Press Conferences

Press Conference by Foreign Press Secretary OHTAKA Masato

Wednesday, September 18, 2019, 4:33 p.m. Ministry of Foreign Affairs

This is a provisional translation by an external company for reference purpose only.

Opening Remarks

Emergency Assistance for Amazon Rainforest Fires in Brazil

Mr. OHTAKA Masato, Press Secretary: I am Ohtaka and I have been appointed Press Secretary. I was officially appointed last week, two years and two months since I last served a similar role as Deputy Press Secretary. I would like to say that my greatest duty as Press Secretary is to exert all efforts to provide support so you can conduct accurate reporting. I will work my hardest in accordance with that principle, along with the officials reporting to me. The press conferences will be held at fixed intervals as part of this. I would like to hold them at fixed intervals as long as I am in Tokyo.

Of course, the aim of this is to contribute to your work, so please do not hesitate to tell us your requests including the timing of the conferences. I would like to flexibly respond to requests such as the schedule for holding press conferences. Thank you very much.

To begin with, as was announced at the end of last week, Japan decided to provide emergency assistance concerning the forest fire in Amazon rainforest in Brazil. Large-scale fires have started in the Amazon rainforest in South America. They are drawing attention of the international community, and they were also taken up at the G7 Biarritz Summit. Japan is of course extremely concerned about the current situation and is monitoring it. At the G7 Biarritz Summit, Prime Minister Abe stated that emergency firefighting cooperation has to be carried out urgently, and that Japan would consider providing necessary support.

Amidst this, in response to a request from the Government of Brazil on September 13, Japan decided to provide emergency assistance that could be immediately supplied through JICA to contribute to firefighting activities. The items are scheduled to arrive promptly, as early as on September 19 tomorrow. Emergency assistance items were already provided to Bolivia, which is located in the same Amazon basin, on September 6. The scale of the two assistances is about 10 million yen each.

In addition to the extinction of fire, it has been said that it is also necessary to deal with the root cause of deforestation. It is a deep-rooted problem, and it must be addressed taking into account everything ranging from the views of specialists to the local economic situation. It is important to consider necessary support for the entire Amazon basin while cooperating with the countries concerned in order to assure the balance of development of the Amazon, including the slash and burn agriculture that is practiced, and forest sustainability. Japan will do its part for this.

Japan has been cooperating for comprehensive observation and predictions of deforestation, and will continue to advance cooperation for forest preservation. In that sense, Japanese technology will be used to detect whenever there is a case of deforestation caused by illegal activities. Japan will contribute in some way to these initiatives for preserving the Amazon rainforest.

Handling of the Rising Sun Flag on the Overseas Safety Website

Kyodo News, Eto: In relation to the Rising Sun Flag, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) uploaded a notice titled “Instructions related to Asian Games in Guangzhou and staying in Guangzhou” on the Overseas Safety Website in 2010, noting that “displaying items that easily remind the past history, such as the Rising Sun Flag, could cause trouble.” Does MOFA still hold the view that the Rising Sun Flag reminds the past history? Also, can you please explain which specific aspect of Japanese history you refer to as past history?

Press Secretary Ohtaka: We hold no such view regarding the Rising Sun Flag. That is to say, Japan considers that the design of the Rising Sun Flag is modeled on the Sun like Japan’s national flag, and that the design has widely been used in Japan and abroad, in other flags such as in fishermen’s banners hoisted to signify large catch of fish, flags to celebrate childbirth, and in flags for seasonal festivals, and considers that is has a long history. We are facing the issue that there are people overseas who make various claims such as that the flag represents specific political or discriminatory claims.

We have sent various alerts through the Overseas Safety Website around 2010, in the context that there was a risk of future incidents at the Asian Games in Guangzhou as well as at the Asian Paralympic Games, wherein recalling past history could lead to some actions by some people who have a slightly unique or mistaken understanding of past history, rather than by Japan itself. Therefore, please understand this as a notice to Japanese people about this reality.

Japan has thus never considered the Rising Sun Flag in the way you stated. However, there are some people in the world who has a mistaken understanding, so the information was put on our website to the effect that a notice encompassing this reality had to be published.

Kyodo News, Eto: In relation to this, does this mean that MOFA does not recognize what is indicated by “past history”?

Press Secretary Ohtaka: Those who comment on everything sometimes tend to do so on a considerable number of points, including making various complaints about fairly general artistic designs. I sometimes notice them perceiving that way in quite a large number of subjects. Although Japan actually used the design in the past, before and during the war for the design of the former army and navy flags, it was not created for that purpose. Instead, it is a design that we have long been familiar with in Japan, and its use reflects this background. The design is regarded as an important, traditional design for the Japanese people living today, and our position is that there should not be various complaints about that.

