The Governor of Tokyo, Shintaro Ishihara, has stunned Japan by announcing that he is standing down and quitting the main opposition party to form a new right-wing bloc.
The controversial 80 year-old Mr Ishihara said he wanted to realign Japanese politics and scrap its “ugly” war-renouncing constitution, which he has long criticised as “shameful”.
“There are many contradictions in our politics,” he said. “One contradiction, bigger than anything, is the Japanese constitution, which was imposed by the [post-Second World War US] occupying army, and is rendered in ugly Japanese.”
An outspoken nationalist, Mr Ishihara sparked Japan’s biggest crisis with China in 40 years by launching a private fund to buy islands claimed by both sides. The plan forced the Prime Minister, Yoshihiko Noda, to nationalise the Senkakus, known as Diaoyu in China, triggering anti-Japanese riots across 100 Chinese cities last month and a boycott of Japanese goods that has cost millions of dollars.
Despite outraging liberals, Mr Ishihara is – like Boris Johnson in London – a darling of the right. He has for years demanded that Japan rearm, build nuclear weapons and defend itself against a resurgent China. He is known to have courted Japan’s leading nationalist politicians, including its rising star, Toru Hashimoto, the Mayor of Osaka, who is also launching a bid for national power. Mr Hashimoto is a radical conservative who also wants to dismantle much of Japan’s US-sponsored political architecture, particularly its war-renouncing constitution. “Not being able to have a war on its own is the most pitiful thing about Japan,” he has said. Like Mr Ishihara, he makes no bones about “standing up” to China.
Japan’s largest newspaper, the conservative Yomiuri, said today that the two men would attempt to form what Mr Ishihara calls a political “third force” with the tiny, ultra-right Sunrise Party. The Tokyo Governor said he would discuss returning to national politics with his “comrades”.
The move, which is likely further to antagonise China, had political pundits scratching their heads. “He may well be deluded,” said political commentator Koichi Nakano. “He probably thinks that he gained more fame as a result of the Senkaku dispute and can be a real force again in national politics. He may also have forgotten that he became Governor because he failed in national politics.”
A novelist turned politician, Mr Ishihara lost a contest to lead the conservative Liberal Democratic Party in 1989. He has since won four terms in office as Governor of Tokyo, peppering his career with a string of controversial outbursts. Last year he called the earthquake and tsunami that struck the country “divine punishment” for Japan’s modern “greed”. His disparagement of gays, foreigners and older women, whom he once called “useless”, have earned him the epithet “Japan’s Jean Marie Le Pen”.
But it is Mr Ishihara’s decades-long standoff with Communist China that defines him as a politician. He has sparked repeated anger in Japan’s powerful neighbour by denying Japanese war crimes, some of which he denounces as “Chinese propaganda”. Last month, he described China’s claims over Senkaku/Diaoyu as like a burglar “intent to rob someone’s house by force”. He added: “We must prepare to lock up our door tighter.”
Mr Ishihara’s new party will try to make its mark on national elections, expected soon. Prime Minister Noda’s ruling party, the DPJ, is expected to lose power, opening the door for a shift to the right. Shinzo Abe, the leader of the main opposition LDP, has views similar to Mr Ishihara, although he is known to be more reticent about expressing them.
Ishihara: The Outbursts
The Japanese army’s slaughter of 300,000 civilians in the Rape of Nanking was “made up by the Chinese”.
Women past the age of reproduction are “evil”, “malignant” and “committing a sin” by continuing to live.
Tokyo’s Roppongi district “is a foreign neighbourhood” with crimes committed by Africans. “We should be letting in people who are intelligent.”