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Hashimoto: A man with a plan, or dictator with an agenda?


Thirty years ago, while a program director at NHK, Nobuo Ikeda oversaw a panel discussion on the merits of adopting a federated political system. Among the panelists were several influential politicians, including Morihiro Hosokawa, then-governor of Kumamoto Prefecture and later prime minister, and Takahiro Yokomichi, then-governor of Hokkaido and presently a member of the House of Representatives.

“Everybody was in favor of such a system,” Ikeda recalls to Shukan Bunshun (May 17). “But up to now, that debate has not progressed at all. Blame it on the bureaucrats in Kasumigaseki.”

Voter frustration over Japan’s political inertia is by no means new. At times when it boils over, it’s become common for the media to fantasize about the emergence of a dynamic new individual who, they hope, will clear out the dead wood and set the nation on a new course.

The influential monthly Bungei Shunju (June) is one of three magazines appearing in the past month — along with Shukan Gendai and Sapio — that have published fanciful scenarios of how Japan would change with Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto as prime minister. These are bold predictions indeed for the mayor of a city whose reformist organization, the Osaka Ishin no Kai, has yet to command a single vote in the national Diet.

Just six months ago, Hashimoto, an attorney and TV personality who is only 42 years old, resigned as governor of Osaka Prefecture to run for mayor, winning decisively with the heaviest voter turnout (60.92 percent) in 40 years.

None of the reforms that Hashimoto and his backers advocate, spelled out in an eight-part manifesto, appear especially radical on the surface. They call for, among other things, changes in the Constitution to enable revision by a simple majority vote, popular election of the prime minister and abolition of the Diet’s House of Councillors.

Asking “Toru Hashimoto — why now?” author and Tokyo vice governor Naoki Inose remarks in Shukan Gendai (June 9) that he first wants to see what Hashimoto can accomplish in four years as Osaka’s mayor.

“Even though recently there’s been growing talk about Hashimoto becoming prime minister, since it’s going to take several years to clean up Osaka, I suppose he’ll finish his tenure first,” Inose writes. “If he can bring about a merger of the prefecture and the city, that achievement will bode better for his future.”

Monthly magazine Takarajima (June), which appears to lean toward the anti-Hashimoto camp, describes some of the daunting problems facing Osaka’s administrators, including dioxin pollution (Nose town); illegal bicycle parking; a district with a large population of welfare recipients (Nishinari Ward); merging of Itami and Kansai International airport operations (Izumisano City); public safety (Makikata City); privatization of the Osaka municipal subway; the failed plan to relocate the prefectural headquarters (Suminoe Ward); and halted construction on the Makiogawa dam project (Izumi City). The potential electric power crunch this summer will also test the city severely.

Of course, any contemporary political figure who garners the media’s attention these days is almost certain to invite the inevitable analogies to Hitler or Nazism. Just for fun, we’ll give you two.

In Bungei Shunju, University of Tokyo political science professor Kang San Jung, a Japan-born Korean, raises concerns about direct election of the prime minister and the consequences it would entail, as occurred in Germany in 1933.

“I can fully understand why the inability of Japan’s present party politics to make important decisions causes Japanese feel a sense of crisis,” Kang writes. “But to overcome this crisis, I can’t go along with the thinking it could be resolved by delegating a person with the authority to make all the decisions. Rather, isn’t what Japan needs now politics with the persuasive ability to gain the trust of the public, and leaders who can walk a half-step ahead of the citizens?”

The Yukan Fuji (May 18) enlisted Tatsuya Kawakami, an expert on speech analysis and author of the recently published “Dokusaisha no Saikyo Supiichi-jutsu” (“The Strongest Speaking Techniques of Dictators,” Kodansha), who pointed out three elements of Hashimoto’s public speaking style that he claims may resemble those of the Austrian-born dictator. The first, he says, is “boldness in the use of pejoratives.” Second is Hashimoto’s skill in forging rapport with his audience by identifying common enemies. And third is his mastery in attracting support by repeating short, easily comprehensible slogans underscoring a goal, such as his vision for “One Osaka!” Which, Kawakami says, evokes comparisons with the slogan promising arbeit und brot! (“work and bread!”) used by Hitler to appeal to German voters.

After pinning hopes on so many candidates who let them down, the public’s sense of dissatisfaction appears to be running deep, which may explain why so many now believe Hashimoto is the only figure on the horizon with the determination to shake the nation’s politics out of its torpor. In the first installment of a six-part series still ongoing as of this week, Shukan Gendai (May 5-12) went so far as to assert, “Even if, with the birth of a Hashimoto-led government, nothing changes, then maybe nothing in Japan is ever going to change.”