Toru Hashimoto: Japan's would-be dictator

He admires cockroaches, once allegedly offered on air to impregnate a TV personality and openly admits to a lust for power.

Oh, and the mayor of Osaka thinks Japan needs a dictatorship.

Welcome to the world view of one of the country's most popular politicians, Toru Hashimoto, a 42-year-old with naked ambitions who is shaking Japan's political foundations to their core.

A few years ago he was a corporate lawyer advising companies at the grubby end of personal finance -- a sector filled with businesses offering loans at punishingly high interest rates, some of which are rumoured to have connections to Japan's organised crime networks.

Now Hashimoto, an almost nightly fixture on news broadcasts, is being courted by Tokyo's politicians as he looks to take his local party onto the national stage.

With 2,000 followers signed up to a school he established to teach would-be parliamentarians, Hashimoto has a ready-made army aiming to take the political highground from squabbling lawmakers who have produced little more than a string of short-term, powerless premiers.

"What Japanese politics needs now is dictatorship -- the power enough to be called 'dictatorship'," Hashimoto said last year while adding that power needs to be checked by local assemblies, voters and the mass media.

"The source of power is the will of the people... Japan's biggest misfortune is that people cannot elect their prime minister directly," he said, referring to the system that sees lawmakers vote on who gets the top job.

This authoritarian streak has been termed "Hashism" by academics and opponents.

But opinion polls have shown the one-time rugby playing former lawyer -- and father of seven -- has his finger firmly on the nation's political pulse.

One survey found 55 percent of voters want his Osaka Isshin no Kai (Osaka Renewal Party) to win "an influential number of seats" in the next general elections, while another saw him top a list of politicians "most suitable" to lead Japan, well ahead of Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda.

Hashimoto was brought up by a single mother -- his estranged father reportedly killed himself over debts to fellow small-time gangsters -- and he argues vehemently against handouts, saying they undermine society.

"'No' to cutting off weak people. 'No' to widening disparity. 'No' to competition -- these sweet words are really dangerous," Hashimoto has said.

"We will stop this evil trend."

Formerly a man who had no qualms about nuclear power, he has voiced protest in recent months and now opposes plans by the ruling Democratic Party of Japan to allow the re-starting of reactors shuttered over safety concerns following the Fukushima disaster.

Daiki Kawasaki, an Osaka city assemblyman and high-school contemporary, said Hashimoto was never seen as an intellectual powerhouse.

"He wasn't earnest at rugby training sessions either but always put in a good performance when it came to real games," Kawasaki said.

"He stood out as a hungry, unique boy among many A-students."

That hunger translated itself into the singlemindedness of a politician determined to understand what makes voters tick.

"He has no hobbies. His entire energy is directed to his job," Kawasaki told AFP.

Hashimoto first came to public attention as one of the hundreds of vaguely colourful guests who populate a never-ending stream of TV comment shows.

His quick, vicious wit and punchy put-downs won him his fair share of enemies -- he raised eyebrows when he reportedly told TV moderator Sawako Agawa: "I could knock you up right away."

But they also garnered him a fanbase that propelled him to a 2008 landslide victory as governor of Osaka prefecture.

It was the perfect platform from which to argue his "one Osaka" plan aimed at streamlining local government and cutting the overlap between city and prefecture.

In October 2011, he resigned as governor to fight successfully for the job of Osaka mayor, with his hand-picked successor triumphing as governor.

Over the past few years he has mesmerised Japan, lambasting major news organisations for being "stupid", bashing central government for its "rip-off" policies and flaying academics for "desk theories" that contrast with his street-level grittiness.

"Cockroaches are great," he told a town meeting in 2010. "When you approach them, they dash off even though they have no eyes on their back. They have a great sense of crisis and we have to share the same sense of crisis."

He has taken on Japan's heavily-protected farmers who detest his support for the Trans Pacific Partnership, a mooted huge free trade area.

Hashimoto is also happy to confront liberal teaching unions, demanding that anyone who takes public money must stand to sing the national anthem -- a touchy subject in a nation where memories of expansionist imperialism refuse to fade.

"He tickles where people are pleased to be tickled, attacks those who people want to be attacked," said economist Noriko Hama of the popular politician.

But Hama echoes a criticism shared by many of Hashimoto's opponents: it's all form and no content.

