Tokyo Prefectural Elections July 12

On July 12 the Tokyo Legislative Assembly elections will be held. While the TLA does not appear to do much in the grand scheme of things, this election is personally important to me as it will mark my first experience with an election where Mrs. Adamu can actually cast a ballot (in previous elections she could not vote for one reason or another). With that in mind and in the interest of being an informed voter’s spouse, I decided to take a look at what this is all about with a focus on Adachi-ku, the ku I call home.

How is the assembly chosen?

With 127 members (one representing roughly 100,000 people), Tokyo’s legislature is the nation’s biggest local assembly of any kind. Members come from 43 mostly multi-member districts and are elected all at once to four-year terms using the single non-transferable vote system similar to the Lower House elections prior to 1994. For example, in Adachi-ku’s case, voters choose an individual and the top six vote-getters win seats. The 42 districts consist of the 23 cities or “ku,” 18 cities within the prefectural boundaries, and one to cover all the outlying islands. Adachi-ku, where I live, is allotted six seats.

Most local elections in Japan are held all at once every four years in what are called the “unified local elections” (統一地方選) (the last round was in 2007), but Tokyo’s are held two years after that. They used to sync with the rest of the country, but the schedule got screwed up in 1965 when an LDP bribery scandal spurred leftist parties to push for a recall, leading to a voluntary dissolution and early election.

Currently, the LDP-New Komeito coalition maintains an overwhelming majority of seats (with a respective 48 and 22 members each), followed by the DPJ with 22 members, 13 Communists,  and single-digit membership from the left-leaning Tokyo Seikatsusha Network and unaffiliated politicians.

What do they do?

In typical assembly fashion, they are responsible for passing local ordinances (条例)  and approving the prefecture’s budget, which at 6 trillion yen just for the general account is on par with Finland’s GDP.

The prefectural assembly’s other enumerated powers according to the Tokyo Prefectural Assembly website include investigating and auditing the executive branch, passing a no-confidence motion against the governor, and responding to requests from Tokyo residents to investigate various grievances.

What are some of their more recent achievements?  How powerful are they?

Since Tokyo’s government is set up somewhat similarly to a US state (unicameral legislature and a fairly powerful directly elected governor), the assembly can wield significant power if the party/coalition holding a majority of seats is opposed to the governor’s agenda. However, this is not currently the case, so right now they don’t do much.

News outlets openly report that the assembly is all but a rubber stamp for the executive, owing to a comfortable relationship with recent cozy LDP-Komeito majorities (and occasional DPJ cooperation) and three consecutive terms for Governor Shintaro Ishihara, who is not officially backed by any party but has an ideological affiliation with the LDP-Komeito as one of Japan’s leading conservatives. Prefectural assembly meetings are perfunctory affairs in which the elected members simply read from a script which has been prepared in advance by bureaucrats from the governor’s office, a process euphemistically called nemawashi i.e. backroom dealing. The Communists and other leftist parties do their best to stir up scandal (Ishihara’s lavish trips abroad and the catastrophic small-business bank among them), but voters keep voting in this conservative bloc.

Most of the assembly’s routine agenda appears to be fairly mundane, except when they are called on to give their blessing to the pet projects of either Governor Ishihara or the national government. A look at the agenda of assembly meetings in 2009 shows such typical local administration as minor revisions to health service fees, approval of staff rosters for the fire departments, and the establishment of a new police precinct. However, it is unclear how much room for originality the prefecture has when they must contend with the agendas of the Tokyo prefectural bureaucracy (firmly controlled by Governor Ishihara) and the prerogatives of the internal affairs ministry.

In May, the prefecture passed an emergency supplementary budget to provide economic stimulus in coordination with the central government’s efforts. They approved spending of 134.9 billion yen (with about half the funding from the central government, with the rest paid for by revenues from prefectural revenues and a bond issue). The money went to beef up a consumer protection agency, subsidize day-care centers, pay additional outlays to pregnant women, fund high-tech education, and more.

A 2007 report from citizen journalism site JANJAN decried the governor’s strong influence over the prefectural government, owing not only to the majority LDP-New Komeito who form a loyal right-wing support base thanks to their alliance in national politics, but also to a compliant DPJ. For example, the legislature is in charge of regulations/zoning of prefecture-run wholesale markets, and this includes the world-famous Tsukiji fish market. A decision made in 2001 to move the market to Toyosu, where more modern facilities can be constructed, met with opposition at the last minute due to claims of pollution at the new site in Toyosu. However, the assembly members were not hearing it and the move remains on schedule for 2012.

