Campaigning kicked off on Thursday for the Feb. 9 Tokyo gubernatorial election, which will not only decide the leader of the nation's capital but also influence the debate on whether Japan should continue to rely on nuclear power — a major issue that will help determine the shape of Japan's future.

The nuclear issue has assumed great importance because former Prime Minister Morihiro Hosokawa has entered the race with the backing of former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and is running on a "zero nuclear" platform — a stance shared by Koizumi. Both Hosokawa and fellow candidate Kenji Utsunomiya, a former head of the Japan Federation of Bar Associations, are calling for the immediate halt of nuclear power generation. They oppose the Abe administration's plan to restart idled nuclear power plants if their safety is confirmed by the Nuclear Regulation Authority.

Candidate Yoichi Masuzoe,a former health and welfare minister, calls for ending Japan's reliance on nuclear power over the long term while another candidate, former ASDF Gen. Toshio Tamogami, favors the continued use of nuclear power.