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Saturday, October 02, 2010

Akune City Scandal

阿久根市 スキャンダル

Akune City is a small coastal town of about 23,000 in Japan's Kagoshima prefecture, on the southern island of Kyushu.

Akune has been in the news recently for scandals involving its City Hall. Over a year ago a 41-year-old chief clerk was dismissed by the City Hall for the misdemeanor of taking down a poster. In response, the man sued the City for unfair dismissal and also appealed to the City Hall's own Equity Commission.

Last week, on September 24, the City Hall's Equity Commission reduced the man's punishment to the most lenient possible: a warning. And on September 30, the court ordered the man's reinstatement. On October 1, Akune City announced that it did not intend to appeal the court’s ruling, thus agreeing to the man's reinstatement. Nevertheless, the Deputy Mayor indicated that the City is thinking of requesting that the Equity Commission review its decision to downgrade the chief clerk's punishment.

None of this sounds particularly interesting, but the antics surrounding the incident do.

On August 2, the mayor of Akune City, Shinichi Takehara, 51, a graduate of the National Defense Academy and ex-military man (and a staunch opponent of Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution which prohibits the state from waging war), appointed Toshiro Semba, 61, a graduate of the prefectural police academy and ex-policemen, to the post of Deputy Mayor. Article 162 of the Local Autonomy Law states that “The deputy head of a city, town or village should normally be appointed by the head with the assent of the local public body.” However, Mayor Takehara appointed Deputy Mayor Semba without the city assembly's approval, drawing criticism from the governor of Kagoshima prefecture, and even Japan’s Minister of Internal Affairs and Communications, Yoshihiro Takayama, the appointment being clearly illegal.

The Deputy Mayor's appointment is not Takehara's only arbitrary hiring. On September 24 he also arbitrarily appointed three members of the city's Education Committee, an act which also, according to the rules, requires the consent of the assembly.

The case of the illegal appointment ballooned on September 27 when the chairman of the assembly, Taisei Hamanoue, having been summoned to the Mayor's office, was told by the Mayor that he would not be accepting any questions at the regular meeting of the assembly concerning the appointment of the Deputy Mayor. The chairman apparently expostulated that this was “pretty much a repeat of your arbitrary appointment [of the Deputy Mayor], so, go ahead, be arbitrary about things this time too!”

The miffed Mayor made an issue of the Chairman's “indiscretion” and, on the 29th, the Mayor’s “party” of four assembly members caused a massive commotion at the assembly by locking themselves in the assembly room for an hour and a half to the exclusion of the other members.

Another meeting was convened on September 30 without any repeat antics. At that meeting a motion was passed calling on the Mayor to promulgate a decision made at a special meeting of the assembly in August to hold year-round meetings - a decision the Mayor had refused to promulgate. A motion was also passed reprimanding the four “Mayor party” members for locking the others out.

The National Citizens' Ombudsman Federation recently ranked Akune City as the sixth worst local government in Japan, due to the lack of transparency of the Mayor's entertainment expenses.

Japan is a modern enough state for such behavior to become an issue, but the localities are a world to themselves, ruled by personalities not so different in kind from the feudal lords, or daimyo, who ruled the country before it modernized.

Kyushu is renowned as one of Japan's staunchest strongholds of old school ways of thinking and doing, and is the country’s major source of recruits for Japan's Self-Defense Force.

The Akune City incident is therefore a microcosm of the cultural divide in Japan between the nation's professed democratic principles as (supposedly) represented in Tokyo, and the provincial chieftain culture of its provinces. It can also be seen as a clash between Japan's much acclaimed culture of mutual consent and its culture of unquestioned paternalistic authority - the former generally being indulged to the minimum degree necessary by the latter.

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