AMPONTAN

Japan from the inside out

Hashimoto Toru (1): The background

Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, March 27, 2012

**This is the first of a multi-part series on Osaka Mayor Hashimoto Toru and the phenomenon he represents.**

One Osaka, led by Mayor Hashimoto Toru and others, won a landslide victory in the Osaka double election. That shows the voters are an active volcano, and that they haven’t given up on reform.
– Nogata Tadaoki

IT’S tempting to say that Osaka Mayor Hashimoto Toru is the change Japan has been waiting for, but prudence and the corruption of that phrase by the hope and change hucksters demand that we resist the temptation. This much, however, is true: Mr. Hashimoto is today the most visible manifestation of the hope for change the Japanese electorate has long demanded and voted for, but seldom gotten.

Open fires of non-violent rebellion have been burning at the local level for years, but now there is a viable receptacle for the nationwide malcontent with the malefactors of not-so-great government. Not since Koizumi Jun’ichiro, the icebreaker of Japanese politics, has there been a figure as important, and Mr. Hashimoto has the potential to surpass the pioneer. The difference is that Mr. Koizumi worked from the top down, but the Osaka mayor also works from the bottom up. His message is simple: power to the people. Not the people in the imagination of those who wear raised fist tee-shirts, but real people in the real world.

The mugshot of Public Enemy Number One is identical to those on the wall in the United States and Europe — a glossy PR photo of that congeries of political, bureaucratic, and academic elites grown torpid from their confiscation of public funds and their lazy, inbred assumption that they rule through the divine right of secular kings; the big business interests that go along to get along very handsomely indeed; their wingmen in the international jet set of NGO doo-gooders; and their enabler/cheerleaders of the industrial media. The default mode of operation is a slouch toward the Gomorrah of tax-and-sloth social democracy and global governance. One of the many boons of the Information Age has been the broad exposure of their “insolence of office”, in Shakespeare’s felicitous phrase, and the contempt the public servants have for their servants in the private sector.

Left, Hashimoto Toru; Right, Matsui Ichiro

Owing to the nature and speed of their post-Meiji and postwar development, the Japanese might be ahead of the international curve in recognizing the face of the enemy and in trying to use the means of democracy to do something about it. The response of the local mugs to the Tohoku triple disaster seems to have amplified an already present trend and created a greater urgency for action. The aim of this reform wave is not mere reorganization, but resuscitation. The woolgatherers who doubt that the country is capable of it need only to look at the relatively recent example of the heady atmosphere of change that occurred during the Meiji period after more than 250 years of isolation — a period as familiar to the Japanese as the Civil War is to Americans. The Silent Majority in this country broke their silence long ago, but it is in the mugs’ self-interest to play deaf and ignore the popular will. Now, it is at last beginning to look as if, soon or late, they will pay for their hearing disability in the way that the Liberal Democratic Party part of the problem paid in 2009.

That the eyes and ears of the nation are on Mr. Hashimoto is undeniable. He is now the most followed person on Twitter Japan, and, as the first national politician since Mr. Koizumi capable of speaking directly to the people over the heads of the know-it-alls, he is worth following for the entertainment alone. He is not the blow-dried, focus-group tested, oatmeal-mouthed, and teleprompter-fed Oz Wizard-machine politico that has been the professional ideal since JFK. Nearly every day, he fires all of his guns at once on any and every issue, explaining his ideas and his positions with lucidty, hammering his critics unmercifully with a barrage of machine-gun Tweets, so relentless that one wonders if he will explode into space. He is an attorney in a country that requires extraordinary intelligence and effort to pass the bar, so few of his foes can out-argue him, and most are left impotently spluttering. Every major newspaper carries an article about him every day, and the Sankei Shimbun and the J-Cast website make a point of featuring his continuing adventures. We’ve all heard the tired old Japan hand pseudo-wisdom that the nail that sticks out gets hammered in. Hashimoto Toru is the ultimate protruding nail, but he’s the man swinging the hammer, and the nation is spellbound.

When still an attorney/television personality before launching his political career, Mr. Hashimoto wrote a book called “Negotiating Techniques”. The publicity blurb read, “You’ll never lose the psychological war with these negotiating tactics.” When published in 2005, it sold for JPY 1,000. Now out of print, it is selling on the web for as much as JPY 24,570 per copy, with others changing hands on auction sites for JPY 20,000 and 18,000.

