Tokyo assembly election: Meet the candidates (Part 8 of 10) – Mitsuhisa Asako (Independent)

The last post completed our look at the most credible candidates in this election. The remaining three candidates are considered relative long shots, but they still deserve our attention. First among these minor candidates is Mitsuhisa Asako (39), a former Adachi-ku city assemblyman looking to get back into political office.

From Tokyo Prefectural Assembly Election

Career: This self-described “samurai” was born and raised in Adachi-ku, close to this Don Quixote discount store. After dropping out of Komazawa University, in 1995 he became the “nation’s youngest” city assemblyman at age 25.

He served three terms in Adachi but then left in 2007 for complicated reasons. After LDP prefectural assemblywoman Yayoi Kondo was elected Adachi-ku mayor in 2007, Asako campaigned for LDP backing in the election to replace her, only to lose to Masatsugu Mihara, a more experienced politician who had lost his bid for re-election to the prefectural assembly in 2005. Not to be discouraged, Asako decided to run anyway under a one-man party “Vibrant Prefectural Politics” (活きる都政). This move turned out to be a costly gamble as Mihara won in a landslide while Asako came in dead last (PDF).

Chances of winning: Basically Asako is seen as a long shot. He had LDP backing during his three terms in the Adachi-ku assembly, but he has been out of office for two years and thus enjoys no official party backing or any voter base to speak of.

According to the Sankei, his strategy is to go after political rival Masatsugu Mihara by wooing away hi’s base of voters who supported Mayor Yayoi Kondo. To that end, Asako has placed a former secretary to Kondo on his campaign staff.

It’s unclear how well this strategy will work since Kondo has come out strongly in support of Mihara, going so far as to appear in posters shaking hands with the incumbent. But as I noted, Mihara is the one candidate who gives the impression of not really giving a crap, so maybe Asako will be satisfied if he can woo just enough voters to kick Mihara to 7th place and thus out of office.

Policy: He is running as a “conservative independent” (保守系無所属) affiliated with lower house LDP Diet member Takeo Hiranuma, who is well-known for voting against postal privatization in 2005, leading to his temporary purging from the party (Update: actually Hiranuma is the only postal dissenter who survived purging but did not return to the LDP). Hiranuma is also known for his conservative stances: he is an active campaigner against “anti-Japan events” such as exhibits depicting the Nanjing Massacre, and in 2006 argued against allowing a female to become emperor on the grounds that she could marry a “blue-eyed foreigner.”

In a JANJAN video, Asako can be seen advocating expanded credit lines to small businesses, employment protection, and the by-now-perfunctory child-rearing subsidies and other welfare programs.

On his website he claims that he was the one in 1998 who initially proposed the Harukaze community bus system that runs through Adachi-ku. He is proud to note that the project is completely financed by the private sector and thus uses no taxpayer money.

Something interesting: Roll your mouse over Asako’s profile picture to see him in his matsuri costume:

Also, here’s a picture of him making the peace sign during a radio appearance:


Tokyo assembly election: Meet the candidates (Part 7 of 10) – Naoki Takashima (LDP)

In our next installment we turn our attention to the other LDP incumbent running for re-election, third-term assemblyman Naoki Takashima (59).

From Tokyo Prefectural Assembly Election

Takashima is your typical career politician, with one kick-ass difference – he is the president of his own anko (red bean paste) factory. Born and raised in Adachi-ku, after graduating from nearby Dokkyo University Takashima became a staffer for a prefectural assemblyperson. After that, he spent two years working at the bean paste factory before running and winning a seat at the Adachi-ku assembly in 1983, where he would stay until attempting to move to the next step in his career. He  lost his first attempt at the prefectural assembly in 1993 but won on his second try in 1997 and has been there ever since. Since August 2008 he has been the secretary general for the assembly’s LDP caucus.

Policy: As a loyal LDP man, Takashima supports all of Ishihara’s controversial policies, including the bailout of Shinginko Tokyo, moving Tsukiji Market to Toyosu, and bringing the Olympics to Tokyo in 2016. He also promotes a series of building plans and, of course, juicier welfare options for Adachi residents.

Chances of winning: Takashima’s position appears to be solid, barring a complete collapse in support for the LDP. Unlike fellow LDP incumbent Masatsugu Mihara, he’s never been voted out of office (though he lost his first attempt at the prefectural assembly) and thus is less likely to get drawn into the strategy of some of the minor candidates to split the conservative vote, which I’ll get to in a later installment.

