KYOTO – Given Kyoto’s prosperous domestic and international tourism industry, the mayoral election on Feb. 7 is widely expected to be an easy win for incumbent Daisaku Kadokawa, 65, who is backed by the Liberal Democratic Party, Komeito and the Democratic Party of Japan.
His main challenger, Kumiko Honda, 66, is supported by the Japanese Communist Party, and the third candidate, running with no party support, is former prefectural assemblyman Takashi Mikami, 85.
The kimono-clad Kadokawa has been a distinctive presence since becoming mayor in 2008, and not just in the city.
While other Kansai region politicians, notably Toru Hashimoto, the former Osaka mayor and governor, often seem to go out of their way to avoid foreign residents and VIPs, Kadokawa has been a highly visible ambassador within and without the city, promoting not only Kyoto’s traditions, but also environmental issues and the local economy.
He is seeking a third term at a time when the home of the Kyoto Protocol is in the international spotlight more than ever. Thanks to a favorable exchange rate, strong tourism efforts, and good publicity that saw Kyoto ranked as the world’s top city for travel, according to one U.S. magazine, over 55 million tourists visited Japan’s ancient capital in 2014, including 1.8 million from overseas.
Although Kadokawa is the clear favorite, there is growing unease about the tourist boom he has helped create. It starts with the fact that the ancient city was never designed to handle the huge number of tourists it’s getting. Traffic jams are creating not only commuter headaches, but also concerns about whether fire trucks and ambulances can respond to emergencies in a timely manner.
Another issue that has many in Kyoto concerned is whether there are sufficient plans to deal with a disaster at one of the nuclear power plants in nearby Fukui Prefecture. Much of the city lies within about 60 km of Kansai Electric Power Co.’s Takahama reactors, two of which are set to be restarted later this week.
Parts of eastern Kyoto have been designated to receive a few Fukui evacuees in the event of a nuclear accident. But what to do about Kyoto residents who may try to flee along with them, and how to evacuate large numbers of foreign tourists, if need be, are also questions on the minds of voters.
On these issues, Kadokawa has promised efforts to strengthen municipal disaster drills and radiation monitoring but has not put up any official resistance to restarting the reactors in Fukui, unlike his main challenger Honda. Only the dark horse, Mikami, says roads would have to be widened for evacuation purposes.
Despite these concerns, voter turnout could once again prove low: Since 2004, less than 40 percent of the city’s roughly 1.1 million voters have cast ballots.
Kadokawa won the 2012 election, when about 37 percent went to the polls, by about 32,000 votes. While not a large margin, barring some last-minute crisis, a combination of a booming local economy and an apparent lack of strong opposition are expected to put Kyoto on track for another four years of the kimono-clad incumbent.