Yukoh Kurihara Oral History Interview

Conducted by Koji Murata

December 21, 1996

Kurihara: (pointing to his book "Former Prime Minister Ohira and I") Where did you get this?

Murata: This was something my old colleague had. He used to work at the Foreign Affairs Depository, so I think he came across this in Tokyo somewhere.

Kurihara: I see.

Murata: Today I would like to ask about the period that you were chief of the Japan Defense Agency. You were Defense chief twice during the Nakasone cabinet; I'd first like to ask about the first instance, and the circumstances of your entering the Cabinet. From that perspective, before you became the Defense chief, you were serving as the Minister of Labor; you weren't really associated with the defense circles or the national security circles. I would like to hear about the circumstances surrounding your appointment as Defense chief.

Kurihara: That would be because Mr. Nakasone thought I was a suitable choice for chief of the Defense Agency. This wasn't the first time I was considered the best choice for the job. I became a Parliamentary Vice-Minister when I was in the House of Councillors. It was the time of the Sato Cabinet. At the time, I was on a list for the Parliamentary Vice-Minister spot at MITI. However, Prime Minister Sato saw the list, which had 7 or 8 names from the House of Councillors, and said "Kurihara would be good, but let's make him the Defense Parliamentary Vice-Minister." At that time, the Speaker of the House of Councillors was Hakusui Hisatsune. An example of this at the end of the war was someone who was Chief Cabinet Secretary. It said that since this is a recommendation from the House of Councillors, it can't go through that easily, but the Cabinet said, it's all right, I'll talk to Kurihara. However, at the time, factions were very strict, and since Kurihara is in the Kawano faction, we need to speak to Kawano Kenzo. When Hakusui-san spoke to Kawano-san, Kawano refused because he said he wanted to make me study economics. Then Sato-san got upset and said, "I have the authority to nominate, not Kawano Kenzo." Hakusai-san couldn't do anything at that point, so he told the Prime Minister to do as he pleased. Factions were really strong back then.

That is how things developed. I don't think that Sato-san knew me that well, but he wanted me for Defense Parliamentary Vice-Minister. As for the case of Nakasone-san, at that time he placed much importance on U.S.-Japan relations, especially defense relations. I didn't know whether or not I was suitable, but I was nominated that way. The faction may have seen me as Transportation Minister. Nakasone-san knew me from the old Kawano faction that I mentioned. I didn't think I was the most qualified for the job, even though I had done a number of things up until then. Not once did I ever desire anything; 'this Minister or that Minister or that Party spot' or anything like that. To go if called, and not go if not called takes a great deal of confidence. So I didn't especially hope for defense.

Murata: About being Defense Chief, when you were nominated by the Prime Minister, did you have any dissatisfaction? For example, because the faction thought you would be Transportation Minister, and since you already had experience as a bureaucrat . . .

Kurihara: I feel that a politician is someone that can do anything, and especially someone that puts aside what he wants to do and can really manage anything put before him. It is not someone who does something because it can raise a lot of political funds, or because it will help him out in the future. For example, when I was Labor Minister, employment conditions were really difficult. I don't know if I wrote it in my book, but Ohira-san intended to make me Chief Secretary. I had just moved from the House of Councillors to the House of Representatives, though, so I would have been an outsider in the Ohira faction. Political society is a sea of jealousy. Everyone asked, "why is Ohira placing so much importance on Kurihara?" It was because he had consulted with me on almost everything of importance.

I am writing a book that tells about how Ohira-san made me Labor Minister. In it, there is a man by the name of Endo Masao (a member of the House of Councillors who was Employment Stabilization Chief on the Labor Ministry). He was also a member of the Kouchi group. He went to Ohira-san and said, "Since employment conditions are very bad (this was in Showa 53 and 54), please give me someone from your faction who is capable, not someone who is here because of the personal dimension of the faction as in the past." After that, Endo felt indebted, and intended to make me Chief Cabinet Secretary, but I used the Labor Ministry as an excuse. Labor Minister is fairly difficult; there is a lot of specialized vocabulary. There is a lot of specialized vocabulary in defense, as well. Someone who isn't a specialist would have a hard time as that Minister. However, I felt I could handle anything since I was a journalist.

Murata: You first were in the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries, weren't you?

