On Nov 30, Osaka’s progressive Gov Toru Hashimoto—known in local circles as “Naniwa no Kenka-ya” (the bullyboy of Osaka)—remarked, “To relieve the burden of bases on Okinawa, the burden should be spread more evenly throughout Japan.”
Hashimoto’s proposal to transfer the functions of the U.S. Marine Corps Air Facility at Futenma, Okinawa, to the unpopular, money-losing Kansai International Airport in Osaka Bay stirred off a storm of controversy, not all of it negative.
Indeed, Shukan Taishu (Dec 28) sees the 40-year-old Hashimoto as exhibiting the kind of dynamic leadership Japan desperately needs. Its headline reads: “Hashimoto, if you can transfer Futenma to Kansai International, you’re good as being prime minister!”
Clearly something has to be done, and soon. The Hatoyama cabinet’s dithering on the Okinawa base issue has already begun to erode its high public support—by as much as 20%, according to some surveys.
“The problem of American military bases has been a difficult impediment to Japan-U.S. relations since the end of the war,” a political journalist tells Shukan Taishu. “Okinawa Prefecture, which remained under military occupation (until 1972), bears three-fourths of the burden of American bases.”
“The fact is, other localities don’t want to accept U.S. bases,” he adds. “Even Diet members and heads of local governments who accept the necessity of U.S. bases in Japan echo the local sentiments that, ‘We don’t want them in our town.’”
A day after Hashimoto’s audacious remarks, cries of opposition resounded from neighboring Hyogo Prefecture, whose governor, Toshizo Ido, remarked, “It would be outrageous for the national government to give serious consideration to such a harebrained scheme.”
But actually, the magazine writes, mails and phone calls to Hashimoto’s office are said to be running 60% in favor of the proposal.
“The governor’s idea is typical of his way of doing things,” says a journalist who covers the Osaka prefectural headquarters. “Not leaving everything to be dealt with by the central government, but getting the whole country involved in coming up with fresh ideas to deal with the problem like the bases—that’s not necessarily a bad thing.”
During his two years as governor, notes Shukan Taishu, Hashimoto has earned a reputation for getting things done. After declaring “a state of emergency” upon taking office 2008 he began downsizing the government and balanced Osaka’s budget for the first time in 11 years.
“Transferring a base to Osaka is a complex matter that would also involve foreign diplomacy,” the aforementioned journalist remarks. “But the fact that his proposal has stirred up the bureaucracy means it can’t be entirely brushed aside.”
“Until something can be done with Kansai airport, the fiscal foundations of Osaka and the entire Kansai region cannot avoid sinking,” political commentator Jiro Honzawa points out. “I suppose his proposal is tied to getting this burden off Kansai’s back.”
In other words, it’s just one cog in Hashimoto’s master plan to revitalize Osaka.
The chances of actually pulling off such a miraculous solution are probably slim to none; but as one political reporter puts it, were Hashimoto able to pull it off, in the eyes of his countrymen such a coup would almost certainly boost his status above that of the prime minister.