Race for Tokyo kicks off

by and

Confident speeches and bold accusations flew Thursday as the campaign to elect the next Tokyo governor got under way, with national attention focused on whether the powerful incumbent, Shintaro Ishihara, can overcome scandal to win a third four-year term.

A colorful mix of 14 candidates officially signed up to run against the outspoken 74-year-old nationalist the same day — up from five candidates four years ago. Most are running as independents.

“(The election) is becoming a close contest, which was unexpected,” said Ishihara, a feisty independent who unofficially enjoys support from the Liberal Democratic Party. “But please look at what I have achieved.”

In a 20-minute speech to about 1,000 people gathered at the north exit of JR Tachikawa Station in the morning, Ishihara recited his accomplishments of the last eight years — tighter regulation of diesel truck emissions to control pollution in the capital, and a political coup — the partial reclamation of airspace over the U.S. Air Force’s Yokota air base in western Tokyo.

Ishihara received a record-breaking 3.08 million votes on his way to his second term in 2003, but recently he has been slowed by accusations of scandal, including overspending for overseas trips and cronyism for giving one of his sons a municipal contract for a public art project.

“I apologize for some of the incidents. I should have provided a clearer explanation,” Ishihara said to the crowd as he asked for their votes.

The governor, running as an independent but unofficially supported by the LDP, said the capital’s bid to host the Olympics in 2016 is not about building new stadiums or roads, but “about all of us having a huge, wonderful dream together.”

Tokyoite Kouko Yamura, 81, praised Ishihara for his achievements and said she will probably vote for him. “He seems to be doing a good job,” she said.

Yuri Kobayashi, a 32-year-old housewife from Tachikawa, said she would vote for Ishihara despite the scandals. “Every politician has his share of scandals, so I don’t know if I could say that Ishihara’s scandals were any worse than the others,” she said.

Running against Ishihara are comedian Kinzo Sakura, 50, inventor Yoshiro Nakamatsu, 78, who is running for the fourth time, 61-year-old taxi driver Mitsuru Takahashi, and Kumiko Uchikawa, 49, a feng-shui expert.

Ishihara’s main opponent will be former Miyagi Gov. Shiro Asano, 59.

The Keio University professor kicked off his campaign in Shinjuku in front of Tokyo City Hall, stressing that he would put an end to Ishihara’s “arrogance.”

“So much has been lost in the eight years (that Ishihara has been governor), and I’m going to put Tokyo back (in the hands of the citizens,)” said Asano, who is unofficially supported by the Democratic Party of Japan.

After announcing his candidacy earlier this month, Asano questioned the Olympic bid and has promised to cancel it if Tokyoites deem it unnecessary.

“Do we really need to hold the Olympics to boost national prestige? Should we hold it for the sake of implementing more development? We must stop and think this through,” Asano said to a crowd of about 100.

Credited for improving transparency and information disclosure in Miyagi Prefecture, Asano criticized the Tokyo Metropolitan Government for lacking just that. “Be it quake-proofing activities, education or equal opportunities, the metropolitan government must be open” so citizens can participate in improving their situation, Asano said. “We can’t continue this situation for another four years.”

Matsuko Hidaka from Hachioji said she was tired of Ishihara’s discriminatory remarks against women. The 61-year-old librarian was also angry that Ishihara cut the budget for public libraries.

Hidaka said she was interested in Asano’s education policies, particularly his promise to cut the student-to-classroom ratio to 30 at public schools.

Shortly before Asano kicked off his campaign, Manzo Yoshida, 59, a former mayor of Adachi Ward nominated by the Japanese Communist Party, addressed commuters at JR Shinjuku Station. He said he would reform the medical and welfare systems and implement policies to address poverty issues.

Two hours later, near JR Yurakucho Station, prominent architect Kisho Kurokawa, 73, told his audience that he would kill any bid to host an Olympics in Tokyo to prevent overdevelopment.

He also said he opposed moving the Tsukiji Fish Market to Toyosu and that it was possible to improve the decrepit market with renovations.

Hisayoshi Nishioka, 63, who happened to pass by when Kurokawa was speaking, said although he felt that it wouldn’t make a big difference who led the metropolis, he might vote for Ishihara, whom he voted for four years ago.

“I do think he’s got some attitude problems, but then I think he’s been strong, I think he does have some accomplishments. I feel I want to give him another chance,” said the Tachikawa resident, adding that he supported an Olympics bid for Tokyo.

Information from staff writer Eri Nosaka and Kyodo News added