"I'm doing what needs to be done"

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TIME: Only a few months ago, you were dismissed as cold pizza. Now you're popular. What happened?
Obuchi: I'm doing what needs to be done. Faced with the possible breakdown of the Japanese financial system, I passed two relevant laws through the Diet, and that has enabled us to gain international confidence. On the foreign policy side, I've been able to give a sense of stability to the people of this country. I've apologized to Korea for whatever Japan needs to apologize to Korea for. We agreed to let bygones be bygones. Mr. John Neuffer [a U.S. political analyst who made the pizza comparison] recently came to see me and told me I'm not a cold pizza after all. TIME: What will it take to turn the Japanese economy around?
Obuchi: Japanese companies may need to experience a harsh winter to gain strength. When the yen was at 79 to the dollar, which certainly was a very tough environment, they managed to gain competitiveness. But as the Prime Minister, I have to consider the fact that restructuring will depress the economy. And if Japan catches a cold, Asia will catch pneumonia. Companies here are also trying to restructure themselves without slashing jobs, unlike in the U.S., where companies are able to temporarily lay off large numbers of workers. We need to carry out structural reform. But we must overcome these hurdles in a Japanese way.

TIME: Are you going to bring any economic concessions with you on your trip to the U.S. next month?
Obuchi: There isn't any need for me to pack a backpack with major gifts. Japan and the U.S. have the most important bilateral relationship in the world. Today this relationship is in the best and most stable state since the arrival of the black ships on the shores of Japan. I trust whoever succeeds me will carry the relationship to new heights.

TIME: Are you worried that the U.S. is paying too much attention to China these days and not enough to Japan?
Obuchi: The Japan-U.S. relationship isn't the kind where one partner always has to keep an eye on the other partner. This is a relationship built on trust. We don't have to say to each other I love you all the time, day in day out. I will, however, be saying I love you tomorrow. It's my 32nd wedding anniversary.

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TIME: Should Japan take more responsibility for its defense?
Obuchi: Japan has had this sense of self-criticism, having caused major damage to Asian countries during World War II. There remain harsh feelings toward Japan in these countries, even today. Japan would like to augment its own defense capabilities but at the same time not be seen as a threat to other Asian countries.

TIME: Should Japan show more remorse for what it did in World War II?
Obuchi: Since the end of the war, we have vowed never to become a military power again. We have been bearing our international responsibility in the economic field. We've been paying our contributions to the U.N. We've been expanding our responsibilities in Asia, for example by responding to the Asian financial crisis. So Japan has worked single-mindedly as a peace-loving country. We have been acting properly with self-discipline, based on our reflections on the past.

TIME: Young Japanese today seem to have less respect for authority, teamwork and sacrifice than your generation did. Are you worried about Japan's future?
Obuchi: In this era of ever-smaller families, children tend to be coddled excessively. Young people are becoming increasingly self-centered. While economic issues are very important, we need to figure out what needs to be done to raise good citizens and nurture personal integrity. I think the education system before the Second World War might have done a better job at this.

TIME: Thank you for your time.
Obuchi: Wait, I'd like to say something about myself. My name, Keizo, translates as three blessings. I've often said I've been blessed with three virtues: luck, tenacity and perseverance. So I'm carrying out my responsibility as Prime Minister today with divine blessing! [laughs] Also, one of the monikers given me is the great balancer. Since the end of the war, the emphasis in Japan has been on economic progress. But at the same time we need spiritual betterment. They must go hand in hand, otherwise a country will not endure. I hope you'll use a picture of Mt. Fuji in your article. The two Chinese characters for that name, fu and ji, mean wealth and morality. This better balance in Japanese society has been the very starting point of my political philosophy.

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