Kyodo News, Eto: In relation to this, concerning the 2020 Olympic Games, there are discussions on whether Rising Sun Flags should be allowed to be brought into the venues of games. In the ROK, a former colony of Japan, there are calls against allowing the Rising Sun Flag, which was used as the flag of the former Japanese army, to be brought into the venues because the flag reminds them of Japan’s militarism in the past. Is MOFA concerned about allowing Rising Sun Flags to be brought into the venues of the Olympics, a festival of peace?

Press Secretary Ohtaka: The reality is that there are those who make such criticisms and claims. However, as I stated before, it is a design that has long been familiar to Japanese people, so it is my position that such claims and criticisms are absolutely inapplicable. In that sense, I understand the policy of the Tokyo Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games does not envision designating Rising Sun Flags as prohibited items in the venues because the flag is used widely within Japan and displaying it does not constitute political propaganda.

Shukan Kinyobi, Uematsu: I also have a question regarding the Rising Sun Flag. There are 3-page long PDF files on MOFA’s website, in Japanese and English, explaining the Rising Sun Flag as you have just done. It consists of three parts: 1) the Rising Sun Flag as part of Japanese culture; 2) the flag as official flags of Japan’s Self-Defense Forces (SDF); and 3) the design of the rising sun as something widely used in the world. The contents are the same in the English version. My question is that, as was also mentioned in another reporter’s question, why or on what basis the document does not explain that the Rising Sun Flag was the military flag of the Empire of Japan, and furthermore, that it was not simply a military flag but was also widely used in Japanese society before and during the war?

That is to say, it firstly explains the Rising Sun Flag as a part of Japanese culture, and in the third part it explains that the design is widely used in the world. If the explanation is comprised of only these two, the composition is understandable. However, the file includes the second item about the use of the Rising Sun Flag as flags of the SDF. In other words, it even goes so far as to explain that the SDF, national bodies, are using the flag after the end of the war. In that case, the explanation cannot but touch on the fact that the flag was used by pre-war national bodies of the Empire of Japan, the former Japanese army and navy.

On the point of the Rising Sun Flag as part of Japanese culture, or when we think about the history of the Rising Sun Flag, it is a societal, cultural fact for Japan that the national bodies, namely the army and navy, used the Rising Sun Flag as a military flag and that many people in Japan waved them. From a societal perspective, it is a very strange phenomenon that this explanation is not shown on the website neither in Japanese nor in English. Could you please explain why the explanation was left out?

Press Secretary Ohtaka: Thank you for your question. As I stated in my response to the earlier question, the information available on the website is one explanation in response to various complaints that we receive from some people. We sought to make our best effort with the information to ensure that there will be no misunderstanding among such people or those who listen to their assertions. In this sense, as I stated earlier, we do not deny what the flag identified in the former Japanese army and navy. Meanwhile, seeing it as an important way of delivering information to the people I just mentioned, we prepared them as they are, having considered that it is important to clearly explain that Japanese people have long been familiar with the flag in the course of Japan’s history and that similar designs are used throughout the world.

Shukan Kinyobi, Uematsu: Thank you for your explanation. I was wondering one thing while listening to your response. I suppose that, in MOFA’s budget request, the explanation is positioned as part of MOFA’s information dissemination to third countries. I also believe that you have an English-language website partly in order to disseminate information to those living in countries and regions where citizens do not have a full understanding of the history surrounding these matters. In other words, although you say that the information is targeted at those who are discussing this matter, you are also disseminating information to those who are not debating the matter, people who are unaware of it, and who are not very familiar with it. After all, I do not think everyone in the English-speaking world is aware of it. If you are saying that the information is targeted at those who have such unique understanding or who are debating the matter, it does not make sense that the website does not mention these explanations at all without indicating any context, that the website does not explain it was a military flag. It is very hard to imagine that the people will be convinced with such an explanation. I am not convinced with your explanation.

My other question is, you stated that you understand the Rising Sun Flag was used as a military flag while constituting a part of Japanese culture. However, while the flag may be a part of Japanese culture, the fact that it was used by national bodies at a certain time period is significant. I believe that it is by no means a small matter, and we may not be able to understand that those who think otherwise have a unique understanding. Do you intend to keep the current composition of explanations? Do you think that MOFA’s explanation of the Rising Sun Flag is fine that way and intend to keep this present format?

Press Secretary Ohtaka: We will follow the debates around the world surrounding this matter, as well as the actions of those who would disseminate inaccurate information for various motives. In parallel with this, we will need to review whether we are disseminating information appropriately as part of our unremitting efforts. Your comment is extremely valuable, and we will take it and future developments into account when making considerations.

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