OSAKA--Critics of Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto sometimes describe his politics as “Hashism,” referring to a supposed similarity between some of his tactics and those of fascism.
Hashimoto himself referred to the jibe when asked to explain his surging support rates. “Please ask people who are criticizing me by saying ‘Hashism,’” he said.
For many Japanese politicians, such an explosive accusation would be a cause of great offense, but for Hashimoto it appears to have been just more to fuel his fire.
According to Jiro Yamaguchi, professor of political science at Hokkaido University’s graduate school, Hashimoto thrives on conflict, drawing alienated people to him by stoking conflict with the perceived establishment.
Yamaguchi experienced Hashimoto first hand on TV Asahi Corp.’s “Hodo Station Sunday” (News report station Sunday) on Jan. 15. During the program, Yamaguchi contradicted Hashimoto on educational reforms and the establishing of the Osaka metropolitan government, and quickly found himself a target for the Osaka mayor’s sharp tongue.
While the author Junichi Watanabe, another guest who had expressed cautious support for Hashimoto’s agenda, was held up by Hashimoto as a “novelist who knows reality,” Yamaguchi was ruthlessly undermined.
“A scholar is saying trivial things,” Hashimoto said. “(Yamaguchi’s) opinions are those suitable for scholars.”
Yamaguchi admits he came out second best in the exchange. “If we regard the argument between me and Mr. Hashimoto as a fight, he is the winner,” he says.
But he points out that Hashimoto’s aggressive tactics also have much of the political establishment on the back foot. “As established political parties have fallen into malaise, people cannot see the axis of politics, so their expectations (of Hashimoto) are growing,” Yamaguchi says.
In a public opinion poll conducted by The Asahi Shimbun on Feb. 11 and 12, the support rate for the ruling Democratic Party of Japan stood at 17 percent, with the largest opposition Liberal Democratic Party polling just 12 percent.
Fifty-four percent of respondents, however, wanted Hashimoto’s Osaka Ishin no Kai regional party to take enough seats in the next Lower House election to have influence in the Diet.
Takeshi Nakajima, associate professor of political thought at Hokkaido University’s graduate school, says: “Among people who have lost trust in the government due to the Great East Japan Earthquake and are anxious as a result, there is a growing expectation that a savior is going to appear.”
Hashimoto’s calls for the “destruction of the current system,” and his habit of singling out enemies from groups such as public servants and labor unions has been gaining support among an electorate disoriented by the failure of the major parties, Nakajima says.
“What many people are expecting is a sudden and drastic change of the current system. They are not supporting Hashimoto’s individual policies,” says Nakajima.
Tatsuru Uchida, professor emeritus of contemporary French thought at Kobe College, served as a special adviser to former Osaka Mayor Kunio Hiramatsu and was criticized by Hashimoto.
“Unless he is able to find a constant stream of enemies, he cannot maintain his (high) support rates. In that context, he has started talking about making inroads into national politics,” Uchida said.
Rika Kayama, a psychiatrist, publicly criticized Hashimoto’s approach, describing it as the product of “a sort of crisis or a disease,” prompting an immediate and acidic response from Hashimoto on the Twitter microblogging service. “Despite having never met me, she made a diagnosis saying I am sick. She is a Sai Baba,” he said, referring to the Indian spiritual healer claimed to have cured illnesses psychically.
Kayama said that she had never diagnosed Hashimoto as suffering from a specific illness, but she did insist that his political success could be analyzed as a psychological phenomenon.
She says it is a characteristic of some people with anxiety problems that they are unable to make judgments without simplifying them into a choice between two alternatives.
“I think that the reason why a politician who requires people to make a choice between two (alternatives) gets high support rates is that eligible voters have been driven into an unstable situation,” she says.
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