Ishihara

I attended a press conference of former Tokyo governor Shintaro Ishihara yesterday at a packed meeting of the Foreign Correspondents Club of Japan. Ishihara, giving his personal views, is President of the Japan Restoration Party.

He opened his comments referring to people dubbing him a “reckless, out-of-control old man” and seemed proud of it.

He described Japan as the Titanic and indicated that his decision to resign as mayor of Tokyo was influenced to help prevent its sinking.

On his joining forces with Toru Hashimoto, Ishihara stated that there were diverse opinions within the merged political party, but that all members agreed on 3 planks:

—    to create a stronger Japan, economically, diplomatically, militarily

—    to get rid of feudalistic control by bureaucrats who hinder, not help, Japan’s growth

—    to revitalize Japan’s economy, emphasizing the strength of small and medium enterprise (SME)

Often Ishihara contrasted out-of-date practices in national government with changes he has made in the municipal government of Tokyo. He spoke at length of the old-style national government practice of single-entry accounting, which did not allow the government to prepare a balance sheet as do companies, indicating that this accounting practice was used today in North Korea, Papua New Guinea, and the Philippines. Professionals have criticized single-entry accounting as lacking accountability and efficient management reporting. Ishihara instituted double-entry accounting in Tokyo and said the city of Osaka also adopted it, and Niigata is considering it.

To celebrate the success of SME entrepreneurship, Ishihara mentioned that as mayor of Tokyo he had set up 10 awards a year for success cases, and praised Japanese strength in technology, referencing several examples.

Ishihara dismissed an account that he had met with Prime Minister Noda to advise that Japan might consider military action with China over the islands spat, indicating that all he mentioned was the possibility of putting a lighthouse on the Senkaku Islands or a docking facility for commercial vessels.

Asked about his differences with Hashimoto regarding nuclear energy, Ishihara indicated that the use of nuclear energy is not a black and white issue and that he advocates preparation of a long-term (10 year) government projection of the nation’s energy demands and sources to reach a rational conclusion about the need to resume nuclear power generation.

On military defense, Ishihara favored an increase in the national self-defense budget and argued that Japan should at least plan the making of nuclear armaments, citing that N. Korea, Russia, and China have nukes and all have been hostile towards Japan. He suggested that military strength = deterrence = diplomatic strength.

On free trade, he said he was for it but not entirely, mentioning staunch opposition to the import of genetically modified food without warning stickers, as proposed by the U.S.

Ishihara is sometimes peevish and almost always provocative. Watching him field questions from the journalists present is like watching a cockfight in old Havana, or from the reporter’s standpoint, like tapping a cantankerous pit bull on the head.

If the New Restoration Party can field a sufficient number of candidates across Japan in time for the general election on December 16, my prediction is that the new party will pick up more representatives in the Diet than most people expect. The challenge of Hashimoto then will be to mute or subdue some of Ishihara’s more radical positions.

All the best,

Warren J. Devalier