The start

The political attention began four years ago when he was elected to the governor of Osaka Prefecture in a walk. His approval ratings throughout his term hovered at the 70% level, and he resigned a few months before his term was to end to run for mayor of the city of Osaka (more on why later). Inspired by the simultaneous election victories of Kawamura Takashi as mayor of Nagoya and Omura Hideaki of Aichi Prefecture in that region’s triple election of February 2011, he ran as a team with Matsui Ichiro, a fellow member of his One Osaka group, who stood as the candidate to replace him as governor. Mr. Matsui, formerly of the Liberal-Democratic Party, was in his third term as a prefectural council member, and is the son of the man who was once head of the chamber.

Mr. Hashimoto took on the incumbent Osaka mayor, Hiramatsu Kunio, while Mr. Matsui’s primary challenger was Kurata Kaoru, the mayor of Ikeda in Osaka Prefecture. Both Mr. Hiramatsu and Mr. Kurata were officially backed by nearly everyone in established politics: the local chapters of the Democratic Party of Japan, the Liberal Democratic Party, and the Communist Party. (New Komeito stayed out of it because they didn’t want to antagonize Mr. Hashimoto.)

It was open warfare. Hashimoto Toru said the elections were “a battle between citizens who favor change and those who have benefitted from the status quo.” Hiramatsu Kunio said the elections were “a battle to crush Osaka Ishin no Kai (One Osaka).” Kurata Kaoru didn’t know exactly what to say, so he emphasized cooperation within the existing structure. The Communists, always outspoken opponents of Mr. Hashimoto, charged a Hashimoto win would make Osaka “a bastion for dictatorship”. (Pots call kettles black in Japan too.) They went so far as to withdraw their own candidate in the mayor’s race to help Mr. Hiramatsu. It didn’t help.

There are roughly seven million registered voters in greater Osaka, and the turnout in the mayoral election was 60.92%, up 17.31 percentage points from the 2007 election and more than 60 percent for the first time since 1971, the last time a double election was held in the region. Turnout is usually at the 30% level. In the election for governor, 52.8% of the eligible voters showed up, 3.93 percentage points higher than in the previous election (when Mr. Hashimoto was elected).

Public interest was so great that the NHK television stations in the six prefectures of the region rescheduled for an earlier time the final segment of a popular drama series to present live election coverage as soon as the polls closed.

The identity of the winners was clear at 8:40 p.m., 40 minutes after the NHK live coverage started. Mr. Hashimoto wound up with roughly 750,000 votes, about 58% of the total and almost a quarter of a million more than Mr. Hiramatsu.

Mr. Matsui won election as the Osaka governor with roughly two million votes, almost double the total of Mr. Kurata, his closest opponent. He received 54% of the total vote in a field of six candidates.

The Asahi Shimbun (a Hashimoto opponent) said that nonaligned voters accounted for 36% of the total, and their exit polls showed that Mr. Hashimoto won almost all of them.

Though Mr. Hashimoto has an outspoken opinion on everything under the sun, moon, and stars, the centerpiece of his campaign for mayor was a proposal to combine and reorganize the separate city and prefecture of Osaka into a single administrative unit similar to that of the Tokyo Metro District to end the duplication of government services. It is part of a larger vision to eliminate Japan’s prefectures and create what is known as a state/province system, the elements of which would assume greater authority over local affairs from the national government, and would pass some of that authority down to smaller administrative units within the state/province. They would resemble Tokyo’s wards, but have more autonomy and fund procurement ability. Since the November election, the Osaka City Council solicited essay applications from people interested in becoming the chief executive officers of those wards and received 1,460. Mr. Hashimoto was pleased:

“They’ve passionately communicated their desire to make changes and take part in the great current of the age.”

Though the issue might sound dry to people outside Japan, the idea is to drive a stake through the heart of the vampire national government and bureaucracy, and deprive them of what most of the public perceives as their excessive authority. This is the vehicle to neutralize the power of the national bureaucracy at Kasumigaseki through the devolution of authority. It would also have the salubrious effect of reducing the size of the national government.

