Shintaro Ishihara, outspoken nationalist governor of Tokyo, dies at 89

Shintaro Ishihara, a Japanese author turned incendiary nationalist politician who served as governor of Tokyo and stoked diplomatic tensions with China over disputed islands, died in Tokyo on Tuesday. He was 89 years old.

His death was confirmed by his sons, who told reporters in Tokyo that Mr Ishihara suffered a relapse of pancreatic cancer in October. “He led an era,” said his son Yoshizumi Ishihara.

A controversial figure in the otherwise pallid world of Japanese politics, Mr Ishihara served as governor of Tokyo for 13 years from 1999, leading a determined right-wing campaign which he said would invigorate the nation and free it from subservience to the United States. .

He called for the development of nuclear weapons in a nation still traumatized by the bombings of World War II and for the abolition of the constitutional provisions imposed by the United States which prohibit Japan from going to war.

Her outspoken conservative views have sometimes led to remarks that have been criticized as discriminatory against women or foreigners. And his intense nationalism helped drag Japan into a diplomatic entanglement with China in 2012, when as governor of Tokyo he raised millions of dollars to buy a chain of private islands in the East China Sea. known as Senkaku in Japanese and Diaoyu in Chinese. .

Although Japan’s central government eventually purchased the islands from their Japanese owner to defuse the situation, Mr. Ishihara’s decision helped spark protests in dozens of cities in China, which also lays claim to the islands.

Such was Mr. Ishihara’s commitment to his causes, he said, that in 2012, at age 80, he quit his governorship to create a populist party and contest the leadership of the country.

“I cannot afford to die as long as my Japan, which has been ridiculed by China and seduced as a mistress by the United States, is able to rise again as a stronger and more beautiful nation,” had said. he said at the time. .

The eldest of two brothers, Shintaro Ishihara was born in the Japanese port city of Kobe on September 30, 1932, and grew up in the far northern prefectures of Hokkaido and Kanagawa, south of Tokyo, where his father, Kiyoshi , worked for a shipping company. His mother, Mitsuko, who had painted in her youth, was a housewife.

While studying law at Hitotsubashi University in Tokyo, Mr. Ishihara published his first novel, “Season of Violence”, for which he received one of Japan’s most prestigious literary accolades, the Akutagawa Prize. , in 1955. The book won him notoriety for its depiction of disillusioned youth in post-war Japan, a theme he would return to in later writings.

A film adaptation of the novel starred his brother, Yujiro Ishihara, who rose to prominence as an actor in the 1960s and 1970s.

Although Mr. Ishihara has written other screenplays, he has gained attention outside of Japan for his political writings. His 1989 book ‘The Japan Who Can Say No’ urged the country to stand up to the United States, saying Japan was superior in its technology and national character and that Americans had racist views on the people. Japanese.

He began his decades-long political career in 1968 as a legislator in the Japanese parliament for the conservative Liberal Democratic Party. But much of his political legacy came later, after he was elected governor of Tokyo in 1999.

During his four terms, he imposed restrictions on diesel vehicles to reduce pollution and carbon emissions, successfully lobbied for Tokyo to host the 2020 Summer Olympics (delayed to 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic) and set up a municipal bank, ShinGinko Tokyo, to lend money to small businesses. It then merged with other private banks.

But his blunders and candid remarks have sometimes overshadowed his accomplishments.

After an earthquake and tsunami killed around 20,000 people in March 2011, Mr Ishihara said the “disaster was divine punishment for the selfishness of the Japanese people”, remarks he later recanted in unusual excuses. In a 2001 interview, he said it was “a mess women go through even after losing their ability to reproduce”, a comment for which a group of women demanded retraction and compensation. And he has been criticized for using pejorative words popularized in post-World War II Japan to refer to immigrants and foreigners.

He embarked on another political pivot in 2012, leading a newly created populist party that analysts said signaled the nation’s desire for strong leadership after years of political indecision and financial torpor. The party later merged with another independent party, the Japan Restoration Party, and won seats in parliament, but it eventually disbanded in 2014 due to disagreements.

“As a politician and author, I have been fortunate enough to be able to stand at historical crossroads many times,” Mr Ishihara said in 2014 as he announced his retirement from politics. “Until I die, I mean what I mean and do what I want to do, and I want to die hated by people.”

In his later years, his sons said he spent an hour a day at his desk writing. He finished his last novel in December and continued to write daily even until last week, they said.

Besides his sons, Nobuteru, Yoshizumi, Hirotaka and Nobuhiro, he is survived by his wife, Noriko Ishihara.

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