‘Second Osaka Castle battle’ campaign starts

by Eric Johnston

Staff Writer

The first race in Osaka’s unprecedented Nov. 27 double election kicked off Thursday with seven candidates vying to become governor, three days before the mayoral campaign officially begins.

The gubernatorial election, which has been dubbed the “second battle of Osaka Castle,” is considered a two-man race pitting established political parties against a recently formed local group that promotes reform.

The slogan refers to the fact that the Osaka Prefectural Government is based next to Osaka Castle, scene of a historic battle in 1615 that led to the country’s unification under the Tokugawa shogunate.

Kaoru Kurata, 63, the former mayor of Ikeda, is being backed by the ruling Democratic Party of Japan and, albeit reluctantly, by the Liberal Democratic Party, the largest opposition force. He also has the support of more than 20 local government heads.

Kurata was nominated after a contentious selection process that nearly split the local LDP chapter, some of whose members had hoped to persuade Kazuya Maruyama, an Upper House lawmaker and former TV celebrity, to run.

But Maruyama didn’t express his interest until after the LDP and DPJ had decided to back Kurata, and the two parties ultimately decided to stick with the former Ikeda mayor.

Kurata’s main challenger, and the current front-runner according to local media polls, is Ichiro Matsui, 47, a senior official in the local group that former Gov. Toru Hashimoto founded, One Osaka (Osaka Ishin no kai).

Matsui’s candidacy, like Kurata’s, was a compromise on the part of One Osaka, which was turned down by other, higher profile friends of Hashimoto.

The race is expected to center on whether the more than 7 million registered voters want Hashimoto’s policies, which are based on merging Osaka’s prefectural and municipal governments, to continue through electing Matsui.

“It’s time to change the current system of two bureaucratic and administrative entities that waste taxpayer money and slow down much-needed reform,” Matsui told his supporters.

Kurata and his backers in the LDP and DPJ are generally opposed to the plan, although the ex-mayor at times has been somewhat vague over his exact position.

“There’s no reason to talk about making Osaka one. What’s important is to make all of Osaka better, including all of the cities, towns and villages,” Kurata said Thursday morning.

Also in the race is Shoji Umeda, 61, who is running with the backing of the Japanese Communist Party, and four other candidates who lack party affiliation and are considered long-shots: Masaru Nakamura, 60, Mac Akasaka, 63, Shu Kishida, 70, and Masaaki Takahashi, 69.

Hashimoto, meanwhile, will run in the Osaka mayoral election and his biggest rival is considered the incumbent, Kunio Hiramatsu, who has the support of the LDP and the DPJ, as well as the unofficial endorsement of the JCP, which withdrew its mayoral candidate late last week.

Hashimoto garnered nearly 1.8 million votes when he won the 2008 gubernatorial election with the backing of the LDP and New Komeito.