Loved by his supporters for his fiery rhetoric — which often involves bashing the Tokyo-centric status quo, overpaid local bureaucrats, utility executives, teachers' unions or, indeed, anybody who disagrees with him — Hashimoto's critics charge that he's a dangerous rightwing demagogue seeking a fascist dictatorship, and a political amateur who will destroy the country.

Listening to his various comments, Japan's mainstream media, and some Tokyo-based foreign pundits, attempt to affix some generic political label to Hashimoto. Or, they dismiss his rise and that of his Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Restoration Party) as a joke, pointing to media polls showing that he enjoys very little support, especially in the Tokyo area.

But there are two fundamental mistakes Hashimoto's critics make. The first is to assume his words and ideas are merely his own or those of a tiny minority, and do not reflect the views of a growing number of voters who live in the "real" Japan — the one that exists beyond Tokyo's Yamanote Line. The second is to ignore the fact that Hashimoto's comments and policies sound like independent populism at times but are often supported, sometimes quietly, sometimes loudly, by powerful members of the economic and political status quo Hashimoto is seemingly bashing.