The Best Local Administrator
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.
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.
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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