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APRIL 24, 2000 VOL. 155 NO. 16

EXTENDED INTERVIEW

Stuart Isett/Corbis Sygma for TIME
Ishihara sits down to talk to TIME.

'There's No Need For an Apology'
Tokyo's boisterous governor is back in the headlines

Never one to shy away from trouble, Tokyo's controversial Governor Shintaro Ishihara made headlines last week when he claimed that foreigners living in Japan were likely to riot if an earthquake struck the island nation. Shortly after his election a year ago, Ishihara spoke with TIME. Impatient and irritated, he stood up at one point, muttered "stupid question" and walked away from the interview. This month Ishihara sat time with TIME Tokyo bureau chief Tim Larimer on two occasions--in early April and again last week. Read the interviews to find out what makes Japan's most controversial politician tick.

TIME: What does the word sangokujin mean to you?
Ishihara:
The primary meaning is "foreigners." The secondary meaning was (for a certain period of time after World War II) people from former colonies, such as Taiwan and Korea. Another way it was used was when American soldiers broke into our houses. We said very big sangokujin broke in.

TIME: Were you surprised at the negative reaction to your speech?
Ishihara:
I referred to the "many sangokujin who entered Japan illegally." I thought some people would not know that word so I paraphrased it and used 'gaikokujin,' or foreigners. But it was a newspaper holiday so the news agencies consciously picked up the sangokujin part, causing the problem.

TIME: Given the derogatory meaning the word has to many people, isn't it inappropriate to use the word at all?
Ishihara:
That's a different perception. After World War II, when Japan lost, the Chinese of Taiwanese origin and people from the Korean Peninsula persecuted, robbed and sometimes beat up Japanese. It's at that time the word was used, so it was not derogatory. Rather we were afraid of them.

TIME: You were a student then. Did you experience such attacks?
Ishihara:
Yes, I saw these things. One day in a very crowded train, a so-called sangokujin came in. We Japanese were all made to stand up, though there were empty seats. And I was hit by an American. He was drunk. For people from Taiwan and Korea, it was their revenge. It was their way.

  ALSO IN TIME
COVER: Mouth of the People
Japan's Shintaro Ishihara triggers controversy once again, but hidden within the furor is the reality that, for disillusioned citizens, Tokyo's populist Governor has become an important symbol of change
Extended Interview: "There's no need for an apology"
Power Politics: The local pols begin to assert themselves
TAIWAN: War of Words
Beijing lashes out at the island's Vice President-elect for her outspoken views on reunification
One System: China tries to muzzle Hong Kong's press
VIETNAM: History Lesson
Twenty-five years after the end of the war, newly released documents paint a fascinating picture of its last days

BIOLOGY: The Stud Within
American men (and not only men) eagerly await a new testosterone gel that promises better sex and bigger muscles. But what does the notorious hormone actually do?

CRICKET: Bad Form
A match-fixing scandal takes down South Africa's captain

TRAVEL WATCH:
Ho Chi Minh City -- An Intriguing Mix of Past and Present

TIME: How will this controversy affect your ability to govern?
Ishihara:
Not at all. Actually, it might help. With this trouble, we could let Tokyo-ites and foreign tourists know that in Tokyo atrocious crimes by foreigners are increasing. In that sense, it had a positive effect. It deepened understanding of this danger.

TIME: Have you reconsidered apologizing for your recent remarks?
Ishihara:
There's no need for an apology. I was surprised that there was a big reaction to my speech. In order not to cause any misunderstanding, I decided I will no longer use that word. It is regrettable that the word was interpreted in the way it was.

TIME: Parliament is discussing whether to give voting rights in local elections to foreign-born residents. Do you support that?
Ishihara:
Is there such a case in another country? My view is that unless somebody is a citizen of a country, he doesn't have the right to vote.

TIME: One of your books, Lost Country, imagines a Japan controlled by Russia. What inspired you to write this?
Ishihara:
The cold war was in its prime. The U.S. could not protect Japan from the launch of a missile from North Korea. I wrote it as a warning.

