Following his defeat, Suematsu faced the media wherein he declared Mayor Inamine’s claim that he (Inamine) had the authority to halt any attempt to construct a base at Henoko as ‘ridiculous’ (J). According to Suematsu, while permission from the mayor of Nago City would be necessary for any construction work, the mayor was unable to use his power of veto for ‘political purposes’, and that given that Governor Nakaima had already approved the plan, Mayor Inamine would be unable to halt construction.
This raises an interesting question, namely; ‘can a city mayor block the construction of assets that have been approved by the federal government?’. According to the Japanese “Public Water Body Reclamation Act” (公有水面埋立法) of 1921 (which was last revised in 2004), in the event of any construction likely to affect public stretches of water, the governor of a province has the right to refuse any construction that does not comply with Article 4 (which requires any applicant to explain, in good faith, the scale and impact of any planned construction and obtain the consent of ‘affected stakeholders’) (J). As Mayor Inamine has refused to agree to any proposals for construction at Henoko, this has been taken to mean that the governor does not have the local consent required to approve the construction of the base.
Not that this is without precedent either. In 1972, during the closing stages of the US involvement in the Vietnam War, Mayor Asukata Ichio of Yokohama refused permission for US tanks to use city roads. Without local consent, the tanks stayed where they were (J).
If local governments retain this significant veto power, then the likelihood of the Abe government succeeding in any construction around Henoko will be slim until the Nago City council (and its independent mayor) are convinced otherwise. Certainly Mayor Inamine will take a considerable amount of persuading, given that he has said that any move by either the federal or prefectural government to implement its base plans by force would be a blow to local government and raise questions as to whether the civil rights of Nago City citizens were being ignored (comparing the current situation to that of ‘colonialism’ - J). As such… ‘…both the federal and US governments should start thinking of an alternative venue’ (J).
That suggestion, not surprisingly, went down like a lead balloon with the Abe administration (and the US), with PM Abe himself telling an executive meeting of the LDP on Monday that while the loss of the LDP candidate in the Nago City election was disappointing, his government would continue with its plans for Henoko (J). As this sentiment was backed in later statements by Defence Minister Onodera and Deputy Foreign Minister Kishi (J), Mayor Inamine may have an extraordinary battle of wills in store with a government that is determined to resolve the base relocation question.
If push comes to shove, one imagines the Abe administration may use its considerable power in the Diet to simply re-write the 1921 Act, giving final approval for construction to the federal government irrespective of local concerns if all necessary procedures have been taken (environmental impact reports, consultation with prefectural governments and local communities and so forth). As the Abe government has already started taking tenders for the Henoko base project (J), it expects the Nago City council to ‘understand’ the reasons for the base relocation and accept it as a fait accompli. This could certainly blow up into a major issue for the Abe administration, and raise questions over civil rights versus the authority of central government.
The other item of interest to me over the past couple of days was this from the AFP (and which was subsequently picked up by the Japanese press – J), detailing the less-than-successful attempt by All Nippon Airways (ANA) to advertise their new international routes from Haneda Airport near Tokyo. An advertisement launched on the weekend, and subsequently pulled off air following a wave of complaints from (mostly English-language speaking) foreigners living in Japan, was supposed to appeal to Japanese consumers by using ‘internationalisation’ as a selling point. By internationalisation, this involved a comedian by the name of ‘Bakarizumu’ donning a blonde wig and a large false nose to depict a stereotypical ‘Westerner’ (or perhaps more accurately, Caucasian).
This stereotype has often been used in comedy in Japan, apparently for the visual gag that it presents (as seen here, and here). The AFP article suggests that the relatively homogenous nature of Japanese society may be a factor in this case, i.e., that the absence of a large minority community means that the Japanese are less aware of cultural insensitivity than other, more multicultural societies. This claim does appear to ignore the substantial Korean and Chinese communities, not to mention the large Japanese-Brazilian community, but point taken.
What I find difficult to fathom is that with the penchant of Japanese advertisers to employ actors and actresses (not forgetting to mention sportspeople and models) from the US and Europe, why on earth did ANA settle on Bakarizumu (ok, so he may be cheaper than international stars, but there are thousands of young Westerners in Tokyo who could have stood in for a rather lame sight gag)? An airline with an international brand like ANA could surely have come up with something better to appeal to domestic consumers.
ANA has stated that it did not mean to offend by the ad. Yet in approving it ANA does appear to have forgotten that the domestic Japanese audience does include a fair few (Caucasian) foreigners, many of whom would like to use Haneda Airport to commute overseas and who would therefore have an interest in the advertisement. The AFP article also says that most commentary came from English-language social media, which implies that other language users weren’t as upset as those speaking English (either that or the AFP only researched English language media for reactions). It does seem to be little more than a storm in a teacup (after all, native Japanese viewers weren’t particularly perturbed by it neither did they appear to call for the ads’ removal), but it is indicative of attitudes towards ethnicity in Japan, and how these are perceived by the foreign community in Japan.