Campaigning officially started Thursday for the Dec. 16 Tokyo gubernatorial election as candidates crisscrossed the capital to make speeches vowing to make the metropolis a better place.

The poll will be held on the same day as the general election — for the first time ever.

Nine people are running to fill the shoes of longtime Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara, including Vice Gov. Naoki Inose, former Kanagawa Gov. Shigefumi Matsuzawa, lawyer Kenji Utsunomiya, and former science and technology minister Takashi Sasagawa.

A key point will be whether voters seek someone who will continue the Ishihara regime, which has been in place for 13 years and seven months, or if they want a change. Inose, widely viewed as the front-runner, vowed to pick up where his nationalist boss left off.

“I will execute the missions inherited (from Ishihara) brick by brick,” Inose, 66, said in an appearance at Shinjuku Station, where Ishihara, now head of Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Restoration Party), and its founder, Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto, gave a show of support. Inose is running as an independent but is backed by the Liberal Democratic Party, New Komeito and Nippon Ishin.

Utsunomiya, 65, ex-president of the Japan Federation of Bar Associations, vowed to break with the ways of the Ishihara regime, which he said widened the income gap between rich and poor.

“I want to create a world without nuclear power stations. . . . I want to advance denuclearization and send out (messages) of peace from the capital,” Utsunomiya told a crowd at Yurakucho Station, where ex-Prime Minister Naoto Kan came to cheer him on.

At the Nihonbashi district in Chuo Ward, independent Matsuzawa, 54, played up his eight years of experience leading Kanagawa Prefecture and vowed to change Japan from Tokyo.

“I want the residents to leave the management of Tokyo to me this time,” said Matsuzawa, who is running without additional backing from any other party.

In the Asakusa district, ex-LDP Lower House member Sasagawa, 77, declared himself the only one eligible for the governor’s job: “The governor of the capital is equally as (powerful) as the prime minister. There is no one but me fit enough for the task.”

As for Tokyo’s bid for the 2020 Olympics, Inose, Sasagawa and Matsuzawa back the quest, while Utsunomiya wants to reconsider.

On the troubled bank Shinginko Tokyo, which Ishihara rammed through the metro government in 2004 to promote lending to small businesses, only Inose wants it to keep operating.

Also running are inventor Yoshiro Nakamatsu, 84, Smile Party leader Mac Akasaka, 64, and ex-diplomat Shigenobu Yoshida, 76.

Information from Kyodo added