Kurihara: Everyone wanted me to be Minister of Agriculture. It was the same when I was Parliamentary Vice-Minister in MITI. I just observed everything that whole time, and Nakasone-san especially wanted me for defense. The second time, the faction didn't recommend me at all. With me, it was "pole and line fishing."

Murata: I see. The second time you entered the Cabinet, Nakasone-san nominated you.

Kurihara: That is because I was singled out and selected.

Murata: What did you think about that? For the second time, at the same post, in the same Cabinet--Kato-san also was in there twice--you continued there. In your case, Kato-san was in between the first and second time you served. For you, that was . . .

Kurihara: That was U.S.-Japan security relations. It was very much the will of the Prime Minister. Nakasone-san called me and said, "Kurihara, in my Cabinet the especially important positions are Chief Cabinet Secretary, Finance Minister, Foreign Minister, and Defense Chief. I have made Kurinari-san the Foreign Minister (Kurinari was in the Nakasone faction), and I will let him know directly. The Chief Cabinet Secretary is Fujita-san. The Finance Minister is Miyazawa-san. I know it is a great burden for you, but I ask you." The final decision is the Prime Minister's, but I will do everything if you would like. It is fine. That is what I told him.

Murata: During your first time it was also true, but Prime Minister Nakasone had a very strong interest in defense and security issues. The second time, you said you would do everything, and Nakasone-san said that was fine. How was it the first time, a Prime Minister who had a strong interest in security and the Defense Chief sharing the workload--it wasn't difficult?

Kurihara: Not at all. Nakasone was of the type that was constantly moving forward. I was fine with that, but thought we had to go forward steadily. In the case of Nakasone-san, he was always moving forward, so everyone else was a little cautious. As for me, if you say it that way it sounds odd, but taking a larger view of how we should go forward, I thought we needed to progress with balance. It sounds a little like I'm putting on airs if I say that myself. If that balance was not there, it would be quite bad. For example, with the defense budget going over 1% of GDP, or with the FSX issue, there were a lot of difficult spots. And not just within the LDP--the opposition and the mass media as well. So, in that sense, I thought I was right for the job.

Murata: I see. In your memory, what was the single biggest policy issue from the period of your first term as Defense Chief? Something that you earnestly wrestled with . . .

Kurihara: That would be that NLP at Mitaka. The building of a night takeoff and landing training airfield in Mitaka was a big issue.

Murata: You just mentioned breaking the 1% barrier of GNP; that was during your second term. At the time Miyazawa-san was Minister of Finance, and he was the leader of his own faction. What kind of relations were there between the Minister of Finance and the Defense Chief towards the 1% breakthrough? Was there any difference in your positions?

Kurihara: I was a minister of state, and because I didn't have any consciousness of who was leader of Miyazawa's faction or whatever, they were the same. When I first spoke with Miyazawa-san about the possibility of going over 1%, he responded, "It's not really that big of a deal." There was strong pressure to keep spending within 1%, so he hesitated. It gave the image that Miyazawa-san surrendered.

Murata: Didn't the Prime Minister have strong intentions to go over 1%?

Kurihara: The Prime Minister never said a word about going over 1%. When I told him that we might go over 1%, he just said, "You have worked hard." At that time, the sales tax issue issue was creating a lot of problems in the Diet, and he was under a lot of pressure from a number of directions. Besides, because of endaka, there was a lot of publicity that it could be done easily within 1%, and this made him pessimistic at the time. He really wanted to, but he wasn't able to. Mr. Watanabe of the Yomiuri Shimbun, he was the brain of that. He and Kanemaru both said that something like that shouldn't be done at the time of a sales tax. Towards the end, he was really pained by it all. At that point I strongly expressed my convictions to Nakasone-san about what he should say.

Murata: Was the reason that you told the Prime Minister that the 1% limit should be exceeded because if all that had accumulated was objectively judged, there was no other choice?

