Expose of Gangster Past Roils Japan Politics

By Todd Crowell
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The two would seem to be natural allies. Both are conservatives as the Japanese understand the term, which mostly means such nationalist objectives as dropping Article 9 of the constitution and promoting “values education” in the schools. They also have their bases in the country’s two largest cities.

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Nevertheless, Ishihara has not shown great interest in merging his projected party with Hashimoto’s new Japan Restoration Party (JRP). While both are nationalists, Hashimoto does not share the other’s visceral dislike of the Chinese. Indeed, as governor he has visited China several times and happily sponsored an Osaka exhibit during the 2010 World’s Fair in Shanghai.

The Tokyo governor opposes phasing out nuclear power, while Hashimoto is for a nuclear power phase-out (or at least he was; his views have modified, and some members of his party oppose the phase-out). But there may be a more fundamental reason why they won’t unite into a third force: Japan isn’t big enough for two enormous egos.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda’s government continues to lose popularity according to opinion polls -- a mere 17.8 percent say the government is doing a good job. It also continues to bleed members of parliament to other parties. Recently, two resigned to join a small splinter party headed by the mayor of Nagoya.

That leaves Noda with a mere six-vote majority in parliament. Noda promised to hold an election “soon” to win opposition support for his move to raise the consumption (sales) tax. But “soon” was three months ago, and the opposition is getting restless. If Noda loses his slim majority, the opposition could force an election by winning a parliamentary vote of no confidence.

The current session of the Diet still has important tasks, including passing legislation authorizing the government to sell more bonds to cover the one half of the national budget that is financed through borrowing, and to correct voter discrepancies in the electoral districts. The former is needed to keep the government solvent, the latter to prevent the results of the next election being nullified as unconstitutional.

Noda wants to stave off an election as long as possible, hoping that something develops to turn things around for the beleaguered Democratic Party of Japan. He is going to Moscow in December. He may come back with some concessions on the vexing territorial dispute over several islands north of Hokkaido occupied by Russia since the end of World War II. 

Any real progress in the issue of the islands the Japanese call the Northern Territories could lead to a signing of a formal treaty ending World War II hostilities, and that in turn could open up lucrative business opportunities for Japanese companies in Siberia. That might be enough to give his government a much needed boost. 

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Todd Crowell is the author of Farewell, My Colony: Last Years in the Life of British Hong Kong. He is compiling a Dictionary of the Modern Asian Language and comments on Asian affairs at Asia Cable (www.asiacable.blogspot.com).
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