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Japanese Politicians and Business People

Ishihara Shintaro (1932- )
Ishihara Nobuteru The Ishihara brothers, Yujiro and Shintaro, made their very considerable mark on Japan in the middle of the last century. The younger Yujiro died in 1987 but still lives on as one of the country's biggest cultural icons (something like Japan's Elvis Presley). The elder Shintaro first achieved fame while still in university when his novel Seasons of the Sun (Taiyo no Kisetsu) won the Akutagawa Prize in 1955. When Yujiro made his cinematic debut in the hit movie version, it made big stars of both young brothers.

Shintaro's reputation grew after he entered the world of politics in 1965. He was often outspoken and critical even of members of his own party, the long-dominant Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). Like his brother, he was often referred to as a nationalist. The most famous example of Shintaro asking his fellow countrymen to stand up to the US was the 1989 book A Japan That Can Say No, co-authored with Sony chairman Morita Akio. He also angered Chinese leaders by making a statement that their claims about the Rape of Nanking were exaggerated or worse, fabricated, while also attacking their policies on Tibet. In another incident, an Ishihara aide was arrested for defacing posters of an opponent in Ishihara's electoral constituency in 1983 (Arai Shokei was a naturalized North Korean and the Ishihara office was accused of spreading rumors that he would act as a spy).

Ishihara's populism ensured that he rose through the political ranks, but his maverick style meant that he failed to establish any real power base. In particular, he failed to form his own faction in the LDP. His highest post was Minister of Transport in the 1980s. He dropped out of national politics in 1995, disenchanted with the lack of vision which was bringing the country to the brink of financial ruin. But he could not stay out of the limelight for long, and he ran for the post of Governor of Tokyo in 1999. In his campaign, among other things Ishihara called for the return of the US airbase at Yokoda, near Tokyo, for use as a civilian airport. This certainly appealed to many people due to Tokyo's reliance on the inconvenient Narita International Airport. His "Tokyo That Can Say No" slogan and attacks on his former party, by now suffering the effects of scandals and a prolonged economic slump, ensured him a landslide victory.

After his election, Ishihara continued to fan the flames of controversy, for example by including in an address to the security forces that they should be ready to defend the country against rioting foreigners in case of a major natural disaster. In particular, he used the term "sangokujin", literally people from a third country, but usually meant as a derogatory word for people from Japan's prewar colonies of Taiwan, China and Korea.

He doesn't apologize for what some critics call xenophobia. "I am a nationalist," he said. "I like sumo and I like kabuki, but I don't necessarily have ethnocentric ideas that everything Japanese is better. In the Japan-U.S. relationship, what I hate most is Japan. It can't speak up. It has no national strategy. Japan should design is own financial products that even Americans will want to buy. But when America says no, Japan just gives up."

Amazon Book Review (the book is currently out of print):

In The Japan That Can Say No, Ishihara outlines what Japan must do in order to be the mainspring of the new world order. Moreover, the author explains why Japan must use their technological lead to achieve a new consciousness if they are truly to become a mature society. Ishihara suggests that America should recognize that the modern era is at an end, that dedication to materialism, science, and progress has not lived up to expectations. Furthermore, the author details specific areas in which the U.S. needs improvement if it is to be competitive in the 21st century.

Japan has recently seen a surge in popularity for more outgoing, outspoken political figures such as Ishihara, former Nagano Governor Tanaka Yasuo, former Prime Minister Koizumi Junichiro and former Foreign Minister Tanaka Makiko. But there is a danger in that the generally politically uninformed Japanese populace tend to be swayed by the charisma of these figures and put the more questionable statements and decisions down to some kind of charming eccentricity. While Ishihara is unpopular among certain, specially foreign, groups, he has often said that his statements are used provoke a reaction among an apathetic public and should not always be taken too seriously.

Shinginko Tokyo bank, widely regarded as a pet project of Ishihara's, started operation in April 2005, with the metropolitan government investing about 100 billion. It embodied Ishihara's idea of supporting small and medium-size companies struggling after the credit crunch following the collapse of the bubble economy. The bank was set up to lend up to ¥50 million over a maximum five years without collateral or guarantors, and it was this kind of laxity that led to problems. Within three years, the bank had amassed a huge deficit of defaulted loans and required ¥40 billion of public funds. Many blamed Ishihara's "top-down" management style, and after heated debates in the assembly he finally apologized. But he got the cash injection.

In 2006, Ishihara led Tokyo's bid to stage the 2016 summer Olympics. The capital beat out Fukuoka to represent Japan and Ishihara vowed to stay on for a third term as governor in order to realize his dream of bringing the games to Tokyo for the first time since 1964. Criticism of the bid as being "for the rich and by the rich" by a Japan-born Korean drew disdain and predictably racist comments from Ishihara. In 2007 he won a third term against a field of what were considered strong candidates, but which were beaten by a margin of well over a million votes.

Ishihara's two sons have also become famous in the last few years. The elder, Nobuteru is a leading LDP politician. The younger, Yoshizumi is a TV presenter.


Links Top

TIME magazine cover article (April 2000): Rabble Rouser

A full translation of A Japan That Can Say No

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