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 > summer special 2000
For the year 2000

The Best Government Reformer
How Asia Is Governed
The Best Local Administrator
The Best Activist

The Best Dealmaker
The Best IPO
The Best Stock
The Best Advocate of Shareholder Rights
The Best Fund Manager
The Best Cost Cutter

The Best Airport
The Best Hotel Service
The Best Hotel Gym
The Best Store
The Best Food

In Tune with Nature
The Best Forest Preserve
The Best City Park
The Best Transport
The Best Green Test
The Best Marine Preserve
The Best Marine Park

The Hottest Video Game
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The Hottest Portal
The Best Asian Websites

The Hottest Fad
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The Best Movie
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Government Reformer | How Asia Is Governed |  Local Administrator |  Activist
The Best Local Administrator

Mike Wibur for Asiaweek.
The public loves it when Ishihara blasts the central government. Now if only he could learn to be sensitive about Japan's Asian neighbors.

Are we kidding?! Ishi-hara Shintaro is best known for being an outspoken nationalist who over the years has denied the Rape of Nanking, vilified the communist government of China, and most recently insulted Chinese and Koreans in Japan by saying sangokujin, a derogatory term for foreigners seldom heard since the early post-war years, could run riot in the wake of an earthquake.

But check this out. After becoming governor of Tokyo in April last year, Ishihara quickly began to make good on his pledge to get the city's finances in shape by the end of his four-year term by cutting his own salary by 10% and his bonus by half. He compiled a corporate-style balance sheet that found city debts totaled $127 billion instead of the $62 billion previously admitted. He then moved to reduce staff, investments and expenditures, trimming the municipality's budget by 5% — he even rented out the governor's mansion to an Italian-Japanese friendship organization — but he still managed to boost funds to control diesel engine exhaust.

What really wins Ishihara points with the public is the way he stands up to the central government. "He is one of the few Japanese leaders who can speak his mind clearly and openly to the public and take swift action on what he believes in," says Matsui Kiyondo, editor-in-chief of the influential monthly magazine Bungei Shunju. In his most spectacular revolt, Ishihara decided to tax banks on their gross profit rather than current profit. The former number is big because banks are thriving in the low-interest rate environment, but the latter is small or minus because it comes after the write-offs of bad loans. Banks cried foul, central government officials said the plan usurps their prerogatives to set policy, and many economists criticized its logic. But Tokyo-ites and the municipal assembly are livid that billions in public funds have gone to the banks to help them write off bad debts built up over years of bad management, and overwhelmingly backed the governor.

All of which makes Ishi-hara's occasional outbursts more disturbing. While the man himself professes a nationalism that is pro-Japan rather than anti-anybody, critics point out that he has created a space in which uglier forms of xenophobia can grow. Which is a pity, because at a time when the Japanese public has all but given up hope in the very idea of good government, Ishihara is showing it is possible.

— By Murakami Mutsuko

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