Shintaro Ishihara is one of Japan's most popular and controversial politicians. A former bestselling writer and government minister, he was a Liberal Democratic lawmaker until he was elected the governor of Tokyo in 1999 without the support of any political party, defeating the LDP candidate. Some say he has ambitions to be prime minister.

Ishihara has strong nationalist views. He wants Japan to be powerful once again and has advocated building a nuclear weapons arsenal and ending military relations with the United States. Hiroko Tabuchi wrote in the New York Times: “Ishihara achieved notoriety in the United States with his 1989 book, “The Japan That Can Say No,” which urged a more assertive policy toward America. Despite his high profile, he made few real inroads in national politics, prompting him to retire in 1995 after a quarter-century in office. He made a political comeback in 1999, however, as mayor of Tokyo, and has won four consecutive terms. More than once, Mr. Ishihara has landed in trouble for gaffes, notably after last year’s tsunami, when he called it “divine punishment” for what he saw as the country’s general decline amid economic stagnation. He was eventually forced to retract the statement.[Source: Hiroko Tabuchi, New York Times, October 25, 2012]

Ishihara married Noriko Ishida in 1950s. They had known each other since they were children. They have four sons. The eldest, Nobuteru, was born in 1957. He is currently a member of lower house and a rising political star. The third is also a member of the lower house of parliament. The second is an actor. The forth is a painter.

Ishihara sees himself as a person who has lived a life on the edge who enjoys scuba diving and hunting, and has sailed a yacht across the Pacific, gone whoring in South America, shot a whale and grizzly bear in the back with rifle, traveled to the North Pole, rode a motorcycle across South America, raced a yacht to Corsica and encountered ghosts during drunken nights out at his favorite haunts in Ginza. Ishihara has a strange blink. He divides his time between his residence in Tokyo and his seaside home in Kanagawa Prefecture.

Book: Undercurrents: Episodes from a Life on the Edge by Shintaro Ishihara (Kodansha international , 2006)

Shintaro Ishihara’s Literary Career

In 1955, while a student at Hitotubashi University, Ishihara dashed off a short novel, Season in the Suns, in three days. The book was about decadent university students from affluent families who acted like yakuza gangsters. In the most memorable scene, one character thrust his penis through a shoji screen of a room containing his girlfriend.

The book received the Akutagawa Prize, Japan's most prestigious literary award, became a bestseller and continues to sell well today. It launched Ishihara's career as a writer. The film version helped make a star of Ishihara's younger brother Yujiro. Ishihara and his brother attracted a following of young men who dressed in Hawaiian shirts and called themselves the Sun tribe.

Ishihara wrote a number of bestsellers, including The Japan That Can Say No, written with the late chairman of Sony, in which he trumpets Japanese superiority and urges Japanese to stand up to Americans. Ishihara also tried his hand at directing films and running a theater.

Ishihara was a friend of Yukio Mishima, the controversial nationalist writer who committed suicide. Mishima introduced Ishihara to writers and intellectuals. Ishihara introduced Mishima to the seamy side of Tokyo.

Shintaro Ishihara's Political Career

In 1968, Ishihara was elected to the upper house. Four years later he was elected to the more powerful lower house as a member of the LDP. He served eight successive terms and served as Minister of Transportation in 1988. A year late he failed in a bid to become president of LDP. Ishihara left Parliament in 1995. In his four years off he wrote a novel about a motorcycle stunt man, bummed around the Mediterranean and painted.

In April 1999, Ishihara was elected governor of Tokyo as an independent. He received twice as many votes as his nearest rival. He decided not to live in the governor's mansion because he considered its decorating scheme in bad taste. He traveled everywhere surrounded by a large security force and was treated like a rock star. Ishihara was reelected for a third four-year term as Tokyo mayor in April 2007 with 51.1 percent of the vote He ran as an independent against 13 challengers. His closest rival won 30.8 percent of the vote.

As governor of Tokyo, Ishihara tax Tokyo's banks, which had repeatedly been bailed out by the government; turned mundane earthquake preparation drills into displays of Japanese military might; passed strict laws to reduce pollution from diesel vehicles; restructured the Tokyo government; and actively campaigned to bring the Olympics to Tokyo in 2016.

