Toby’s at it again. The dream of having to never blog about Tokyo’s most famous bigot – who I hesitate to call anything other than Toby (explanation here) – has been short lived. A few days from now, the country will vote in a general election. Having been a governer of Tokyo for over a decade, Toby has proven that he is a stable leader, which has become an increasingly attractive quality for a prime minister here. Is it possible that he could become the leader of the country? And what would that mean for Japan?
Every Japanese Prime Minister since 2006 has been gone after no more than one year in office. In Tokyo I once saw a Japanese comedian say “We don’t even bother to learn the prime minister’s name. By the time we learn it, it’s already wrong.” If you ask a Japanese student in high school or even many in university, chances are they won’t be able to say his full name. That’s a bit embarrassing. How could they not know that his name is Noda? Err… Noda something…
Anyways, the point is that there has not been stability in the highest office in Japan for almost seven years. This is one reason why the 80 year-old Toby looks like he might change things – he has been the Governor of Tokyo since 1999, resigning just a few months ago. Not everyone likes his politics, and everyone hates him when he opens his mouth, but at least they tend to know what they’re getting with him, as opposed to the uncertainty that comes along with other candidates.
And just what can Japan be certain of with him? Well, we can be damn sure that he loves his country. The New York Times (NYT) reports (using his real name):
Shintaro Ishihara has been a rare, flamboyant presence in Japan’s otherwise drab political world for four decades. A novelist turned right-wing firebrand, he has long held celebrity status on the political margins, where he was known for dramatic flourish. He once signed a pact in blood to oppose diplomatic ties with China because of its communist government, and he published a book at the height of Japan’s economic power that lectured his countrymen on the need to end what he considered its postwar servility to the United States.
Toby started a new political party – the “Japan Restoration Party” – in September, and now there’s a chance that he could lead the country. As NYT says, “While political analysts deem him a long shot, they say the fact that he has gotten this far after decades of pushing what was seen as a fringe agenda is a worrying sign of how desperate this nation is for strong leadership after years of cascading troubles.” The current economic status as well as the Great Eastern Japan Earthquake of last year made things even more unstable.
With his promises to restore Japan’s battered national pride, Mr. Ishihara has staked out an even more stridently nationalistic position than the current front-runner, Shinzo Abe, the leader of the conservative Liberal Democratic Party, who has called for revising Japan’s pacifist constitution. Analysts worry that if Mr. Ishihara succeeds in his bid to become prime minister, he could weaken relations with the United States, yank Japan to the right and damage ties with China, which is already angered by his almost single-handedly rekindling a territorial dispute over an island chain.
Gakushuin University’s politics professor Takeshi Sasaki is quoted as saying “There is so much irritation at how everything seems to be going wrong, and Japan is losing its pride. Politicians on the right like Ishihara and Abe are trying to fan these flames.” It sure seems like it. Just last month, in response to why he decided to switch to national politics Toby said “I cannot allow myself to die until my Japan, which has been made a fool of by China, and seduced as a mistress by the United States, is able to stand up again as a stronger, more beautiful nation.”
But what does “standing up” mean? Probably what Toby really wants to say is that he wants Japan to be able to stand up against nearby enemies – not an unreasonable desire, though I’m not sure how far he’s willing to go. For one, he wants to completely get rid of Japan’s antiwar constitution, which was written by American occupiers in the postwar period. Polls indicate that more than half of voters disapprove of this idea. He also wants to end what he perceives as “political and cultural subservience” to America, and stand up to China whenever there is territorial pressure.
So is he likely to win?
So far, polls show that Mr. Ishihara has only limited appeal. His party’s approval ratings are in the low teens, about the same as the unpopular incumbent Democratic Party, but below Mr. Abe’s Liberal Democrats, who poll only slightly better, at around 20 percent. Polls also show that more than half of voters disapprove of Mr. Ishihara and of scrapping the antiwar clause of Japan’s constitution.
Still, there is a slight chance the Liberal Democrats will not garner enough support to win a majority in the lower house. If that happens, Mr. Ishihara stands a chance of becoming a kingmaker who can name his price for joining a coalition government: the prime ministership.
So if Toby has his way, Japan might become a more militarized, more proud nation than it has been for over 60 years. I think this sounds good in theory, but I’m not sure if his vision of the future is one that would be in the country’s best interests.
The Bottom Line
I’m interested in the upcoming election, which will be held on December 16, but I suspect that it will only be a significant one depending on who comes out as the winner. If Toby is elected, I suspect the world is going to notice a difference very quickly; but I still doubt that he’ll get a substantial amount of votes when it actually comes to election day.
I have become so cynical with the same tiring national politics of Japan that I don’t expect it will change the status quo whatsoever. I think that someone will win, some monetary scandal will make him look bad after a few months, and no one will need to learn his full name. Who’s next?
[December 18 Update: On one hand, Toby was defeated. On the other hand, the new Prime Minister Shinzo Abe wants to militarize the country in much the same way. It's hard to say which way things will go, but suffice it to say that some Japanese people are getting worried, especially with growing tensions with China.]