Something interesting: Like a true playa, Takashima’s campaign office doubles as a bean paste factory. And since he is a powerful local politician, he’s been able to keep the decrepit building standing in the shadow of several enormous apartment complexes. Here’s the Street View image of the building:

Takashima Red Bean Paste

He considers himself to be computer savvy, bragging in his profile that he communicates with prefectural bureaucrats via e-mail. But since he is used to the keyboards on older Japanese PCs – he mentions the If-800 model from Oki Electric – he claims to have trouble typing Japanese characters using romanized spelling. Older keyboards in Japan used a unique keyboard layout that assigned a key to each kana character (the relics of that system remain on the current keyboards).


(Wow, there’s a printer inside the keyboard…).

In 2002 his koenkai (support association) held a dance party, resulting in some precious moments of seniors having fun:



David “Lizard People” Icke in Kitasenju

Now, don’t get me wrong – Takashima has nothing to do with infamous conspiracy theorist David Icke. But thanks to the magic of Google Maps, I now know that in 2008 Icke gave a talk just a few blocks from Takashima’s bean paste factory. Let’s watch:

Personally, I want to know where I can get a sweet gig interpreting speeches for David Icke. I bet he pays pretty well. Icke’s Japanese page is here. You can read his theories of how humanity is controlled by lizard people here in the original English.

Tokyo assembly election: Meet the candidates (Part 6 of 10) – Nobuyuki Nakayama (New Komeito)

From Tokyo Prefectural Assembly Election

Next up is the second Komeito candidate, Nobuyuki Nakayama. His Komeito backing makes him a sure-fire winner in this election for the reasons I outlined in my previous post. He is also the only Adachi-ku candidate to sport a Cindy Crawford-esque beauty mark.

Unlike his party ally Tomotoshi, however, there is little doubt that Nakayama is a dyed in the wool Soka Gakkai member. His entire education from middle school to his master’s degree was spent in the SG school system (and read below to find out how much he respects SG leader Daisaku Ikeda).

Nakayama is finishing out his first term in the prefectural assembly. Before entering politics he earned the right to promote himself  as a “lifestyle and welfare expert” by spending 18 years in the welfare office of Meguro-ku (meaning his career closely resembles that of JCP candidate Yoshie Oshima).

A look through his blog shows that he tends to be positive and reserved except when he talks about Communists. He has no sympathy for teachers who refuse to sing the national anthem and accuses JCP assemblymen of negotiating in bad faith in budget resolutions.

Something interesting: Nakayama maintains two blogs: one for his official duties, and another “personal blog” ostensibly for his private thoughts and visits to factories and industry associations.

NakayamaOne thing I learned from reading through the personal blog is that Adachi-ku is home to the RSS Group, a maker of “high-quality” oshibori (wet-naps for use at restaurants) that are sold through a “rental” system wherein the company takes care of all cleaning and maintenance. Also, every fall the local wholesale market holds a festival where they sell fruits and vegetables and have a produce-themed roulette game. And there is a ginormous meat wholesale market in Shinagawa.

His favorite quote comes from a slogan issued by Beijing residents on the occasion of the death of former Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai during the Mao years: “The people love the people’s premier / The people’s premier loves the people.”

Nakayama’s thoughts on Soka Gakkai

Seemingly rare for a Komeito politician, on May 17, 2007 he gave a candid explanation of his personal connection to Soka Gakkai and his party’s relationship with it. In a gushing blog post about SGI leader Daisaku Ikeda, he calls Ikeda a “philsophical giant” (思想的巨人) and describes his thought and achievements as “no less than a feat of greatness in human history” (まさに人類史的な偉業そのもの). The post was inspired by an article in the Seikyo Shimbun (Soka Gakkai’s official daily newspaper) covering yet another honorary title bestowed on Ikeda, this time from the John Dewey Society.

Interestingly, he has a subtle and critical take on the role of his party in Japan’s democracy, which I will paraphrase here:

He is proud to be an assemblyman from the Komeito, the party founded by Dr. Ikeda. The Komeito, though a minority party, has boasted many shining achievements, thanks to the battles fought by senior members who have never forgotten the spirit of the party’s foundation “together with the masses,” and their dedicated supporters.

