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Ishihara ranks alongside Prime Minister Koizumi Junichiro and ex-premier Hashimoto Ryutaro as one of the key players in Japan's ruling Jiminto (LDP/Liberal Democratic Party). He is currently the metropolitan governor of Tokyo, having been kicked upstairs from his post as the mayor of the city.

In 1997, he made an innocuous comment at a press conference that brought him worldwide infamy: namely, that if Tokyo were ever struck by a major disaster (think earthquake, typhoon, or king of the monsters), the city would be at risk from rioting foreigners. He specifically used the word sankokujin, which literally means "people of Third World countries." Needless to say, this infuriated many Filipinos, Chinese, and Vietnamese living in Japan, but Ishihara never issued a retraction, and the issue never seemed to come up again in the domestic press.

Rhetoric aside, Ishihara's policies, while not totally anti-American, advocate Japan's rearmament and increased independence in the international arena. Few believe the LDP will ever make him prime minister because of this hard-line stance, but he continues to retain his power in Tokyo, and as of March 2003 is seeking re-election to the governorship.

Before entering politics, Ishihara was a writer. Several of his novels became best-sellers, most notably the Akutagawa Prize-winning Taiyo no kisetsu (Seasons in the Sun). He also cowrote The Japan That Can Say No with Sony chairman Morita Akio.