TIME: Do you want to be Prime Minister?
Ishihara:
Well, I used to. A person like myself, who is outspoken, cannot climb up the political ladder, especially the LDP. When I became Governor, one newspaper said [former Prime Minister Keizo] Obuchi could never be Governor of Tokyo and Ishihara can never be Prime Minister of Japan. I think that is true.

TIME: Will you form a new party to run candidates for national office?
Ishihara:
Nonsense.

TIME: Have any political parties approached you to be their leader?
Ishihara:
They wouldn't do that.

TIME: But is Tokyo big enough of a stage for you?
Ishihara:
By working in Tokyo, changes we make will have a spillover effect.

TIME: Is there a new generation of leaders ready to take charge of Japan?
Ishihara:
My son (parliament member Nobuteru Ishihara) is an expert on tax and the fiscal system. When he doesn't listen to the senior politicians' views, they call him names like "little gangster." He's 40 years old. So the young generation isn't really that young.

TIME: Is there a movement among local leaders to take control of the country?
Ishihara:
Not yet. Local mayors have not really changed any of their values or ideas. Japan is the most successful socialist country because the central bureaucracy really controls the entire nation.

TIME: Where did you learn your political instincts?
Ishihara:
I formed my basic stance vis-a-vis politics with experience in international yacht racing. I was the commodore of an ocean race committee. Not a small dinghy but a big yacht. Yachting is dangerous if several yachts collide, people could die and a ship worth tens or hundreds of millions of yen would be lost. After that kind of accident happens, the international jury holds a court martial, and if you don't assert yourself there, you lose and all the blame is placed on you. I believe this is also true in both domestic and international politics.

TIME: How did you manage to turn a nothing job into something?
Ishihara:
It's not because I'm aggressive by nature. I'm just doing what I believe is right, and the judgment of my actions will be determined at the next election. In the past, there wasn't a governor who tried to assert themselves vis-a-vis the central government or for the citizens of Japan. I don't fear failure, and nobody can change me.

TIME: What is your analysis of Japan-U.S. relations?
Ishihara:
I'm critical of the U.S. relationship and dissatisfied with it. The country I dislike most in terms of U.S.-Japan ties is Japan, because it's a country that can't assert itself.

TIME: How should Japan assert itself?
Ishihara:
The American economy is supported by Japanese money. Japan is buying the highest percentage of government bonds. America is imposing a super-low interest-rate policy and money flows out of Japan, forced to buy American financial products. There are several steps that Japan can take, like selling American government bonds. But the U.S. would panic, so instead, Japanese should buy American stocks to realize the influence we have over the U.S. economy.

TIME: What will happen to the two countries' economies?
Ishihara:
The U.S. economy will collapse.

TIME: Would that make Japan feel better?
Ishihara:
Do we want revenge? No. If there is confusion about America's economy, it will put the world in chaos. Maybe the yen and the Euro should cooperate, as a counterbalance to the dollar. But Japan cannot think of anything like that because it would be like revolting against a god.

TIME: Is Japan too dependent on the U.S.?
Ishihara:
The philosophy of fighting for a cause--even if Americans shed blood--has been lost. In the future, there won't be that kind of war. American commitment has its limits. What comes after military power in terms of influence? Money.

TIME: Eiji Sakakibara [the ex-Ministry of Finance official known as Mr. Yen] compared your tactics to Hitler's.
Ishihara:
Who's Sakakibara? He is a bureaucrat to the U.S. and then they block his appointment to be director of the IMF.

TIME: How did you come up with the plan to tax banks?
Ishihara:
We took advantage of the fact that the Ministry of Finance did not know what we could do. Sakakibara is just angry that the finance ministry didn't know. And because of that, he calls me Hitler. That's nonsense.

TIME: What other tricks do you have up your sleeve?
Ishihara:
Lots. They're top secret.

Write to TIME at mail@web.timeasia.com

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