Just how little influential political or intellectual opposition in Japan is there to fundamentally conservative politics and economic theories touting the wisdom of the corporate mentality? Well consider this: Toru Hashimoto, the mayor of Osaka and co-founder of Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Restoration Party), may soon start to look like a rational moderate.
Yet that’s the Alice in Wonderland world we’re in, following Nippon Ishin’s split between Hashimoto and 37 of his mostly Osaka, mostly younger followers, and Shintaro Ishihara and the 23 mostly Old Men of Tokyo (at least at the top), who are by and large conservative or ultraright-wing in their views and supported by the more extreme elements of Japan’s electorate.
After the split, “rational” was the word Hashimoto used several times to describe the character of his Osaka supporters. They are, he suggested, men and women more interested in practical issues than in refighting World War II or nursing a grudge over the U.S.-led Occupation.
When it comes to China and South Korea, there’s something of an attitude in the Hashimoto camp of “business is business and politics are politics,” and the two can, and should be, separated (although they erred badly in assuming their Asian “friends” would feel the same way about Hashimoto’s “comfort women” remarks last year).
As a politician, Hashimoto has visited China and South Korea (but hasn’t yet set foot in the continental U.S.) and was impressed by the energy — and comparative youthfulness — of local government and business leaders, how “rational” they appeared, and how Osaka needed some of their “pragmatic” leadership.
Of course, the rationale behind Hashimoto’s use of the word rational is political and ideological. His economic advisers tend to admire the political-economic policies of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher. The mostly older male corporate leaders and academics were studious young men during the 1980s, when such theories were in vogue. They learned their lessons well, even if most have learned little since.
But the new version of Hashimoto and Nippon Ishin is drawing interest both inside and outside of Osaka. The Democratic Party of Japan’s Seiji Maehara, the darling of U.S.-Japan think tank experts and a China hawk, appears interested in a political alliance with Hashimoto. Maehara, from neighboring Kyoto, enjoys the support of many businesses there involved in renewable energy, a key Hashimoto goal.
Since Hashimoto’s Nippon Ishin already plans to merge with Yui no To, which will add 14 members, an agreement with Maehara and his roughly 20 followers to merge or cooperate in the Diet would turn it into a powerful opposition party. If, as some in Osaka predict, the DPJ’s Goshi Hosono and his 15 followers also decide to tie up with Hashimoto, the Osaka mayor would again be one of Japan’s most influential politicians.
However, the break with Ishihara and the political chattering about how many Diet allies Hashimoto will wind up with obscures a vital fact: Locally, he and his Osaka-based group Osaka Ishin no Kai (One Osaka) are in deep trouble. The plan to administratively merge the city of Osaka with the prefecture is all but dead due to opposition in both assemblies from New Komeito and the LDP. Osaka Ishin’s members are now nervously eyeing their prospects in the local elections scheduled for spring 2015, wondering if they’ll be voted out of office.
So while many in Osaka are happy that Hashimoto ditched Ishihara and continue to back him during his attempt to recast himself as a rational opposition leader in the Diet, a growing number in Osaka are wondering if Hashimoto’s claim of rationality isn’t — politically at least — irrational.
View from Osaka is a monthly column that examines the latest news from a Kansai perspective.