Japanese Election: Local hero driven by old loyalties: Tokyo's unpopular but powerful bureaucracy has much to lose on 18 July

IT ONLY meant waiting an extra few seconds yesterday, but the taxi-driver was furious. It should be said that people from Kyushu, the southernmost of Japan's four main islands, have a reputation for being hard-headed and stubborn. When a car cut in on him from the outside lane, the taxi-driver accelerated up to the offender's bumper and then jammed on the brakes.

Kumamoto is Kyushu's second city, and everyone there is in a bad mood because this year's rainy season has been 'the worst in 20 years', the driver said. When the outside lane became free again, he wrenched the steering wheel to swerve out alongside his foe and show, quite unequivocally, that he was not the kind of taxi-driver who gives up his place in traffic without a fight. Especially not in the rainy season.

After the smell of burning rubber had dissipated and the driver's violent mood had passed, conversation was again possible. Who did he think was the 'strongest' for the 18 July elections? 'Hosokawa,' he growled, without a moment's hesitation.

Morihiro Hosokawa is the founder of the Japan New Party (JNP), set up as a reform party last year before the recent political upheavals, and now in a strong position to determine the formation of the next government. And with the same provincial stubbornness as the driver, although in a more subtle form, he is calling for an end to the centralisation of power in the hands of Tokyo bureaucrats. He wants some respect for Kumamoto.

Mr Hosokawa, 55, is a local hero, a direct descendant of a line of warlords who ran Kumamoto for 400 years, and a man known by everyone after eight years as the city's governor. This is where his real power is. And his popularity as a 'local name' is a reminder that Japanese politics is still run along the model of a feudal lord dispensing patronage. The issues of political re-alignment and global responsibility that academics and the media in Tokyo are keen to discuss are barely real in Kumamoto.

Mr Hosokawa's credentials are impressive. Overlooking the centre of the city is Kumamoto Castle, with soaring stone walls, cornerstones as sharp as trouser creases and overhanging eaves to fend off attackers. Built in 1607, this was his family's stronghold, and throughout the Edo era, when Japan was closed to the outside world, the Hosokawas were one of the most formidable of the clans ruling Japan.

On the campaign trail Mr Hosokawa has only half-jokingly called for a return to the old system under which warlords, or daimyo, controlled their fiefs with minimal interference from the capital in Edo (present-day Tokyo). 'Abolish the prefectures, re-establish the fiefs,' means loosening the stranglehold on power by the Tokyo bureaucracy, which is strongly resented in the rest of the country.

As governor of Kumamoto, Mr Hosokawa discovered to his fury that he did not even have the power to change the position of a bus stop by 10 yards without consulting Tokyo. Indeed, one of the main functions of a politician today is to learn to negotiate with the Tokyo bureaucracy to deliver goodies to his constituents back home. 'This must change,' said his wife, Kayoko, who has been campaigning for him locally while he co- ordinates his party's affairs in Tokyo. 'To have local power in local areas - that is our most important slogan.'

The ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) knows all about local power as well, although, after 38 years of running the country, its understanding of it is slightly different from Mr Hosokawa's. In the LDP campaign headquarters Hiroyuki Matsumoto, head of the local koenkai, or political support group, said the election issues were simple. 'Number one: bring the shinkansen (bullet train) to Kumamoto. Number two: make the airport into an international airport.'

The message is that only the LDP has the clout to draw this funding out of the Tokyo bureaucracy. And political reform? 'It is a very important issue,' he said, smiling. 'But . . . the reality is . . . everyone, including us, says they are for reform . . . in Kumamoto people do not know . . . who is really for reform.'

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
A survey carried out by Sainsbury's Finance found 20% of new university students have never washed their own clothes, while 14% cannot even boil an egg
science...and the results are not as pointless as that sounds
politicsIs David Cameron trying to prove he's down with the kids?
Dominique Alderweireld, also known as Dodo de Saumure, is the owner of a string of brothels in Belgium
newsPhilip Sweeney gets the inside track on France's trial of the year
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Cumberbatch was speaking on US television when he made the comment (Getty)
Life and Style
Arts and Entertainment
Tom DeLonge, Travis Barker and Mark Hoppus of Blink-182 pictured in 2011.
musicBassist Mark Hoppus and drummer Travis Barker say Tom Delonge is 'disrespectful and ungrateful'
Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'
tvBroadchurch series 2, episode 4, review - contains spoilers
cyclingDisgraced cycling star says people will soon forgive his actions
Britain's Prince Philip attends a Garden Party at Buckingham Palace in London
Arts and Entertainment
Ed Sheeran will play three sell-out gigs at Wembley Stadium in July
Lena Dunham posing for an official portrait at Sundance 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Under the skin: Sarah Kane in May 1998
theatreThe story behind a new season of Sarah Kane plays
Arts and Entertainment
Preening: Johnny Depp in 'Mortdecai'
filmMortdecai becomes actor's fifth consecutive box office bomb
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Lift Repairs Sales Account Manager

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting new opportunity has...

Recruitment Genius: Photographer / Floorplanner / Domestic Energy Assessor

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Photographer/ Floor planner /...

Recruitment Genius: Group Sales Manager - Field Based

£21000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Located on the stunning Sandban...

Ashdown Group: Assistant Management Accountant - Part Qualified CIMA / ACCA

£30000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: We are recruitment for an Assistan...

Day In a Page

Woman who was sent to three Nazi death camps describes how she escaped the gas chamber

Auschwitz liberation 70th anniversary

Woman sent to three Nazi death camps describes surviving gas chamber
DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

The inside track on France's trial of the year

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
As provocative now as they ever were

Sarah Kane season

Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea