Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto has become an increasingly frequent presence on television screens across Japan in recent years. Possessed of a celebrity charisma and a uniquely confrontational brand of populist right wing rhetoric, Hashimoto is turning heads and raising eyebrows in a country with a post-war political climate rooted in consensus.
former lawyer and TV personality and now rising star of Japanese politics, the forty two year old is believed to harbour ambitions for high national office and is tipped as a possible future Prime Minister. As an unconventional outsider set to reinvigorate stagnant national policy or a reactionary autocrat in the making depending on ones perspective, Hashimoto’s combative style has elicited significant interest amongst a section of the electorate who see him as at odds with a system of endless consensus and interest balancing. Hashimoto’s party – Osaka Ishin no Kai (Osaka Restoration group) – is expected to field as many as 200 candidates in the next general election, with political rivals predicting they could secure up to fifty seats, potentially granting them significant decision making clout in a hung parliament. Clearly, Japan’s established political elites need sit up and take notice.
Positioning himself and his party as an alternative to the politics of consensus which have dominated post war Japanese society, Hashimoto sees himself as a radical reformer in the mould of the statesmen of the Meiji Restoration – Japan’s rapid transformation from a feudalistic agrarian society into a modern industrialised one some one hundred and fifty years ago.
For this reformer, however, overhaul appears to be synonymous with attacking the entrenched interests of a bureaucracy and political class seen by many as increasingly inefficient and ineffectual. In a country which has seen six Prime Ministers in as many years, Osaka’s Mayor has garnered much of his popularity by setting his sights on a system and political class which many see as the root of Japan’s current economic malaise.
As with his spiritual predecessors in the Meiji era, Hashimoto’s reformist bent is combined with a fiercely nationalist agenda. Along with claims that “ the precondition of our national character is our blood”, Mayor Hashimoto has called for the tearing up of Japan’s pacifist constitution, long considered sacrosanct by most high ranking figures in the established parties; “Not being able to have a war on its own,” he has said, “is the most pitiful thing about Japan.”
Rhetoric of this kind, combined with calls for the reintroduction of conscription has put Hashimoto at loggerheads with much of Japan’s liberal intelligentsia, who have gone as far as to label his approach to problem solving “Hashism” – a portmanteau of his name and ‘fascism’. Nonetheless, for many Japanese tired of the stagnation which has plagued the nations politics in recent years, Osaka’s mayor and his party seem to present a genuine alternative mode of operation.
The party’s popularity, however, is predicated entirely upon that of its charismatic leaders; it remains to be seen whether Hashimoto’s confrontational style of politics can raise him to the position of national leader in a country who’s post war politics have been so predicated upon consensus.
Also under question is whether any such rise would be desirable for Japan – certainly the country’s current political culture is in dire need of a shake up to dispel its current torpor, but should a politician with no experience of national office who is on record as stating that what Japan really needs to rise from its current economic quagmire is a dictator really be considered as a potential leader?
By Sam Jones