Tokyo Notes

Ishihara No Numskull

Clever media manipulation keeps Tokyo’s controversial governor in the spotlight ahead of the gubernatorial poll.

The Numskulls are creatures in a popular British comic that live inside the head of a boy. Each of them controls a different bodily function, with one operating the buck-toothed child's brain and another one his mouth. If politicians had such creatures pulling their strings, co-operation between the brain and mouth critters would be vital for political success.

Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara has had a fractious relationship over the years with his cognitive and oral Numskulls, having made scores of controversial remarks (too numerous to list here) during his three terms in office. But they now seem to be working in harmony to manipulate a hungry media.

Speculation is rife over whether the polarizing governor will enter the capital’s gubernatorial race. And so far, Ishihara is keeping everyone guessing.

The Asahi Shimbun on Tuesday quoted a source close to 78-year-old Ishihara as saying the incumbent ‘didn’t feel like running,’ while the Tokyo Shimbun reported his son Nobuteru Ishihara, the opposition Liberal Democratic Party’s No. 2, as telling supporters that his dad didn’t intend to put his name forward. However, only last week, the Mainichi Shimbun reported that Ishihara’s aides were making preparations for an election campaign.

With just one month left to the start of official campaigning on March 24, it seems the Ishihara Numskulls are working overtime to trip reporters up and throw the plans of potential opponents into disarray.

Ishihara, should he run, would be backed by the LDP. But without knowing his decision, the ruling Democratic Party of Japan seems hesitant in its selection of a candidate for ‘a battle that must be won.’ The smart money is on the DPJ backing Renho, one of the government’s most popular ministers. But even with her high approval rates she would find Ishihara a formidable opponent, and Prime Minister Naoto Kan (if he’s still around) might not want to lose one of the few vote winners in his Cabinet.

While the Nikkan Gendai tabloid accused Ishihara on Wednesday of ‘ridiculing the Tokyo public’ for sending out mixed messages, it could all be part of a clever scheme to keep him in the spotlight before he belatedly throws his hat in the ring. And while Ishihara may have his critics, he’s certainly no numskull.