Kurihara: At that time, the troops stationed in Japan were working as employees. America was paying them, so if the yen had risen, it would increase the number of dollars America would have to spend. If nothing was done, it would have become a diplomatic problem. Had this become a big issue in the U.S. Congress, it would have eventually led to dismissals, and this would have affected the domestic labor situation. To deal with this, it was decided that we would put more money into defense. By adding more, I mean on SDF living quarters, barracks, and rear facilities that all had been delayed. The American side was also put in more money, but if we spent more on the rear, people would have wondered just whose defense chief I was. It wasn't anything that dumb. If America spent more, Japan would correlate with them and spend more as well. However, this would mean possibly going over 1%, as I told the Prime Minister and Miyazawa-san. The Prime Minister said that was fine, adding a million dollars. Miyazawa-san also said that was fine. The Prime Minister had probably already thought about going over the 1% limit, as had Miyazawa-san. He probably hesitated because of the sales tax issue.

Murata: In between your two terms as defense chief, there was a bit of a gap. That would split the 1980s into the early half and the later half; was there any large change in the JDA or in the Japanese government towards joint recognition?

Kurihara: No. There wasn't, but when I spoke with Weinberger, we didn't immediately get into U.S.-Japan defense issues. I would ask him why the U.S. called the Soviet Union a threat. Japan was different, in that while you could call the USSR a threat, there really wasn't that feeling among the population, the sense of a threat. The threat to the U.S. sounded very severe. When we began talking about why they emphasized the threat of the USSR, they would start with the diplomatic problem of arms reduction. Also, looking globally, the USSR is moving here, here, and here, so we have to make preparations as well; to this, it was said that it would be better not to be in such a vicious circle. Along those lines, in the 1970s the U.S. averaged cuts of about 20% in their military spending, while in the meantime the USSR kept on going. That became a bad situation.At that point they were persuaded to get into U.S.-Japan defense issues.

Murata: So within the JDA there wasn't really a recognition of the danger of the Soviet Far East Military?

Kurihara: On that point, we were about the same as the U.S. We got our military information from the U.S.; it could be called a copy. Japan didn't have its own collection ability. Even with a branch in the U.S. State Department, all we did was translate the newspapers.

Murata: Regarding the Soviet Far East military, there was the Minsk, the strengthening of the Far East military, Afghanistan in 1979, and beginning in 1980 a lot of books written about the Soviet threat. Even so, militarily speaking, in the JDA there was no pressing common recognition of a Soviet assault landing in Hokkaido, or of getting close to Japan?

Kurihara: At least I didn't think so. The U.S. was always saying it was a big threat, but really, we didn't know if it was or not. That was because we didn't directly do any research ourselves. We thought we needed to confirm things with the Americans. This was during my first term as defense chief, I think, when I went from America to Europe and received a courtesy call from NATO commander Rogers in Brussels, which was unprecedented. Listening to him, we were really in a tremendous position. The relations of NATO, the issue of the nuclear button, and whether or not the president would really use it--these were things the commander talked about. Since I had spoken with Weinberger, I really understood the point. More than East Asia, America felt the threat to NATO much more deeply.

Murata: Did U.S.-Japan defense cooperation improve between the time of your first and second terms as defense chief?

Kurihara: That is covered in a book that I wrote. I'll give you a copy.

Murata: Your book?

Kurihara: It's one that I wrote quite a while ago. For the book I am writing now, there are a lot of 'love letters' I received from Wienberger during my second term as defense chief. That is praise of the highest class. He spoke highly of me with expressions like 'extraordinary.' Even for America, this shows that they were extremely satisfied, although I said what I did regarding America. FSX was the first U.S.-Japan agreement that Weinberger and I did. In the U.S., this is seen as Japan totally accepting all of America's demands, but this wasn't true; we gained quite a bit as well. After that, it changed because Bush came in.

Murata: Would you talk a little more about that--things gained on the Japan side? In other words, not Japan's autonomous development, but cooperative development.

Kurihara: That would be the technology of the U.S. and Japan that were brought to the table. Japan was to contribute a wider margin of its technology. This was unheard of up until that point in U.S.-Japan relations. America had been the main player, and Japan was the 'retainer,' as far as defense went. That is what autonomous development had been. It was enough if we bought good aircraft from the U.S. Autonomous development had very high costs, and contain a certain amount of risk.

However, since Japan already had very good technology, putting Japan and America's technology together to make a better, high-tech plane was the idea of development we had in mind.

Murata: Was that something that was said from the Japan side, through you? Was that the general intention?

Kurihara: Yes.

Murata: So there was an autonomous development option from the beginning.

