Shizuoka Governor to Resign: Why Hasn’t He Retracted Problematic Comments about Working People?

A statement by the governor of Shizuoka Prefecture this time is extremely thoughtless and cannot be overlooked. It is proof that he has not reflected on his past gaffes, and it is only natural that he should resign.

Shizuoka Gov. Heita Kawakatsu has announced his intention to step down at the June session of the prefectural assembly, in the middle of his term of office.

In an instruction to newly hired prefectural employees, he said: “The prefectural government is a think tank. You are highly intelligent, intellectual people, unlike those who sell vegetables, take care of cows or make things every day.” Protests from prefectural residents and others have poured in, complaining that he had disparaged people for their occupations.

The governor initially stated that he was merely explaining differences in job categories, but became defiant by reiterating that the criticism was “due to media reports intentionally cutting off part of my statement.” He may have intended to encourage his staff, but where is the need to compare them with people in other industries in terms of intellectual ability?

Kawakatsu, now 75, was first elected governor in 2009 after having been a professor at Waseda University and the president of Shizuoka University of Art and Culture. He is currently serving his fourth term.

In a past campaign speech in support of a candidate, Kawakatsu ridiculed the electoral turf of the candidate’s opponent as “having only Koshihikari,” a type of rice, as its local specialty. A feature of the governor’s style of arguing appears to be emphasizing the legitimacy of his own theory by belittling others. It is inevitable that people would think that he has an ingrained tendency to look down on others.

When he made the Koshihikari comment, the prefectural assembly passed a resolution recommending his resignation. Kawakatsu said: “I’ll seriously reflect on that. I vowed to Mt. Fuji that I would be reborn.” However, he came under criticism again when it was discovered that he had received part of his salary and the full amount of his bonus, which he had announced he would return.

At a press conference on April 3, Kawakatsu apologized for hurting those involved in primary industries, but he did not retract his statement. He explained that the main reason for his planned resignation was the decision by Central Japan Railway Co. (JR Tokai) to postpone the opening of the Linear Chuo Shinkansen maglev line, construction of which has not been allowed to begin in the prefecture.

It must be said that the governor’s attitude of attempting to emphatically trivialize the inappropriateness of his statement is unseemly.

If Kawakatsu resigns, the construction of the Linear Chuo Shinkansen line, which had no prospect of opening, could move forward.

The reason why the governor has not approved the construction of the project within the prefecture is reportedly because he is concerned that the tunnel construction will reduce the flow of the Oi River, which provides water for daily life.

JR Tokai, the main contractor for the project, has proposed measures such as one to secure the volume of water in the river by utilizing an upstream dam, and the firm has sought the understanding of the prefectural government.

Even after Kawakatsu’s planned resignation, JR Tokai needs to continue taking measures to avoid reducing the volume of water in the river and make every possible effort to relieve the concerns of the people of the prefecture. After making such efforts, it is hoped that JR Tokai will proceed with discussions with the prefectural government based on scientific evidence.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, April 4, 2024)