Japanese comics take crucial role in party politics

FROM RICHARD LLOYD PARRY

in Tokyo

"It's like a magnitude 7 earthquake," said the man from the Tokyo Metropolitan government, "and the rule book only goes up to magnitude 6." Seismic analogies are becoming all too common in Japan, but - among business people and politicians, at least - Sunday's local elections have caused genuine shock.

In Tokyo and Osaka, a pair of independent candidates, Yukio Aoshima and "Knock" Yokoyama, were elected governors, inflicting mortifying defeats on candidates backed by the ruling coalition government. The two are old friends, having been elected to the Upper House of the Japanese Diet in 1968, but they are better known in their alternative incarnations - as television comedians, the Norman Wisdom and Ernie Wise of Japanese showbiz.

Yesterday, a number of senior Japanese were very pointedly failing to see the joke. Greeting the media at his home in a western suburb of Tokyo, a smiling Mr Aoshima confirmed their worst fears. "I want to learn a lot about the metropolitan government," he admitted, "because I really don't know anything about it."

Publicly, political leaders expressed their "surprise" at his victory. Off the record, Mr Aoshima's future servants in the metropolitan government were less circumspect. "Can he be serious?" asked one. "Do I have to travel around the world bowing my head in shame?"

The triumph of the comedians will have real consequences, for Japan's broader political picture, and for life in its two greatest cities. In an effort to bring down local taxes, Mr Yokoyama has hinted that he may revise plans to expand Osaka's gleaming new Kansai International Airport.

On Saturday, Mr Aoshima told the Independent that he intends to withdraw municipal support from a 30bn yen (£220m) bail-out plan for two bankrupt credit unions, "review" a massive development programme on the Tokyo Bay waterfront and cancel the World City Expo planned for next year, which has already sold 2.6 million advance tickets.

As "citizens' candidates" without any party base, the two men will face immense difficulties in negotiating the tight-knit cliques of the regional assemblies. Governors do not, in any case,enjoy great autonomy and after a period of conflict Japan's powerful consensus machinery is likely to find ways of neutralising and co-opting Messrs Aoshima and Yokoyama.

More significant is the shadow the election results cast on the nine- month-old government of the Prime Minister, Tomiichi Murayama. The coalition, between Mr Murayama's left-leaning Social Democratic Party and the conservative Liberal Democrats was always an unlikely and cynical alliance. Since its feeble response to the Kobe earthquake in January, the government's credibility has ebbed with each new crisis.

Two more elections - to local assemblies in April and to the Upper House in May - will determine whether either side can capitalise on the weekend's mayhem, and whether anything can be done to stem Japan's growing disgust with politicians.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Solution Architect - Contract

£500 - £600 per day: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Solution Architect is requir...

360 Resourcing Solutions: Export Sales Coordinator

£18k - 20k per year: 360 Resourcing Solutions: ROLE: Export Sales Coordinato...

Recruitment Genius: B2B Telesales Executive - OTE £35,000+

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The largest developer of mobile...

SThree: Talent Acquisition Consultant

£22500 - £27000 per annum + OTE £45K: SThree: Since our inception in 1986, STh...

Day In a Page

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

One day to find €1.6bn

Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

Historians map out untold LGBT histories

Public are being asked to help improve the map
Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

This was the year of 24-carat Golden Oldies
Paris Fashion Week

Paris Fashion Week

Thom Browne's scarecrows offer a rare beacon in commercial offerings
A year of the caliphate:

Isis, a year of the caliphate

Who can defeat the so-called 'Islamic State' – and how?
Marks and Spencer: Can a new team of designers put the spark back into the high-street brand?

Marks and Spencer

Can a new team of designers put the spark back into the high-street brand?
'We haven't invaded France': Italy's Prime Minister 'reclaims' Europe's highest peak

'We haven't invaded France'

Italy's Prime Minister 'reclaims' Europe's highest peak
Isis in Kobani: Why we ignore the worst of the massacres

Why do we ignore the worst of the massacres?

The West’s determination not to offend its Sunni allies helps Isis and puts us all at risk, says Patrick Cockburn
7/7 bombings 10 years on: Four emergency workers who saved lives recall the shocking day that 52 people were killed

Remembering 7/7 ten years on

Four emergency workers recall their memories of that day – and reveal how it's affected them ever since
Humans: Are the scientists developing robots in danger of replicating the hit Channel 4 drama?

They’re here to help

We want robots to do our drudge work, and to look enough like us for comfort. But are the scientists developing artificial intelligence in danger of replicating the TV drama Humans?
Time to lay these myths about the Deep South to rest

Time to lay these myths about the Deep South to rest

'Heritage' is a loaded word in the Dixie, but the Charleston killings show how dangerous it is to cling to a deadly past, says Rupert Cornwell
What exactly does 'one' mean? Court of Appeal passes judgement on thorny mathematical issue

What exactly does 'one' mean?

Court of Appeal passes judgement on thorny mathematical issue