“It will be a creative destruction,” Hashimoto said, describing his vision for reform in a television appearance this year. “Dismantle everything and start from scratch.”
From his perch in this eroding industrial city in Japan’s heartland, Hashimoto, 42, has as much name recognition as Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda and an approval rating nearly three times as high. Hashimoto’s calls for change play to a country that is anxious about its economy, disheartened by years of weak leadership and increasingly disgusted with the central government’s inability to make decisions — about tax increases, about disaster reconstruction, about energy policy.
Japanese politicians, Hashimoto said in the same television appearance, “cannot decide on anything.” Without an overhaul of the way the nation’s government is structured, he said, “Japan will sink within three to five years.”
Even before entering politics, Hashimoto, who trained as a lawyer, was nationally famous for giving legal advice on television. But his political style has expanded his fame, largely because he has been prolific both in making enemies and in jousting with them.
He recently ordered his more than 30,000 city employees to disclose whether they had any tattoos — a traditional symbol here of membership in the yakuza, or Japanese mafia — and said those with the ink should quit. He has also suggested that elected officials should have something approaching “carte-blanche power,” near-heresy in a country wary of unrestrained authority, part of its recoil from World War II militarism.
Tsuneo Watanabe, the powerful Yomiuri Shimbun Holdings chairman, recently said of Hashimoto, “I’m reminded of Adolf Hitler.”
On Twitter, Hashimoto reminded Watanabe that he was in charge of the country’s largest newspaper and its most popular baseball team.
“He is a far more magnificent despot,” Hashimoto wrote.
Supporters say Hashimoto is a threat merely to the established political parties, not the nation. Persuaded by his complaints of Tokyo’s failings, many here hope Hashimoto will use his made-from-scratch political party, formed in 2010, to catapult to the prime minister’s seat.
But Tokyo’s political scene has been notoriously closed to outside challengers and minor parties. The Liberal Democratic Party controlled the country nearly uninterrupted for a half-century. It was ousted by the Democratic Party of Japan in 2009, but the DPJ’s promised reforms never took root.
By both policy and behavior, the two major parties are now nearly indistinguishable. Both have approval ratings under 20 percent.