Last Friday, I visited two facilities in Yokohama undertaking forward-thinking efforts in the area of child-rearing assistance.
Amongst a virtual mountain of policy issues needing government engagement, one of the major topics under "the integrated reform of social security and taxation systems" is how to make "social insurance during the first half of people's lives" able to provide better care going forward. While there are numerous points to consider regarding how to repair the frayed state of the pension, medical care, and nursing care systems, the areas of children and childrearing are those which have had the least degree of assistance until now. As we now work to bring concrete shape to "the new system for children and child-raising" currently under consideration, I thought I should listen directly to the voices of people working in the field and of young parents. I think you'll agree that the smiling faces of children are truly wonderful any time you see them. One can feel hope for tomorrow just by watching them for a while, and more than anything, their smiles are a kind of healing of the stresses of daily life.
Recently, when I head off to the local regions for visits or other reasons, members of the public often hold out small children right to me and ask that I hold them for a moment. As I am not a sumo wrestler, I can't imagine there is any particular good luck in this, but for me, it is a moment in which that healing is shared, and in fact I very much appreciate this. Children's smiling faces foster the smiles of their mothers and fathers. I have confirmed my belief that the creation of a country overflowing with such kinds of smiles is the aim of the "children first" policy advocated by the Democratic Party of Japan.
At one of the new-style combined nursery schools/kindergartens known collectively as Nintei Kodomo-en that serves hot lunches, I tried the lunch for myself, eating together with the children. I asked one child who had pushed aside some vegetables, "Do you not like those?" His encouraging response was, "No, I like those best, so I'm saving them for last!" Working mothers also gave positive evaluations, saying, "Our children can receive a kindergarten education while being looked after during the work day." While there were also some stories of the challenges of working at such a facility, these facilities are successful examples indicating that enhancements to services from the standards of the users can be achieved by skillfully linking the best aspects of kindergartens and nursery schools.
After that, I visited an entity that has been groundbreaking as a regional hub of child-raising assistance, where I felt very keenly the importance of not isolating mothers struggling with child raising. Here, there are gatherings of just fathers. I myself, who was unable to participate in my younger days in the raising of my children to the extent I had hoped, made a T-shirt of the group and observed with respect the fathers who spoke of many people participating in child-raising in a comfortable manner. I also realized that the feelings of mothers change a great deal according to the participation of fathers in child-rearing.
It seems that there are also some volunteers there over the age of 70, and I found myself also falling into referring to them as iku-jii (a play on words that combines the words for "childcare" and "elderly man"). It was very impressive to me that the people supporting operations were also undertaking the operations of the facility in a way that is enjoyable and makes life feel worth living.
In large metropolitan areas, the problem of childcare waiting lists continues to be quite serious. I heard about efforts being promoted through the initiative of the mayor of the city of Yokohama and also came to understand that the degree of issue awareness of the local authorities greatly affects the places involved in child care.
I feel that my visits were packed full of hints for further substantiating policies to assist in child-raising throughout the entire society.
I realized acutely that the government for its part must eliminate the concerns of parents by bringing the "system for children and child-raising" into concrete form at as early a time as possible and providing a variety of services. I have once again instructed the Cabinet Office to compile a final draft by the end of the calendar year so that the related bills can be submitted to next year's ordinary Diet session.
On Saturday I attended a memorial service for members of the Self-Defense Forces who lost their lives in the line of duty and on Sunday I attended the "Air Review" held at Hyakuri Base and delivered an address to Self-Defense Forces personnel. To show you the setting there, I have asked the staff at the Prime Minister's Office to post a link to it below. I spoke to the Self-Defense Forces personnel of my thoughts as the Commander in Chief regarding the Forces' activities to date defending the lives of the Japanese people. Please have a look if this is something of interest to you.
Today after visiting Fukushima, I plan to have a meeting in the Republic of Korea with President Lee Myung-bak.
Japanese Government Internet TV
2011 Air Review, held October 16, 2011 (Prime Minister's "In Review"/Highlights)
(Some of the websites linked from this post are provided in Japanese only)