"I don't see where his real passion is," she said.

Ichiro Ishii, a lawyer who was with Hashimoto during his legal training, also saw no particular dogma in his friend.

"He isn't a man who has a certain ideology and makes decisions by deducing from it," Ishii said.

"But he represents the feelings of people in their forties who have this sense that we are the generation that has to take care of a Japan built by baby boomers whose economic bubble has burst.

Loading...

Editor’s note:Yahoo Philippines encourages responsible comments that add dimension to the discussion. No bashing or hate speech, please. You can express your opinion without slamming others or making derogatory remarks.

  • US ambassador recovers from knife attack praised by N. Korea
    US ambassador recovers from knife attack praised by N. Korea

    The US ambassador to South Korea, Mark Lippert, was recovering from surgery Thursday after having his face and arm slashed by a knife-wielding activist in an attack applauded by North Korean state media. The United States condemned the "act of violence" which saw the ambassador rushed to hospital where his condition was described as stable after two-and-a-half hours of surgery that included 80 stitches to a deep gash on his right cheek. In a brief despatch, North Korea's official KCNA news …

  • Sy moves up, Villar enters Forbes list of billionaires
    Sy moves up, Villar enters Forbes list of billionaires

    Eleven Filipinos are included in Forbes’ 2015 list of richest people in the world. Filipino-Chinese tycoon Henry Sy Sr. continues to be the wealthiest man in the Philippines. The 90-year-old SM supermalls, banking and property tycoon ranked 73rd among the world’s richest with an increased net worth of $14.2 billion from $11.4 billion last year. Sy’s net worth was attributed to the continued growth of his SM Investments Corp. and his more recent venture, the City of Dreams Manila resort and …

  • US billionaire says WWII Japanese ship found in Philippines
    US billionaire says WWII Japanese ship found in Philippines

    Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen said Wednesday he had found one of Japan's biggest and most famous battleships on a Philippine seabed, some 70 years after American forces sank it during World War II. Excited historians likened the discovery, if verified, to finding the Titanic, as they hailed the American billionaire for his high-tech mission that apparently succeeded after so many failed search attempts by others. Allen posted photos and video online of parts of what he said was the …

  • New Moro rebel group emerges
    New Moro rebel group emerges

    A radical Muslim cleric trained in the Middle East and considered one of the leaders of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) has broken away from the terror group to form his own band of jihadists who are now reportedly providing sanctuary to bomb expert Basit Usman and at least five foreign militants, the military said yesterday. Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) spokesman Col. Restituto Padilla, citing reports from the field, said the Justice for Islamic Movement (JIM) was …

  • World's oldest person wonders about secret to longevity too
    World's oldest person wonders about secret to longevity too

    TOKYO (AP) — The world's oldest person says 117 years doesn't seem like such a long time. …

  • Pacquiao big hit so far in Vegas sports books vs Mayweather

    LAS VEGAS (AP) — Manny Pacquiao has always believed he can do what 47 other fighters before him have failed to do — beat Floyd Mayweather Jr. in the ring. …

  • Australian drug smugglers being taken to Indonesian island for execution - media
    Australian drug smugglers being taken to Indonesian island for execution - media

    By Jane Wardell and Beawiharta SYDNEY/DENPASAR, Indonesia (Reuters) - Two convicted Australian drug smugglers were removed from a prison in Bali on Wednesday to be taken to an Indonesian island where they will be shot by firing squad, Australian media reported. The planned executions of Myuran Sukumaran, 33, and Andrew Chan, 31, have ratcheted up diplomatic tensions amid repeated pleas of mercy for the pair from Australia and thrown a spotlight on Indonesia's increasing use of the death …

  • Jolo apologizes to Bong in visit
    Jolo apologizes to Bong in visit

    Cavite Vice Gov. Jolo Revilla wept and embraced his father as he apologized for the “accidental” shooting incident in their Ayala Alabang residence, the family’s spokesman said yesterday. Lawyer Raymund Fortun came out of the private room at the Asian Hospital and Medical Center in Muntinlupa City to speak to reporters, who were barred from entering the hospital compound during the visit of Sen. Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr. …

POLL

Should Aquino be held accountable over the Mamasapano operations?

Loading...
Poll Choice Options