Ishihara’s most effective tactic as mayor was to criticize the central government and bulldoze through contentious polices with the support of the public, a method used by other politicians such as Toru Hashimoto (See Below). To get support from the public for his scheme to get diesel-powered trucks to install anti-emmision devices he held up a bottle containing soot collected from car exhaust at a press conference.

Ishihara's Controversial Remarks

Ishihara has been a major critic of the U.S. military presence in Japan---what he calls “50 years of subservience to the United States”---and is an advocate of making Japan self-reliant militarily. "Since we respond only to pressure from the outside, let the North Koreans drop a missile on Kyoto, and incinerate the Golden Palace again,” he once said. “That would open our eyes to the fact that the U.S. can't really protect us, and we could stop worshiping at that altar." Ishihara has called French a “failed international language,” financed a film that glorifies kamikaze pilots called I Will Only Die for You and once said a deputy foreign minister deserved to receive a bomb found in his house because his attitude towards North Korea was too lenient.

Ishihara also said, "Third-country nations and foreigners who have entered Japan illegally have perpetuated heinous crimes. In the event of a major earthquake, riots could break out, and there is a limit to the police's ability to cope with such a situation alone." He later apologized for this remark which was particularly insensitive in the light that as many as 7,000 Koreans were lynched after they were blamed for looting and setting fires and even causing the Great Tokyo Earthquake in 1923.

Ishihara angered the Chinese by calling Taiwan a state, saying the Rape of Nanking was a fabrication of the Chinese, and criticized Japan for giving money to China "so they can continue work on developing a hydrogen bomb." In November 2003, after China successfully launched its first spacecraft, Ishihara said, “The Chinese are ignorant, so they’re overjoyed. That [spaceship] was an outdated one. If Japan wanted to do it, we could do it one year.”

Ishihara called for a boycott of the Beijing Olympics and encouraged Japan to considered embarking on a Falklands-style war with China occupies over some small islands, the Senkaku Island, claimed by both countries. He made a spectacle of himself by snorkeling off one of these very same disputed islands.

Ishihara used the word sangokujin, a derogatory term that means people from third countries, to refer to the immigrants. The term was used after World War II to tell Koreans and Chinese to leave Japan. He has also blamed Iranians in Japan for dealing drugs and Chinese immigrants for playing a major role in Japan's rising crime rate and warned of “genetic pollution” from China if too many Chinese immigrants were let in. These and other remarks won Ishihara the title of the Le Pen of Japan.

Ishihara’s Decline

By 2009 Ishihara, after 11 years as mayor, was being routinely criticized for failed policies such as the establishment of the Shinginko Tokyo bank. which racked up over $1 billion in losses after only three years of operation namely due to giving questionable loans. There was speculation that he might resign if Tokyo’s Olympic bid failed.

Ishihara has been accused of nepotism in and corruption. In 2004 he took his youngest son with him on a trip to the Swiss Alps to do a drum performance at a party hosted at Economic Forum in Davos by Ishihara in 2004 at taxpayers expense. The son, an artist, designed a back set for the drummers for which the government allocated $11,000. Ishihara himself took a $120,000 cruise on a luxury ship in the Galapagos Island as part of an “eco-tourism study.” One of Ishihara’s pledges as mayor was to eliminate wasteful spending. He oversaw the publication of a book called Mou Zeikin-no-Mudazukaiwa Yurusnai (“No Wasteful tax Spending Any More”).

Ishihara Wins a Forth Term in 2011

Ishihara at the age of 78 was elected governor of Tokyo for a forth term in the April 2011 elections a month after the earthquake and tsunami. Running as an independent but effectively supported by the Liberal Democratic party, he beat 10 rivals, including some well-known political and entertainment figures. He initially said he wasn’t going to run but he changed his mind on the day of the tsunami.

"If you ask me what I would do after winning a fourth term, I would say I'll keep doing the same [as I have until now]," Ishihara said in his Tokyo office. "I'll strengthen our measures against disasters. Tokyo is Japan's driving force. If Tokyo comes to a halt, Japan will come to a halt as well.”

During his reelection campaign Ishihara suggested people should stop playing pachinko to conserve electricity. "No country other than Japan consumes nearly 10 million kilowatts for pachinko parlors and vending machines,” he said. "This is equal to the Fukushima plant's power output, so we should correct such a lifestyle," he added. "I think the government should issue a decree to conserve power. People who play pachinko should be able to get by without it. We can live without vending machines...Japan won't survive unless we rein in our selfish desires and live more humbly. Let's get all Japanese people pushing in the same direction."

