Hiroshi Nakada shocked the nation in March when, at the age of 37, he was elected as the mayor of Yokohama, beating 72-year-old Hidenobu Takahide. Takahide, who died in August, ran the city for 12 years and was backed in the election by the ruling coalition and the opposition Social Democratic Party.
After graduating in economics from Aoyama Gakuin University in Tokyo in 1989, Nakada entered the city’s elite Matsushita Seikei Juku (Matsushita Institute of Government and Management), a Chigasaki, Kanagawa Prefecture-based private institution established to nurture future political leaders. He graduated from there in 1992, and the following year he was elected to the House of Representatives.
Until entering the mayoral race, Nakada remained a Diet member. First, he was with the now-defunct Japan New Party; then from 1994 with Shinshinto (New Frontier Party) until it dissolved in late 1997. Then, he was an Independent member in a parliamentary group with the Democratic Party of Japan — but the DPJ kicked him out when he voted for Junichiro Koizumi to be prime minister in April 2001, and not the DPJ’s leader, Yukio Hatoyama.
Since he took office as the country’s youngest-ever city leader, Nakada’s policies have attracted much public attention — especially his stance on the resident registry network introduced in August to link basic residency registries across Japan by encoding personal information (including name, address, date of birth and gender) under an 11-digit individual number. Although the government claims the system will make it easier for people to obtain official documents, there are widespread concerns about the network’s security.
In light of these concerns, Nakata allowed Yokohama residents to elect not to have their personal data registered with the network — an option chosen by some 840,000 individuals, representing 24 percent of Yokohama residents.
On Oct. 16, the Public Management, Home Affairs, Posts and Telecommunications Ministry decided to accept Yokohama city’s partial participation in the nationwide system, thereby retracting its earlier contention that this was illegal.
Why did you decide to run in the Yokohama mayoral election?
Even on New Year’s Day this year, I hadn’t the slightest idea of becoming a mayor. But some of my supporters urged me to run, saying that a young blood like myself should take office.
I wavered because I had responsibilities as a Diet member. As a lawmaker, my goal was to vitalize the nation and society. But I thought that Yokohama, the biggest municipality in Japan, might be the perfect place to carry out what I had been wanting to do as a Diet member.
So now, do you want to change the nation from the level of local government upward?
Yes. I would like to change the structure of Japanese society, in which bureaucrats try to control the public, and the public is blindly dependent on the government. Yokohama has the potential to make such changes. In addition to the citizens’ high level of political awareness, the scale of the city is an effective element as well. Sometimes, it is more effective to take action at the local level.
What differences are there between being a Diet member and a mayor?
As a mayor, I have the authority to implement the policies I draw up for Yokohama. In the case of national-level politics, however, even if lawmakers debate on welfare or education, the central government does not directly carry out the policies. Lawmakers sometimes end up engaging in empty discussions and repeating themselves.
As a Diet member, were you irritated that things did not change easily?
Yes, I was. It is necessary to continue pursuing the things you believe are important. I did not become a mayor because I thought I could no longer make a difference as a lawmaker. But, yes, I did feel impatient.
Regarding the national registry network, why did you decide to make registration voluntary for Yokohama residents?
The law stipulates that the city send this information to the network. As the head of the municipality, I must abide by the law. However, the central government is telling us to join a system full of holes. According to the Basic Resident Registration Law, municipal governments are responsible for residents’ information — but I cannot assure the safety and confidentiality of that information.
Yokohama cannot take responsibility as we don’t have the right to investigate [when problems involving the network occur]. That is why I asked Yokohama residents to raise their hands if they did not wish to send their information to the network. Yokohama will protect such people.
How did you regard the fact that about 840,000 residents declined to have their personal information registered on the network?
I felt that the political awareness of the residents is high. But I would not comment on the issue because I was determined to speak out against what I believed was wrong, despite the outcome.
Now, is it the case that the ministry decided to accept an edited version of Yokohama residents’ personal information?
The government has said that Yokohama’s move is illegal. But it is the ministry that is making an unlawful move as it has failed to take sufficient measures to protect personal data.
If legislation to protect individual information were enacted, would you then list all personal data on the registry?
I will have to send information to the network if the government clears all the hurdles Yokohama proposed. For instance, local governments should be able to demand that central government launch investigations and disclose records of network access when unlawful efforts to hack the system are detected. The government has to assert that it is fully responsible for the system. So far, the ministry is saying that the nation, prefecture and municipality all share responsibility — which means nobody will be accountable. There are still many things to be sorted out.
Do you think the package of bills on personal-data protection being deliberated in the current extraordinary Diet session will really protect individual information?
No. The legislation will merely be a starting point to protect those who did not reject their information being sent to the network. But those who did so will not be listed until other hurdles are cleared.
When would Yokohama be able to list all personal data on the network?
I have no idea. The home affairs ministry pressed me to give a specific date on when the city can send the partial data. I told them I will answer that question if they tell me when the personal-data protection legislation will be enacted.
What do you think is most unique about Yokohama?
Yokohama carries the image of being a pioneer, attracting many people from throughout the nation. Many foreign products were imported to Japan via Yokohama — including ice cream and beer. They were all venture businesses at the time. People would come to Yokohama feeling they could make a fortune here. The population has hit a record 3.5 million [as of Oct. 28]. But the population will peak around 2008 and is expected to decline from then on. I am determined to steer the city so that it will continue to prosper despite the population decrease.
Do you intend to make Yokohama a role model for other municipalities?
Yes. The fact that the people of Yokohama elected a young mayor like myself demonstrates such a way of thinking. This sense of being a pioneer dwells in myself and in the minds of city officials.
Yokohama is currently launching an experiment in which the government and nonprofit organizations jointly take part in public services, such as nursing care and maintaining parks and playgrounds. Although Yokohama is taking the lead, I am sure the movement will spread nationwide.
Why did you decide to fully disclose your social expenses as mayor?
If you want the people to cooperate, you have to share information with them. Anyone can see how the mayor’s social expenses are used if he or she accesses the city’s home page on the Internet. It is the most transparent system in Japan. But it was just a start toward showing my determination to maximize information disclosure. Next, I disclosed the balance of municipal debt.
Yokohama was also the first city to make public the market price of real estate owned by its Municipal Land Development Public Corporation, and to offer a projection of the city budget for the next five years.
Which place do you like best in Yokohama?
I like Chinatown because it symbolizes Yokohama. The look of the stores and houses on the streets is exotic, giving you the feeling that you are somewhere outside Japan. It represents Yokohama as a city in which people of different nationalities live together.