The current and longstanding governor of Tokyo, who I affectionately call Toby, despite his birth certificate reading “Shintaro Ishihara,” is truly incredible. This controversial 79-year-old governor has publicly expressed his discontent with foreigners, gay people, and pretty much any other minority that overly conservative zealots tend to persecute. For the American audience, he’s quite like the Japanese version of Rick Santorum. I wrote about his impressive ability to alienate and discriminate against individuals, but now I’ll take the opportunity to show how he manages to disgust the locals as well.
“The commander of Tokyo must be able to run up to the 10th floor in an emergency,” Toby said a week before the Great Eastern Japan Earthquake. “I can’t do that.” It was the most “humanizing” thing I had ever heard him say, which almost made me decide not to write about him. He was referring to the decision about whether or not to run for reelection, and how his health would make that an issue.
After months of alluding to the media that he wouldn’t run, he finally waited until the last minute to announce his decision to do so. Now I hesitate to use “human” in the same sentence with him, unless we’re talking about how he views people with developmental disabilities as being less human as everyone else, questioning whether they even have any personality, as he did in 1999. As the Japan Times explains, Toby visited a facility for mental and physical health, which preceded a revealing news conference where he said “Do those people have any personality? I was shocked. [. . .] They won’t recover. They don’t know themselves who they are. [. . .] Western people would probably leave this kind of people behind.”
So let’s get started.
All Rise for the National Anthem… Or Else
Nationalist v. Democratically-inclined Teachers
In 2003, Toby mandated that teachers in public high schools and other institutions in Tokyo must stand up and sing the national anthem during school ceremonies. Not complying would be met with punishment, starting with a warning, then pay cuts and suspensions from work, and finally termination. In other words, if you didn’t stand up, face the Japanese flag, and sing, then you do not deserve the same rights as other teachers. The New York Times published the following in 2004:
Toru Kondo, an English teacher at a public high school here, had never before been reprimanded in his 32-year career. But he was recently required to take a two-hour “special retraining course,” lectured on his mistaken ways and given a sheet of paper on which to engage in half an hour of self-examination in writing.
His offense was to defy the Tokyo Board of Education’s new regulation requiring teachers to sing the national anthem while standing and facing the national flag. He and scores of colleagues refused, because for them the sun flag and the anthem, “Kimigayo”, or “His Majesty’s Reign”, are symbols of imperialism.
Many Japanese felt the same way for decades after World War II. But perhaps because they have become more comfortable with their history, or perhaps because Japanese society has moved right in recent years, authorities here have made respect for the flag and anthem mandatory for teachers and students.
[. . .] Japan long was ambivalent toward its flag and anthem, and it was only in 1999 that the government made them legal national symbols. Since 1990, public school teachers have been told they “should instruct” students to pay respect to both. But in October 2003, Tokyo made respect compulsory at graduation and enrollment ceremonies.
The regulation states that the national flag must be raised in front of the stage, with the Tokyo government flag, which features a star, to the right. An official will cry out, “Singing of the national anthem,” at which point teachers and students must rise, face the flag and sing. School officials supervising the ceremony approach sitting teachers and instruct them to stand and sing – and take down the names of those who refuse.
[ . . .] In Tokyo, 243 teachers have been punished this year because they did not stand before the sun flag and sing the anthem; 67 more have been warned because they did not instruct their students to do so.
Tokyo’s neighbouring prefecture to the south, Kanagawa, as well as distant prefectures Hiroshima and Osaka, are also becoming more strict; but only Tokyo had such punishment written as a policy. For the English teacher above, refusing to comply was an act of expressing one’s dissent with politics. For others, however, it is simply an act of asserting one’s freedom.
“I don’t harbor ill feelings for the anthem,” said Sawa Kawamura, a teacher who also refused to stand and sing in 2004, “It’s about being forced. This shouldn’t be allowed in a democracy.” After 20 years of teaching, she has been removed from school ceremonies, making her unable to see her students graduate, and has been disciplined so that interacting with students is limited. As Keio University law professor Keigo Komamura says, forcing teachers to stand and sing is a “violation of their freedom of thought.”
