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Thursday, Oct. 5, 2006

CABINET INTERVIEW

Takaichi undaunted by wide-ranging portfolio


Staff writer

From the get-go, Sanae Takaichi stands out from the other Cabinet members in two ways: at 45 she is the youngest of her colleagues, and her title -- minister of state for Okinawa and Northern Territories affairs, science and technology policy, innovation, gender equality, social affairs and food safety -- is by far the longest.

News photo
Sanae Takaichi

"All the fields I am responsible for are very important for the government as well as the Japanese people," Takaichi said during a recent interview. "It's not the question of whether I can take care of them or not, because they must be taken care of. I will grit my teeth and work hard."

Takaichi's post, which bundles what was governed by three different ministers under Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, includes finding measures to counter the slowing birthrate.

The decline in the average number of children that women aged 15 to 49 bear will eventually hit the social welfare system hard, the new minister said, adding that sufficient policies must be in place within the next five years while Japan's second generation of baby boomers are still in their 30s.

In addition to strengthening policies to help people raise their children, the former Kinki University professor is eager to promote a strategy of her own -- more internships for university and high school students so they can get a taste of future professions and get a feel for their own abilities before actually being hired.

"The number of young people quitting jobs shortly after they were hired has increased," said Takaichi, who is in her first minister-level position. "Even if they get married, those who lack financial stability cannot raise a child."

To build the basic policies, Takaichi plans to work with the education ministry and the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry to establish a new internship structure.

"Making internships part of the curriculum at schools is an approach that I really want to try," she said, adding it could lower the number of unemployed, thus possibly boosting the birthrate.

A graduate of Matsushita Institute of Government and Management and the author of several books on domestic politics, the hawkish lawmaker is known for her opposition to separating Class-A war criminals from Yasukuni Shrine. Adding to her conservative reputation is her opposition to allowing married couples to use different surnames.

"There has been debate over the issue of different surnames between a married couple, but I think the government should ascertain what the Japanese people really want," Takaichi said.

Various options should be prepared, she said, prior to debating a draft bill on the subject, and she indicated her willingness to discuss the topic with the Justice Ministry, which is in charge of the regulation.

Despite her opposition to separate surnames, Takaichi has used her maiden name when working as a politician since her marriage to fellow Lower House member Taku Yamamoto in 2004.

Her name is recorded as Sanae Yamamoto on her family register and driver's license.

"I would like to understand what kind of difficulties there are" for women who do not use their husband's surname, she said.

During the interview, Takaichi pushed her vision on reinstating traditional family values, which she said were similar to those included in Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's first policy speech delivered to the Diet last Friday.

"Societies consist of communities, and communities are made up of families. I believe that because the family is the smallest unit of society, there should always be solids tie within it," she said.



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