Power to the people, right on!

The idea has been floating around for decades and started to gain traction in the early 90s, even among some politicians and bureaucrats at the national level. In 1996, Tajima Yoshitsuke published a book called Chiho Bunkengotohajime, or The Start of Regional Devolution, which describes the efforts at the local level nationwide and at the national level to achieve just that. One chapter, which outlines the official policy of the Murayama Tomi’ichi Cabinet in 1995 on the issue, could have been written yesterday. Plans were afoot even then to devolve authority to local governments, reform the unneeded “independent administrative agencies” that suck up public funds to serve as the receptacles for post-retirement bureaucrat employment, rethink the system in which the national government returns to local governments the taxes it collects in the form of grants (a system Mr. Hashimoto would abolish), and offer legislation allowing local governments to issue bonds. Those measures, like so many other reform proposals, were deboned, as the Japanese expression has it, by national civil servants and their allies in the political class.

For Mr. Hashimoto and other advocates to realize the plan, however, requires a substantial amount of legislation to amend existing laws and create new ones in the Diet. That in turn requires allies in the Diet, and the establishment realizes the reforms now championed by Mr. Hashimoto are an existential threat. The mayor’s solution is to get a slate of One Osaka-backed candidates ready to run in the next lower house election. He is not merely offering the nation an alternative, however. He’s declared war on the national government, just as he declared war on the old Osaka leadership.

The declaration was bound to come before long, but was issued after Deputy Prime Minister Okada Katsuya of the Democratic Party of Japan revealed an inability to read the writing on the wall extreme even for his party and the mudboat wing of the LDP in a speech in Tsu on 28 January. He spoke of the Noda Cabinet’s proposed consumption tax increase:

“A certain percentage of the 5% consumption tax goes to the regions. There’s an argument that the national government must cut out the fat if it is to raise taxes, but local governments also ask the people to share the liability, so they should make the same efforts to cut out the fat.”

This from a party who bequeathed to the nation a legacy of record high national budgets for every one of its three years in power with record high deficit bond floats, that promised to shake out funds by standing the budget on its head until it got a nosebleed (their exact words), who claimed they could shake loose JPY 16 trillion through policy reviews that would slash waste and fat, but whose efforts to do so produced less than 10% of that amount in non-binding recommendations handed down during a series of dog and pony shows that trumpeted the cuts and muted the reinsertion of some into different budget categories weeks later.

That was a bit rich even for a man as wealthy as Mr. Okada, whose father is the head of the Jusco chain of mass merchandise outlets. It was all red meat for Mr. Hashimoto, however:

“Deputy Prime Minister Okada said local governments must also cut the fat. The central government and the regions are in complete opposition. It’s now time to accelerate the trend for recreating the system of the state. The state system of Japan devised during the Meiji restoration had centralized authority. The regions were the arms and legs of the nation…but the chief executives and the assembly members in regional areas are also chosen by election. There’s no justification for binding the nation’s arms and legs. With Okada’s statement, we can expect a great battle between the central government and the regions…

…A clear division will be made between the work of the central government and the work of the regions. Then, there will also be a clear division in the funding sources. The national tax allocations to local governments will be abolished. Then this pitiful consumption tax system, in which the regions would receive the portion that the national government increases, would end. The regions should be able to raise the consumption tax on their own responsibility…Let’s move to a national system in which there is a division of roles between the nation and the regions, with authority and responsibility clearly defined.”

He went into overdrive on 16 February:

“The Diet members are retreating, but the people are telling them what they have to do. The question is whether or not the MPs will get serious. If they don’t, it will lead to a large national war that will be bloodier than the Osaka double election.”

It wasn’t his blood on the floor after that election, either.

How would his allies do in a national election? As that old faux soldier Ozawa Ichiro, the former president and secretary-general, and currently suspended member of the DPJ, continues to fade away, he told his acolytes the obvious earlier this month:

“While the rate of support for the Cabinet and the DPJ is falling day by day, One Osaka is climbing.”

For data instead of anecdote, the Mainichi Shimbun released the results of a poll on 5 March asking if the respondents had high hopes for the regional parties (a euphemism of Hashimoto’s One Osaka, though others are included).

