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A key election in the Kansai region is slated to take place in July as five-term Hyogo Gov. Toshizo Ido steps down after two decades in power. But although Vice Gov. Kazuo Kanazawa is Ido’s preferred successor and expected to be the front-runner, he faces a large task in seeking to fill Ido's shoes, as younger voters may be seeking a new direction for the prefecture.

Ido, who turns 76 in August, first assumed the post in 2001. He is not the nation’s longest-serving governor — Ishikawa Gov. Masanori Tanimoto has been in power since 1994. Nor is he the oldest. Oita’s Katsusada Hirose has that honor, turning 79 this year. But Ido is Kansai’s longest-serving governor. His exit means the loss of a veteran politician, supported by the ruling parties, whose age, background, and temperament often put him at odds with neighboring Osaka and the younger generation of politicians there who launched the local Osaka Ishin no Kai (One Osaka) and later the national Nippon Ishin no Kai political parties a decade ago.

When Ido took charge in 2001, the city of Kobe and Hyogo Prefecture were six years removed from the 7.3 magnitude Great Hanshin Earthquake, which hit the maximum 7 on the Japanese seismic intensity scale and left 6,434 people dead, over 43,000 injured, and forced more than 316,000 to evacuate. Nearly 250,000 buildings were heavily damaged or destroyed.

Ido helped Hyogo recover from the disaster and become a major domestic and international center for seismology and disaster relief meetings and symposiums. In January 2005, on the quake’s 10th anniversary, Kobe hosted hosted the United Nations World Conference on Disaster Reduction, bringing international attention to Hyogo’s own recovery efforts at a time when the world was responding to the devastation caused by the 9.1 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami in 2004 that killed about 230,000.

On a personal level, Ido mixed easily with the local foreign community. He was often seen chatting with foreign diplomats and business people, promoting Hyogo to the outside world. His diplomatic style was fairly open and contrasted sharply with that of Osaka Ishin leaders, who often appeared to be ill at ease in the presence of foreign residents and overseas visitors.

Politically, Ido and his Osaka neighbors have often clashed over economic policies for the Kansai region. The determination of Osaka Gov. Hirofumi Yoshimura and his Osaka Ishin supporters to win more seats in neighboring Hyogo, both locally and in the Diet, is another long simmering source of tension between the Hyogo governor and Osaka Ishin.

But Ido has also been criticized by younger generations of Hyogo residents, including Osaka Ishin supporters, for being out of touch with their needs and for not being aggressive enough in pursuing local economic reforms to keep younger Hyogo residents from fleeing to other parts of the country for employment. He won many elections partially because his experience as an internal affairs and communications ministry bureaucrat appealed to older, more traditional voters, especially in rural areas north of Kobe.

In that sense, he’s not unique in the Kansai region. The governors of Kyoto, Nara and Wakayama are also former central government bureaucrats who went into politics.

Kanazawa also worked as a high-level bureaucrat at Ido’s former ministry about a decade ago, before being tapped by Ido to serve as his vice governor.

While some voters may welcome that experience, others see Kanazawa as a creature of the central government and the status quo who won’t push for the kind of changes they see being espoused by neighboring Osaka. Ido ran in past elections as the anti-Japanese Communist Party and anti-Nippon Ishin candidate, and Kanazawa will do the same.

Nippon Ishin, therefore, is likely to put its own candidate up against Kanazawa in the hope of pulling in younger disaffected voters seeking change and a break from the past. Given Ido’s popularity and Kanazawa’s support from the establishment, however, a successful run could prove extremely difficult.

View from Osaka is a monthly column that examines the latest news from a Kansai perspective.

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