First published in Asia Pacific Forum, No. 5, 1974, Oriental Press Service Ltd, Tokyo
THE PLACE IS the bank of the Kamo River below the bridge on Sanjo Street opposite the Keihan railway station in Japan's ancient capital city of Kyoto. The time is six o'clock in the evening on April 6, 1974. There is a soft light over the river as a warm spring day draws to a close. The crowds of people crossing the Sanjo bridge on their way home from work pause to watch a folk-dance troupe performing on the river bank below. A row of banners are spread out on the ground nearby. One reads: 'Unity and solidarity of the working people, ' another: 'The wisdom of the masses is the voice of tomorrow.'
After each dance is over, a man dressed up as a tiger makes a brief political speech. The tiger-skin symbolises Governor Ninagawa, whose given name, Torazo, includes the ideograph for 'tiger' (tora). With careful economy, just one point is hammered home each time the man in the tiger-skin speaks: 'Look at this beautiful river; it is a river fit for fish to swim in. Think of the contrast with Osaka (where the troupe hails from). In Osaka any fish that has the misfortune to find its way into a river promptly dies from the water pollution.'
Again: 'A victory for Ninagawa is a victory for progressive local authorities throughout the nation. It would be a national tragedy if he were defeated.'
The next day, April 7, the electors of Kyoto prefecture were to elect their governor for the next four years. The only candidates really in the race were Torazo Ninagawa, a big burly economist with a deep voice and a direct, earthy style of humour, and Kazutaka Ohashi, a local doctor with a smoother and more conventional, but still tough and forthright approach. Ninagawa was seeking the unprecedented in Japanese prefectural politics, to be elected for a seventh four-year term in office. He had first been elected governor in 1950, and had retained the post ever since, through various twists and turns of politics, but always backed by some combination of left-wing parties. No other prefecture in the country could boast a regime so consistently 'progressive' in its political allegiance as his, although he drew extensive support from small and medium industry and from farmers-traditionally conservative sections of the electorate.