Yoshiko Sakurai

by Judit Kawaguchi

Yoshiko Sakurai, 60, is known as Japan’s bravest and most responsible journalist. Her in-depth investigations have unnerved members of the establishment for decades. After 16 years as the nation’s top newscaster, she quit television in 1996 to dedicate herself to writing. Sakurai has published more than 45 books, among them “AIDS Crime: The Tragedy of the Hemophiliacs,” which, in 1994, exposed the government’s failure to prevent the use of HIV-tainted blood products, which led to the infection of 40 percent of Japan’s hemophiliacs.

Don’t postpone marriage and having children. Many young people focus on their careers, but when I see how quickly my secretary’s son grew up, and how happy and healthy he is, I think that one can have a job and a family, and the sooner the better. I was married once, but unfortunately we couldn’t have a child. I wanted to adopt, but my husband didn’t.

Japanese television programs contribute to an environment in which people never grow up. Most TV shows are very simple-minded, and it is difficult to find many intelligent programs on any of the channels.

History will judge a nation by the way it cares for its elderly. Sadly, Japan ignores its senior citizens — the very people whose hard work made it the wealthy nation it is today.

It’s not who you love, but that you love. I think gays and lesbians can do anything straight people can, and they need the same rights.

Not every element of civilization can be determined by a modern value system. I think a woman can make an excellent leader and empress, and I support Princess Aiko’s ascension to the throne. Unless she marries another member of the extended royal family, however, I do not believe that her children should have rights to the throne.

Japanese bureaucrats make policy on behalf of private corporations, not the people. Drug safety is a secondary priority. Pharmaceutical industry profits come first, endangering patients’ lives.

Amakudari (the practice of companies offering high-paying jobs to retiring bureaucrats who dealt with them favorably) resulted in the HIV infection of Japan’s hemophiliacs. Officers from the ministry of health overseeing the pharmaceutical industry left their posts to take up cozy posts at drug companies. Therefore government and industry were tied together, while patients were victimized. Amakudari is discouraged, but bureaucrats can still manipulate the system to benefit themselves.

Japan has the world’s three top-selling newspapers, but their coverage is irresponsible at times, and often shallow. Journalists have not studied history enough to write about it, but they get away with this because Japanese papers and magazines regularly publish articles without bylines.

The Asahi Shinbun doesn’t read like a Japanese newspaper — it’s more like the voice of Communist China and North Korea. The Chinese papers offer “amakudari” to Asahi Shimbun journalists. For example, the Asahi’s Beijing correspondent in the 1970’s, Mr. Iyeshige Akioka, later became the Japan representative of the Chinese Communist Party’s newspaper, the People’s Daily.

The Yasukuni problem reflects changes in the international balance of power. China was afraid that the Soviet Union might attack it with nuclear weapons in the 1970s. So until 1985, China kept asking Japan to double its military spending. Although many Japanese prime ministers paid their respects at Yasukuni shrine, none were criticized by the Chinese. The Soviet Union’s power declined in the 1980s, and Yasukuni suddenly became an issue in 1985 when new Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev announced reductions in military spending. From that moment, China no longer needed to be good friends with Japan.

You can become anyone you want to be, even if you are alone in the world with only 5 dollars in your pocket. When I was 18, helping out at my father’s restaurant in Hawaii, dad was the guarantor for a friend’s loan. When his buddy couldn’t pay up, my father lost his assets. He came back to Japan and I stayed in Hawaii. I worked at the campus cafeteria and in the library. I’ve been independent ever since.

Love has healing properties. Good food helps, too. Last year, my mother, aged 94 at the time, had a brain hemorrhage. The doctors told us that she was never going to speak or eat on her own again. They recommended nursing facilities, but we brought her home. We kept her company and put delicious food in front of her. One day she just picked up the chopsticks and took a piece of Matsuzaka beef into her mouth; then another. Ever since, she has been her old self, a bit slower, but just as fun as before.

Japan should be the role model for humanity, not for shopping. Caring for others should be back in style.