Hundreds of cases have since been brought to court, usually resulting in a victory for the school boards. In 2009, the Tokyo District Court ruled against the teachers, but on March 10 of last year, the Tokyo High Court overturned that ruling in favour of the teachers. Kyodo reports the following:
The Tokyo High Court [. . .] annulled the disciplinary actions taken against all but one of 168 plaintiffs that include teachers who refused to stand up at the hoisting of the Hinomaru national flag and sing the “Kimigayo” national anthem at school ceremonies in Tokyo.
The three-judge high court panel [. . .] overturned a 2009 Tokyo District Court decision that ruled unfavorably for the plaintiffs, but it turned down their demand for 550,000 yen per plaintiff in damages.
Nationalism Spreading Elsewhere
While this March ruling was a victory, it wasn’t the end of the legal battle. In May, Osaka City Mayor Toru Hashimoto began following Toby’s lead, drafting a bill to require teachers in Osaka to do the same as in Tokyo. Five hundred lawyers throughout Japan had quickly made an appeal to stop this from happening.
Weeks later, in June, Japan’s Supreme Court ruled that it is in fact constitutional for school principals to require teachers to stand and sing the anthem, dismissing the notion that it violates the constitutionally guaranteed freedom of thought. This also led to the legal defeat of 13 teachers in Tokyo. Soon after, Mayor Hashimoto went ahead and passed an ordinance requiring teachers to stand and sing the anthem in Osaka. In fact, there was a proposal submitted last month to the national assembly that stated three instances of refusing to stand and sing the anthem would be grounds for dismissal.
Hashimoto attempted to rally support with bizarre PR stunts such as singing the anthem with the governor of Osaka Prefecture at a boxing event in December. Regardless, now that graduation ceremonies have just taken places in Japan (the school year ends in March and begins in April here), there have been eight teachers in Osaka who have violated the new ordinance.
The most recent major update in this legal battle was a minor victory for teachers. While it remains constitutional to punish teachers, the Supreme Court said in January that punishments must not be “excessive,” such as with substantial pay cuts. Just to be clear, the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry has said that a total of 432 teachers in Tokyo have been reprimanded by the metropolitan board of education between the schools years of 2003 and 2010. With numbers increasing outside of Tokyo as well, it’s clear that many teachers are feeling that their freedom is in some ways being threatened, and teachers aren’t the only ones upset by this.
Hiromu Nonaka, a former senior figure in the Liberal Democratic Party of Japan, had submitted a bill thirteen years ago to make the Japanese flag and anthem official national symbols. It was a school principal’s suicide which motivated Nonaka. As the Asahi Shimbun reports, the principal was “torn between a board of education calling for the raising of the national flag and the singing of the national anthem, and the teachers’ unions opposing it.” But even Nonaka believes that Ishihara and Hashimoto have gone too far, saying the following in an interview:
“Telling teachers they will be punished if they refuse to stand up is arrogance by those in power. As someone who worked hard for the establishment of the national flag and anthem law, I feel trying to make teachers obey by punishing them is very regrettable.”
Out of Touch With Reality
At the end of 2010, Toby became very unpopular when he started a ban on “harmful” manga (comics) and anime (cartoons) in Tokyo. The effects of this were immediate and widespread, and it caused a huge controversy that remains today. The world’s largest anime festival was faced with industry leaders orchestrating a massive boycott, only to finally end in an abrupt cancellation because of 3/11 occurring weeks before the festival was scheduled. The boycott participants were even going to hold a competing festival on the same day. Following his manga ban was a slew of statements that demonstrated just how out of touch with Japan Toby truly is.
“When it is not the printed word but visual,” Toby said in February of 2011, “it’s easier for children to understand and more harmful. Japan is the only place that sort of thing is commonly sold. With that sort of material is available on the Internet as well, I think we’ll have to do something about it! This is a national issue.” Kadokawa, a major publishing company with many manga products, has insisted that “Fiction and reality have no connection in the first place… young people today understand this and can make that distinction, so there’s no need to be excessively concerned about fiction.” Kadokawa will in fact continue their boycott, as the 2012 festival kicks off at the end of the month.
