For Tokyo, Osaka voters, election revolved around economy

City dwellers were confused by crowded field, unclear policies

Staff Writers

The multitude of parties and issues on the table Sunday made it difficult for voters to make up their minds, according to those who spoke with The Japan Times on the streets of Tokyo and Osaka.

As with earlier opinion polls leading up to the election, most people said that Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda’s ruling Democratic Party of Japan was not their top choice, unlike in the Lower House election of August 2009.

Many voters said their main concern was policies for turning around the staggering economy. Whether Japan should phase out nuclear power in light of the Fukushima disaster was not their top concern.

In Tokyo’s Shinjuku Ward, Chiaki Nakayama, 64, said he focused on the parties’ economic pledges, and after weighing all of their promises, opted to vote for the Liberal Democratic Party, headed by former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

“We have too many parties and the LDP sounded better than the others,” he said, adding that while he realizes social welfare is important, the economy needs to get going again in order to maintain a good welfare system.

A woman in her 40s who lives in Tokyo’s Shibuya Ward said she also voted for the LDP, although she supported the DPJ in 2009. The woman, who asked for anonymity, said she felt the way the DPJ handled the Fukushima nuclear crisis after the March 11, 2011, megaquake and tsunami was problematic.

“In my opinion, a change in government power should happen between the LDP and the DPJ in a constructive manner” so the two-party system will be more rooted and improved, she said.

She said she expects the LDP has learned its lesson from being an opposition party the past three years and has proved it is ready to change this time around. A mother of two children, she is hoping the LDP will promote policies that give young people hope for the future, such as creating a stable pension system.

But Shinjuku Ward resident Mikiko Matoba, 36, also a mother of two, said she voted for the DPJ because she believes changing parties in such a short time span isn’t good.

Matoba said she compared the parties by focusing on their views on joining the Trans-Pacific Partnership free-trade accord talks and their stances on social welfare, child care and tax hikes. “I felt most of the 12 parties were the same and it was very difficult to choose. Their wording may differ, but I felt fundamentally they were the same,” she said.

Matoba said that the LDP and DPJ actually sounded very similar, but she opted to back the DPJ.

“We also have to remember why we voted out the LDP three years ago. As Noda said, I don’t want to go back to the old LDP system, which I don’t think the LDP has overcome, as Abe claims,” she said. “Abe also says he is going to make kindergarten education free, but it sounded more like lip service.”

Minoru Uchida, 30, a “freelance” worker in Shinjuku who voted for Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Restoration Party), said he was disappointed with the DPJ, which he backed in the 2009 election, and wanted to back a more reform-oriented party this time.

“My focus was on social welfare. I don’t want any construction (projects) . . . and instead want to back a party whose campaign pledges are good for the young. I also looked at the economic measures that benefit the private sector,” he said.

In Shibuya Ward, a 42-year-old housewife said the numerous parties competing in this race made it difficult to see what their true goals are. In the end, she voted for Nippon Mirai no To (Tomorrow Party of Japan) because she thought the party might listen to and respect the various voices of the voters, since it has politicians with a variety of backgrounds.

But the woman said she doesn’t expect much out of politics. “I feel that Japan will be going down, so maybe I should move overseas in the future.”

“We had so many issues to think about in this election,” said Akiyoshi Nakane, a retired 69-year-old businessman in Ota Ward who voted for LDP ally New Komeito. “But in particular, I’m concerned about steps for economic recovery.”

Nakane was one of the few people interviewed in Tokyo who weighed the parties’ policies on rebuilding the disaster-struck areas of the Tohoku region.

In Osaka, most voters faced a choice between LDP candidates supported by New Komeito, and Nippon Ishin candidates backed by party founders Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto and Osaka Gov. Ichiro Matsui. Nippon Ishin is fielding candidates in 14 of Osaka’s 19 districts and considers the Kansai region to be its strongest base.

In the 10th district, incumbent DPJ member Kiyomi Tsujimoto, 52, is up against Nippon Ishin Diet member Kenta Matsunami, one of the party’s founding members, and Kazuhide Okuma, 43, an LDP candidate.

Tsujimoto beat Matsunami by nearly 25,000 votes in 2009 as a Social Democratic Party candidate and with support from the DPJ and its coalition partner, Kokumin Shinto (People’s New Party). Matsunami ran then as an LDP candidate with New Komeito’s backing.

“Tsujimoto has done a good job over the years, especially providing welfare services for the people of Takatsuki (the main city in the district). I feel like she really understands us,” said Keiko Koyama, 58, who voted for her.

“Matsunami is really close to Hashimoto and a key player in Nippon Ishin. We need a new face in the Diet, somebody who can work to fix the economy,” said Shigeru Nakano, 30, who voted for Matsunami.

Meanwhile, Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura, 59, of the DPJ faces a tough fight in Osaka’s 7th district. His main rivals are LDP candidate Naomi Tokashiki, 50, Nippon Mirai candidate Yoshihiko Watanabe, 56, and Nippon Ishin candidate Sayuri Uenishi, 29.

Fujimura beat Tokashiki by 45,000 votes in the 2009 election, where the turnout was about 69 percent.

This time, however, Tokashiki and Uenishi in particular are strong rivals, and no candidate had a clear lead going into Sunday.

“The DPJ is finished and Fujimura needs to take his share of the blame for the party’s failure,” said Yukihiro Saito, 58, who said he voted for Tokashiki.