Tokyo Gubernatorial Election 2020: The 5 Main Candidates (And 3 Most Controversial)

The profiles and pledges of eight of the election’s leading and most debatable candidates.

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Like most foreigners residing in the capital (and the rest of Japan for that matter), we at Tokyo Weekender unfortunately have no official say in Japanese politics. This, however, can’t prevent us from maintaining a high interest in the upcoming elections nor from keeping our readers informed about it — especially now after we have seen what politics can and can’t do to help us in critical times such as a global pandemic.

Tokyo’s Gubernatorial Election takes place on Sunday, July 5. A total of 22 candidates will be competing for the post and the lineup of candidates this year features a variety of intriguing individuals from various backgrounds. Here is a guide to all you need to know about the most prominent or awkward candidates running in the election this year. 

Yuriko Koike

Yuriko Koike (67) is the current governor of Tokyo and the first woman to hold the post. A Hyogo Prefecture native and a former newscaster, Koike graduated from Cairo University and can speak English and Arabic. She became a politician in 1992 with her election to the upper house for the then-Japan New Party. After joining the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) in 2002, she was appointed to her first Cabinet post as environment minister under then-Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and served briefly (for less than two months) as defense minister in 2007 in Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s first cabinet. In 2017, Koike resigned from the LDP and became the leader of Tomin First no Kai (Tokyoites First). She is running in this election as an independent candidate without the support of any party. 

During her political career and as governor of Tokyo, Koike has been criticized as a conservative nationalist and populist who has much to say and little to show. At the previous gubernatorial election, Koike based her policies promising “seven zeros,” which meant bringing to zero seven rising problems in the capital, including the number of children on Tokyo daycare center wait-lists. However, during her current term, although she has shown improvement in most areas that she based her initial campaign on, the only one she was able to achieve was reducing the number of abandoned pets that are euthanized to zero. Koike has also been criticized for her handling of the relocation of the Toyosu Fish Market and there are allegations that she embellished her academic records and lied about graduating from Cairo University. However, her quick measures amid the coronavirus outbreak and her ability to market herself in the media, have earned her support from the public — the most recent polling data showed that Koike is leading the race by a large margin. Official website

Slogans: “Building Tokyo’s future along with Tokyo residents,” “Tokyo Great Reform 2.0”

Signature pledges: 

  • Providing thorough health care and testing system in the event of a second wave of coronavirus infections
  • Building the Japan version of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the US to fight infectious diseases
  • Support residents and businesses in their adjustment to the post-Covid “new reality” 
  • Strengthen suicide prevention measures 
  • Enforce the promotion of 4 “less”: Paperless (Faxless), Hanko-less, Cashless, Touchless 
  • Successful hosting of the Tokyo Olympics and support of Paralympic sports 
  • Support for working parents through a further increase in public childcare facilities 
  • Increased support for working women 
  • Increase of paternity leave acquisition 
  • Support for the shift of the beginning of the academic year to September 

Policies concerning foreign and LGBT residents: 

  • Measures against sexual discrimination  

Taro Yamamoto

Taro Yamamoto (45), born in Hyogo Prefecture in 1974, is a former actor who entered Japanese politics after the 2011 Fukushima nuclear crisis. Since the disaster, he has been one of the most vocal activists in Japan’s anti-nuclear movement. His opposition was severely criticized in Japan in 2013, when he handed a political letter, which is believed to have included his negative opinion about Japan’s handling of the nuclear disaster, to the then-Emperor of Japan at a non-political garden party. Yamamoto was criticized for his insensitivity and lack of understanding of the constitution since the Emperor is not allowed to involve himself in political matters. Currently, Yamamoto is the leader of the anti-establishment political party Reiwa Shinsengumi, which he founded in 2019. Reiwa Shinsengumi made history in Japan last July when it secured two seats in the upper house election for two severely disabled candidates, the first case of its kind in  Japan.  Official website 

Slogans: “What current Japanese politics lack is love for you and money”

Signature pledges: 

