Osaka – Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike’s re-election earlier this month came as no surprise to those in the Kansai region, where she had been predicted to defeat what was clearly a divided opposition.
Given her popularity and past career in national politics, many pundits are speculating over whether the victory means she will return to the Diet in the next general election — this time with a popular mandate, or at least one popular with certain segments of voters in the capital.
In Osaka, Koike’s victory was seen as affirmation that strong local leadership during a public crisis trumps all other concerns voters might have about their leaders.
Of course, for many in Osaka, Koike’s actions are just seen as a copy, or at least an echo, of whatever responses their own Gov. Hirofumi Yoshimura announced for his prefecture.
While Koike and Yoshimura aren’t exactly the best of friends, they face similar challenges from the coronavirus and have therefore developed a greater respect for each other.
Both are grappling with how to avoid spikes in both cases and fatalities in the coming months while also preventing an economic meltdown.
At the same time, Osaka’s leaders well understand that Koike faces challenges they do not — starting with who’s watching her.
Not only does Koike, like Yoshimura, have to answer to voters concerned about the economy, she also has national politicians and bureaucrats looking over her shoulder, critiquing her every move and worrying about its impact.
Unlike Tokyo, Osaka has a distinct lack of suspicious central government bureaucrats and national politicians. It also has far fewer corporate leaders influencing those bureaucrats and politicians as well as the city’s economy. And the Osaka media are much less influential from a national perspective than their Tokyo counterparts.
So as Osaka’s leaders formulate plans to deal with the coronavirus, they have fewer outside parties to appease and fewer delicate egos to soothe than the leaders of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government.
Nor does the international community pay as much attention to Osaka as it does to Tokyo.
All of this means Osaka’s leaders have a kind of freedom from the prying eyes, backseat drivers and nosy neighbors that Koike does not.
A perfect example of the kind of pressures Koike faces is a remark Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga made on July 11 during a speech in Hokkaido in which he said the coronavirus problem is overwhelmingly a Tokyo problem.
Suga later explained himself by saying more than half of the country’s new coronavirus cases of late were centered in Tokyo.
An exasperated Koike pointed out in response that the new Tokyo cases included many people who were asymptomatic. Simply telling people who don’t feel well to not venture outdoors doesn’t deal with this problem, which she stressed was a national one.
Koike is right. But with the Bon holidays coming up next month, other parts of the country are worried about traveling Tokyoites spreading the virus — especially among older voters in areas with few doctors and modern hospitals.
Don’t be surprised if some governors urge Tokyoites to stay home this year, regardless of how they feel, due to worries about local medical facilities being overwhelmed.
A spike in Osaka cases could also lead to requests elsewhere for Osakans to stay home during Bon. But that does not yet appear to be an issue.
For the moment, Osaka’s leaders can debate local coronavirus measures in a calm political and media atmosphere. That, no doubt, is a luxury that Koike, despite her re-election, wishes she had.
View from Osaka is a monthly column that examines the latest news from a Kansai perspective.
In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.
Your news needs your support
Since the early stages of the COVID-19 crisis, The Japan Times has been providing free access to crucial news on the impact of the novel coronavirus as well as practical information about how to cope with the pandemic. Please consider subscribing today so we can continue offering you up-to-date, in-depth news about Japan.