Tokyo gubernatorial race heats up

by Jun Hongo and Setsuko Kamiya

The April 8 Tokyo gubernatorial race entered a new stage Thursday as the two leading contenders unveiled their election platforms centered on public safety and the environment.

Incumbent Shintaro Ishihara, seeking a third term, told reporters he will focus on making “the world’s safest capital” and an environment-friendly one as well if he gets re-elected.

Ishihara’s platform, which he calls his “manifesto,” carries the slogan “Re-Boot! Tokyo.” He is pledging to improve the capital’s antidisaster policies, to consider cooperating with Kanto-region governors to create a broader regional government and to further internationalization efforts and cultural interchanges by hosting the 2016 Olympics.

The governor also vowed to better support parents by making medical expenses free for children below grade 12.

Ishihara also made an unexpected apology before the press about recent scandals he has been involved in, including drawing flak for overspending his overseas travel budget and for giving his son preferential treatment when he participated in a public project overseas.

In a separate news conference the same day, Shiro Asano, a former Miyagi governor who is seen as the strongest candidate against Ishihara, vowed that if elected, he would spend 200 billion yen in four years to make the capital more earthquake-proof, environment-friendly and accessible to the disabled and aged.

In unveiling his 12-page election platform — “We Will Rebuild Tokyo for Japan” — the 59-year-old former Miyagi governor said he would also establish a reward or tax reduction system to encourage companies to hire temporary workers as permanent employees to close the pay gap.

“Tokyoites in general aren’t seriously suffering and are more or less leading a happy life, but there is always a sense of uneasiness, and I will implement policies right away to reduce that,” Asano said.

In contrast to Ishihara’s policy of ordering public school teachers to sing the national anthem at school ceremonies, Asano said he would not back that directive.

“I think it’s a bit childish to renounce the national flag or the anthem, but I don’t think it’s something that one has to be forced to respect,” he said.

However, Asano avoided clearly stating whether he would end Tokyo’s bid to host the 2016 Olympics, a move spearheaded by Ishihara, commenting only that there was still time to review the matter.

Asano also said he would give at least one of the three vice governors’ seats to a woman.

Asano also said he plans to establish group homes that can be used by both the elderly and disabled, as he did in Miyagi.

Ishihara, when making his sudden apology, said, “Before I speak of my manifesto, I would like to apologize,” expressing regret for not explaining some of the travel fees he has overused in the past.

“But I have changed how things are handled in the metropolitan government through disclosure of information,” he claimed.

The unexpected apology came after criticism from Asano, who took issue with Tokyo’s lack of “transparency” when he announced his candidacy earlier this month.