Hashimoto exits politics after "Osaka Metropolis" plan defeat

By Daniele Pestilli on May 26, 2015
Toru Hashimoto garnering supporters for his party, the Ishin no Kai. Image by 雪融 (CC 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons)

On Sunday, May 17th, Osaka citizens voted against a plan proposed by the controversial and animated politician, Toru Hashimoto, that would purportedly merge the city's 24 wards into 5 semi-autonomous districts. The final tally was 705,585 votes against the plan versus 694,844 for it, with a 66.83% turnout rate. This ends Mr. Hashimoto's five-year quest to simplify Osaka's administration, as the politician announced he would not seek re-election as mayor when his term expires.

The proposal, according to Japan Today was a way to reduce Osaka's financial waste, cut out the abundant administrative duplication – a well-known problem in Japan – and improve investment domestically and abroad. It included measures that would remove existing limitations on the autonomy of local government entities imposed by national legislation and Tokyo’s central government. Cumulatively, proponents asserted this would save Osaka 270 billion yen ($2.2 bn) over the next 17 years. However, opponents claimed this would only save 100 million yen annually ($815,500) and would require an initial 60 billion yen ($489.3 million) investment.

Many are convinced that they haven't seen the last of Mr. Hashimoto. On February 1st, 2014, he had already claimed he would resign as Osaka mayor. An article by Forbes quoted one politician that same year, who remarked, “Hashimoto is like a bluefin tuna: he has to keep moving [which is to say, fight with vested interests for something] to survive.” According to the Japan Times Kenji Eda, the Lower House member with whom Hashimoto jointly set up Ishin no To (Japan Innovation Party), also commented, “He’s the kind of politician who only comes along once every 20 or 30 years. I’m sure he'll be back.” Eda also said he himself would step down as party leader following this crushing defeat.

Former lawyer and TV personality, Toru Hashimoto, first assumed office in November 2011. A glib speaker and lady-swooner, he is particularly admired for his ostensible strength of character and for his unconventional background: as this e-magazine has previously evinced, his father was a burakumin (historically outcast people considered impure) as well as a yakuza gang member. He committed suicide when Toru was in second grade. Mr. Hashimoto now has seven children – four daughters and three sons – with his wife Noriko, whom he publicly admitted to have cheated on with a club hostess between 2006 and 2008. In 2013, he claimed that the “comfort women” (prostitutes) that the Japanese military coerced during its invasion of Korea was “necessary” so that Japanese soldiers could have a chance “to rest” BBC News quotes.

Mr. Hashimoto was also a valuable ally for the Japanese Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, who has been looking to revise Japan's post-war, pacifist constitution, which has not been altered since World War Two, The Star explains. The two politicians saw eye-to-eye on this matter.

He also had a scandalous spat with one of Japan's major newspapers, Asahi News, when he remarked: “We’d be better off without the Asahi Shimbun. It’s just a foolish talk-shop institution. I hope it goes out of business soon. The paper seems to think it’s OK to badmouth authority.” Needless to say, it is this same mindset that consistently makes Japan rank poorly in the global freedom of press index. Perhaps, his exit from politics is a testament to the fact that Japanese people do not want the kind of authority Hashimoto has to offer.