MAVERICK OR MASCOT?

Ishihara’s new right-hand man settles in

by Jun Hongo

All eyes were on Naoki Inose as his new career as a politician got into full swing Wednesday with the opening of the first session of the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly.

In June, the award-winning nonfiction writer became the first person in 58 years without bureaucratic or political experience to take up the position of Tokyo vice governor.

Despite the pressure he will face in the post, the key is whether Inose “can remain himself,” one predecessor said.

“It has been claimed that Mr. Inose was appointed because of his close connection with the central government, but I believe that is not what everyone expects of him. It is his diverse vision that is being sought,” said Yasushi Aoyama, who served as a vice governor during Gov. Shintaro Ishihara’s first term.

“Inose should not compromise his ideals, even if it causes friction within the metropolitan government,” the former metropolitan bureaucrat told The Japan Times.

Upon naming Inose his right-hand man in June, Ishihara, who was re-elected to a third term in April, told reporters that Inose “is an influential voice against the central government and has an understanding of the issues between the metropolitan and national governments.”

Inose himself said he is ready to “change the central government starting with Tokyo” — echoing Ishihara’s pet phrase — suggesting that the nation’s capital is “more mobile” in comparison with the central bureaucracy and therefore capable of bold reforms.

One of four vice governors under Ishihara — the other three are all career metropolitan bureaucrats — the Nagano Prefecture native is the only one specifically tasked with “attending to special matters ordered by the governor.”

But differences over some policies quickly emerged between the 60-year-old Inose and the governor, raising questions over the pair’s ability to run the metropolitan administration.

Inose gained recognition as a member of the central government’s panel on privatization of the four quasi-governmental highway operators in 2002.

As a well-known advocate of decentralization, Inose also serves as a member of the central government’s Council for Decentralization Reform. He has proposed tax plans that would divert a portion of Tokyo’s corporate tax revenue to rural prefectures to rectify the income gap.

Ishihara, on the other hand, has unyieldingly opposed ideas touted by ruling Liberal Democratic Party lawmakers that allow citizens to divert a part of their residential tax to their hometowns — a plan called “furusato nozei,” or hometown tax payment.

Former Vice Gov. Aoyama, now a professor at Meiji University’s Graduate School of Governance Studies in Tokyo, hopes that Inose’s presence will improve Tokyo’s decision-making process.

Aoyama said it wasn’t unusual for him and Ishihara to disagree during his stint, in which he was in charge of such issues as financial affairs and disaster prevention. But he claimed that the governor, widely known as a hawk, “is a man who likes to debate and exchange opinions, and is open to revising ideas once he is convinced.”

A case in point arose earlier this month, when Inose persuaded Ishihara to oppose construction of a new housing complex for House of Councilors members in Chiyoda Ward. The vice governor had been vocal in his opposition to the ¥3.8 billion project, claiming that it had no public benefit.

The proposed site was within a “scenic zone,” which requires authorization from the governor to construct any buildings within the area. Although the regulation does not apply to projects of high public importance managed by the central government, Ishihara changed his position after a visit to the proposed construction site and announced that he was against the project, which has since been reviewed by the Upper House secretariat.

“Any argument that ultimately leads to better output from the metropolitan government is always welcome,” Aoyama said.

But not everyone is so enamored of the arrangement. Shohei Komiya, executive director of the Institute of Politics and Economy in Tokyo and author of the book “Ishihara Tosei no Kensho” (“Assessment of Ishihara’s governance in Tokyo”), published in July, dismissed Inose as “merely an additional cast member in Ishihara’s performance.”

“The pair’s joint decision to reject construction of Upper House members’ housing in Tokyo symbolizes the governor’s intentions in teaming with Inose,” Komiya said, arguing that the media attention brought by Inose’s appointment has helped reinforce Ishihara’s image as an uncompromising politician who defies the central government.

Komiya said that Inose, whose unconventional proposals include round-the-clock operation of the JR Yamanote Line, will become the mascot for Ishihara and the metropolitan government’s “vitality.”

“Inose’s appointment is not intended to improve the metropolitan government, but an effort to cast it as a positive, admirable administration,” Komiya said. “Any difference of opinion between the two is premeditated and under Ishihara’s control.”

Hidenori Hasegawa, a former member of the metropolitan assembly and a member of opposition group Tosei-o Kakushinsuru Kai (Group to reform Tokyo’s politics), said Inose is “overrated” as a policymaker.

He charges that Inose — in his push for privatization of inefficient central government operations — has overlooked the negative aspects of such reforms, including the loss of jobs incurred by workers in the public sector.

He also said the recent scandal involving nursing-care provider Comsn Inc., which is having its license revoked for fraudulent activities, is further proof of the risk of opening up certain sectors to private competition.

Despite all these misgivings, former Vice Gov. Aoyama believes Inose should remain vocal about his ideas. “That is the primary reason why a vice governor was chosen from the private sector in the first place.”