Ishihara’s Nobuteru son became secretary general of the LDP.

Ishihara’s Plan to Buy the Disputed Islands Claimed by China and Japan

Hiroko Tabuchi wrote in the New York Times: “Ishihara made a return to the national stage by prompting the the flare-up over the islands that Japan calls the Senkaku and China calls the Diaoyu. In the spring of 2012 he said he wanted Tokyo to buy several of the islands from their owner, a Japanese citizen, to better defend them from China. Under pressure not to look weak, Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda decided the central government would buy the islands instead, a move that apparently was meant to calm the situation but instead created protests across China and led to unofficial boycotts of Japanese goods. [Source: Hiroko Tabuchi, New York Times, October 25, 2012]

In April 2012 Ishihara said he planned to use public money to buy the Senkaku Islands, a group of resource-rich islands controlled by Japan, but claimed by China and Taiwan. The islands have been at the centre of a dispute between Japan and China. The move was condemned by Chinese officials as illegal. “Ishihara, who is known for being outspoken, made the claim during a speech at the Heritage Foundation, a think-tank in Washington, the BBC reported. He said that he was in discussions with the private Japanese owner of three of the islands in the disputed chain. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin said in a statement that China had "indisputable sovereignty" over the islands, and that any unilateral action from Japan would be "illegal and invalid". [Source: BBC, April 16, 2012]

“Upon learning that Shin Shin, a 6-year-old female panda at Tokyo’s Ueno Zoo, may be pregnant. Ishihara joked that possible giant panda cubs at Tokyo's Ueno Zoo should be named after Japanese islands in the East China Sea that are claimed by China. "Why not name the babies Sen Sen and Kaku Kaku?" Ishihara said at a press conference, referring to the Senkaku Islands."This will give China control [of the Senkakus] when the baby pandas return to China," he said. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, June 30, 2012]

Ishihara Quits as Tokyo Governor and Forms a New Political Party

In October 2012, Ishihara, announced that he was quitting his job as Tokyo governor to start a national party. He abruptly announced his resignation even though he was recently re-elected and still had two and a half years left in his four-year term.Hiroko Tabuchi wrote in the New York Times: “Ishihara is considered too far right of the populace to build a party big enough to form a government but he could potentially become an influential player in a coalition government and push its leaders to take a more nationalistic stance. [Source: Hiroko Tabuchi, New York Times, October 25, 2012]

Mr. Ishihara wasted no time on Thursday in hurling insults at China and South Korea, referring to them with the names that Japan used during its colonization of much of East Asia in the early 20th century. He said Japan should do more to develop its natural resources so it can “stop bowing to the will of” its giant neighbor. He also said Japan should do away with its Constitution, which renounces the country’s right to wage war, as quickly as possible. He said it was ridiculous that Japan had kept a charter that was drafted by the United States after World War II. “I’m 80 years old, and I ask myself: Why does it have to be me? Why can’t the young get their act together?” Mr. Ishihara said. “But if Japan keeps going like this, it will sink into a pit and die.” [Ibid]

In November 2012, Ishihara formally launched his new party ahead of elections a month later. Kyodo reported: “Ishihara launched a new political party, aiming to achieve a "stronger Japan" and forge a "third force" to challenge major ruling and opposition parties in the looming general election. Ishihara's new Sunrise Party has included in its platform the creation of a new constitution, doubling Japan's defense power and huge public spending for areas hit hard by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami. "Rescuing Japan even a bit from its distress will be my important responsibility," the 80-year-old Ishihara said. He also said Japan should be "stronger" in its economy, education and diplomatic and defense capabilities, otherwise it will "sink." [Source: Kyodo, November 14, 2012]

The Sunrise Party is named after an Ishihara novel. It incorporated all five members of the conservative opposition Sunrise Party of Japan headed by former industry minister Takeo Hiranuma. The party als formed an alliance with the new party launched by the populist mayor of Osaka, Toru Hashimoto. On the alliance with Hashimoto, Tabuchi wrote in the New York Times: “Though Mr. Hashimoto has made some nationalistic statements, the men differ on major issues like nuclear policy. Mr. Ishihara is a staunch supporter of nuclear power, while Mr. Hashimoto has pushed for stronger regulation after the Fukushima disaster.

