Tokyo election: Shintaro Ishihara hopes to maintain power
Lee Jay Walker
Modern Tokyo Times
Japan faces many problems at the moment because of the devastating earthquake and tsunami but local elections will soon take place. The local government in Tokyo is under the leadership of Governor Shintaro Ishihara and despite being 78 he still desires to maintain power and control over this very powerful city.
Ishihara is very rare in Japan because he is outspoken and direct and he does not fear to upset the applecart. It is true that some of his comments have hurt many people and this applies to outlandish remarks about war time events and a host of other comments, some of these comments were racially aimed or about females.
However, if you scratch under the surface then nothing is clear with Ishihara and under his leadership in Tokyo it is factual that this city continues to grow and prosper. This applies to the increasing population because of internal migration and the rising immigrant population in Tokyo.
At the same time Tokyo is unique for a major city and this applies to a fantastic transportation system which manages to tick despite the enormous burden put on all transportation systems. This applies to the enormous population of Tokyo and surrounding prefectures like Chiba, Kanagawa, and Saitama because vast numbers of people commute from these prefectures.
Also, while crime rates will be much higher in cities like London, New York, and Paris, and added to this you will have racial tensions in some districts in these cities; this does not apply to Tokyo because racial attacks against individuals are very rare and the crime rate is extremely low.
Ishihara is clearly focused on modernizing Tokyo and you have huge economic developments in places like Odaiba. However, it is not only in exclusive areas because regeneration is also happening in poorer areas like Minami Senju and for many people in downtown Tokyo the voice of Ishihara is welcomed.
Greater Tokyo and the surrounding region accounts for around 35 million people and while the last twenty years have been negative in Japan in the field of economic growth the engine of Tokyo keeps on ticking and many major companies within Japan have relocated to Tokyo.
Shinji Fukukawa, president of Dentsu Research Institute, however, is worried about Tokyo losing its edge. This applies to the growing rise of cities like Beijing, Shanghai, and others, within Asia and Shinji Fukukawa is also concerned about the cosmopolitan nature of Tokyo while wanting to preserve the rich traditional culture of Tokyo.
Shinji Fukukawa comments that “Tokyo should be developed as a major hub city where enterprises and individuals working on the world stage can assemble and operate in borderless circumstances. To develop Tokyo into a city capable of making people desire to visit, live, study or work here, it is indispensable to bring the tax system and regulations up to international standards and prepare sufficient facilities for high-quality accommodations and large-scale conventions.”
Other areas of focus according to Shinji Fukukawa applies to Tokyo making “….preparations to become a major center for creation of new industrial values, educational evolution, technological innovation and medical- care technology development by making full use of information technology.”
Many points made by Shinji Fukukawa are valid but I rarely meet a Tokyoite who is unhappy about the environment of Tokyo. In his article he mentions London, New York and Paris being in the top three cities respectively in the world. Also, favorable comments are made about Beijing but social deprivation and crime rates, and issues like drug problems, will be much greater in all these cities and the income gap will be much higher.
Tokyo must not become complacent and this is factual and greater welfare measures are needed in areas like elderly care and nursery care in Tokyo; and the same will apply to every major city in the world.
Also, the transportation system in cities like London is not very high and even more important, parts of the metro systems in Paris and London may become a little dangerous at night but in Tokyo women and all commuters do not worry about no-go areas or random violent attacks. This is remarkable given the size of the population of Tokyo.
Ishihara’s reign in Tokyo is 12 years and unlike other prefectural governors the power of Tokyo is enormous within the body politic of Japan. Tokyo, unlike other cities like Osaka, which is beset with huge budget constraints, is on a firm financial footing and much of this credit can go down to Ishihara because the competitiveness of Tokyo under his leadership is much greater.
Therefore, the finances of the metropolitan government of Tokyo have been galvanized under Ishihara and during the recent earthquake the metropolitan government announced a major economic package to the damaged regions.
Pollution levels were also a major target for Ishihara and gas emissions have been reduced and other policies in this area have been targeted in order to improve the quality of air in Tokyo.
Haneda Airport is now opening up to international flights and again Ishihara supported this move. After all, Narita Airport which is the main international airport which serves Tokyo is in Chiba prefecture. Therefore, while the train system is high quality and you can get a quick express train to Tokyo; it is also factual that Haneda Airport is very convenient for many business people and travelers. Also, both airports can work together in order to boost the air network system.
The two rivals who hope to take control of Tokyo are Miki Watanabe who is a businessman and Hideo Higashikokubaru who is the former governor of Miyazaki. Hideo Higashikokubaru is very well known because of media exposure but his popularity was much higher over one year ago. Meanwhile Miki Watanabe will focus on his strengths in the business arena, welfare sector, and being youthful and vibrant.
Ishihara is often painted by his brunt comments about foreign nationals but for every strong comment against foreign nationals you can also give a comment in the other direction.
For the traditional right-wing they would cringe when they hear Ishihara stating that“Since we are a mixed people, whether the number of foreigners increases or not in Japan is irrelevant. (The increase) is a very good thing” and that “Japanese must enact a new immigration law so it will allow us to bring in many immigrants.”
During the recent earthquake Ishihara mentioned that he thinks that this was “divine punishment.” However, he stated that “America’s identity is freedom. France’s identity is freedom, equality and fraternity. Japan has no sense of that. Only greed. Materiality greed (and) monetary greed.”
“This greed bounds with populism. These things need to be washed away with the Tsunami. For many years the heart of Japanese always bounded with (the) devil.”
Therefore, once more Ishihara was not scared to state what he thinks and you could even deem this comment to be part-socialist in a way because it was attacking wanton capitalism and materialism. Also, for people who comment about “xenophobia” then note that Ishihara was complimentary towards America and France but he spoke out against the negatives within Japan.
Of course, for most Tokyoites, like people all over the world, it is bread and butter issues which concern then the most.
I believe that if Ishihara is not elected then it will not be based on people supporting a possible new way under either Miki Watanabe or Hideo Higashikokubaru; instead it will be because of Ishihara being 78 years old and sometimes people want a fresh leader and the longevity of Ishihara’s 12 year period and age may go against him.
Irrespective of what people think about Ishihara’s more extreme thinking, it is clear that Tokyo is in a better financial situation today under his leadership. Also, Tokyo is a vibrant city and in the political field it is clear that Ishihara does have a strong power base.
In the past people supported Ishihara because the majority were happy with his policies and leadership, but some discontent with regards to welfare policies; therefore, people may stay loyal to Ishihara despite his age.
Indeed, it is remarkable for a 78 year old political leader to even stand a chance in most major cities in the world and this must go down to his vibrancy and pulling power.
Therefore, will Tokyoites support a tried and trusted Ishihara or will his age open the gate to either Miki Watanabe or Hideo Higashikokubaru?