Tokyo Notes

Natural Born Voters?

Tokyo’s outspoken governor questions backing for extending voting rights.

Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara has once again landed himself in hot water with a controversial comment suggesting that some of the politicians favouring the granting of local voting rights to foreigners were naturalized Japanese or the children of naturalized Japanese.

Ishihara reportedly said their support for the granting of the right for foreigners with permanent residency derived from a sense of ‘duty to their ancestors’ during one of a number of events at the weekend declaring opposition to the move being considered by the ruling Democratic Party of Japan.

The comment drew the ire of Social Democratic Party leader Mizuho Fukushima, who said Monday that Ishihara was trying to ‘trample’ on her political beliefs, according to the Asahi Shimbun’s evening edition. While insisting that neither she nor her parents were naturalized, she demanded that the Tokyo governor retract his remarks. ‘Naturalized people are Japanese, and have totally equal rights and obligations with Japanese. It must be racial discrimination to make an issue of them,’ she said, according to Kyodo News.

On the day Ishihara made his remarks, another rally of opponents to foreign suffrage took place at Tokyo’s renowned Nippon Budokan venue. Organizers claimed attendance of over 10,000, among whom the key participants were Liberal Democratic Party Secretary General Tadamori Oshima, Your Party head Yoshimi Watanabe and Takeo Hiranuma, head of what is now called the Sunrise Party of Japan.

Arguments against the move vary from the politically mundane—a measure aimed at benefitting the DPJ electorally—to the more sinister—manipulation of major issues such as territorial claims (apparently this would be achieved by Korean groups moving their members to the municipalities concerned).

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Of most concern to the DPJ will have been the presence at the Budokan meet of one of their own coalition leaders, Shizuka Kamei, who has said he will leave the government if they press ahead with the measure.

As for the likelihood of the thick-skinned Ishihara withdrawing his remarks, I think foreign permanent residents are more likely to see representation in return for their taxation first.