March 28, 2007
The campaign for the office of governor of Tokyo—a position much like that of mayor in any other city—is attracting its fair share of quixotic candidates including a comedian, a fortuneteller, and a street musician. Even within this varied field, architect Kisho Kurokawa is distinguishing himself.
A total of 14 candidates have tossed their hats into the ring for the election, which happens April 8. The frontrunners are Shintaro Ishihara, the current governor, and Shiro Asano, the former prefectural governor of Miyagi, to the north of Tokyo. But the 73-year-old Kurokawa, who pioneered the Metabolist Movement in the 1960s, is polling fourth place—a surprise to many observers given the unusual nature of his campaign.
Kurokawa has proposed grand visions for Tokyo, Japan’s capital, throughout his design career. Accordingly, his political platform promises to dramatically reorganize this city of 12.7 million. In addition to decentralizing the administrative functions of Japan’s government to smaller cities across the country, Kurokawa advocates constructing more parks and affordable housing. More controversial, he also suggests selling notable civic buildings, including Kenzo Tange’s Tokyo City Hall and Raphael Viñoly’s Tokyo International Forum, citing their greater value as commercial real estate than as public spaces.
But Kurokawa’s campaign style is attracting the most attention. The architect has designed a special truck for making campaign speeches while cruising city streets. “This truck will give my campaign a refreshing style that traditional politics lack,” he told the press, emphasizing that he is the candidate who can break through tradition. Indeed, in a country that embraces conformity, Kurokawa’s often bizarre comments are generating fodder for gossip. He recently remarked, “I will be in Paris on the election day for my birthday.” Other odd statements include: “I admire Communism, I once seriously thought to exile to Russia but not now.” He’s even suggested converting the Tokyo International Forum, with its soaring glazed atrium, into a hot spring.
Even if he fails to win this election, Kurokawa is thought to be laying the groundwork for future contests and his newly formed “Symbiosis New Party.” To this end, the Tokyo governorship and other local races in April are widely viewed as the preliminary rounds for nationwide elections in June.