Staff writer The harried city official sighs as he looks at a poster designed to promote the Year 2000 countdown celebrations in Tokyo’s Odaiba district. “He didn’t like it,” the Port and Harbor Bureau official says, bewildered. “He said we should think it out more, be more creative.” A little while later he was back with a new poster, in which the lines of the laser beams cross each other — instead of merely going straight up and down — and with minute alterations to the countdown numbers and the city’s symbols. Fearful of the reaction, the official submitted the new design to the governor’s office. To his relief, it was accepted. “I never thought he would say anything about a poster,” he said. Eight months into his term as Tokyo governor, Shintaro Ishihara has said “no” to diesel engines, the U.S. Yokota Air Base, relocation of the capital’s functions and to parents who do not raise their children properly. But his most telling — and immediately effective — rebuffs have been directed at city officials. When it comes to the majority of Tokyo’s financial, environmental and economic problems, change is hard to effect, Ishihara admits. Notwithstanding his campaign boast that a decisive leader with imagination would be able to solve the bulk of Tokyo’s problems within three years, Ishihara said that with the exception of some of the city’s health problems, most are going to take longer. “It’s because they involve the central government,” Ishihara said during an interview with The Japan Times. “It’s much too sluggish.” City officials, however, are finding it hard to ignore the governor’s anger. Recently, Ishihara chastised officials for not showing him a copy of a poster in which he poses with a deep frown and a thumbs-down to show exactly what he thinks of the government’s proposed plan to relocate most of the functions of Tokyo to a new capital. “I just found out about them today, after the posters have already gone up,” Ishihara growled to reporters, his public relations officials cringing in the background. “We move too slowly around here.” It is just the kind of public criticism that bureaucrats instinctively fear the most. “The scary thing about the governor is that when he sees a problem or remembers something, it’s all very sudden,” said a top Bureau of Policy and Information official who coordinates meetings between the press and the governor. “The range of things the governor pays attention to is incredible,” observed another official. In recent months, Ishihara’s wrath has descended on the city’s mail delivery system and the naming of a city subway line. And he usually manages to get his own way — as demonstrated by his refusal to listen to city officials’ repeated pleas that he live in the governor’s official residence. His predecessors did not always win their battles with bureaucracy. Not all officials are intimidated, however. A number have even found themselves inspired by their new leader. One of the most significant steps Ishihara has taken since being elected governor was to break with custom by choosing Yasushi Aoyama, who had yet to head a bureau, as one of the city’s vice governors. “That sends the message that you don’t have to wait to move up if you can do the job,” said a director of the Policy Coordination Division. But while officials insist they are working harder, Ishihara remains skeptical. “It’s easy to say there have been changes, but I’ll believe it when I see results,” he said.

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.