Yoshito Hori speaks about leadership lessons with enthusiasm in a suit and tie

Prime Minister Kan’s Speech

Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan was all set to speak. I took my position in the front row. I was seated near people like former Japanese Foreign Minister Junko Kawaguchi, former Japanese Minister of State for Economic and Fiscal Policy Heizo Takenaka, Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary of Japan Tetsuro Fukuyama, Chairman-Elect of the Japan Association of Corporate Executives Yasuchika Hasegawa, Chairman of the Board, Mitsubishi Corporation Yorihiko Kojima (co-chairman of this year’s Davos Forum), and Hiroshi Tasaka. Prime Minister Kan began his speech following an introduction by Professor Klaus Schwab.

Kan kicked off his speech commenting on the situation in Egypt and spoke about his background as a citizen activist. Then, he pointed out the need for Japan to “open up,” stating his personal concern for an increasing tendency in Japan to look inward. He added that he wants to form interpersonal “bonds” to the outside world, because Japan’s opening may cause changes in the society and create disparity among people. His speech revolved around the two themes of “opening up” and “bonds.” (Written by Hiroshi Tasaka, the speech was easy to understand and seemed suitable for a Japanese Prime Minister.)

The prominent figures in the front row began wearing a headphone. They appeared to be concerned about the translation into English. Takenaka began to move his eyes restlessly. He seemed to be wondering how the audience was reacting to the prime minister’s words.

After addressing Japan’s foreign policy, Kan began talking about opening up his country. (A slide saying “Opening up Japan” was screened in the hall at this point.) He positioned the Meiji Restoration as the first point at which Japan opened, called the end of World War II as the second such point, and proposed a goal of achieving the “third point for national opening” this year. As a specific policy for achieving that objective, the prime minister mentioned the promotion of economic partnerships. He noted his government’s plan to resolve by June 2011 to start negotiations for the Trans-Pacific Strategic Economic Partnership Agreement (TPP agreement), as well as an intention to discuss an economic partnership agreement (EPA) with the European Union. To explain that economic partnership promotion and agriculture can coexist in Japan, he emphasized the strengths of Japanese food. According to Kan, Japanese agriculture ranks fourth in the world in production.

I thought it was a good, solid speech. The prime minister did not just read his draft. His words had resonance. He made effective use of slides. Following the subject of the third national opening, Kan touched on Japan’s technological innovations that would make environmental protection and economic growth compatible with each other. A slide saying “Innovation” was screened at this point. The prime minister made an appeal for Japanese technologies for products such as hybrid cars and LEDs, and made a reference to alternative energy sources under development in which plants are used.

Then, he switched the subject to “bonds.” According to Prime Minister Kan, what his government should do in the process of promoting a national opening and introducing new economic and social systems is to realize a “society with the smallest number of unhappiness.” A slide saying “Least Unhappiness” was screened. Elaborating, the Prime Minister said Japanese people could find their “place” and “turn” that link them to society by working. Work provided them with “bonds”.. A slide saying “Work a place to be. Work a role to play” was screened at this point, followed by another side saying “Bonds.” Prime Minister Kan then referred to the development of spiral advancement and a model for their development. He introduced Hiroshi Tasaka’s pet theory in Davos. A slide saying “Human Society” was screened at that point.

At the end of his speech, the prime minister referred to the two most recent Japanese Nobel laureates in chemistry. Matters related to cross-coupling techniques might be a little difficult for many people to grasp, I thought. The prime minister ended his speech with a Japanese bow. Commenting on the speech, Takenaka said, “It was good. Mr. Kan expressed his individuality quite well through his speech.”

Kan calmly answered the questions that Schwab put to him. But he didn’t look great, playing with memos during his answers. I was a bit uneasy, but relieved to see him drop his memos midway through. I thought that expressing his “individuality” as a former citizen activist was the best thing he could do in Davos.

Kan talked about opening up Japan again during the question and answer session. Touching on the subject, he said what Japanese people need the most was to open up their thinking and mentality.

At the end of the session, Schwab threw him a personal question. “I hear you are the first Japanese prime minister in a long time whose father was not a politician. You reportedly worked previously as a patent attorney (applying to register patents, utility models, designs, and trademarks as an agent and making judgments on their registration.) What do a patent attorney and a politician share in common?”

Kan responded with a smile. He said that as a patent attorney he was looking for “novelty” and “innovation.” The prime minister closed the session by noting he would like to manage politics from the same viewpoints.

The normally outspoken Takenaka, who was sitting next to me, said, “It was good,” clapping his hands. I also thought Kan delivered a good speech. Analyzing the reasons for the good impression, I thought: (1) The prime minister had a good posture (facing his audience squarely); (2) He had a philosophy to share;(whether good or bad) (3) His emphasis was appropriate; and (4) He expressed his individuality very well.

Moving to the Japan Session That Followed

Prime Minister Kan opened the Japan session with another speech. “Japanese people should be more confident about themselves,” he said. “Global leaders say, ‘We have worked hard looking up to Japan.’ Opinions on rebuilding Japan do not arise from discussions in Japan only. I ask you to turn your international discussions at Davos into energy that will help Japan start moving forward again.” After delivering this message, Prime Minister Kan left the session venue amidst an eruption of applause.

February 2, 2011
Yoshito Hori
At my house in Sanbancho

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