But Toby has insisted that manga, anime, and the Internet itself are conduits for Japan’s depraved people to continue their disgraceful habits and consume harmful pornographic materials that characterize the modern youth generations. He has already stated that he believes the the youth are being ruined by mobile phones, TV, and computers, and that “There’s no substance to any of this. It’s not real culture at all.”
And from reading the internet-bashing Japanese book “Parents Don’t Know: The Children Sucked in by the Darkness of the Internet,” Toby concluded that there’s no country in the world as lewd as Japan. He also complained that elementary school girls are prostituting themselves using just their phones, amassing hundreds of thousands of dollars. Having not read the book myself, I can’t really comment on the veracity of these claims; but Toby seems to be under the impression that this is a hugely widespread phenomenon. Suffice to say, he is out of touch with the younger generations.
The real reason why I wanted to write about Toby since last year is that in response (my translation below) to the question “how should Japan view the quake?” he said:
“The identity of the Japanese people is one of selfishness/greed. We must use this tsunami to wash away such selfishness. Indeed, I think this must be divine punishment.”
Why do religious or conservative imbeciles always say they love a god who would cause so much destruction? Like in 2007, when the archbishop of Carslile said that God was punishing Britain with devastating storms and floods because of its lax laws on homosexuality, or after Hurricane Irene struck the US last year, when American politician Michele Bachmann said:
“I don’t know how much God has to do to get the attention of the politicians. We’ve had an earthquake; we’ve had a hurricane. He said, ‘Are you going to start listening to me here?’ Listen to the American people because the American people are roaring right now. They know government is on a morbid obesity diet and we’ve got to rein in the spending.”
Toby soon apologized for his remarks, despite one poll showing that almost 40% of Americans agree with him that the tsunami was divine intervention; but the stupidity never ceases for the Tokyo governor. Then in April, he made a statement saying that the quake was a “divine warning to the Japanese people.” This time he was careful not to say “retribution,” but honestly, he’s basically saying the same thing with a thin veil of political correctness. In May, he commented that the anime companies who were boycotting the state-run anime festival in favour of their own festival deserved the tsunami. “Their expo went up in smoke after the disaster,” he said. “It serves them right!”
Then in June, he started talking about how Japan needs nuclear weapons, and should start military conscription. He believes that without such measures, Japan will become the vassal state of another nation. While most children learn that war is not a good thing by the time they leave primary school, this 79-year-old seems to have completely lost touch with reality – he literally wants to force everyone to go through the army. But I guess we already knew that he lost it from his statement about selfishness. With the average age of tsunami victims reported at 68 weeks after it occurred (back when the death toll was around 9000) it’s hard to imagine the kind of greed Toby saw in them. Did these aged Tohoku natives selfishly live too long? Or maybe the children were getting too greedy with two parents?
God damn I hate Toby. Well, everybody hates Toby.
It’s amazing to me that he won re-election last year. The reason was essentially that he was the “safe choice” for Tokyo, as he had been in that position for 1999, so Tokyoites knew what they were getting. I’m not sure why that was a plus rather than a minus, but I guess they just weren’t sure about the other candidates. He won with about 2,615,000 votes, a million more than the 2nd place candidate, the comedian-turned-politician Hideo Higashikokubara.
Clearly, Toby is not a leader. He angers everyone in and outside of Japan, and he is an embarrassment to the Japanese political landscape.
The Bottom Line
If you haven’t read my earlier post about Toby, you may not understand where I’m coming from on this next statement. But it’s about time this racist, ageist, sexist, elitist, xenophobic, homophobic, nationalistic, militaristic, deluded, ignorant, intolerant, arrogant, old bastard lives the rest of his miserable life with a wife he deemed useless in a nation he deemed greedy, somewhere far away from policy makers.