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Heita Kawakatsu Says 'Sayonara Shizuoka' After Winning New Maglev Delays

Governor Heita Kawakatsu resigns following uproar over his latest malfeasance. As he exits, we examine the motives behind his opposition to the maglev train.



Governor Heita Kawakatsu of Shizuoka Prefecture holds a press conference on April 3 at the Shizuoka Prefectural Office. (© Kyodo)

Few figures in Japanese politics have sparked as much debate and controversy as Heita Kawakatsu, the Governor of Shizuoka Prefecture. Kawakatsu is known for his candid, sometimes incendiary comments, staunch opposition to major infrastructural projects, and ideological inclinations. His tenure has been a roller coaster of public opinion and media scrutiny. 

On April 2, Kawakatsu suddenly announced his intention to step down after his contentious remarks generated widespread backlash (again). 

During an April 1 orientation for newly hired prefectural government employees, Kawakatsu discriminated against certain occupations. "Unlike vegetable sellers, cattle farmers, and manufacturers, you possess superior intellect and intelligence," he asserted. "It is crucial that you hone these qualities." 

However, addressing the media on April 3, Kawakatsu claimed the criticism was not the primary factor in his decision. Instead, he cited the recent postponement of the Linear" Chuo Shinkansen maglev line, a project he has staunchly opposed, as the primary reason. 

A Linear Chuo Shinkansen maglev test vehicle underwent a running test on September 26, 2020. Fuefuki City, Yamanashi Prefecture (©Sankei by Hiroshi Watanabe)

Since 2017, Kawakatsu has refused to grant permission for JR Tokai to construct tunnels within the prefecture. On March 29, JR Tokai decided to delay the targeted 2027 operations start date by several years. Describing it as a "milestone decision," Kawakatsu claimed, "My work is done." 

Ardent Admirer of Mao

Over the years, the governor has consistently argued that the line's construction would negatively impact the environment. However, Kawakatsu is an unabashed admirer of China and Mao Zedong's teachings. 

Since he first assumed office in 2009, Kawakatsu has focused on developing relations between Shizuoka and Beijing. Indeed, his writings and actions raise questions concerning the extent to which ideological motivations underpin his stance on the maglev line. 

While the maglev line project began in 2014, it is worth considering the political background in the years preceding it. 

Governor Heita Kawakatsu of Shizuoka Prefecture responds to reporters' questions. He abruptly announced his resignation on the afternoon of April 2nd at the Shizuoka Prefectural Office (© Kyodo)

'Like Lovers'

On September 7, 2010, near the Senkaku Islands, a Chinese fishing vessel collided with a Japan Coast Guard patrol boat. Ignoring warnings, the vessel approached, leading to the captain's arrest and detainment on Ishigaki Island. Yet, the Democratic Party of Japan (DPP) government, citing diplomacy with China, controversially released and repatriated him. This move sparked public outrage, including from Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara.

In the wake of deteriorating Sino-Japanese relations, Kawakatsu, in his second year as Governor of Shizuoka, made a peculiar decision. With the Shanghai World Expo in the background, he resolved to continue with his planned visit to China. 

Leading a delegation, he visited Zhejiang Province, with which Shizuoka shares a friendship alliance, and the Expo site. He details his reflections on these events in his book Land of Fuji: The Japanese Ideal ("Nihon no risou fuji no kuni," by Shunjusha Publishing, 2010).

"On January 10, I had the honor of meeting Vice President Xi Jinping at the Great Hall of the People," Kawakatsu reminisces. 

"It was our first encounter. We spoke earnestly, eye to eye, without glancing at our notes. Quickly, our conversation strayed from prepared remarks, and before we knew it, an hour had passed! A journalist from the Xinhua News Agency later remarked that it was the lengthiest official meeting they had ever witnessed."

At a subsequent welcome dinner, Kawakatsu made a statement to Xi Jinping that lightened the room: 

"When I mentioned that (Hangzhou's) West Lake, named after famed Chinese beauty Xi Shi, and Mount Fuji, revered as a sacred peak, were destined to be drawn to each other like lovers, Vice President Xi laughed out loud. Instantly, the atmosphere became more relaxed."

The Fuji Alliance

In this book, the section that notably stands out concerning the Linear" maglev revolves around the commentary on Mao Zedong. 


During my student days, Mao Zedong was the Chairman of China, and the country was in the midst of the Cultural Revolution. I read works such as the Selected Works of Mao Tse-Tung (Zedong) to understand his thoughts. 