  • Cancellation of the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games
  • Provide all Tokyo residents a relief handout of ¥100,000 in response to the coronavirus pandemic
  • Provide one tuition-free year for all students from elementary school to universities 
  • Provide compensation for small to mid-size businesses for Covid-19 financial loss 
  • Employ 3,000 new Tokyo Metropolitan Government staff. Provide secure jobs to people from the so-called “lost generation” (people who graduated from high school or college during and after the mid-1990s, when Japan’s economic bubble burst) and people who have suffered financial damage because of the coronavirus pandemic 
  • Increase PCR testing and secure beds in hospitals in anticipation of a second and third coronavirus wave 
  • Increase public nurseries and special needs schools 
  • Establish policies for the protection of people with disabilities 
  • Provide low-rent public housing for residents in need 

Policies concerning foreign and LGBT residents: 

  • Increase the number of municipalities that offer Same-Sex Partnership agreement and ultimately aim to legalize same-sex marriage in Japan 
  • Establish a stress-free environment where foreigners can feel encouraged to consult authorities on various issues related to their lives in Tokyo 

Takashi Tachibana

Takashi Tachibana (52) is the founder and leader of The Party to Protect the People from NHK. Prior to his political career, Tachibana was an accountant, project producer and executive assistant of the chairman of NHK from 1997 through 2005. He used his knowledge and experience to leak information about NHK’s accounting scandals to a Japanese tabloid in 2005 which led to his much-publicized retirement from Japan’s public broadcaster. In May 2020, Tachibana founded the Horiemon New Party (Horiemon is the popular nickname of Internet entrepreneur Takafumi Horie, though Horie has publicly disclaimed any connection to the party.)

In 2019, he was criticized for suggesting genocide as a means of population control to maintain global peace. He said “Let’s just say that we should practice genocide against a race that reproduces like an idiot” and “people who are reasonably intelligent should be allowed to live, while the rest should be slaughtered.” Tachibana has publicly acknowledged that he had from bipolar disorder. Official social media account

Slogans: “Smash the corona-induced self-isolation and self-restraint”

Signature pledges: 

  • Reduce traffic to zero 
  • Introduce a no-ticket, no-ticket barrier transportation system 
  • Support of cashless payment everywhere in Tokyo 
  • Launch Uber services in the capital 
  • Building VR live infrastructure 
  • Rebuild the Adachi neighborhood as “Tokyo’s Brooklyn” 
  • Hold the Tokyo Olympic Games remotely 
  • Support for online education 
  • Abandonment of paper textbooks
  • Legalization of marijuana 
  • Online election infrastructure 
  • Support for online press conferences 
  • English as an official language

Policies concerning foreign and LGBT residents

  • Strongly against increase of foreign labor in Japan 
  • In favor of promoting Tokyo as a “diverse city” 

Kenji Utsunomiya

Kenji Utsunomiya (73) is a lawyer and the former head of the Japan Federation of Bar Associations. He has worked on a number of high-profile cases, including the 1995 Tokyo subway sarin attacks. Utsunomiya is running independently but is supported by the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan and two other opposition parties. This is his third time to enter the Tokyo gubernatorial race, following his run in 2012 and 2014, both in which he placed second. Utsunomiya has been a vocal critic of the way the Tokyo government has handled the coronavirus pandemic, openly criticizing the government for its delayed response influenced by favor of the Tokyo Games. Official website

Slogan: “Building a city where every resident can live with hope”

Signature pledges: 

  • Strengthen overall measures against the coronavirus pandemic 
  • Increasing PCR testing
  • Provide financial support to medical institutions as well as affected businesses
  • Cancellation of the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games if experts judge that it isn’t safe to host the games 
  • Abandon all plans for legalization of casinos 
  • Free school meals for children 
  • Cut tuition to all public universities in Tokyo by half, ultimately aiming for complete tuition-free education 
  • Increase of full-time employment, decrease of part-time 

