The election campaign for the Tokyo metropolitan government (TMG) does not begin, officially, until January 23, with the voting scheduled for February 9. But there is already an enormous amount of spin in the Japanese press and social media, as well as in the lamentably meagre coverage offered by English-language media and bloggers. I won’t pretend to be objective about the election and assessing the associated reporting and commentary. Like 455 of Japan’s 1789 local governments, I personally think Japan should get out of nuclear power,1 or at the very least reform its power markets—separating generation from transmission—before undertaking any restarts. Japan’s best option is green and smart growth, and it is incredible to watch a TMG campaign unfold focused on that opportunity.
But the focus of most of the spin has been the candidacy of Hosokawa Morihiro, the former governor of Kumamoto Prefecture as well as Prime Minister – briefly – from August 1993 to April 1994. His candidacy was clearly encouraged by former Prime Minister Koizumi Junichiro, who last fall became increasingly vocal in his advice to current PM and LDP head Abe Shinzo to get out of nuclear power. Koizumi’s press conferences and other very visible efforts followed his fact-finding trip to Germany and Finland in early August of 2013. Albeit less vocal than Koizumi, Hosokawa also became anti-nuclear due not only to Japan’s still-unfolding tragedy at Fukushima Daiichi and its environs, but also by learning, in 2005, of the UK’s Sellafield nuclear reprocessing facility’s leak and its consequences. Last December, the duo of Hosokawa-Koizumi was presented with the unexpected election for TMG governor, due to the December 19 resignation of disgraced former governor Inose Naoki.3
If there in fact is not a renewable revolution underway, then someone needs to tell the US military and “National Defense” magazine. On January 16, the latter published an article titled “Renewable Energy Boom Underway at US Military Bases,”7 detailing the fascinating content of Pew Charitable Trust’s January 16 study “Power Surge: How the Department of Defense Leverages Private Resources to Enhance Energy Security and Save Money on U.S. Military Bases.”8 That the rapid rollout of renewables is not only happening but also saving money is true not just on military bases, but in Brazil, the US, Australia, Germany and elsewhere. As Tomas Kåberger, Executive Board Chair of the Japan Renewable Energy Foundation and former director-general of the Swedish Energy Agency, argues in a January 17 commentary, wind and mega-solar are already competitive with thermal and nuclear power. And renewables keep getting cheaper while the market and other costs of unsustainable power increase. So for Kåberger what is crucial, and particularly for Japan, is not more support for renewables, but rather “to give the opportunity for investors offering low cost renewable electricity to build their plants and compete with existing power producers.”9
In the wake of the January 14 meeting and Koizumi’s public commitment to a Hosokawa campaign, the spin mill has sought to portray the Hosokawa campaign as single issue, disorganized, and encumbered by multiple scandals and misstatements. The favourite talking point for opponents of the Hosokawa-Koizumi tag team – as it were10 – has been to emphasize that Hosokawa received a loan (apparently fully paid back) from the firm Sagawa Kyubin during his term as prime minister and must explain this. Another talking point has been Hosokawa’s comment to the author and media commentator Ikegami Akira last year that Japan ought to be prioritizing dealing with its nuclear problem even if doing so means forfeiting the 2020 Olympics.11 For the record, as the Japan Times newspaper details, Hosokawa insisted that “rather than winning many gold medals in the Olympics, taking care of what to do with nuclear power now in this time is much more important for Japan’s future.” He also suggested that “if Japan had declined to host the Olympics even though it won the bid, (the world) would have reached the conclusion that ‘Japan is an amazing country.’ I wanted (Prime Minister) Abe to decide so. That’s the kind of leadership a prime minister can show.” Like many others in Japan as well as overseas, Hosokawa was very critical of Abe for insisting that the radiation leaks and other crises at Fukushima Daiichi were “under control” when he gave his September 7 2013 Olympic-bid presentation.12 Even Tepco’s top technology executive, Yamashita Kazuhiko, directly contradicted Abe’s assertion.13