The campaign for the Dec. 16 gubernatorial election kicks off Thursday in Tokyo, with the focus on whether candidates will carry on the policies of former Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara.

As of Tuesday, eight had announced their candidacies, including Tokyo Vice Gov. Naoki Inose, 66; Kenji Utsunomiya, 65, former president of the Japan Federation of Bar Associations; former Kanagawa Gov. Shigefumi Matsuzawa, 54; and 77-year-old former science and technology minister Takashi Sasagawa.

Among the four major candidates, Inose, who is widely considered the front-runner, said he will continue what Ishihara started, including keeping alive Tokyo’s bid for the 2020 Olympics.

Matsuzawa and Sasagawa said they would do the same to see that Tokyo wins out over Madrid and Istanbul. The host is expected to be announced next September. Only Utsunomiya said he would reconsider the bid.

“I couldn’t agree more to take part in the bid (for the 2020 Olympics),” Matsuzawa told media outlets at the Japan National Press Club in Tokyo on Wednesday, where the other three major candidates spoke about their policies. “Ishihara threw away (the governor’s job) in the midst of the bidding process. But I will be there till the end.”

Although Matsuzawa and Sasagawa were critical of Ishihara’s regime, they were mostly on the same page with Inose, except when it came to continuing the operations of the debt-ridden Shinginko Tokyo, a bank set up by the metro government during Ishihara’s stint in 2004.

Utsunomiya alone vowed to reverse course on Ishihara’s infrastructure-oriented governance.

“Ishihara didn’t care about enriching Tokyoites’ lives. During Ishihara’s tenure, the number of those who starved to death or went on welfare in the 23 wards doubled,” Utsunomiya said, pledging to beef up public welfare and increase care facilities for the swelling ranks of seniors in the capital.

Matsuzawa and Utsunomiya vowed to appoint a female vice governor if elected.

Although Inose is running as an independent, he is backed by the Liberal Democratic Party, New Komeito and Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Restoration Party), which Ishihara now heads.

The Japanese Communist Party and the Social Democratic Party support Utsunomiya.

Other candidates include Yoshihiro Nakamatsu, an 84-year-old inventor better known as “Dr. Nakamatsu,” and Mac Akasaka, 64, head of Smile Party, and Tokuma Suginomori, a 46-year-old musician and member of Happiness Realization Party.

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