Toru Hashimoto

Toru Hashimoto was elected governor of Osaka in 2007. Young and telegenic, he quickly made a name for himself trying to cut costs ad return the debt-ridden Osaka government---which pays $8 million per day on debt servicing alone---to fiscal health. Hashimoto later drew attention for his bold implementation of civil service reform and his dramatic move from the office of governor to that of mayor.

Among Hashimoto’s cost-cutting suggestions have been closing down Osaka airport, selling the main sumo arena, cutting subsidies for the elderly, infants and children, freezing planned public projects, reducing the number of police, ending subsidies to private schools and abolitioning nine facilities and 10 organizations. Many of these proposals were rejected but the ones that were approved went a long way to reducing Osaka’s debt.

Hashimoto pushed through education reform and was the first governor to disclose test results of primary students in his area and said he would take responsibility if students didn’t perform better. He has been at the forefront of the movement to release local governments from the burdens and financial obligations placed on them by the central government.

Before Hashimoto became governor he had little administrative experience. He achieved some notoriety as a lawyer and television personality. As might e expected there was a lot of resistance to his proposals, especially among those who would lose their jobs.

Hashimoto's Popularity

Hashimoto has won a attention and admiration for his aggressive and skillful administrative style, earning approval ratings of 80 percent and effectively battling the entreched bureaucracy and special interest groups by skillfully using the media an the get the public on his side. His skill with the media was developed during the years as a television lawyer and commentator.

Hashimoto has been able to inspire people and fill them with hope and get to take action. After he encouraged Osaka residents to make personal donations to help get the city out of debt one woman in her 80s responded by showed up at a prefectural government office building with two backpacks filled with $1 million in cash.

“As of June 2012 more than 760,000 people followed Hashimoto on Twitter. The figure is up from about 20,000 in February 2011 when he began tweeting, and is said to be increasing. He has by far the most registered followers among all Japanese politicians. A Yomiuri Shimbun public opinion survey of residents in Osaka Prefecture in March 2012 showed the group's support rating was a whopping 72 percent. "According to popular opinion, the prime minister of Japan is not Mr. Noda but already Mr. Hashimoto," brain scientist Kenichiro Mogi tweeted to Hashimoto in April. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, June 30, 2012]

“His ability to put words into action is compelling," said a 43-year-old patent attorney in Yokohama, who is one of the trainees. A 36-year-old trainee working at a manufacturing firm in Nishinomiya, Hyogo Prefecture, said, "His use of radical rhetoric makes us believe he has a definite strategy, and I'm fascinated by his decisive power to realize it.” [Ibid]

Hashimoto Wins Osaka Elections in November 2011

In November 2011 Osaka mayoral and gubernatorial elections were held. Former Osaka Gov. Toru Hashimoto and Ichiro Matsui, a former member of the Osaka Prefectural Assembly, won their first terms as mayor and governor, respectively, in landslide victories for Hashimoto's party, Osaka Ishin no Kai (“Osaka Restoration Group”). Hashimoto's exchanges with established political parties have attracted attention, as he has hinted at fielding Osaka Ishin no Kai candidates in a national election to realize his plan to make Osaka Prefecture a metropolitan administrative region similar to Tokyo.

After the victory, , the Yomiuri Shimbun reported, Hashimoto said he would soon begin pressing the central government and political parties to consider revising related laws to pave the way for the establishment of an Osaka metropolis. "I'd like to begin urging them by year-end to revise related laws so we can launch an Osaka metropolis in four years," the 42-year-old former Osaka governor said at a press conference Sunday night. As head of Osaka Ishin no Kai (Osaka restoration group), a local party, Hashimoto also said, "If [political parties] hesitate to work on this issue, we'll start preparations to field our own candidates for a national election." [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, November 29, 2011] Hashimoto's remarks suggest the local party could influence how major political parties will campaign in the next House of Representatives election, expected to be held in 2013. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, November 29, 2011]

The election results were a blow to both the ruling Democratic Party of Japan and the opposition Liberal Democratic Party, whose prefectural chapters supported opponents of the candidates fielded by the local party. Neither the DPJ nor the LDP fielded candidates on their own, instead supporting Hiramatsu in the mayoral election and Kaoru Kurata, 63, former mayor of Ikeda, Osaka Prefecture, in the gubernatorial election. Their losses also suggest the two major parties are losing their influence.

