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Japanese politician Shintaro Ishihara dies at 89

FILE PHOTO: Former Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara speaks in front of the sign of his new party named "Sunrise Party" during a news conference in Tokyo November 13, 2012. REUTERS/Yuriko Nakao/File Photo

Shintaro Ishihara, a fierce nationalist who served as Tokyo governor for more than a decade and sparked a territorial dispute with China over a plan to buy islands claimed by both countries, died on Tuesday, according to NHK public television. He was 89 years old at the time.

Looking back: Ishihara’s tenure as governor of Japan’s capital was marred by controversy due to his outspoken right-wing views and penchant for controversial comments about China, the LGBTQ community, foreigners, and elderly women. He was an award-winning novelist before becoming a politician and serving in parliament for nearly 30 years.

  • After the March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami, which killed over 20,000 people, he made the statement that the event was “divine punishment” for Japanese “egoism.”
  • He claimed in an essay in August 2020 that “nearly all Japanese politicians are infantile,” sparking outrage with insulting comments to patients with the terminal neurological condition ALS on Twitter.
  • His most lasting legacy, however, may be rekindling a simmering dispute with China over East China Sea islands by suggesting that Tokyo buy the rocky, uninhabited islets and raising $19 million to do so, claiming that they were key Japanese resources. In an attempt to defuse the situation, the government eventually nationalised the islands, but the action backfired, sparking anti-Japanese riots and boycotts across China.
FILE PHOTO: Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara waves to voters during his stumping tour for Sunday’s Tokyo gubernatorial election in Tokyo April 7, 2007. REUTERS/Issei Kato /File Photo

What Ishihara said: Ishihara also said that Japan’s pacifist constitution should be changed, and that the country should have nuclear weapons to deter China and North Korea.

Who was Ishihara: Ishihara, who was born in Kanagawa Prefecture, just outside of Tokyo, rose to prominence as an author early in his career, winning the famous Akutagawa Prize for his novel “The Season of the Sun” while still a university student. He co-wrote “The Japan That Can Say ‘No'” in 1989, which urged Tokyo to quit following Washington’s lead on international matters.

  • Ishihara was a member of parliament from 1968 to 1995, when he resigned due to members’ “mean, selfish intentions.”
  • He was elected governor of Tokyo in 1999 and served four terms before resigning in 2012 to found a new political party. In 2014, he stepped out from politics.

Though his statements frequently put him in trouble, others liked his candour, including many who took to Twitter following his passing to say that today’s leaders should learn from him.

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