Top Osaka candidates target education, debt, Kansai airport


OSAKA — The three main candidates in the race for the Jan. 27 Osaka gubernatorial election, which officially kicked off Thursday, have different positions on various policy issues, particularly on education, financial reform and the future of Kansai airport.

On education, Toru Hashimoto, a 38-year-old lawyer and TV celebrity backed by the Osaka chapters of the Liberal Democratic Party and its coalition partner, New Komeito, favors emphasizing interpersonal relationships between students and teachers, and the importance of respecting group norms. He supports specialized education for students interested in sports or the arts, and indicated he favors establishing classes for academically gifted students.

Sadatoshi Kumagai, 63, a former Osaka University engineering professor with the backing of the Democratic Party of Japan and other opposition parties, has a “back to basics” approach to education, with an emphasis on making reading, writing and arithmetic more interesting and pleasurable. He believes this is needed to create a future workforce capable of supporting Japanese society. Kumagai favors more cooperation between schools and the business community.

Shoji Umeda, a local attorney recommended by the Japanese Communist Party, opposes privatization of schools or bringing in managers from the private sector to run them. He feels too much media and political fuss is being made over the central government report on Osaka students’ worsening academic performance. He proposes that class sizes be limited to 35 students, that the integration of high schools, which is causing class sizes to swell, be stopped, and that the number of day-care centers be increased.

On Osaka’s massive debt, Hashimoto favors selling off to private industry and towns and villages those prefectural projects that are in the red. He has pledged to cut the salaries and bonuses of prefectural employees and review the entire structure of third-sector funding.

Kumagai would cut the number of bureaucrats by 20 percent over the next two years. He vows to introduce a more efficient management system and to consult with the business community on ways to cut costs. He has promised to leave a social safety net for the elderly and children.

Umeda says the prefecture is in deep trouble because corporate taxes were cut too much, too much money has been spent on wasteful public works projects and there is unnecessary financing for “dowa” assimilation projects for the “buraku” (former outcast class) community. He would raise taxes on small and medium-size businesses, and seek state support while making prefectural finances more transparent.

As for Kansai airport, Hashimoto wants to move all flights connecting Itami airport with Tokyo and Fukuoka to Kansai airport, although he admits this would be politically difficult. He wants more Kansai flights to Europe and North America. He has proposed reducing highway tolls for freight firms using the airport.

Kumagai agrees with Kansai Economic Federation plans to make the entire Osaka and Kobe bay area, including the airport, into a vast, global cargo hub. Umeda says he would conduct a review of airport-related projects and take a look at current airport usage and projected demand, and, after consulting voters, adopt a more “realistic” view of what airport projects the prefecture should fund.