Reading Japan’s political runes

The appointment of Yoshihide Suga as prime minister of Japan may have subtly shifted the sands when it comes to the two top contenders to host an integrated resort in their cities.

Osaka was the clear favourite amongst international operators, with the majority focusing their efforts on winning a license there. Then along came Yokohama and some of the biggest names rapidly switched their allegiances.

On the face of it, having Suga in the top position should be a further point in favour of Yokohama. However, in Japanese politics it’s not that simple. 

Suga’s House of Representatives home territory is the Kanagawa 2nd District, which  consists of Yokohama city’s Nishi, Minami, and Konan wards, directly adjoining the Yamashita Pier area, which is the candidate location for the IR. He has held his seat in this single-member constituency in every general election since 1996.

While the first instinct might be to think that a more powerful Suga would mean a more powerful Yokohama IR bid, the reality is likely the opposite. In his current post he (and Yokohama) will be under greater scrutiny. Not only is it more difficult for him to help his constituency behind the scenes, but even if he does nothing and Yokohama wins its IR bid, suspicions are bound to be raised.

Indeed, it is easy to predict that the vibrant Yokohama anti-casino movement will immediately begin to embrace and promote the notion that corrupt schemes are afoot and that Suga is pulling the strings to bring the IR to his home city. Within weeks or months, this image of political corruption can be expected to proliferate on the Japanese left.

Osaka on the other hand has no such complications. 

The crux of the matter is that Suga is both perfectly distant and perfectly close to help the Osaka government in its IR ambitions.

Neither Suga nor his family have any close ties with Osaka, it is not his own electoral district, and no one can accuse Osaka Mayor Ichiro Matsui and Osaka Governor Hirofumi Yoshimura of being Suga’s political puppets, as is sometimes alleged in the case of Yokohama Mayor Fumiko Hayashi.

Put another way, if Suga helps facilitate Osaka’s bid to gain one of the three available IR licenses, few observers will allege that this is a matter of his own corrupt self-interest.

But Suga is also perfectly close to Osaka’s political leaders. He sought out and established a tight friendship with Matsui during the time of the Democratic Party of Japan regime, and he maintained it once he became chief cabinet secretary under Abe in December 2012.

In all the years since then, Suga was the Osaka leaders’ main pipeline to the central government in terms of budget requests and other key matters. Suga is known to have played a major role in mobilizing central government support for Osaka’s successful bid to host the 2025 World Expo.

Little remarked upon in the national and international media, but hardly without significance in this context, is that Suga, as he became prime minister created only one new Cabinet post—Minister in charge of the 2025 Osaka Kansai World Expo. Shinji Inoue, former Vice-Minister of the Environment and the Cabinet Office, was appointed to the new position.

The winds of fortune also seem to be blowing in the Osaka leaders’ favor in terms of their most cherished objective; the administrative unification of Osaka prefecture and city into a single metropolis on the lines of Tokyo. After a long and hard political struggle, a second referendum on the issue is now set to be held this autumn and, unlike their first attempt in 2015, polls suggest that they are likely heading for victory.

This initiative has always been the most fundamental policy of the Osaka Restoration Association / Japan Innovation Party that Matsui heads, and now they are within striking distance of achieving what at certain junctures appeared to be politically impossible.

Should the referendum vote indeed go their way, Osaka city’s 24 wards will be consolidated into four special areas with greater autonomy, scheduled to launch at the beginning of 2025, the same year as the World Expo.

So while Covid-19 and the bribery scandal and disapproving public opinion are rattling the prospects for IR development in Japan generally, Osaka may be quietly reassuming its former position as the local IR bid in the healthiest political shape. 

Reading Japan’s political runes

Court dismisses Okada’s appeal against Universal

Universal Entertainment Corporation said the Tokyo High Court has dismissed its founder Kazuo Okada’s latest appeal against the company.

According to the statement, “the Tokyo District Court, acknowledging that the fraudulent acts were conducted under the order of Mr. Okada, also acknowledged that Mr. Okada breached both his duty of care of a good manager and his fiduciary duty of loyalty as a director of the company, and accepted all claims of the company.”

Universal and its subsidiary Tiger Resort Asia have been seeking damages from Okada on claims that he fraudulently transferred company resources to personal accounts.

Okada was appealing against a February verdict which ordered him to pay nearly US$200,000 to his former company.

Prosecutors seek jail for Kamori in case

Prosecutors have asked that Kimihito Kamori, the former chairman of Kamori Kanko, serve ten months in prison for his role in the 500 .com bribery case.

Kamori had been seeking to win an IR bid for his resort in Rusutsu village, Hokkaido, which was in competition with the more powerful Tomakomai bid within the northern prefecture, and he admittedly participated in efforts to bribe lawmaker Tsukasa Akimoto.

“I enthusiastically made an appeal to attract an IR to Rusutsu village, Hokkaido, and was actively involved in the crime. It was a vicious crime that significantly damaged confidence in IR policy,” Kamori admitted in a statement to the court.

The defense team is asking that Kamori be spared prison and subjected to fine instead.