SEOUL — One of Japan’s highest-profile nationalists, Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara, said Thursday that he will resign his post and form a political party in a bid to gain power in the country’s central government.
The new party figures to drive Japan even farther to the right at a time when the nation’s two leading political parties have approval ratings below 25 percent. Japan must call a new parliamentary election by August.
During his 13 years as governor — the top post in Japan’s capital — Ishihara, 80, denounced immigrants, spoke about Japanese people’s superior sensibilities and advocated that the nation acquire nuclear weapons. He also said the devastating March 11, 2011, earthquake and tsunami were “divine punishment” because Japan had become too greedy. He was then reelected.
This year, Ishihara launched a bid to buy the Senkaku Islands, territory disputed with China. Because the central government feared an Ishihara takeover of the land, known as Diaoyu in China, it decided on a competing — and successful — bid in an attempt to calm tensions. But the move infuriated China nonetheless, and trade with Beijing has dropped in recent months because of the diplomatic row.
Ishihara’s resignation was a surprise and sparked media speculation about whether he will join hands with another nationalist outsider, Toru Hashimoto, the Osaka mayor. Hashimoto recently created the Japan Restoration Party and opened a school to train parliamentary candidates. Hashimoto and Ishihara met Oct. 13 in Tokyo, the Kyodo news agency reported.
With Ishihara’s announcement, Japan’s next parliamentary election is shaping up as a choice between moderate, right and far right, with no influential liberal voices. The leaders of all mainstream parties — including Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda of the Democratic Party of Japan and Shinzo Abe, leader of the Liberal Democratic Party — have spoken about firm stances against China and have advocated for changes to Japan’s pacifist constitution.