To the frustration — and rising panic — of nuclear village chieftain and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Tokyo’s gubernatorial election next month is shaping up to be a contest not about “local” issues like the 2020 Tokyo Olympics or even perennial complaints such as the lack of economic reform. Barring some last-minute change or surprise, it’s now a contest about the future of nuclear power in Tokyo and Japan.

But in Osaka, the real question is what effect the entry of an old far-right-wing nationalist known for his inflammatory comments — who has the support of an old, far-right-wing nationalist also known for making inflammatory comments — will have on the political fortunes of Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto and Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Restoration Party).

In one corner of the campaign, we have former health minister Yoichi Masuzoe, considered a moderate but, in reality, a conservative who, prior to March 11, 2011, argued for nuclear power. Since then (surprise, surprise) he has kept rather quiet.

In another corner sits former Prime Minister Morihiro Hosokawa. He’s backed by former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi. Both oppose nuclear power, and Hosokawa is under attack by Abe and the most entrenched members of the nuclear village, particularly economic and fiscal policy minister Akira Amari.

Among older Osakans, Hosokawa is known less for his stance on nuclear power and more because he hails from Kumamoto Prefecture, where, as governor, he learned firsthand how impoverished Japanese politics and society had become in a Tokyo-centric nation — a message that resonates well in Osaka and Kansai.

Meanwhile, Masuzoe appeals to younger Osakans who are less-focused on a rivalry with Tokyo and more interested in a TV-friendly candidate with a slight populist bent who seems like a rich, successful version of themselves.

However, it’s a third candidate who is getting the most attention in Osaka’s political world, especially because his entrance may further drive a wedge between the Tokyo and Osaka factions of Nippon Ishin: Toshio Tamogami.

The former chief of staff of the Air Self-Defense Force, fired in 2008 for defending Japan’s wartime aggression, advocates a nuclear-armed Japan against China and all of the usual political and social agendas favored by ultranationalists and right-wingers. Needless to say, Tamogami’s biggest political supporter is Nippon Ishin co-leader and former Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara.

Earlier this month, Ishihara hinted he would support Tamogami’s bid, but only personally. Hashimoto and most in Nippon Ishin’s Osaka faction have no use for Tamogami. Younger Osaka party members derisively refer to Ishihara and the elderly Tokyo nationalists as “old garbage,” and Hashimoto is not pleased with Ishihara’s latest move. He and the Osaka faction wanted the party to back someone more in tune with Nippon Ishin’s local economic and bureaucratic reform agenda, but couldn’t find anyone.

Thus, the party will not officially endorse a candidate. However, ideology aside, the move by the Osaka faction is good politics.

With the Olympics coming, the same Tokyoites who didn’t much care when Ishihara, as their governor, made racist comments and provoked the United States, China and South Korea by trying to purchase the Senkakus are suddenly all nervous smiles, anxious to forget the past and move on by electing a governor who will not embarrass them internationally over the next four years.

Hashimoto, and the Osaka faction, know Abe and the central government feel the same way. Even if many around Hashimoto share Tamogami’s views privately, they recognize that, politically, the smart move now is to keep quiet and not upset the ruling party. Ishihara and his allies can be dealt with once Tokyo voters chose either Hosokawa or Masuzoe.

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.