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‘Warring States’ turmoil alive and well

by Eric Johnston

Staff Writer

Japanese historians date the Warring States Period roughly from the middle of the 15th century to the beginning of the 17th century. But when it comes to Kansai politics, modern observers could be forgiven for thinking the ancient feuds and jealous rivalries of the regional lords are not yet over.

That’s because the daimyo of Osaka Castle (i.e. Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto) is attempting to lead the region’s most prosperous city on a quest to unify the surrounding fiefdoms (Hyogo, Kyoto, Wakayama, Shiga, Tokushima, and Tottori prefectures) under a single banner (a Kansai regional block system) so as to challenge the dominant samurai and mandarins far to the east in what was once mosquito-infested swampland but is now the capital city of Edo (Tokyo).

Unfortunately for Hashimoto, his attempts are being thwarted as rivals plot against him. Not in Edo Castle, where the courtiers must be looking upon Kansai politics with a combination of amusement and, possibly, disbelief, but in nearby Hyogo.

Hyogo Gov. Toshizo Ido, a Hashimoto critic, is the nominal head of the Union of Kansai Governments, which, in theory, supports a regional block system. But he’s made it clear he does not favor a more powerful Osaka at the expense of Hyogo.

On the other hand, Kyoto Gov. Keiji Yamada appears to be a Hashimoto fan. But for many in cultured, refined Kyoto, Osaka is town of coarse merchants best avoided, so there are limits on how much cooperation will be offered to Osaka.

Meanwhile, Nara Gov. Shogo Arai prefers neutrality, keeping his prefecture out of the union and saying there is no benefit to his rural prefecture in competing with urban Osaka. Other governors are more supportive, but that’s because they lack major cities vying with Osaka for power and prominence.

Historically, Kansai’s prefectures have fought among themselves for state funding, resulting in massive duplicity. Should Kansai airport be built in Osaka Prefecture? It eventually was. Kobe in Hyogo then followed by pursuing its own airport. From tourism promotion to public works projects, if one gets money from Tokyo, you can bet the others will ask for the same.

A “republic of Kansai” is supposed to end the Kansai Warring States Period. But given that Hashimoto can’t even reorganize his own city, it will likely be a long while before some historian writes the saga’s final chapter.