TOKYO - At age 80, when most people might be thinking about taking it easy and spending more time playing with grandchildren, former Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara has taken on another kind of mission -- to save Japan.
Save Japan from what?
The self-described “wild man” of Japanese politics wants to save Japan from bureaucrats, from the Chinese, from weak, vacillating and spineless politicians and even from genetically modified foods shoved down Japan’s throat by Americans.
Ishihara recently resigned as governor of Tokyo to found a new party, the Sunrise Party. This new political entity lasted all of two days before Ishihara dissolved the party and merged it with rising Osaka politician Toru Hashimoto’s new Japan Restoration Party (JRP).
The Restoration Party is making a bid to become a "third force" in Japanese politics. Public opinion polls show it running second to the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) in the upcoming Dec. 16 general election. The ruling Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) of Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda’s is running third.
The merger, with Ishihara becoming party president and Hashimoto vice president, required some major concessions on both parts. In deference to Ishihara’s pro-nuclear power views, Hashimoto had to bury, at least temporarily, his support of "zero" nuclear power. Ishihara had to tone down his opposition to an enlarged Asian free trade zone.
A leader of the DPJ, ex-finance minister Jun Azuma, noted the fundamental differences of the two leaders by calling it an "unholy alliance." The LDP says similar things about the new party. For his part, Ishihara shrugs off such criticism, saying all parties make compromises for unity.
The advantages of the tie-up for Hashimoto’s new party are obvious. Ishihara potentially gives the Restoration Party, now based entirely in and around Osaka, Japan’s second city, some critical support in Tokyo and surrounding prefectures.
It is uncertain how this "unholy alliance" will last after the election, no matter what the outcome. Ishihara is not known to be a team player. He resigned from the LDP nearly 20 years ago, and he has run successfully for governor four times as an independent, regularly crushing candidates endorsed by the major parties, including the LDP, his former political home.
Hashimoto and Ishihara do see eye-to-eye on some issues, especially those that are connected with conservative causes such as revising Japan’s American-written constitution and eliminating the famous Article 9, which technically prohibits Japan from possessing a military. (Shinzo Abe, the new LDP leader shares similar views on the constitution.)
Ishihara created quite a stir when, during a speech last week to the Foreign Correspondents’ Club in Tokyo, he said Japan should "simulate" having nuclear weapons. "It’s high time that Japan made simulations of possessing nuclear arms," he said. "That would become a form of deterrence against China’s possible military encroachment."
Simulation in nuclear weapons means the testing of existing weapons to ensure they are battle-worthy without conducting underground explosions in violation of treaty obligations. How this applies to a non-nuclear weapons state like Japan is not clear; Ishihara probably doesn’t know either.