Voter turnout in the mayoral election was 60.92 percent, up 17.31 percentage points from the previous election in 2007 and surpassing 60 percent for the first time since 1971, when gubernatorial and mayoral elections were last held on the same day. Turnout for the gubernatorial election was 52.88 percent, up from 48.95 percent in the 2008 election.

Hashimoto’s Proposal to Make Osaka a Metropolis Like Tokyo

Both Hashimoto and Matsui, the Yomiuri Shimbun reported, made the party's Osaka metropolis proposal campaign pledges. They propose the Osaka prefectural government and the Osaka and Sakai municipal governments be reorganized into a metropolis similar to Tokyo. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, November 29, 2011]

Under the proposal, the two government ordinance-designated cities in the prefecture would be divided into special administrative wards--eight to nine for Osaka and two to three for Sakai. Each ward would introduce elections by popular vote to choose ward mayors and offer administrative services close to residents' lives, while the metropolis would be responsible for policies affecting wider areas. By reorganizing the prefecture and two ordinance-designated cities, the proposal aims at having a unified administrative head and consolidating revenues so the metropolis could make intensive investments to stimulate the local economy.

Hashimoto launched Osaka Ishin no Kai in spring last year with the aim of realizing his Osaka metropolis proposal. In unified local elections in spring of this year, the party won a majority in the Osaka prefectural assembly and became dominant in the Osaka and Sakai municipal assemblies. Hashimoto decided to run in the mayoral election against incumbent Kunio Hiramatsu, 63, because the latter opposed the Osaka metropolis proposal. Hashimoto resigned last month as Osaka governor before his four-year term was to expire, thus sparking a double election, while also naming Matsui his successor.

Political Parties Cozy up to Hashimoto

In December 2011, the Yomiuri Shimbun reported: Political parties are rushing to snuggle up to incoming Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto to take advantage of his soaring popularity. Behind the political maneuvering is the possibility Hashimoto's group, Osaka Ishin no Kai (Osaka restoration group), will take part in national politics following its landslide victory in the Osaka mayoral and gubernatorial elections on Nov. 27. The group is currently active only in Osaka. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, December 19, 2011]

After Hashimoto assumed the mayoral post in Osaka in morning and he arrived in Tokyo in the afternoon for talks with key political figures. He meet with Democratic Party of Japan Secretary General Azuma Koshiishi; DPJ Policy Research Committee Chairman Seiji Maehara; former DPJ President Ichiro Ozawa; Liberal Democratic Party Secretary General Nobuteru Ishihara; New Komeito leader Natsuo Yamaguchi; People's New Party head Shizuka Kamei; Your Party leader Yoshimi Watanabe; and Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara---all of whom welcomed with smiles and open arms.

It is unusual for so many ruling and opposition party leaders to meet a newly installed mayor. During his meetings with other political leaders, Hashimoto will ask for their cooperation in revising the Local Government Law to realize his Osaka metropolis project. Hashimoto appears to be ready to either cooperate with or fight these parties depending on their attitude to his project.

Hashimoto’s Party Takes Step Toward National Politics While DPJ and LDP Keep Their Distance

“Hashimoto leads the regional party Osaka Ishin no Kai (Osaka restoration group). The party has drafted an outline of its campaign platform for the next general election called "Senchu Hassaku" (Eight-point plan written on a ship).

In March 2012, the Yomiuri Shimbun reported: The ruling Democratic Party of Japan and the opposition Liberal Democratic Party are wary of a political institute run by Osaka ishin no kai--- the party of Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto--- to field candidates for the next general election in the House of Representatives. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, March 26, 2012]

The DPJ, the LDP and other parties have shown understanding toward the realization of Ishin no Kai's vision for an "Osaka metropolis," and considered preparing a bill to bring it about. However, major parties are distancing themselves from the idea of a political institute aiming to field candidates for national politics.

"Now we should dedicate ourselves to reconstruction from the Great East Japan Earthquake. We can't afford to think about [Ishin Seijijuku's vision]," said Koriki Joshima, a DPJ member who chairs the Diet Affairs Committee. LDP President Sadakazu Tanigaki said ironically in Osaka: "It's important for Japan to raise young politicians. I hope [Ishin Seijijuku] will train young people without thinking, 'Politicians are disposable.'"

