- Japan's rising political star is a young governor from Osaka, who is the face of a right-wing, populist party.
- Hirofumi Yoshimura is known for his conservative views, and for once advocating that gargling iodine could prevent and cure COVID-19.
- His party, Nippon Ishin no Kai, nearly quadrupled their seats during Japan's election on October 31.
Japan's recent general election has yielded the meteoric rise of a populist, right-wing party spearheaded by a young, Twitter-friendly governor.
The Nippon Ishin no Kai party (also called Ishin) swept 41 seats in the lower house of Japan's party, making it the third-largest political party in the country's parliament. The Osaka-based Ishin party, which was the dark horse going into the 2021 election, almost quadrupled its previously-held 11 seats. it is now a significant voice in the country's political system behind the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and the country's key opposition party, the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan.
Part of Ishin's appeal is Osaka prefecture's young governor Hirofumi Yoshimura, 46, the party's deputy chief. Touted by Ishin party officials for having "popularity comparable to a pop idol," Yoshimura has over 1.1 million followers on Twitter. He also has time on his side — he is significantly younger than many establishment politicians in Japan. In 2020, the top five jobs in the leading party were occupied by men whose average age was over 71.
"The thing I'm most surprised by is how well Ishin has done," Kenneth McElwain, a political science professor at Tokyo University, told The Guardian. "Yoshimura developed a major national profile, which I think has also served as a tailwind for the party overall."
Yoshimura, however, has not been a figure without controversy. In 2020, he advocated for the use of an iodine gargling solution as a COVID-19 cure to the chagrin of Japanese health experts. At a press conference last August, Yoshimura claimed that a group of people who gargled with the solution for a few days after testing positive for COVID-19 subsequently tested negative for the virus, sending people into a frenzy for povidone-iodine gargle solution products.
When he was mayor of Osaka from 2015 to 2019, Yoshimura also unilaterally withdrew Osaka from a 61-year-old "sister-city" agreement with San Francisco. This is because he was protesting a memorial in San Francisco's Chinatown set up to honor comfort women who were forced to become sex slaves during World War II.
For now, Japan's Liberal Democratic Party continues to be in charge, maintaining a majority coalition in the country's parliament. However, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida had a rough start to his tenure, with his idea of a "new capitalism" for Japan sending the Nikkei stock index into a nosedive for eight straight days.
Experts told The Guardian that Ishin would likely pose obstacles to Kishida's plans for said "new capitalism."
"(Ishin) is really sweeping the Osaka region. They've emerged as an important conservative bloc," Yoichiro Sato, a professor of international relations at the Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University told The Guardian.