Ishihara, Shintaro


Ishihara, Shintaro
▪ 2000

      On March 10, 1999, controversial Japanese author and politician Shintaro Ishihara announced that he would join the already crowded race for governor of Tokyo. Formerly a senior member of the dominant Liberal-Democratic Party (LDP), Ishihara ran as an independent. His opponents included the LDP candidate, former UN undersecretary general Yasushi Akashi, and former foreign minister Koji Kakizawa, who was expelled from the LDP for running against the party's wishes. A self-proclaimed nationalist and outspoken critic of the central government and what he perceived as Japan's submissive role in its relationship with the U.S., Ishihara was the front-runner from the start of his campaign. He easily outdistanced his nearest rival in the April 11 election.

      Although some commentators feared Ishihara's win signaled widespread endorsement of his hawkish nationalism, others credited his victory to his name recognition as a popular novelist, a growing dissatisfaction with the LDP, and the public's desire for a strong leader unafraid to speak his mind. During the campaign, Ishihara promised to call for the return of the U.S. Yokota Air Force Base to Tokyo, a sensitive issue in Japanese–U.S. relations. After the election, however, Ishihara backed away from this promise, instead choosing to focus on Japan's relationship with China by declaring his disapproval of China's communist government, its human rights record, and its treatment of Taiwan and Tibet. Aside from his forays into foreign policy, Ishihara's greatest challenge as governor of Tokyo was expected to be his handling of the city's economic problems, particularly its massive debt. Addressing that responsibility, he proposed creating a bond market for small companies and reorganizing credit unions.

      Ishihara was born on Sept. 30, 1932, in Kobe, Japan. After graduating from Hitotsubashi University, Tokyo, he published his first novel, Taiyō no kisetsu (“Season of Violence”), to great acclaim, winning the Akutagawa Prize in 1956. He wrote several more novels before winning a seat as a member of the LDP in the upper house of the Japanese legislature in 1968. He moved to the lower house in 1972. Although he lost the 1975 Tokyo gubernatorial election, he served as director-general of the Environment Agency in 1976 and as minister of transport in 1987–88. He attracted international attention in 1989 when he co-wrote a nationalist essay, “The Japan That Can Say No,” with Sony chairman Akio Morita. Intended for publication in Japan only, where it became a best-seller, the essay argued that Japan should wean itself from its reliance on the U.S. and that Americans were guilty of anti-Japanese racism. In 1995 Ishihara resigned from the LDP to protest the established political system.

Amy R. Tao

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Universalium. 2010.

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