe was definitely a hawk, but Koizumi was more of a dove when it came to the recognition of the war-dead. He had no intention of supporting the Class-A war criminals enshrined at Yasukuni, and it was mostly from his naivete that he went there without thinking about its consequences. He simply wanted to mourn for the war-dead. However, once the neighbouring countries started challenging Koizumi for his visit to the shrine, he just could not give in. Okamoto said, to this date Koizumi still does not understand why China was so angry over the issue.
I respected Okamoto's candor in answering my question. As one of those closest to Koizumi, there is credibility in what Okamoto said about Koizumi's intention. If I can think of any analogy, here is one. I often quarrel with my son over his homework, and according to him, I always nudge him to do his work just when he is about to start, so now he doesn't want to do it any more. These proud boys don't want to be told what to do... and I want to respect that. Well in the case of Koizumi, I don't think a man in the Prime Minister's position can use his naivete as an excuse for causing such damage to the relationship between Japan and China. I wish he would have had the courage to listen, and try to understand the perspective of those who were not happy with his visit to the shrine.
It was very interesting that Okamoto said that when it came to before1945, he was a liberal, and when it came to after 1945, he was a conservative. He meant by the former that he admitted that Japan's war in China and in the Pacific was wrong and Japan's atrocities in Asia had to be recognized and learnt more by the younger generations. By the latter, he meant that he strongly believed in the necessity of revision of the Article 9. He said there would be no reason why Japan should not have 'normal' weapons like long-range bombers, missiles and attack carriers while China and other countries could have them. However,Okamoto did not see the issue being in the spotlight in the initial stage of Fukuda Administration as there were more important issues at the moment.
There were a few other questions that stood out for me. One asked Okamoto what he would NOT exclude if he were to develop a book on modern Japanese history for children. He thought for a while, and very carefully and slowly answered: Japan's atrocities in the past war, loss of civilian lives in Okinawa, and heroic soldiers even though they knew that they couldn’t win.... We could easily argue for hours on what he said and did not say in answering this question. For example, as I heard the answer, I thought, wasn't it these 'heroic' soldiers that committed those atrocities in Asia? I, however, again respected the fact that Okamoto took this question very seriously and gave the best answer that he could then.
Another question was about the fact that there were such few women in the new cabinet. Okamoto recognized that compared to other democracies like France, Germany and Italy, Japan by far lagged behind in terms of the ratio of women in the government.
Thanks to Japanese Consulate and all the other sponsoring organizations that made this event happen.