Wasteful bureaucratic spending. Local politicians who smell money as they make Olympics-related plans. An assembly dominated by a clique of good ol’ boys in the Liberal Democratic Party who run local government as their fiefdom. All challenged by a hawkish outsider of a governor who is media-savvy and enjoys the accolades of the local foreign business community, but is criticized as disloyal and untrustworthy by political opponents.
Media reporting and commentary on the continuing scandal over the move of the Tsukiji Fish Market, and the battles newly elected Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike is facing over bureaucratic waste and with LDP members in the metropolitan assembly — for Osakans this must feel like “deja vu all over again,” as Yogi Berra might say.
In 2008, Toru Hashimoto became governor in Osaka, promising sweeping reform for a local government that had been plagued by decades of fiscal mismanagement and corrupt public works projects, both of which became very noticeable during the city’s failed bid for the 2008 Olympics. He faced-off against a hostile local LDP and local bureaucracy, even as the local foreign and Kansai business communities cheered him on.
The idea of an outside politician battling against municipal greed, corruption, and incompetent management is exactly why Koike has a fair amount of support among many in Osaka. Even as they think “been there, done that and bought the T-shirt,” everyone watches “The Battle of Edo Castle” on the nightly news, starring Koike as the outsider who is loved by the villagers, with the bureaucrats playing the part of the greedy samurai and certain LDP leaders starring as the corrupt rival warlords.
At the same time, nobody in Osaka is ready to state Koike is Tokyo’s version of Hashimoto for one simple reason: It’s still early days for her term and she hasn’t accomplished much yet. Oh, she has said much and wowed them at the Rio Olympics closing ceremony (and currently at the Paralympic Games). Like Hashimoto’s press conferences, TV reporters and other media flock to Koike’s in the expectation that they’ll become an “event,” hoping she’ll say something that will draw high ratings.
But as for enacting fundamental reforms, she has still got much to do. Of course, Tokyo is not Osaka. The style Hashimoto used when he was governor to get things done can’t simply be copy-and-pasted over to Tokyo’s government. Hashimoto and Osaka Gov. Ichiro Matsui know this, obviously, and take great pains to emphasize it when asked about Koike.
Yet Hashimoto has also hinted Koike could be more aggressive. Matsui, meanwhile, has warned she needs to prove herself, as opposed to just making media statements about the need to get things done.
Privately, Osaka politicians point out that, while Koike is a former Diet member with Cabinet experience, she had zero experience in local government until she became Tokyo governor. Diet members are quasi-celebrities, hobnobbing with foreign diplomats and cultural icons, and dealing with national and international issues. But local politicians, even in Tokyo, are forced to deal with messy, unglamorous local issues every single day.
Hashimoto, of course, had no experience in politics before he became governor. But he was still in his 30s then, while Koike is more toward the end of her political career.
Or, rather, her career as an elected official. Given Japan’s long history of powerful old — even ancient — former politicians operating behind the scenes until they are well into their 80s and 90s, perhaps Koike is still a youngster at age 64. Perhaps that’s at least partially why Hashimoto and others are offering her caution and advice now. They likely figure she’ll be an influential politician for a long time to come, especially behind the scenes once her term is finished.
View from Osaka is a monthly column that examines the latest news from a Kansai perspective.
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