However, compared to the amazing greatness of founder Dr. Ikeda, the Komeito’s achievements are but a trifle. In addition, many supporters have been gnashing their teeth in anger at the recent political situation. He feels that the Komeito has become an “unprincipled party… that prioritizes controlling the government over the interests of the people.” Specifically, he is disappointed that the party did not hold Ishihara accountable for the mismanagement of Shinginko Tokyo.

One reason Komeito founder Ikeda is so widely recognized by global research institutions and universities is that his thoughts and beliefs are backed up by actions and achievements that these institutions recognize as “miracles.” Most of Ikeda’s followers work in their respective fields with a sense of mission and have produced results that are appreciated by many.

He then pledges to do his best as a local politician to stretch beyond the boundaries of status, philosophy, and belief to bring peace and happiness to as many people as possible and help the less fortunate.

I appreciate his forthrightness, though I personally cannot support his party’s mission to use the tools of government to realize Ikeda’s vision.

Tokyo assembly election: Meet the candidates (Part 5 of 10) – Haruhisa Tomotoshi

As the election looms, I am frantic to get these profiles done. To that end, tonight I will cover one of the New Komeito candidates: Haruhisa Tomotoshi (63). He is an incumbent and (like fellow Komeito candidate Nobuyuki Nakayama) has a near-certain chance of keeping his seat – LDP estimates of their party’s chances to keep control of the assembly assume that all 23 Komeito candidates will win.

Thanks to close ties with lay Buddhist movement Soka Gakkai, the Komeito enjoys a solid base of support among believers in Tokyo. Adachi-ku is also home to Akihiro Ota, the current president of the national New Komeito.

Some also speculate that the Komeito systematically inflates voter rolls by instructing Soka Gakkai followers across the country to move into election districts three months before the vote (the minimum residency period to become a valid voter). This may be true, but I would be kind of surprised if other parties didn’t at least try and employ similar tactics if they work so well.

Mrs. Adamu and I have a hard time supporting Komeito candidates because, like the Communists, they claim to be moderate but in fact have a hidden agenda. In the Komeito’s case, it is to protect the interests of Soka Gakkai, the Buddhist sect that provides election funding and sets their political agenda. The agenda itself tends to be quite mild, but I find the sum of their activities unacceptable: they inject religion into the political process, they maintain an aura of intense secrecy and refuse to explain why Soka Gakkai feels the need for political representation, and their activities appear to openly flaunt the democratic process to to protect a very narrow segment of society.

Anyway, let’s look at these guys.

Haruhisa Tomotoshi

From Tokyo Prefectural Assembly Election

As this poster might suggest, Tomotoshi “the man who really gets it done” does not feel he needs much introduction.

He is a veteran politician who spent five terms as an Adachi-ku assemblyman before moving on to the prefectural assembly, where he is currently on his second term. According to a JANJAN video, he was born in Manchukuo in 1945 just as WWII ended. He was never able to attend high school after his father died around 1960 when Haruhisa was 15. He had to work to support his mother and siblings before becoming an elected official at age 38.

One of the toughest fights of his political career was against Communist-backed Adachi-ku mayor Manzo Yoshida. Yoshida, who was mayor from 1996-1999, cancelled an unpopular building project and pushed to expand welfare services. Tomotoshi and other conservatives in the assembly fought Yoshida tooth and nail, and eventually successfully ousted him through a no-confidence motion.

As for his accomplishments, Tomotoshi takes some of the credit for completing the Tsukuba Express and Toneri Liner (two new train lines that run through Adachi).

It is unclear whether he is a Soka Gakkai believer.

In closing, watch this paranoid anti-Komeito propaganda video. They claim that the Komeito are being used by Soka Gakkai in an anti-Japanese plot to destroy the Japanese people’s lives:

Love the Final Fantasy-esque background music!

Tokyo assembly election: Meet the candidates (Part 4 of 10) – Yoshie Oshima (JCP)

Today we profile Japan Communist Party candidate Yoshie Oshima (age 59):

Yoshie Oshima 20090709080401

Taken during this morning’s commute.