Regarding Ishin no Kai's idea to classify the consumption tax as a local tax, Tanigaki said: "If Each party has paid attention to whether voter support for ishin no Kai will stand within only the Kinki region or expand across the nation.

An LDP executive from a single-seat constituency in the Kinki (Osaka-Kyoto-Kansai) region said: "It'll be easy [for Ishin no Kai] to win 30 to 40 seats just in the Kinki region. If the party fields candidates in single-seat constituencies in Osaka, most are expected to win." However, another LDP member said: "Ishin no Kai will have financial difficulties because it doesn't meet the conditions for a political party [to receive grants, such as having more than five legislators]. I don't think Ishin no Kai will field many winners outside the Kinki region."

Your Party and New Komeito have taken a positive stance toward cooperation with Ishin no Kai. At least eight of Your Party's expected candidates for the next lower house election attend Ishin Seijijuku. A Your Party executive said, "If we field candidates in eastern Japan and Ishin no Kai fields their candidates in western Japan, we both will be able to make great progress in national politics." Komeito also cooperates with Ishin no Kai in the Osaka city assembly, where Komeito holds a decisive bloc of votes, and the Osaka prefectural assembly. Komeito is expected to seek support from Ishin no kai possibly in six constituencies in Osaka and Hyogo prefectures where Komeito plans to field candidates.

Hashimoto Launches New Party: Nippon Ishin no Kai

Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto launched a new political party---Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Restoration Party)---in September 2012. On the party's policies and philosophy, Eric Johnston wrote in the Japan Times:Nippon Ishin no Kai's political platform sets out its views and goals in eight key areas: basic governance; finance, administration and political reform; civil service reform; education; social welfare, including pensions, social security and medical insurance; economic, employment and taxes; diplomacy and security; and constitutional revision. The party's philosophy stresses the concept of "jiritsu," which usually translates as "independent," "self-reliant" or "to stand up for oneself." The party promises to create a self-reliant state, communities and individuals, and a democracy able to make decisions and take responsibility for its actions. [Source: Eric Johnston, Japan Times, October 3, 2012]

The party's proposals are designed to realize its ultimate goal of ending the prefectural system and dividing the country into semiautonomous regions with far greater independence from the central government, especially over how to spend their tax revenues and what economic policies to pursue. In short, it aims to create a highly decentralized nation in which the national government's powers are greatly curtailed, except for defense, foreign policy and a few other areas. To accomplish this goal, Nippon Ishin no Kai proposes that the number of Lower House members be halved to 240, that an effort be made to abolish the Upper House, and that the prime minister be directly elected by the people. In addition, it wants the consumption tax to be turned into a regional levy and to abolish the manner in which local tax revenues are currently distributed by the central government. [Ibid]

Like neoconservatives, libertarians and the Tea Party movement in the U.S., does Nippon Ishin no Kai see big, centralized government as the problem? To a certain extent. But much of its platform indicates the party believes a government is best managed like a private concern. The word "sessatakuma," which means "to be involved in friendly rivalry," crops up three times in reference to the system Nippon Ishin no Kai hopes to create among competing regions, undefined social security reforms and an education voucher program that parents could use for their children's tuition at a private school of their choice. In addition, the platform calls for strengthening the labor flow between the public and private sectors, and for political appointees from outside civil service to assume high-level positions. [Ibid]

Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Restoration Party) won 54 seats in the December 2012 election, making it the third-largest party in the lower house, finishing just a few seats behind the former ruking party Minshuto. The New York Times reported: “The Japan Restoration had hoped to become the second-largest party by winning younger voters with its promises of decisive leadership and a curtailment of Tokyo’s powers by creating more autonomous, American-style states. While the party came close to its goal, it seemed to lose some of its momentum after joining forces with the aging, ultranationalistic governor of Tokyo, Shintaro Ishihara, whom many young voters view as a reactionary. [Source: Martin Fackler, New York Times, December 16, 2012]

Hashimoto’s Remarks on Disputed Islands Draws Criticism from His Own Party

In October 2012, the Yomiuri Shimbun reported: “Hashimoto has ruffled feathers within the party by suggesting that the Senkaku Islands and Takeshima island be "jointly managed" with neighboring nations, according to political sources. Hashimoto's comments fly in the face of the government view that the Senkakus and Takeshima are Japanese territory. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, October 9, 2012]

