As campaigning for the Tokyo gubernatorial race got under way Thursday, just a little more than a month since Naoki Inose resigned over a money scandal, voters expressed bewilderment over how fast the focus seems to have turned to nuclear energy.
A 50-year-old construction company employee from Itabashi Ward said he was disappointed.
“It’s completely wrong (for nuclear power to become a key issue),” he said. “I think the (2020 Tokyo) Olympics is a big subject. Inose’s resignation came so unexpectedly it has clouded what the real issues are.”
The man, who did not want his name used, added that none of the 16 candidates has earned his vote yet in the Feb. 9 race.
According to pre-campaign polls conducted by media organizations, the strongest contenders are former health minister Yoichi Masuzoe and former Prime Minister Morihiro Hosokawa, followed by lawyer Kenji Utsunomiya and nationalist Toshio Tamogami.
Hosokawa, after spending the last 15 years away from politics, has enlisted support from another former prime minister, Junichiro Koizumi, to push his anti-nuclear agenda.
The Hosokawa-Koizumi duo has quickly become a favorite among those who consider nuclear power the most important issue.
But Yoshitaka Shimoda, a 20-year-old university student, said his vote will go to Masuzoe.
While admitting that none of Masuzoe’s pledges resonate with him, Shimoda said he finds the former health minister the most affable candidate, citing his telegenic smile.
“Plus he’s the only one (of the candidates) I can recognize by name,” he said.
Meanwhile, foreign residents expressed what they want the next Tokyo leader to do.
Pole Piotr Grzywacz, 38, who works for a major U.S. company specializing in Internet-related services, said his natural interest in politics has weakened somewhat, influenced by what he described as Japan’s general political apathy.
Grzywacz said that during his 13 years in Japan he hasn’t noticed any major changes in his daily life despite many changes on the political stage.
He added, however, that the tourism infrastructure in Tokyo should be made more convenient for foreigners, especially those who can’t speak Japanese.
While refraining from commenting about the candidates, 36-year-old German Stephan Matthiesen said he expects some changes in economic policies.
“The economy is growing now,” said Matthiesen, a financial controller at a firm in Tokyo. “The question is how you can stimulate the domestic economy sustainably, and deregulating and opening the country more towards foreign investors is one of the key issues.”
Asked his opinion about nuclear energy, Matthiesen said that the country is not ready to build the infrastructure for a grid in which nuclear power plays no role.
“You need to build the whole infrastructure and you can’t do it over one night. It takes a couple of decades,” he said.
Besides nuclear energy and the Olympics, preparing for a major earthquake and child-rearing support have climbed to the top of the election agenda.
Candidates are also expected to be scrutinized for corruption because of Inose’s resignation.
But Japan’s strained relations with South Korea and China appear to have strengthened support for Tamogami, a nationalist whose platform features building disaster preparedness through use of the Self-Defense Forces.
Tamogami is said to enjoy strong support from the Internet crowd in particular, making him a wild card in the race.
A 24-year-old university student who came to listen to Tamogami deliver a speech Thursday morning in front of Shibuya Station expressed support to the nationalist candidate.
The student, who only gave his family name, Miura, said he supports Tamogami because he finds the former top Air Self-Defense Force officer most ideologically consistent and agrees with his hawkish stance.
Miura, a self-acknowledged frequent Internet user, also said he supports Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.