Staff writer

He says no to the central government, no to what he calls a one-sided security alliance between Japan and the United States, and he promises to say no to “inept municipal bureaucrats and the politicians who follow them.”

The book “The Japan That Can Say No,” which he cowrote in 1989 with then Sony Corp. Chairman Akio Morita, did not become a best seller for being polite. “Yes or no, I say what I need to,” Shintaro Ishihara said before a large crowd gathered before the metropolitan government building on the opening day of his campaign for the April 11 Tokyo gubernatorial election.

If elected, he will face a near-bankrupt administration, high levels of air pollution and youth who he says exemplify “the collapse of essential morals and values.”

But neither the size nor number of the problems that beset the metropolis fazes Ishihara, who pledges to solve the bulk of Tokyo’s financial, environmental and educational problems in three years if elected. “It doesn’t take that much time if you have a decisive leader with imagination,” Ishihara, who is running as an independent, said during a recent news conference at Tokyo’s Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan.

Winner of the prestigious Akutagawa Prize for literature at age 23, a former transport minister and Lower House member, the 66-year-old brother of the late national screen icon Yujiro does not mince words when describing how he means to rescue Tokyo’s finances.

“The Finance Ministry is stupid,” Ishihara said, explaining why there is a 50 trillion yen junk bond market in the United States but none in Japan. Such a market could stimulate Tokyo’s economy and ultimately bring the whole nation out of recession, he says.

“The most advanced technology in the world is being starved of funds because no market exists in Japan to correctly evaluate Tokyo’s many, outstanding small and medium-size companies,” Ishihara lamented.

Volatile and high-risk junk bonds, which have a credit rating of BB or lower, will succeed in attracting risk-
oriented investors who specialize in their trading, he says. Launching a junk bond market in Tokyo will “bring U.S. money into Japan,” whereas now, “Japanese money is flowing into the United States, and is being used by Americans as they like.”

Statements like this have given Ishihara the label of anti-American, which he flatly denies. “America is my favorite foreign country,” he said.

He just finds it “pitiful” that “Japan is being dragged around by U.S. monetary strategy,” he said. “The profits from the sales of products made by Japanese ingenuity and technology are being channeled to America.”

Ishihara becomes especially eloquent when proposing the return of western Tokyo’s Yokota Air Base, one of the issues raised in his campaign pledge titled “To Revitalize Tokyo — A Tokyo That Can Say No.”

The world has changed since the Cold War, he says. “If elected as governor, I will ask the U.S. administration how it will act if Japanese territory (including the Senkaku Islands) is attacked,” Ishihara said. “If the U.S. means to do nothing, I say we do not need the security alliance, and we can look for other uses for the air base and its rarely used 4,000-meter runway.”

Some have voiced concern that if elected, Ishihara would serve to symbolize the strength of the anti-America movement in Japan. But it is precisely this style of open confrontation, whether directed at elite bureaucrats or the United States, that is thought to have given Ishihara a lead in the polls.

Formerly a key member of the Liberal Democratic Party, Ishihara is gathering support from voters both in and outside the LDP, further disrupting party unity, which was shaken by another ex-LDP member, Koji Kakizawa.

Kakizawa entered the race defying the LDP’s decision to field former U.N. Undersecretary General Yasushi Akashi. But it was not concern for any possible damage to the party that caused Ishihara to enter the race “only after much vacillation.”

“I am at my prime as a writer, and I am actually working on a romantic novel that is so sweet that I don’t want to finish it,” he said.

In April 1995, Ishihara quit the Lower House midterm, saying he had realized he could do nothing for the nation as long as he stayed in the Diet. But he finally decided to run because the other candidates were “unsatisfactory” and it was his “obligation” as a statesman and a man of “ideas and courage.”

“As Tokyo goes, so will Japan and the world,” he said during his speech on the opening day of his campaign. “If the situation is left as is, Tokyo will sink, along with the rest of the nation.”

The high number of candidates for the race, 19, makes it doubtful that Ishihara will be able to garner the 2.33 million votes he won in the 1975 gubernatorial election, when he lost out to incumbent Ryokichi Minobe’s 2.68 million.

But Ishihara remains confident. “Last time, I joined the fight prepared to lose. This time it’s different.”

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