Mao had strategized during the pre-war period to 'encircle the cities with revolutionary rural areas.' (nongcun baowei chengshi, in Chinese). Mao positioned peasants as the main force of the revolution, adopting a pragmatic approach where they would overthrow the urban bourgeoisie, leading to the establishment of the People's Republic of China.

 Here, Kawakatsu mentions his strategy for decentralization and regional autonomy, which he calls the Fuji Alliance. The name refers to the various other fuji mountains throughout Japan. These include Rishiri Fuji in Hokkaido, Tsugaru Fuji in Aomori, and Nambu Fuji in Iwate

"I informed Xi Jinping that I planned to leverage the Fuji Alliance to encircle Tokyo. When asked if this was an application of Mao Zedong thought, I replied, 'Precisely so.' This brought an immediate smile of delight to the faces of the Chinese dignitaries. Japan has much to learn and apply from the thoughts of Mao Zedong and the policies of Deng Xiaoping."

In a 2012 interview with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) mouthpiece the People's Daily, Kawakatsu explained his inspiration for the alliance. "Learning about the 'one country, two systems' during Hong Kong's handover intrigued me," he said. "Japan could expand upon this concept and develop into a 'one country, multiple systems' nation." 

Governor Kawakatsu leaves in silence after greeting the chairman of the Shizuoka Prefectural Assembly and responding to questions from reporters. April 3, 2024 (© Kyodo)

Maoist Rhetoric and Bullish Obstruction

In the early 1930s, under intense persecution by the Kuomintang, Mao took refuge in the Jinggangshan region of southwest China. From here, he embarked on a mission to communize the countryside through land redistribution. He methodically brought remote, less central government-influenced rural communities under the fold of Communist Party control. 

This strategy mirrors Kawakatsu's rhetoric in rallying the rural areas around Shizuoka's Oi River. He referred to the water potentially diminished by the Linear" project as "the essence of life." In the past, agricultural communities in the Oi River basin struggled with droughts and floods. Kawakatsu's call to "safeguard the life-giving waters" had a potent effect on these communities.

Kawakatsu challenged the preliminary accord between Shizuoka Prefecture and JR Tokai. Under the agreement, JR Tokai agreed to replenish any reduction in the Oi River's flow due to the Linear" construction. 

However, Kawakatsu escalated his demands, insisting that every drop of water affected by the project must be replenished. In response, JR Tokai acquiesced to this drastic shift, aiming to align the construction process with Kawakatsu's specifications. 

He further complicated matters by demanding that the company address even negligible water losses during the project's preparatory phase. The governor later demanded that water that flowed through Yamanashi Prefecture be redirected back to Shizuoka. 

A billboard announces the 2027 opening in Nakatsugawa City, Gifu Prefecture, where construction is underway on a new station for the Linear Chuo Shinkansen. March 29, 2024. (©Kyodo)

Finally Moving Forward

So, what now for the maglev line? Minister of Land, Infrastructure, Transport, and Tourism Tetsuo Saito addressed the subject at an April 5 press conference. 

Saito expressed a "renewed commitment to advance the environmental groundwork for an early line opening." The question of Kawakatsu's successor's stance has emerged as a critical point of interest. 

Saito emphasized the importance of securing the cooperation of Shizuoka Prefecture and local municipalities for the Linear" project's progression. "The government intends to keep a vigilant eye on the developments," he asserted.

He further outlined the ministry's strategy to utilize a monitoring council to oversee JR Tokai's environmental initiatives. The minister pledged to "consistently assess the effectiveness of these measures." In addition, he promised to "facilitate ongoing discussions between JR Tokai and the concerned local authorities, including Shizuoka Prefecture."

Regarding Kawakatsu's intention to resign, the minister refrained from commenting. 


A Selfish Campaign

Mao portrayed himself as a defender of rural communities. However, as historian Frank Dikotter highlights, this was not the case. The dictator demolished 30-40% of all rural housing in village relocations to make way for highways and infrastructure. In some cases, this was simply a punitive measure against political dissidents.  

His administration's sustained and severe assault on the environment led to the loss of up to half the trees in certain regions. Millions of farmers built dams and canals at great human and financial cost, but they mostly proved ineffective or hazardous. This mismanagement led to landslides, river sedimentation, soil salinization, and catastrophic floods.  

Kawakatsu claims to have the interests of the people of Shizuoka at heart. Yet, his opposition to the maglev line seems more like a personal crusade driven by his hero's vapid philosophy. 


Author: Daniel Manning