In a few minutes voting starts for the governorship of the Tokyo Metropolitan District(1). Twenty-one names are on the ballot but only a few are worth mentioning. Even fewer have a chance at making a splash.
The prize is a heck of a job - essentially the presidency of the world's 16th largest economy -- the part of Japan that generates, rather than immolates, revenues.
At this writing it looks like Koike Yuriko's Big Decision -- to defy the Liberal Democratic Party's national and Tokyo establishments by offering herself as a candidate -- will pay off with a big electoral win. The Iron Butterfly - my name for her given her hardline realist security policy views and her penchant of flitting from party to party as political expediency dictates -- is leading in the polls. Her main rivals -- former newscaster Torigoe Shuntaro and former Iwate Governor Masuda Hiroya -- have been trying to keep up with on the one hand crippled and the other tepid campaigns.
One has to be appalled by the Torigoe situation. A last minute choice of the four party electoral alliance of the Democratic Party, the Japan Communist Party and micro-party twins the Socialists and Livelihood (made after an inexplicable second-to-last minute dalliance with Abe Shinzo critic and major fruitcake Koga Shigeaki) Torigoe's hopes for victory were immediately torpedoed by tabloid tales of his having seduced an innocent 20 year old a decade ago. Torigoe did what his lawyers told him to do -- say nothing, prepare to sue, threaten with a police complaint of obstruction of an election -- which made him look like he was trying to bury the story. He had an obligation to save himself from extortion and possible prosecutorial misconduct over an incident he thought resolved years ago. Trying to run for governor – and get others excited about his run for the governorship -- at the same time has proven a titanic struggle.
LDP and Komeito's candidate Masuda Hiroya is probably one of Japan’s top thinkers on local administration. He has competently run Iwate Prefecture, shaking off the influence of his mentor Ozawa Ichiro in the process. He has been Minister of Internal Affairs and Communications. His May 2014 report on immanent catastrophic population declines in rural areas shook off decades of complacency about the "genteel decline" of Japan exurban environment.
Which is why it is both terrible and wonderful that his candidacy has failed to catch fire even with The Establishment. Terrible in that of all the persons seeking the governorship Masuda is the only one with even an inkling of how local administration works, what it is good at, what it must abandon and what, if anything, Tokyo can do to help revive the rest of Japan. Wonderful in that failure will mean that the poisoned chalice of the Tokyo Governorship will not devastate the career and reputation of a third of Japan's reformers. The snakepit of Shinjuku Ward devoured and then spat out Inose Naoki and Masuzoe Yo'ichi for non-criminal financial indiscretions. Losing Masuda as well to local Tokyo's politics would be Brechtian farce.
Down the ticket, the Tokyo election has attracted this year more than its usual share of right wing nut jobs courting the Empire Should Strike Back vote (a not-to-be ignored and not insignificant constituency, given soon-to-be-felon General Tamogami Toshio's stunning capture 600,000 votes in 2014). Chief among these awful crackpots is Sakurai Makoto (not his real name) the former chairman of the anti-Korean, anti-Chinese hate group the Zaitokukai. One hopes (OK, I hope) the plethora of wacky alternatives and a cooling of Sino-Japanese tensions over the Senkakus (credit to both Abe Shinzo and Xi Jinping for this) keeps him below 100,000 votes.
Turnout is expected to be light. Normally, low turnout would favor the LDP/Komeito candidate, backed as he is by the political machines of both parties. Not even low turnout, however, looks to derail Koike Yuriko’s bid to become the first woman to lead Tokyo.
1) a neologism - the actual English name of Tokyo-to is "the Tokyo Metropolitan Government." I will try to convince the new governor to change the name as calling a geographical area a "government" makes zero sense.