China claims sovereignty over the Senkaku Islands in Okinawa Prefecture, and South Korea effectively controls Takeshima in Shimane Prefecture. Tensions over the islands have flared in recent months. Japan also has been locked in a dispute with Russia over the northern territories off Hokkaido. [Ibid]

Although Hashimoto insisted that the islands are Japanese sovereign territories, he said, "They should be managed jointly with neighboring countries." Hashimoto also called for cooperative management of marine resources in areas around the islands. "Sovereignty and utilization are different matters," he said. Hashimoto added, "[Japan] should take the matters to the International Court of Justice," to end the disputes over the islands. Observers believe Hashimoto made these remarks because he is aware of his party's weakness in diplomatic and defense issues. Nippon Ishin no Kai started out as a regional party in Osaka with chiefly domestic concerns. [Ibid]

Kenzo Yoneda, former member of the House of Representatives and an adviser for the party's Tokyo office, has been critical of Hashimoto's remarks. "The territorial issue is a 'lifeline' for politicians. Hashimoto's remark on joint management misses the point, and it will affect [him] in a considerably negative way," he said. [Ibid]

Restoration Party Does Best of New Parties in December 2012 Election

The Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Restoration Party) did the best of the parties that tried to emerge as a Third Force. The Yomiuri Shimbun reported: “Riding on the appeal of its dual leadership, Nippon Ishin no Kai was able to successfully win over nonaffiliated voters in the House of Representatives election. Party leader Shintaro Ishihara and acting party head Toru Hashimoto attracted nonaffiliated voters who were dissatisfied with the Liberal Democratic Party and the Democratic Party of Japan. The party captured 51 seats, meaning it can submit budget-related bills and no-confidence motions against the Cabinet on its own. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, December 18, 2012]

Before the election, Ishin no Kai only had 11 seats. But with 54 seats, the party can now rival the DPJ with 57 seats. The party steadily secured votes in the Kinki proportional representation bloc, the home turf of the party's predecessor, Osaka Ishin no Kai (Osaka restoration group), a regional political group. "I wanted to create a powerful second force. We moved a step closer [to my goal]," former Tokyo Gov. Ishihara said on an NHK program Sunday night regarding the election outcome. Osaka Mayor Hashimoto also praised the election results, saying, "We were able to win these seats, starting with the reform of the Osaka local government." However, given Hashimoto's popularity and the large following Ishin no Kai gained when it was formed, some party members are not satisfied with the result, sources said. [Ibid]

Ishin no Kai became a political party in September and merged with Ishihara's Taiyo no To (The Sunrise Party) in November to improve its chances in the election. In a Yomiuri Shimbun survey conducted before the election, Ishihara placed second when people were asked who was best suited for the post of prime minister. Ishihara However, during the initial stages of election campaigning, there was brief speculation that Ishin no Kai had lost some of its popularity. Differing opinions over key issues, such as nuclear power and energy policy, between Ishihara and Hashimoto could have been one reason support for the party was less than expected. Ishihara said, "Abolishing all nuclear plants is a sort of desire." However, Hashimoto had been opposed to the restart of Kansai Electric Power Co.'s Oi nuclear power plant in Fukui Prefecture in July. In addition, Ishin no Kai faced a serious challenge in single-seat constituencies because its fragile organizational structure and poor financial resources made it difficult for the party to select more potential candidates for the election. [Ibid]

Ishin no Kai also failed to set a candidate for prime minister after the election. Ishihara said he had no intention of becoming prime minister due to his age, while Hashimoto did not run in the election. This seemed to have a cooling effect on people's fervor for the party. Ishihara said he believed Hashimoto is a future candidate for prime minister and that he was committed to supporting Hashimoto to the end by reconciling their differing policies. [Ibid]

Nippon Ishin no Kai formed an alliance with Taiyo no To (the Sunrise Party) but was unable to do the same with the small opposition party Your Party. Yoshimi Watanabe, head of Your Party, said that his party would not ally with Ishin no Kai due to differences on key policies and political ideals. It had earlier been reported that the two sides were poised to join hands. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, November 20, 2011]

Image Sources: Japan Zone

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Daily Yomiuri, Times of London, Japan National Tourist Organization (JNTO), National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

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© 2009 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated January 2013

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