In another example of Ishihara’s absolute control over his pet projects, the Tokyo legislature gained national attention recently for approving multiple bailouts of New Bank Tokyo (新銀行東京). This bank was created as the fulfillment of Ishihara’s campaign promise to start a bank for small Tokyo-based companies during a bid for reelection in 2002. After opening for business in 2004, just three years later the bank became insolvent due to notoriously lax lending standards that led to enormous losses from the very beginning. But despite this embarrassing failure, the Tokyo assembly was unwilling to refuse Ishihara’s insistence on providing the bank with 4 billion yen in new capital and a new lease on life. In this instance the DPJ members opposed the bailout but it passed with LDP and Komeito support.

The media outlets reporting these scandals seemed genuinely frustrated with the assembly for these recent scandals, but it seems like they should save their breath for the governor’s office, because once Ishihara has made up his mind the TLA won’t do much to stop him.

Other so-called “third sector” businesses directly run by Tokyo Prefecture include the “Toei” subway lines and buses and prefectural government housing.

What are the issues in this election?

There are none. If you have heard anything about this upcoming election, it is probably  that a poor showing by the LDP could spell trouble for Prime Minister Aso’s government and could trigger an early election (latest reports are that Aso might just dissolve the Lower House before the prefectural elections.  Not even the Tokyo Shimbun could identify an angle outside of whether the LDP-Komeito coalition can hold onto power. I’ll go into more detail on the candidates themselves later, but their pledges tend to focus on populist rhetoric like helping small businesses, cutting income taxes, and lowering medical fees.

Otherwise, interest in the election is fairly low (but higher than a typical US election). The last election in July 2005 boasted a mere 43.99% turnout, which falls somewhere among the typical turnout of 40-50%.


OK, that’s enough for now. Next time I will try and profile the candidates in the election and see if it makes a difference.

18 thoughts on “Tokyo Prefectural Elections July 12”

  1. I just recently read about a new party, the 幸福実現党 Happiness Realization Party, an offshoot of the 幸福科学 Buddhist sect, and they are putting four bodies up for the Tokyo elections.

    I saw the ads in a couple of Keihan trains, and heard a speaker van in Hirakata going on about abolishing Sales Tax and Inheritence Tax.

    Also looking at their site their other two key policies are pre-emptive strikes on North Korea (not very Buddhist…) and open immigration and proactive promotion of naturalisation, with a target of almost tripling the population to 300,000,000 by 2030!

  2. Ken:

    I have been meaning to post on that new party for some time but cant find the time to do it. Essentially, the Kofuku religion is an elite rich people’s cult, and their radical policies are just a pufffed up version of the Keidanren agenda. They also have their own insane proposed constitution somewhere that declares Japan a Buddhist nation or some nonsense.

  3. They have some awesome temples scattered around, too. There was one close to my old apartment in Takanawa… looked like one of those ultra-modern Mormon meeting places.

  4. They want to get rid of the consumption tax and supporting the theory that they are a rich people’s cult – inheritance tax as well.

  5. I found your blog by accident, and saw your comments about Happiness Realization Party. What you all mentioned are so inaccurate! Happy Science / Kofuku-no-Kagaku is an open religion that welcomes all people, not just rich people. It is open to people of all races, nationalities, religions etc. Many Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, Muslims and others are members of Happy Science, who study the Universal Teachings taught by Master Ryuho Okawa. What sets this religion apart from the rest is the vastness and depth of its teachings – with the aim of creating an ideal society on Earth. Numerous people have overcome their life’s problems through the teachings of Happy Science. If you look at history, there are religious leaders who were also political leaders. In fact, politics play a major and active role in shaping the secular happiness of people. Religions contributes to the spiritual development and inner happiness of human beings.
    I live in Southeast Asia, and many members feel that we are never compelled to give donation, but we always receive so much from this wonderful religion – how our lives have improved, how we have become such better people! I went to Japan last year, and trust me, the Japanese members are so sincere and wise. If you study Master Okawa’s books, you’ll have understood things from much deeper perspective, and will not make these non-objective comments. Happy Science is the most advanced religion for our times. However, there are already numerous testimonies to prove how this religion will become even better. Hence, there is much reason to believe that Happiness Realization Party will be a party that realizes the happiness of people, and a force to reckon with. It has many outstanding and wise leaders of exemplary characters.

  6. By the way, I live in Singapore which is a multi-religious and multi-racial cosmopolitan country. I can deeply empathize the enormous value of Happy Science for the betterment of a peaceful and progressive society.

  7. Tan,

    Think of what you are saying. Have you heard of a new religion that *didnt* promise utopia in one form or another?

    English description of what the happy science teaches:

    “The happiness that is taught at Happy Science is the happiness that runs through this world and the next; it is another name for “enlightenment.” The teachings of Happy Science are based on the Buddhist spirit. Through learning and practicing the Truth, you will be able to deepen your character, build better relationships with others, create a harmonious family, and improve work skills. In the process you will gain much “nourishment for the soul,” which has the power to shine through to your next life as well.”

