Ishihara too sick to attend Nippon Ishin’s first convention


Staff Writer

Shintaro Ishihara, coleader of Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Restoration Party), will miss its first-ever convention this weekend due to ill health, a party official confirmed Friday.

Nippon Ishin Secretary General Ichiro Matsui, who doubles as Osaka governor, told reporters that Ishihara will not attend the party’s convention in Osaka on Saturday because he has not fully recovered after being hospitalized last month.

The hawkish Ishihara, 80, had been hoping to participate right up to the last minute, according to Matsui. Instead, the former Tokyo governor will send a video message to the convention and hold discussions via videophone with Nippon Ishin cohead and Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto.

Ishihara’s deteriorating health has come under the spotlight since his hospitalization Feb. 27, spurring wide speculation that he might step down and end his political career.

Some news accounts initially reported that he was suffering from a worsening cold, but the weekly magazine Shukan Shincho on Thursday reported that former Democratic Party of Japan Prime Minister Naoto Kan had said that Ishihara experienced a stroke. Nippon Ishin declined comment on the details of Ishihara’s condition.

It is also unclear whether Ishihara has been discharged from the hospital yet, although his son, Liberal Democratic Party lawmaker Hirotaka Ishihara, reportedly said he was sent home Wednesday.

Ishihara also underwent cataract surgery in January, soon after winning a seat in the Lower House election in December.

A subsequent 100-minute rant during a question-and-answer session in the Diet in February reaffirmed that his dogmatic and rightist rhetoric was very much alive, as he repeatedly used the word “Shina” — a derogatory Japanese term to refer to China.

His well-being could be critical for Hashimoto at a time when Nippon Ishin is embroiled in an internal feud between the Osaka mayor and the party’s Diet members’ group, led by former Tachiagare Hippon head Takeo Hiranuma.

Hashimoto merged his Osaka-based party with a fleeting national political group set up by Ishihara ahead of the Dec. 16 general election in an attempt to take on the major ruling and opposition parties.

Opinion polls show that Nippon Ishin’s support ratings are currently sagging, partly because its right-leaning platform is similar to that of the Liberal Democratic Party and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, whose Cabinet has enjoyed sky-high approval ratings since returning to power just before the end of last year.