Tokyo's Place in the World: Through the Eyes of Tokyo Governor Naoki Inose

April 15, 2013


The Honorable Naoki Inose, Governor of Tokyo

Gerald Curtis
, Burgess Professor of Political Science, Columbia University; Member, Board of Directors of Japan Society

On April 15, 2013, Naoki Inose, Governor of Tokyo, visited Japan Society to share his thoughts on Tokyo's role in presenting Japan to the world.

Governor Inose's first career was as a writer of nonfiction, noted Professor Gerald Curtis of Columbia in his opening remarks. Prime Minister Koizumi recruited him to help reshape tax and administrative policies; he was "the key player in the privatization of the highway system, and became quite well known in the country for his strong views and his persistence in making the Koizumi agenda come to life." He was appointed vice governor of Tokyo in 2007 and elected governor in December 2012.

To set the context for his talk, Governor Inose invited his listeners to think back to the period of self-imposed isolation that began in the early 1600s, when the shoguns shut off most commerce, and indeed most contacts, between foreigners and Japan.

"What we knew was all a peaceful world," he said.

That world ended with Commodore Matthew Perry's visits to Edo Bay in 1853 and 1854. Mr. Inose wrote about the ensuing hundred years in The Century of the Black Ships, published in 1993 and reissued in 2009 in English translation.

During this period, Japan built a modern world. It was in large part modern as Europe defines the modern, but not completely so, the governor said. He quoted the Harvard scholar Samuel Huntington: "The Japanese civilization is unto itself—unique on its own."

Japan is one of only 11 countries in the world where tap water is drinkable right out of the faucet, Governor Inose noted. Five different treatment levels are used in the water purification system, including ozone, biologically activated carbon and membrane filtration. The city plans to export its water supply system to other countries, for example in Southeast Asia.

Tokyo’s system is monitored and maintained with such meticulous care that the water leakage rate is only 3 percent, a world record. (Overall leakage rates for cities worldwide are around 10 percent on average, and in many Asian cities the rate is 30 or 40 percent.) Staff members walk along the streets at night holding sensitive audio equipment to listen for the sound of leaks and identify where repairs need to be made.

The Tokyo Marathon likewise is a showcase for Japan's talents in organization and execution. Each year, runners arrive in street clothes and change into their running gear at the Tokyo Municipal Government building. Once the race begins, workers bundle up the clothes and transport them to the finish line. "It is better than the hotel cloak service. Thirty-six thousand runners get their clothes without any mistakes. This is the capability and power of Tokyo."

The secret to achieving such a high level of organizational prowess, technological capacity and sophisticated hospitality is "our unique order and sense of balance," Governor Inose said. These qualities are embodied in the design and layout of the city itself. At the center of Tokyo's hustle and bustle is the Imperial Palace—an empty space, in Zen Buddhist terms a "nothingness," which serves as a meditative focus and anchor for the people of Tokyo.

As Tokyo is bidding to host the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games, several innovations are planned that will make it even easier to welcome and support visitors from abroad. These include an English-language ambulance service; a cadre of doctors, nurses and babysitters who speak English and can cater to travelers; and extended hours for the bus and subway systems. The bus system upgrade will come first, starting with a 24-hour service from Shibuya Station to Roppongi that should be up and running by Christmas this year.

Already in place in Tokyo are a number of Asian Headquarter Special Zones, Governor Inose said. These are areas close to Tokyo Station where companies from overseas that establish headquarters can qualify for special tax rates, typically a reduction from 40.7 percent to 26.9 percent. This compares to a New York corporate rate of 45.67 percent, which will be reduced to 39.82 percent.

Prime Minister Koizumi "was regarded as some kind of a strange person, in a way," the governor noted. "Japan suffers from a low rate of mixing strange guys or strange people amongst the population." It was clear that "strange guy" was a label that Governor Inose might apply to himself, and with pride.

At a gathering for new recruits coming to work in the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, "I said, 'We don't need any honor students,'" he commented. "'The honor students will emulate the next smart guy, and the next smart guy will copy the next smart guy standing next. So, what is needed is an initiative to come up with the ideas'" and to test out hypotheses "with a sense of speed."

Governor Inose concluded: "In the U.S. you have the United States of America, but I call Japan United Ministries of Japan. That’s what Japan is. But Tokyo is not a ministry. Tokyo is a state. We can establish a model. We can pursue reform. If we do that, Japan eventually will change."


Q&A with the audience followed:

Could you talk about how the government is promoting the development of renewable energies in Japan?

An early priority after the March 11 disaster has been to identify and eliminate wasteful spending at TEPCO, as well as to separate power generation from power distribution, Governor Inose said. Tokyo is joining with private sector sources to build a 100,000-kilowatt gas-turbine power station in Chiba Prefecture, and mega solar is being built in Kumamoto Prefecture.

From a U.S. viewpoint, Tokyo is doing well. But what about the rest of Japan, which has perhaps dragged the nation down, or has suffered over the last two decades?

Tokyo is like the heart of Japan; as it gets stronger, "the blood will circulate throughout the whole body," the governor replied. Tokyo's population is growing. Elderly people are coming back to city centers. Tokyo needs to globalize, which is what the Economic Special Zones for Asian Headquarters are about, and to get rid of excessive regulation.

A California city just adopted a rule that all new buildings must have solar energy in their construction. As we go towards the Olympics, is there anything dramatic that Tokyo could do to send a message about clean, safe energy like this?

In 2007, Al Gore called for a 30 percent reduction from year-2000 CO2 emissions levels by 2030, but under Governor Ishihara Tokyo set a more ambitious goal of a 25 percent reduction by 2020. Now, in 2013, for "large high-rise buildings, already 17 percent or so have been reduced.

—Katherine Hyde

Topics:  Business, Policy

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