National / Politics

Tokyo race front-runners seen as short on plans for day care, Olympics

by Mizuho Aoki

Staff Writer

As Tokyo residents gear up to vote in Sunday’s gubernatorial election, candidates are making last-ditch bids for ballots.

But while many voters hope to choose an individual whose platform meets their expectations, few candidates have said clearly how they would improve Tokyo — and are largely silent on who would pay for it.

The three front-runners — Yuriko Koike, Hiroya Masuda and Shuntaro Torigoe — are well aware of the issues Tokyo needs to address. They have all vowed to bolster the capital’s disaster preparedness and to resolve the chronic shortage of day care centers, including by boosting the number of workers at facilities for the elderly.

What is missing is how they would accomplish it.

“It’s more like goals rather than policies,” said Yasushi Aoyama, a professor of public policy at Meiji University. “They need to show how they plan to reach those goals and offer concrete steps toward that.”

Polls show many Tokyo residents are vexed by long waiting lists for day care facilities. In April, 8,466 children were on waiting lists across the entire metropolitan area, up 8 percent from the previous year, according to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government.

Yoichi Masuzoe, who stepped down as Tokyo governor amid a political funds scandal, tried to address the matter by increasing subsidies. His effort aimed to boost pay for day care workers and increase the number of places available.

Tokyo plans to take in 12,000 more children at day care centers by the end of this fiscal year. But at a time when more women are seeking to work, it is unlikely all young children who need places will get them anytime soon.

In an attempt to appeal to voters, the three front-runners visited day care facilities, listened to working parents with young children and vowed to secure funds to meet their needs. But none offered a firm action plan.

Koike’s pledge is perhaps the most detailed, as she has vowed to ease regulations on day care facilities, such as the minimum space per child. She has also pledged to increase the salaries of day care workers.

Noting that the problem is not something that can be fixed right away, Masuda said he would release a plan within a month of taking office.

And Torigoe has pledged to establish more day care facilities and improve the working conditions of nursery teachers, but he gave no additional details.

The candidates’ platforms for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics are even vaguer, vowing to look into the costs and cut wasteful spending to reduce the public burden.

Torigoe said he will make the quadrennial sports events “compact and simple,” while Koike and Masuda pledged simply to study the costs.

Some experts are unconvinced, accusing the candidates of empty talk and of avoiding the fact that voters will inevitably face a financial burden.

Moreover, the next governor needs to have a strategy to use the event to realize sustainable growth of an aging Tokyo, but none is addressing this, said Tomoya Kaji, a professor at Meiji Gakuin University who specializes in public administration.

One pressing issue is Tokyo’s aging infrastructure, he said. From highways to water, sewerage and bridges, most of the capital’s infrastructure was built around the time of the previous Tokyo Olympics, in 1964.

“More than 50 years have passed since then … and it’s about time for Tokyo to renew them. That will cost a lot,” Kaji said.

He added, Tokyo should take advantage of 2020 Games money to rebuild infrastructure.

“It would be a big problem if the capital failed to rebuild and reinforce its aging basic infrastructure,” Kaji said. “But as far as I know, none of the candidates seemed to have said anything about this.”

Kaji also urged the candidates to inform voters of the burden they need to bear, since the economy is stagnant.

“It’s a lie for them to say everyone will benefit and that people will have a rosy future,” Kaji said. “It’s important for them to talk also about things the public needs to hear, and explain why.”

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