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Watami boss Watanabe, ex-Osaka Gov. Ota win seats

Kyodo

Miki Watanabe, former chairman of pub chain Watami Co., and former Osaka Gov. Fusae Ota were among the most prominent candidates to win seats Sunday in the proportional representation section of the Liberal Democratic Party’s Upper House ticket.

Watanabe, 53, showed up at his campaign office in Ota Ward, Tokyo, soon after 4 a.m. Monday up to greet supporters.

“It’s been a long night,” he said as he bowed to the crowd.

“I would like to make the best use of my experience and knowledge that I have gained while managing (Watami),” he said. “I want to ease regulations and strengthen agriculture.”

Asked why he had such a hard time winning, Watanabe cited the company’s tainted reputation for being a “burakku kigyo,” or black company, a term used to refer to firms that habitually force employees to work under harsh conditions. The issue was recently reported on by Spa, a weekly magazine.

“The author twisted the facts, but it worked to my disadvantage more than I expected,” he said.

The magazine stated that Watami forced employees to work longer hours than permitted under labor law, resulting in its burakku kigyo status.

Watanabe, who is close to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, was a member of a state education panel during Abe’s first stint as prime minister from 2006 to 2007.

In 2011, Watanabe ran in the Tokyo gubernatorial election but lost to incumbent nationalist Shintaro Ishihara.

Meanwhile, in Osaka, Ota, 62, became the last of the 121 candidates to win a seat in the chamber.

“I want to repay and do my best for the sake of Japan and Osaka,” Ota said while shaking hands with supporters at her campaign office in Osaka.

At 6 a.m. Monday when she finally arrived at her campaign office in the city to watch the election results with her supporters, Ota looked exhausted.

In February 2000 Ota became the first female governor in Japan. After two terms, she sought a third but gave up after coming under fire over financial scandals.

After the results were announced, she greeted supporters by saying: “The only thing I can say is that I’m really grateful. I will never forget how much it means.”

“I didn’t expect that I would be elected,” Ota said to reporters. “This election made me rethink my life.”

As for the proposal by Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Restoration Party) to create a greater Osaka administration, Ota said, “I cannot agree with the whole idea, including the steps they have taken.”

Former Defense Minister Yasuo Ichikawa, a member of the Democratic Party of Japan, lost his seat in Sunday’s election.

Ichikawa, 71, lost in the Ishikawa prefectural constituency to Shuji Yamada, a newcomer with the ruling LDP. Like Ichikawa, Yamada, 59, was also a farm ministry bureaucrat. Ichikawa, who was secretary-general of the DPJ’s Upper House caucus, became defense minister when the DPJ was in power under former Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda.

An expert on farm policy, Ichikawa’s appointment as defense minister came under scrutiny for his lack of expertise in defense affairs. He also stirred controversy by making several gaffes.

When he assumed the post of defense minister in September 2011, Ichikawa described himself as an “amateur” on national security issues.