Yes: 61%
No: 34%

Or, about twice the current public support rate of the Noda Cabinet.

Meanwhile, Tokyo Metro Governor Ishihara Shintaro (a Hashimoto supporter) is planning to create another old-guy conservative party with Hiranuma Takeo and Kamei Shizuka, the head of the People’s New Party. That was a splinter group formed specifically to stop Japan Post privatization and float on the votes of the postal lobby. The same poll asked the public if they had expectations for the codger group:

Yes: 38%
No: 57%

Further, a 16 January survey conducted by the Sankei Shimbun and Fuji TV network asked respondents which prominent political figures were most suited to be the national leader. The results:

1. 21.4% Hashimoto Toru
2. 9.6% Ishihara Shintaro
3. 8.3% Okada Katsuya


9. 3.6 % Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko

The result that curdles the innards of the national parties, however, is the one from the 19 March Yomiuri Shimbun survey. In addition to individual candidates, voters in Diet elections also cast ballots for political parties to allocate proportional representation seats. For the Kinki bloc, where Osaka is located, the results were:

One Osaka: 24%
LDP: 18%
DPJ: 10%

Dumb and dumberer

Anyone who’s surprised hasn’t been paying attention. Even after years of clearly expressed popular discontent, the national parties still insist — today — on ignoring the national will. For example:

Koizumi Jun’ichiro won the second largest majority in postwar history when he dissolved the lower house of the Diet to take the issue of postal privatization to the people — a plan favored by 70% of the public. The legislation that subsequently passed the Diet called for the creation of four companies (two of which were separate firms for Japan Post’s banking business and life insurance business), and the sale of government stock in the companies by 2017.

But the triple disaster of the DPJ government, the LDP, and New Komeito put their sloping foreheads together and agreed — this week — on legislation to change the privatization framework from four companies to three, and to modify the requirement that the stock be sold by 2017 to a clause stating that the government would make every effort to sell it with the aim of disposing it. The deadline for the sale date was eliminated. In other words, they’ll sell it whenever they feel like it, and they’re unlikely to ever get in the mood. Why would they? When some people say the Japanese don’t have to worry about the deep doo-doo of deficit spending and the bonds floated to pay for it because the bondholders are domestic, they mean that much of those purchases are funded by the captive bank accounts in Japan Post. The change in language is a classic example of how reform is deboned in Japan.

The national government is in the hands of a platypus party whose members can’t agree internally on a common statement of political ideals, much less tax increases. Even many in the political class are calling for the government to reform civil service before trying to raise the consumption tax, so the Noda Cabinet proposed a 7.8% cut in government employee salaries and began discussions for unifying the pension systems of the public and private sector. (The former sector has more benefits, of course).

But that plan got changed by the party. Reform? That’s just campaign boilerplate. The cuts will now be limited to national government civil servants, which results in only JPY 600 billion savings, and will last for only two years. The civil servants working in regional areas have an aggregate salary seven times greater than their national trough lickers, but they were exempted. The butchers handling this deboning were DPJ-affiliated labor union leaders and labor union-affiliated DPJ Diet members, led by party Secretary-General Koshi’ishi Azuma, a former Robin Redbreast of the Japan Teachers Union.

Prime Minister Noda this weekend continued his Dark Churchill impersonation by declaring he would stake his political life on passing a tax increase, i.e., maintaining the spendthrift status quo of the administrative state. He also spoke at a Tokyo conference of business executives on the 24th on the subject of Japan’s participation in the TPP trade partnership:

“If Japan is Paul McCartney, then the U.S. is John Lennon. It is not possible to have The Beatles without Paul. The two must be in harmony.”

This brings to mind Juvenal’s observation of two millennia ago that it is difficult not to write satire.

One of the factors driving Hashimoto Toru’s popularity is that nature does abhor a vacuum, after all.

Next: The Hashimoto political juku and his allies.

*****
The man was born to be wild. So is this pedal-to-the-metal performance. For those unfamiliar with Kuwata Keisuke, he sings the same way in Japanese, and it’s sometimes hard to say just what language he is singing in.

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2 Responses to “Hashimoto Toru (1): The background”

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