Kurihara: That point is obvious, since Japan's technology had come to be that strong, especially in the aircraft industry. Without autonomous development, there could be no succession of aircraft or air technology. The defense industry has ties with various other domestic industries. The defense industry had that type of feeling, nationalism you could say, and to them national industry was very important. But because of the U.S.-Japan security treaty, that point could not be considered. Also, there was the cost issue and the risk issue, and others. Those were areas we really needed to look at.

Murata: That is to say, the autonomous development option was available, but the overall decision of the defense agency from the beginning was that it wouldn't have priority ranking?

Kurihara: I wonder . . . I don't know Kato, but . . .

Murata: To you, it wasn't an option with a high priority ranking . . .

Kurihara: I didn't really think so. I mean, the engines were taken as hostage. If we were to try and pursue autonomous development, the U.S. would have said 'fine, go ahead. We won't give you any engines.' If you said that instead of buying engines from the U.S., we would from Great Britain, that was a time of economic frictions and great problems. I thought that those who didn't know anything and kept saying 'national production, national production' didn't know what they were talking about.

But, there was no reason for everything to be exactly as the U.S. said. My strategy was to include as much Japanese input as we could. In the defense agency, the Air SDF and the technology bureau said they wanted to do it independently, and Mitsubishi did as well, but bearing that in mind, in the final decision I said I would and paid no attention to them.

Murata: You were for cooperative development.

Kurihara: You can call it cooperative development, but my first priority was putting together the technologies of both the U.S. and Japan, and building a new plane. That was the very first priority. However, as negotiations were going on, their was a proposal from the American side (this was Weinberger's thinking) that since America's planes were very good, we should look into using them as a foundation. The Asahi Shimbun published my book on this called 'FSX.' It has much of this written in it, so I will give it to you.

Murata: This is your book?

Kurihara: This was my third book.

Murata: You are writing another book now?

Kurihara: This one will be my fifth book.

Murata: Is that so?

Kurihara: In this one, there is something I call the defense chief period, so you will get a pretty good idea by looking at it.

In chapter 5, the defense chief period, the things I have been talking about are discussed. As a reference, extracts from Tejima (NHK) and Otsuki (Asahi) are included. It might be faster if you read them.


Murata: I just looked at Otsuki's section, where he describes the U.S.-Japan FSX dispute with you and Weinberger meeting at the Finance Ministry. Was his description of those circumstances fairly accurate?

Kurihara: His style was to take my attitude and try not to use too much praise. The other guy, Tejima, praised me a bit too much. There are things there different from the facts. For the Asahi, Otsuki and Honda gathered the facts from America. Weinberger also put out a book; there are quite a few things written in there as well.

Murata: About the book "Fighting for Peace": how do you view the circumstances after that? That wasn't when you were defense chief, and Bush had come in and made a lot of changes, but how did you see that period?

Kurihara: Very regretful. That was when Weinberger was in there. It changed after Bush came in. It was very critical. In short, diplomacy is ultimately power relationships between countries, but it is also officials. There is a big difference between officials who are taken seriously, and those who are not. So it is no good to have a Foreign Minister or a Defense Chief was just gives out flattery. Someone who speaks English is the best, but you can understand someone just by watching his actions. In my case, I wouldn't decide on something unreasonable, so Weinberger yielded.

Murata: I see. In Secretary Weinberger's memoirs, your name comes up a lot, and even after you retired he was often invited to your home. Did you have this familiar relationship with him from the very beginning, or was their an event that made it so? This was especially true during your second term.

Kurihara: I was approached by him. We weren't especially all that close.

Murata: I have just one more thing I want to ask. This was before you became defense chief, but in the summer of 1978, during the Fukuda cabinet, the U.S.-Japan defense guidelines were established, and there were several working level studies, such as the Far East contingency. While you were there, did you see any of these? For example, the sea lanes defense study, reported to the Prime Minister in 1986--did you see this, or any of these other studies?

Kurihara: No, I didn't see them.

Murata: You didn't?

Kurihara: As actual problems, there was no movement there.

Murata: By this you mean . . . ?

Kurihara: As actual problems, they were in reality going back and forth in the Diet. Thinking about the sea lane question on its face, this went contrary to the Constitution. As the Constitution is framed today, they don't want to think about it generally. You have to think about it point by point. You have to think about the sea lane question in function terms. This is what I think. The opposition said to think of it on its face, but the government responded that it was a functionality problem.