Sixteen years ago, novelist turned politician Shintaro Ishihara became the face of a more assertive nation with his book The Japan That Can Say No lashing out at Tokyo's weak-kneed stance against the US.
Ishihara, the popular governor of Tokyo, still has the same message, but a different country in mind.
"Now, it's time to say no to China," Ishihara says.
"Saying little used to be seen as virtuous and modest, but silence is no longer golden," Ishihara said in an interview. "Nothing will happen unless you speak out."
Few would accuse him of that. In his successful campaign to become governor in 1999, he used a colonial-era slur to describe Chinese people. Since then he has come under fire for his jibes at targets ranging from women past child-bearing age to the French language.
Sitting back on his couch in the twin-tower metropolitan government skyscraper, the 72-year-old leader of the capital explained how Japan can stand up to China -- by looking elsewhere as an economic base. China, with its vast labor pool and growing middle-class market, last year became Japan's biggest trading partner. But Ishihara is critical of China for its lax controls over rampant piracy and violations of intellectual property.
China, he says, has "ripped off" Japanese technology.
"We have offered a lot of things to China, but we can't let China steal our software free of charge," he says. "Instead of China, we can develop markets in India or Siberia, both having ample resources."
Relations between Japan and China have steadily deteriorated this year, the 60th anniversary of World War II's end, with violent anti-Japanese protests breaking out in April after Japan approved a nationalist history textbook. Japan, perhaps taking a bit of Ishihara's advice, counter-punched, accusing Beijing of biased history books and of inciting anti-Japanese sentiment.
China has refused to apologize for the protests and said the real issue is Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's visits to Yasukuni shrine, which honors 2.5 million Japanese war dead including 14 top war criminals from World War II.
Koizumi has visited the Shinto sanctuary in central Tokyo each year since taking office in 2001 and hinted he would do so again this year. Ishihara wants Koizumi to go to the shrine again -- preferably, as he plans to do, on August 15, the 60th anniversary of Japan's surrender in World War II.
The outspoken governor says that China's harsh criticism of the premier's visits to the shrine -- including likening it to Germans honoring Adolf Hitler's bunker -- were foreign interference in domestic affairs.
The current sour ties are "caused by the arrogant attitude of the Chinese government toward Japan," he says. "We cannot form friendly relations as long as China ignores international rules and interferes in our cultural issues."
In May, Ishihara tried to show his views by travelling by sea to Okinotori, rocky isles 1,700km south of Tokyo but administered by the city, to plant a flag to mark Japan's territorial claim which China disputes.
Ishihara has always had a knack for drawing both acclaim and controversy. Born to a shipping executive in Japan's northern island of Hokkaido, Ishihara was only 23 years old when he wrote Season of the Sun, a tale of youths from respectable families exploring the pleasures of the underworld, which won the prestigious Akutagawa Prize.
The novel later became a film that included both the future governor and his brother, Yujiro, an acclaimed movie star who died of liver cancer in 1987.
Shintaro Ishihara turned to politics and became a transport minister, before eventually leaving consensus politics. He was re-elected Tokyo governor in 2003 and enjoys public approval ratings topping 60 percent.
He has often appeared high on the list of potential prime ministers. But under Japan's political system, winning the top prize could be difficult as he is an independent, having given up his parliamentary seat as a member of Koizumi's Liberal Democratic Party in 1995.
There have been persistent rumors that he may form a new party by drawing conservative politicians from both the ruling and opposition camps.
While Koizumi has annoyed China and South Korea, he has pursued warm relations with Japan's closest ally, the US -- an idea strenuously opposed by Ishihara.
Ishihara, who recalled disliking US troops during the occupation after World War II, has agitated Washington by demanding the joint use of a US airbase in Tokyo's suburbs by Japanese commercial airliners.
In The Japan That Can Say No, co-written with former Sony chairman Akio Morita at a time when Tokyo and Washington saw major trade friction, Ishihara said: "The reason why the United States bashes Japan is because they are bigots."
He has also annoyed China by championing Taiwan and Tibet. He has sought to revise Japan's pacifist constitution -- to the point of calling for war on North Korea to release Japanese nationals kidnapped by Pyongyang agents in the Cold War years.
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