    So you have to learn “the Truth” in order to get happiness. The basic tenets of this Truth are:

    “Love” which is the Buddhist concept of compassion (does that mean doing good deeds to earn merit?)

    “Wisdom” – i.e. pursuing knowledge by studying “The Truth” which I assume is Okawa’s writings

    “Self-reflection” – Follow an eight-step path to “get rid of any impurities in the mind, and restore the state of mind that attunes to the heavenly world while being on earth.” And finally

    “Progress” – this one is a little iffy since the description forgoes details in favor of name-checking “Mahayana Buddhism” and “Hermes’ teachings of development and prosperity.” Apparently following these teachings give you “the happiness of a peaceful mind” and “a positive happiness gained through experiencing success, as well as the path to the creation of a utopia on earth.”

    They also believe in reincarnation and connect this search for The Truth and happiness to cycle of reincarnations that culminates in nirvana.

    I agree that pursuing happiness and inner peace are worthy goals, but personally I don’t need to subscribe to Buddhist superstitions to get there. As a Baptist-raised agnostic, I think it’s more important to keep your feet on the ground and try and deal with your human relationships in reality instead of spending all your time meditating and retreating into the community of a fringe church group.

    While there are many Japanese who wear their deep unhappiness on their faces, I dont think they would be very well served by this religion. One of the most refreshing things about living in Japanese society is its relative lack of dogmatic zealotry. In the realm of politics, in the US the leftwingers are just as zealous about their causes as the right-wing Christians are about swearing and abortion. And then people come here and conclude that Japanese people just arent interested in political speech.

  8. I remember Kofuku no Kagkau from an expose on them on TV some years back. Despite what some might say, it’s not all happiness apparently, and unsurprisingly. Wish I could recall the details, but it was probably about ten years ago now at least.

    From what I can gather, it’s basically Okawa “channeling” pretty much anyone he can think of big in the world of religion, in a sort of universalist grab-bag of prophets and seers.

  9. Tell ya something though – if these people ever want to be taken seriously, they really should not called themselves “Happy Science.” Sounds like something that should be done by Biochemist Smurf….

  10. There has been some talk about the recent growt of the JCP in memberships numbers. Do you think this will translate to more public support in the election? I know they are stronger in eastern Japan but haven’t they quite good showings in Tokyo too?

  11. Master Okawa has published over 500 books. Besides Japanese, some of his books are published in 12 languages – English, Chinese, Russian, German, Korean, Hungarian, Portuguese, Indonesian, Thai, Spanish and French. Over 25 of his books are published in English.

    Without Great Revelation, it is impossible for anyone to have such wealth of wisdom to publish books of such volumes. And the number of publications keep increasing. They range from deep spiritual messages and philosophies, to managing daily lives successfully such as relationships, work etc. So it’s wrong to say that we don’t learn about human relationships and “spending all your time meditating and retreating into the community of a fringe church group”.
    It’s really a lie!

    Many of us have full-time careers in the secular world, and through the teachings of Happy Science, we relate with people much better and we respect other religions.
    Without proper understanding of another’s religion, you simply criticize.
    Such kind of attitudes are the cause of religious conflicts throughout the world.

    The original Japanese name “Kofuku-no-Kagaku” in English means “Happiness” (Kofuku) and “Science” (Kagaku).

    The English name “Happy Science” is adopted for its clarity, simplicity and ease of pronunciation, in order to share the teachings of “Kofuku-no-Kagaku” with people all around the world regardless of their country of origin or level of English.

    You should read the testimonies of some of his books from Amazon.

  12. Uh, you know Isaac Asimov wrote about 500 books, including a few dozen novels and about 400 non-fiction books, and he never claimed to have any “Special Revelation” – just an ability to read, comprehend, and write very fast. It’s gotta be possible to write even faster when you don’t have to worry about either a: accuracy in non-fiction or b: plot consistency in fiction.

  13. Adamu, just wanted to say – many thanks for the election series.

    Tezuka Osamu drew like 500,000 pages of manga, but had assistants do most of the backgrounds. Me thinks that Okawa has reams of ghostwriters and besides, when one is only cherrypicking platitudes from Buddhism, Christianity, etc. I bet that turning out the pages isn’t too hard. I have read some of Okawa’s writing but didn’t see anything there that you can’t get just as easily from the Buddha manga, The Watchtower, Wikipeida, Jesus Christ Superstar, and The White Album. If there is something truly original to Okawa that I’m missing, I’m open to being enlightened. I’m also open to being enlightened on how Jesus and Buddha end up going hand in hand with “blow the crap out of North Korea”.

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