The "Osaka Metropolis Plan" Referendum and the Future of Japan's Democracy--Interview with Hiroyuki Mori

Small Axe for Democracy and Life, an Osaka citizens' group, protesting against the "Osaka Metropolis Plan." 


In Osaka, Japan, on May 17, 2015, a referendum was held to decide whether to go forward with the “Osaka Metropolis Plan.” The result: a victory for the opponents to the “Plan.” Surrounding the referendum, there had been months-long, nation-wide debate. Why did areferendum about the future of one city—even if it was once the center of Japanese economy—interest so many Japanese people? Because the referendum pointed to broader issues: the concentration of the population and wealth into Tokyo; the slow reformation of local governments and local finance; and most importantly, the present and future of democracy in Japan. Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto, who spearheaded the plan to dismantle Osaka city, is a former lawyer-turned-TV personality-turned-politician. Hashimoto gained popularity appearing in various TV shows and was elected as Osaka Prefecture Governor in 2008. In 2010, he established a regional political group named the Osaka Restoration Association. Then in 2011 after he became the Osaka Mayor, he began to aggressively pursue plans to reform the municipal administration system, gaining criticism for his “autocratic” methods. Nonetheless, in 2012, using his popularity in Osaka as a springboard, Hashimoto established a national party named the Japan Restoration Party (now called the Japan Innovation Party). The party won 54 seats in the general election in December 2012, becoming the third largest party in the parliament. Thus, Japan witnessed a new form of conservative power, namely Hashimoto’s “restoration” movement, emerging in the midst of a wave of political conservatism that the birth of Abe administration had unleashed. Against this background, the referendum can be seen as a valuable opportunity to assess Hashimoto’s political methods as well as the populist support for Hashimoto’s restoration movement. In the following interview, Hiroyuki Mori (Ritsumeikan University) who has been actively involved in the debate on the Osaka Metropolis Plan, discusses the background and significance of the referendum.

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