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Government and Economy

Prefectural Governors, the Tokyo Governor, and Leadership

Harunori Yamada
Professor, Faculty of Political Science and Economics, Waseda University

The questionable Tokyo gubernatorial election is over, though I do not intend any malice when I say questionable. It was the election to choose the leader of Tokyo, our capital city. And this time saw the previously unimaginable development of a former prime minister standing as a candidate. One would have normally expected great interest in such an election, but it was a rather lackluster affair, perhaps influenced by the shabby circumstances (or beginning) in which the incumbent governor suddenly resigned after just one year in spite of having taken office with the overwhelming support of a record number of votes.

And yet this was for the governorship of Tokyo. The extent of the governor’s power is often compared to that of a national president. He is chosen in a direct election with around ten million voters. Not only that, but the scale of government in metropolitan Tokyo is comparable to that of a country, with its population of 13 million, gross product of 93 trillion yen, annual budget of 12 trillion yen, and so on. The capital city is the focal point of various organizations and functions such as politics, public administration, finance, diplomacy and culture, and will host the 2020 Summer Olympics. The Tokyo Metropolitan Government has 160,000 employees, making it an organization equivalent in size to Japan’s top ten major companies (Tokyo Stock Exchange listed, consolidated workforce). The influence of its head, the governor of Tokyo, transcends that of a single municipality and reaches the whole nation, other municipalities, and even overseas. More than just a chief, he is literally equivalent to the president of a country.

Tokyo governorship - in a class of its own

Nevertheless, a governor is not a very familiar presence. Ordinary residents may have been to their city hall or ward office but not so many have the chance to visit the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building or other prefectural government building. So what kinds of people are chosen as governors? Looking at the career paths of the governors of the 46 prefectures other than Tokyo (including the former governor of Yamaguchi prefecture who left office on January 14, 2014 due to illness), 29 of them, or 60%, are so-called former bureaucrats who came from central government, although with varying lengths of office. There were also six governors who had experience as Diet members, although three of these were also former bureaucrats. It seems that being governor calls for the practical business knowhow and experience gained through politics and administrative management.

In Tokyo’s case, however, the seven governors since World War Two have included two former bureaucrats, two former university professors, and three authors, the last three successive governors from the mid-1990s all being authors. So administrative experience does not seem to be a big deciding factor in the case of the Tokyo governorship. This is no doubt attributable to the fact that it is the governor of the capital city, which has by far and away the largest local government.

Well, what is required of the governor who heads the Metropolitan Tokyo Government? According to Professor Nobuo Sasaki of Chuo University, who himself has experience as an employee of the Metropolitan Tokyo Government, the governor is “a politician representing his residents, a manager handling the finances of a huge organization, and a diplomat representing his region” (Sasaki, page 3). From this, if being a politician representing his residents calls for experience and performance as a politician as well as power of idea, decisiveness, and the power to get things done, then being a manager handling the finances of a huge organization requires practical business knowhow, administrative experience, and management ability, and being a diplomat representing his region calls for communicative skills and negotiation capability.

Among these different skill sets, governors especially need those of a politician and administrator. That is why governors are mostly made up of former bureaucrats or assembly members. But, as I have mentioned above, this is not a deciding factor in Tokyo’s case. As well as being chief of the capital city and the largest local government, the Tokyo governor must also take on the role of head of all local governments in Japan, which involves leading national politics and other local governments and being an international face. The governor of Tokyo is required to be a different class of governor and, therefore, a different class of politician, administrator and diplomat.

Political leadership

Naturally, as the head of an organization, the most important quality for a governor is showing leadership. So what is political leadership? A politician often cited as having had leadership ability is Kakuei Tanaka. Tanaka actually came fourth in the Asahi Shimbun’s popularity poll of Japanese political leaders of the last one thousand years, after the great historical figures Ryoma Sakamoto, Ieyasu Tokugawa and Nobunaga Oda (Asahi Shimbun morning edition, March 12, 2000).

According to Keiichi Konaga, personal secretary during Tanaka’s time as Minister of International Trade and Industry and Prime Minister, Tanaka had “four outstanding abilities,” namely, “planning and conceptual power,” “the power to get things done,” “decisiveness,” and “human tolerance” (Hattori, page 213). Tanaka has been taken to symbolize strong leadership, but it is very interesting that his planning and conceptual power, power to get things done, and decisiveness are qualities related to such leadership ability whereas human tolerance is a quality related to humanity. Tanaka also paired up with Masayoshi Ohira “in whom he saw qualities that he did not have himself” and together they achieved big tasks such as the normalization of Japan-China diplomatic relations (Hattori, page 215). A quality that Tanaka lacked was “well-considered consensus-building leadership” valuing “careful preparation and adjustment” (Hattori, page 215).

What stands out from the past ten years or so is the muddled, reckless leadership of the nation and its regions, perhaps a reaction to the absence of another leader or born from a yearning for strong leadership. It is terrifying how much great power has been abused with scant consideration for our surroundings. Numerous challenges face the Metropolitan Government such as welfare, disaster prevention, the economy, public safety, energy, the Olympics, and so on. Under a system of dual representation, smooth administrative management requires that a governor establishes good relations with assemblies that also reflect public opinion and with bureaucrats in the form of government expert groups. The same goes for relations with other bodies including national and regional governments. Human tolerance means consideration for others while careful preparation and adjustment could mean respect for others. These are the catalysts that vitalize leadership. In this regard, all expectations are on the new governor, Yoichi Masuzoe.


Governors of Tokyo [Tochiji] by Nobuo Sasaki (2011, Chuokoron-Shinsha)
Normalizing Japan-China Diplomatic Relations [Nicchuu Kokkou Seijouka] by Ryuji Hattori (2011, Chuokoron-Shinsha)

Harunori Yamada
Professor, Faculty of Political Science and Economics, Waseda University


The author graduated from the School of Political Science and Economics, Waseda University before entering the central government ministries. While in office, he completed the Graduate Public Policy Program at Georgetown University as an administrative official long-term overseas researcher. He later worked at a private think tank before serving as associate professor on the Faculty of Law, Kyushu University and, from 2003, professor at the Graduate School of Public Management, Waseda University. His areas of specialization are public administration and public policy. His major publications include Techniques of Policy Evaluation [Seisaku Hyouka no Gihou] and Political Economics of Government Construction Bonds [Kensetsu Kokusai no Seijikeizaigaku] (Nippon Hyoron Sha) and others.