If You Ask Me February 2014

From the Horse’s Mouth

This year, Tokyo governor’s race and Winter Olympics are events to watch

According to the lunar calendar, the Year of the Horse began at the start of February. The Chinese zodiac’s 12-year cycle is also moderated by five elements—wood, fire, earth, metal and water. This year’s element is wood.

If you believe in astrology, this bodes well for the year, especially because wood tends to tame the occasional impetuous tendencies of the horse.

What might we expect this year? At home, all eyes will be on the battle for Tokyo governor. Few people in my own circle (whether Japanese or foreign) will lament the political demise of former governors Shintaro Ishihara and Naoki Inose, but what are we to make of the record 16 individuals who are running?

Most foreign residents of the capital, myself included, know little about many of the candidates. Since we are in any event disenfranchised, most of us will pay little attention.

But this is a mistake: the governorship of the capital city is a serious position. Think of Boris Johnson in London; if only there were so colourful a candidate here!

And—hold your breath—are we not nearing a time when foreigners with a genuine stake in Japan, those who pay taxes, those with Japanese spouses, those owning property, those with permanent residency, should perhaps have a vote at the local level?

I, for one, would value that. I would also, in return, be willing to serve on a council or committee, somewhere I could make a contribution to the community in which I live and that I hold in great esteem. But I suspect this is not an idea whose time has come quite yet.

Of all those standing in this month’s election, one candidate seems to invite the most interest. Morihiro Hosokawa, Japan’s 79th prime minister (1993–94), has the very public backing of another former prime minister, Junichiro Koizumi (2001–06).

Hosokawa is a Tiger and Koizumi a Horse: a potent combination in a month when the Lunar New Year turns.

It is striking that Hosokawa is basing his campaign on a complete rejection of nuclear energy. He and those who support him are essentially opposing the declared policy of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

In the wake of the 11 March 2011 disasters in the Tohoku region, the nuclear issue is in the spotlight. But there are other factors in play, many of which have not been discussed.

If you look at the records of both Hosokawa and Koizumi, their general stance towards Japan’s neighbours—especially China and South Korea—could not be more different from that of the hawkish Abe.

Just look at their respective positions on visits to Yasukuni Shrine, not to mention previously expressed regrets for wartime aggression. It is almost certain that Japan-watchers in both Beijing and Seoul will be paying close attention to the outcome of the election.

Moreover, they will be analysing the comments each candidate makes in public to get a sense of Tokyo’s potential future sentiments towards them. Polling day (19 February) will be closely watched.

With a record number of candidates, we are hoping for a strong voter turnout and a result that delivers a governor who can stand ready to lead Tokyo into the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games with pride and honour.

Queering the pitch

Controversy surrounds the Sochi Winter Games ahead, with Russian President Vladimir Putin having equated homosexuality with pederasty and—forgive the pun—queering the Olympic pitch.

It is difficult to know whether gay athletes (and those who sympathise with them) should boycott the Games or stand defiant. The US has made its position very clear, with President Barack Obama sending a delegation including some very prominent gay and lesbian personalities.

Why does this issue continue to be a problem? Can we not just grow up? But just when you think it is safe to get back in the water…

David Silvester is a British local councillor and member of the UK Independence Party. He is also convinced that the flooding that has recently hit the country is a direct result of Prime Minister David Cameron’s decision to approve gay marriage.

I am not making this up. According to the righteous councillor, God looked down on the UK and decided to wreak vengeance, devastating great parts of the land, inconveniencing thousands of innocents—by far the greater part heterosexual, by the way—much as He did with Hurricane Katrina in the US, where gays were also blamed, to the huge satisfaction of such intellectual sophisticates as Sarah Palin.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we all got back to the old-fashioned idea of horse (common) sense?