Shintaro Ishihara’s “luxury tours”

Tokyo Governor Ishihara is in trouble these days for a recent report released by the Japan Communist Party’s Tokyo chapter that reveals the extravagant details of Ishihara’s 19 official trips abroad. According to the Asahi’s report on the incident, the excessive use of public funds for these trips violates Tokyo’s spending rules, and they far outpace the spending of governors of neighboring prefectures. Here are some details of the trips in a bullet list so you don’t have to wade through the article:

  • During a trip to the Galapagos Islands in 2001, a trip supposedly necessary to study “eco-tourism,” the governor rented motorboats and spent 4 days “cruising” around the islands off Ecuador famous for their unique fauna. The JCP notes that Tokyo’s Environment Bureau had already compiled a report on ecotourism, calling into question the governor’s justification in spending a total of 14.4 million yen on the trip (figure includes costs for translator/assistants).
  • In 2006 trip to the US, Ishihara visited Grand Canyon and Redwood national parks, supposedly to observe America’s park ranger system. However, during the trip he spent another 4 days sightseeing and hobnobbed with local MOFA officials and Japanese business leaders. And anyway, Tokyo already has a similar park ranger system.
  • Most expensive, at a total of 35 million yen, was the governor’s May 2006 trip to the UK. His visit was intended to observe London’s strategies to win the chance to host the 2012 Summer Olympics. However, he only spent about an hour and a half on his stated mission – a meeting with local Olympic officials and a 30-minute helicopter ride. After signing a cooperation agreement with the city of London, he took an oddly unnecessary-seeming trip to the Isle of Man, to watch a motorcycle race of all things. The justification for the trip was that one village in Tokyo is considering holding a similar race, but that project is still in the initial planning stages.
  • But before that, Ishihara was in New York and Washington in November 2005 to view the New York marathon and give a speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (you can listen to the speech here). The contents of the speech (which I was this close to seeing live myself) consisted mostly of China-bashing (he famously declared that the US “could not win” a war against China), a practice that the Communists in Japan claim is not within the Tokyo governor’s job description.
  • Somehow the governor has claimed to be completely oblivious to the spending rules, according to Asahi: “It’s not a governor’s job to decide (how travel expenses are used),” he said. “I do not know much about the rules, but if there has been some deviation, I think it must be corrected.” What’s interesting is that he’s not being accused of misappropriating funds exactly, just overspending. The typical travel scandals involve situations like bureaucrats taking a few hundred thousand yen to go to Russia, but instead spending that time in Taiwan getting their groove on. Or more often bureaucrats will claim non-existent expenses (hotel rooms, taxi fare) so they can pocket the cash. But now with the growth of public scrutiny (and institution of a public information disclosure system similar to FOIA in the US), the Japanese opposition has come to a point where they now can complain that public trips are simply unjustified rather than grossly fraudulent.

    Now, it’s no secret that the executives of major cities tend to travel a lot. The numerous inter-city exchange initiatives, conferences, official study tours of foreign policy programs etc offer tempting travel opportunities for internationally-minded mayors. Outgoing Washington, DC, mayor Anthony Williams was also famous for his many trips abroad, though no scandal ever arose over them that I’m aware of.

    I’m a little surprised at how little English-language media attention the story has received given the man’s media darling status. The Western media have used Ishihara as an easy poster boy for Japan’s right wing given his tendency to make insane foot-in-mouth statements and other bluntness, but where are they now?

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