Ishihara Shintaro (1932- )
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."
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
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.