Policies concerning foreign and LGBT residents

  • Support of expansion of the Same-Sex partnership agreement 

Taisuke Ono 

Taisuke Ono (46) is the former vice governor of Kumamoto Prefecture. He assumed the post in 2012 becoming the youngest vice governor in Japan at the time. Ono is a Tokyo native and a graduate of the University of Tokyo. He worked at a consulting firm and as a secretary to politician Masayuki Fujishima, who served as a House of Representatives member between 2000 and 2003. Ono is supported by the Japan Innovation Party. He stepped down from his post as vice governor this June. He is running with the support of the Nippon Ishin Japan Innovation Party. Official website

Slogan: “Open up Tokyo” 

Signature pledges: 

  • Quick recovery of the coronavirus-hit economy in Tokyo
  • Support for businesses hit by the coronavirus pandemic
  • Reduce governor salary and pension allowance by 50 percent 
  • Unite all private and public subway companies and provide a more efficient underground transportation system in the capital 

Policies concerning foreign and LGBT residents

  • Support for further increase and implementation of Same-Sex Partnership agreement 

Teruki Goto

Teruki Goto (37) is a controversial Japanese musician famous for his extreme nationalist and conservative views. He wishes to make Japan the “strongest, kindest and most interesting country in the world.” This is his second time running for the Tokyo gubernatorial elections, following a major defeat in 2016. He is well-known for using words that require censorship on prime TV (mostly consisting of continuous repetition of words describing reproductive organs). In 2016, he inspired dozens of memes when over 10 percent of his speeches on TV had to be silenced due to the use of obscene language. He has caused quite the stir in this election as well, after appearing in a dirty diaper in his official candidacy video. Official website

Slogan: “I’ll make Tokyo the world’s leading IT and AI city” 

Signature pledges: 

  • Introduction of 100% cashless system 
  • Legalizing physician-assisted suicide and the right to choosing death 
  • Legalization of polygamy 
  • Introduction of “I love you” as a popular greeting 
  • Enforcement of paper-less, hanko-less society 
  • Transformation of NHK as an official patriotism public broadcaster 
  • Introducing Taiwan as a Japanese territory 
  • Distribution of ¥10,000 discounts for beauty treatments 
  • Introduction of patriotism studies at schools 
  • Promotion of gender equality
  • Increase of foreign tourists 

Policies concerning foreign and LGBT residents

  • Limit entrance of foreign citizens to Tokyo to 50,000 people per country 
  • Prohibit welfare for foreign residents 
  • Introduction of a more complex system to obtain permanent residentship for foreign residents 

Makoto Nishimoto

Going by “Super crazy kun,” Makoto Nishimoto (33) is a former gang member and a rapper. He grew up in a dysfunctional family, with his father divorcing five times. Born and raised in Miyazaki Prefecture, Nishimoto moved to Tokyo at the age of 21. This is his first time to run for the Tokyo gubernatorial elections. Official Instagram 

Slogans: “Me or the current governor” 

Signature pledges: 

  • Relaxation of the Amusement Businesses Law on Control 
  • Promotion of 24-hour operation of entertainment facilities, restaurants and pubs
  • Zero children on the waiting list for public nurseries 
  • Zero animal slaughter at public shelters 
  • Introduction of a license system when buying pets 
  • Increase young people’s interest and involvement in politics 

Policies concerning foreign and LGBT residents: Not clarified

Makoto Sakurai

Makoto Sakurai (48) is an activist and writer from Fukuoka Prefecture. He is the founder of the anti-foreign activist group Zaitokukai. Following his unsuccessful campaign in the 2016 Tokyo gubernatorial election, he founded the Japan First Party in 2016 and currently serves as its party’s leader. Sakurai is a former ward office public clerk. He is known for his ultranationalist views. Official Website

Slogans: “Strong Japan” 

Signature pledges

  • No monthly compensation for the Tokyo governor 
  • No resident taxes 
  • No asset taxes 

Policies concerning foreign and LGBT residents:

  • Removal of all welfare support for foreign residents 

Other candidates

If you could vote in Tokyo, who would you vote for? 

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