Shintaro Ishihara, sigh

So, Shintaro Ishihara, Governor of Tokyo since 1999, probably Japan’s most famous right-wing politician, has announced today that he is stepping down as Governor so he can start a new political party with fellow right-wingers. In the BBC article you can read here, it states:

‘The veteran politician is known for making controversial and nationalistic comments.’

Well, that’s the understatement of the day. The man has made a career out of it. Gov. Ishihara probably came to the attention of a lot of people outside Japan when he published the book ‘The Japan That Can Say No’ in 1989, which argued that Japan should stand up to the US and forge a new kind of relationship, since the one that existed was born out of the post-war occupation and was more like a parent and child. He argued that Japan should interact with the US differently, since it was no longer the defeated country it had been in 1945. He  had already been a well-known person in Japan for many years by then, having won a prestigious literary award before he had even graduated from university. The novel was made into a film (from a screenplay he wrote himself) and featured his brother in one of the roles.

He entered politics in 1968, and was active in national politics for over 25 years. Although he was always a popular politician, he never led his own faction within the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and failed in his bid to become the leader of the party. He resigned from national politics in 1995 right after the Aum sarin gas attacks on the Tokyo subway and in 1998 ran as an independent candidate for the Governorship. Since then he has made a career of being an equal-opportunities offender, regularly making comments that one or more section of society finds objectionable. He is always unrepentant and as far as I know he has never apologised, though he has sometimes attempted to parse his utterances into something less offensive or to hone his attack on one particular group.

I am loathe to start quoting his offensiveness here, since it is easy to track down elsewhere on the Internet, but it is fair to say that he has reserved some of his most objectionable comments for China. As Governor he also went out of his way to irritate Beijing, e.g. by inviting the President of Taiwan or the Dalai Lama to Tokyo. Most recently he was the instigator of the disagreement over the Senkaku / Diaoyu Islands. He announced in April that he wanted to buy the Senkaku Islands from the private Japanese citizen who somehow claimed to own them, and raised a large amount of money from private donations to do so. To prevent him from doing this the national government bought the islands instead, and from there we get to the situation we find ourselves in today, which I wrote about in a previous post,

Shintaro Ishihara, as leader of his own political party, is probably hoping to challenge the established parties in the general election that has to be held by the end of 2013. While it has been unpleasant to have him as the Governor of this great city, the idea of him as the face of Japan on the international stage as Prime Minister of Japan is worse. The man is a bigot. He has said deeply offensive things about the people and cultures of many countries; about women; about gay people. He has denied history and said last year that the tsunami was ‘divine punishment’ for Japan’s greed and materialism.

In his announcement of his resignation as Governor, he singled out the language of the Japanese Constitution as being ‘ugly Japanese . . . imposed by the occupying army’ and has criticised what he sees as the pacifist aspect of the Constitution, commonly known as Article 9, in which Japan renounced war and the means to wage it. The Japanese Self Defence Forces (SDF) are in direct contradiction to this. Article 9 has been under attack for a number of years, and there are grassroots groups all over Japan, some affiliated with religious groups of different faiths, some secular, but all working to protect it. A Japan with Shintaro Ishihara as the leader of a major party or the Prime Minister would put Article 9 in jeopardy.

Unfortunately, Ishihara is also a skilled politician, he knows how to tap into populist sentiments, and since he has been elected as Tokyo’s Governor four times there are clearly a lot of people who agree with him or are at least willing to give him their vote. However, he is divisive and offensive, and I shudder to think how he would impact Japan’s relations with its neighbours in Asia and beyond, to the rest of the world.


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