Photo/IllutrationActor Dean Fujioka, second from right, attends the unveiling ceremony for a bronze statue of Tomoatsu Godai at the Osaka City University in March 2016. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

Tomoatsu Godai (1836-1885), a prominent entrepreneur of the Meiji Era (1868-1912), was depicted in the NHK drama series "Asa ga Kita" (Morning has come) that ran for six months through spring 2016. The actor who played him, Dean Fujioka, gave a memorable performance.

Dubbed the father of Osaka's modern economy, Godai founded the Osaka Chamber of Commerce and Industry and Japan Mint.

But his reputation was severely damaged in 1881 after he was implicated in a scandal surrounding the Hokkaido Development Commission.

After investing what was then the whopping sum of 14 million yen in public funds in factories and mines in Hokkaido over 10 years, the government decided to sell everything to a new consortium, to which Godai had close ties, for a mere 380,000 yen. And to further sweeten the deal, the consortium was to pay the amount over 30 years, interest-free.

Both Godai and the director of the Hokkaido Development Commission were from the feudal Satsuma Domain, present-day Kagoshima Prefecture.

When two newspapers exposed this deal, public outrage exploded against the government, which was under the control of politicians from the Satsuma and Choshu (present-day Yamaguchi Prefecture) domains, for "treating state property like private assets."

The public demanded the creation of a modern national assembly to end "hanbatsu seiji" (politics run by feudal domain members). In response, the government scrapped the deal with the consortium and promised to establish the parliament within 10 years.

However, Satsuma and Choshu politicians were wily enough to one-up the public. Determining that Shigenobu Okuma (1838-1922), a prominent politician from present-day Saga Prefecture, was the source of the leak to the press, they dismissed him on the same day. With Okuma gone, the Satsuma and Choshu politicians were able to put an end to political strife and tighten their hold over the government.

My reason for dwelling at length over this slice of history is that it appears to mirror the present state of politics.

The Abe administration sold government-owned real estate for a song. The media denounced the transaction, opposition parties questioned government leaders and a beleaguered Prime Minister Shinzo Abe dissolved the Lower House for a snap election.

It looked for a while as if Abe's "one strongman politics" was finally losing traction. But I was shocked by the latest opinion polls by newspapers, which show that the ruling Liberal Democratic Party is poised to seize a majority in the Oct. 22 election.

Godai, who foresaw the future of Hokkaido, stated to the effect that even if he failed in his venture, he would still be satisfied if the result made the Japanese people happy.

I sense a spirit akin to chivalry in Godai, given that all of the government's Hokkaido development projects were said to be money losers.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Oct. 14

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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.