Ishihara leaves office with sights on Diet seat


Staff Writer

Shintaro Ishihara officially stepped down Wednesday as governor of Tokyo after the metropolitan assembly accepted his letter of resignation and ended his 13½ years in the office.

Vice Gov. Naoki Inose will take over as acting governor starting Thursday. The campaign to find Ishihara’s replacement will start Nov. 29 and the election will be held Dec. 16.

Ishihara, 80, is expected to launch a new political party along with members of Tachiagare Nippon (Sunrise Party of Japan).

A former Lower House member of the Liberal Democratic Party, Ishihara said he will return to national politics by running for the Diet in the next general election.

With his blunt speaking style and leadership, Ishihara won the Tokyo gubernatorial race four times starting in 1999.

A prize-winning novelist who authored a number of best-sellers, his tough stances against the power of the central government made him highly popular with Tokyo residents.

He drew praise from the public, for example, when he tried to impose an additional tax on major banks based in Tokyo and slapped stricter regulations on diesel engine emissions in the capital, which he said has long been neglected by the bureaucrat-controlled central government.

But Ishihara is also widely known both at home and abroad for contentious remarks, if not being verbally abusive, paying little attention to political correctness over a number of sensitive issues, such as those involving foreigners, the elderly and diplomatic issues.

Shortly after the March 11 quake-tsunami disaster devastated the Tohoku region in March last year, Ishihara drew flak by saying the natural calamities were “divine punishment” because of egotism among the Japanese people.

“Japanese politics is tainted with egotism and populism. We need to use the tsunami to wipe out egotism, which has rusted onto the mentality of Japanese over a long period of time,” Ishihara said March 14, 2011. “I think (the disaster) is ‘tembatsu’ (divine punishment), although I feel sorry for disaster victims.”

Facing strong criticism, he later apologized for the remark.

In 1975, when he was 42 and running for Tokyo governor for the first time, he criticized then-Gov. Ryokichi Minobe, 71, for being too old.

According to media reports at the time, Ishihara said it was no longer a time for old people with “degenerate frontal lobes” to take political leadership roles.

Ishihara lost the election.

In 2007, when he was seeking a third term as governor, Ishihara, then 75, was asked about this remark on Minobe in an interview with the Tokyo Shimbun. Ishihara responded that his frontal lobe was fine because he writes novels, the newspaper reported.

Known as a nationalist, Ishihara’s comments have frequently upset non-Japanese.

He has often drawn scorn for disparaging Chinese, and has also gone on verbal assaults against gays, lesbians and Africans, to name a few targets.

More recently, at a news conference in Washington in April, Ishihara announced with provocative remarks his intention to buy three of the five islets in the Japan-controlled Senkaku chain in the East China Sea. The move set off a firestorm of criticism from China and Taiwan, which each claim the islets as their territory.

Ishihara’s move eventually prompted the central government to nationalize the islets in September, which triggered large anti-Japan protests across China.

In 2000, Ishihara used the term “sangokujin” in a speech during a ceremony involving the Ground Self-Defense Force. The term, which literally means “citizens of third countries,” is widely considered derogatory. Ishihara stated that sangokujin who illegally enter Japan have repeatedly committed “heinous crimes” and could cause “civil disorder” in the event of a major natural disaster.

The term was used after World War II to refer to citizens of the former Japanese colonies of Korea and Taiwan.

Ishihara has also denied that the Imperial Japanese Army carried out the Nanjing Massacre in China in 1937.

Commenting on issues regarding “comfort women,” Ishihara has claimed that the military didn’t force any women or girls to provide sex to Japanese troops.

During a news conference Aug. 24, Ishihara claimed that poor women at that time were willing to choose “that occupation” because “prostitution was a very profitable business,” according to a transcript posted on the website of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government.

Information from Kyodo added