Nippon Ishin no kai, Japan’s third largest political force, seems to be everything to everyone. While championing itself as an enforcer of “small government” by advocating for deregulation and reducing the number of elective officials, it also promotes free tuition and universal basic income – both expensive policies that would require more “government.”
Also, when the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) passed legislation intended to promote awareness for sexual minorities – largely based on Nippon Ishin’s proposal – it generated a backlash not against Nippon Ishin but toward LDP and Prime Minister Kishida Fumio. Complaining that the LDP crossed a line as a result of the law’s passage, a prominent conservative launched his own party, and members of nationalist groups are now considering changing allegiance to Nippon Ishin, despite their discomfort being caused greatly by the party they are moving toward. The fallout of this incident has shown that while Nippon Ishin promotes socially progressive issues, it retains a portion of trust from staunch conservatives that are anti-establishment and hawkish on foreign and defense policy – both marked characteristics of Nippon Ishin.
Regardless of how big one wants the government to be, or which cultural issues they want it to stand by, Nippon Ishin has seemingly achieved success in welding diverging viewpoints together, while avoiding a blowback to its electoral prospects. In fact, recent elections testify that the current orientation of the party is delivering results.
However, the growing criticisms toward Nippon Ishin over the Osaka Expo expected to be held in 2025 – a timeline that critics argue is not attainable – is stressing its potential for far-reaching appeal and, more importantly, the party’s raison d’etre.
One of the most significant challenges facing the Osaka Expo is the cost. Although initial estimates put the cost of the Expo venue construction at 125 billion yen, it is forecasted that the ultimate cost will be 1.9 times that, largely due to the weakening of the Japanese yen and global inflation causing construction materials to be more costly.
The vast amount of spending going into the Expo – one-third funded by tax money authorized by the government – has enthused only a few. According to polls, 79 percent of the public will not even consider purchasing tickets for the event. Even 65.7 percent of Nippon Ishin’s supporters believe that their leaders should scrap the Expo altogether. From the left – which perceives Ishin with particular distaste – the Japanese Communist Party’s periodical has criticized Ishin for moving forward with the ill-planned Expo while paying scant attention to the victims of the Noto Peninsula earthquake, which occurred on New Year’s Day.
Although it’s too early to give the final verdict on the Osaka Expo, the whole enterprise has seemed to diminish Nippon Ishin’s appeal. While preaching “anti-establishment” rhetoric and advocating for fiscal restraint, Ishin voted affirmatively on the government-sponsored budget, which would include partial funding for the Expo, an act rarely seen by a typical Japanese opposition party. In addition, the whole success of Nippon Ishin as a national political force has originated from their effort to convince voters of their competent governance in Osaka. The negative press coming out of the Osaka Expo seems to indicate that they are blundering on their home turf.
However, not everything surrounding the Osaka Expo is negative for Nippon Ishin. At the very least, the party’s active involvement in the organization of a billion-dollar international project could be used as a strong message of Ishin’s governing ability. Considering that there are no notable opposition parties that have elected officials serving at the prefectural level – let alone longevity in actual governance in local politics – the simple reality of Ishin’s governance of Osaka could be their strongest asset against the LDP.
The success and failure of the Osaka Expo may become a “make it or break it moment” for Nippon Ishin. As revealed by their preparation for the Expo, the various features that build up the party’s brand are seemingly breaking up into pieces. However, the fact that they are still in the midst of their struggles is in itself indicative of the path they have taken and the potential they have that no other opposition party has.