Career: Oshima has spent her entire career working in the Adachi-ku government, first as a bureaucrat and later as a politician. After graduating from high school in 1968, she became a bureaucrat in the Adachi city hall. In a biographical video, Oshima recalls her daily tasks included cleaning the senior workers’ desks and serving them tea, tasks that she didn’t hate but considered fairly useless to her goal of helping the people of Adachi-ku. At that point, she decided to start looking for a job that would give her the same status as the men and allow her to realize her objectives.

She found her niche in 1973 when she became a case worker at the city’s welfare office. At this time she got involved with the Communists, which no doubt played a role in inspiring her to become a consistent political agitator. She joined movements to oppose price hikes to and push for improvements to pre-school services, in part because she herself had trouble finding ways to balance child-raising and a career. She also served as head of the city workers’ labor union.

Oshima left the city hall in 1982 to run as the chosen successor to a retiring Communist politician and won her first election in 1983. She’s been a fixture of the Adachi assembly ever since. As a city assemblywoman, her achievements have focused on very specific local issues, such as fixing water buildup in a Kitasenju walkway. She’s also been highly critical of the LDP mayor’s policies, such as the elimination of detailed garbage separation requirements and price hikes to pre-schools (a pet issue for Oshima).

Policy: While she has joined the other candidates in offering a program of beefed up welfare benefits, her campaign is unique for her particularly blistering criticisms of the Ishihara administration, echoing the general JCP line. The party’s efforts to uncover scandalous spending and potential corruption have formed the only credible opposition force in prefectural politics, a foundation the DPJ has sought to expoit by belatedly coming out strongly against Ishihara’s policies.

Despite the JCP’s commendable record in that regard, the main reason Mrs. Adamu and I cannot support any JCP candidate is their program of radical social change. The party may have softened its line in recent years, but the JCP’s policy remains essentially unchanged – they are working to build up their political support in preparation for eventually realizing communism.

Chances of winning: Hoping to repeat history, Oshima is once again running as the chosen successor to a retiring JCP veteran. This time she seeks to replace Yasunobu Watanabe who is retiring for health reasons after a long political career. Both Tokyo Shimbun and Nikkei Shimbun expect her to win a seat by inheriting the support of her predecessor.

Tell me something interesting: Not much in this department. Oshima is the only candidate so far to prominently feature her personal life in her campaign. This makes sense since it was no small achievement for her to lead a political career while married and raising three kids. The kids are grown up and Oshima now has two grandchildren. Her hobbies are photography and flower arrangement. 


Tokyo assembly election: Meet the candidates (Part 3 of 10) – Masatsugu Mihara

(Update: Changed top photo)

Next up we have LDP incumbent Masatsugu Mihara (age 66, pictured campaigning below).

From Tokyo Prefectural Assembly Election

Like rival DPJ candidate Satoru Onishi, Mihara was a political secretary for a national MP before becoming a politician himself. Since then, Mihara appears to have split duties between serving time and giving full-throated support to Governor Ishihara.

Judging from his website, this guy is not trying very hard to get re-elected. Nothing about it even suggests there’s an election coming up. It’s almost an insult to someone like Katsuhiro Suzuki who has yet to taste electoral victory and spends every waking moment campaigning. Sure, Mihara is on top of a bus giving speeches, but even then he didn’t seem as passionate as the other candidates. Then again, as a connected guy he may not need to work all that hard, at least not in public.

But while you get the impression that Mihara feels entitled to his assembly seat, his political career hasn’t been all peaches and cream. Though he served three consecutive terms starting in 1993, Mihara was voted out in 2005 and then back in 2007, when he easily won a by-election to replace LDP assemblywoman Yayoi Kondo after she ran successfully to become the mayor of Adachi-ku. (Mihara’s own profile fudges this fact but it’s backed up by election data)

Born in Yamaguchi Prefecture on the western tip of Honshu, Mihara joined the Ground Self Defense Force straight out of middle school. After leaving the force, he earned his college degree and in 1970 became a secretary to the late Lower House MP Ryosuke Kujiraoka. Kujiraoka, who grew up in and was elected from Adachi-ku, was known as a conservative pacifist and member of former Prime Minister Takeo Miki‘s faction. Like Miki, Kujiraoka gained respect as a squeaky clean politician. Presumably, the Kujiraoka connection (he served the man for 22 years) is why Mihara is running from Adachi-ku.

Policy: Like everyone else, Mihara trots out a series of enhanced welfare initiatives to help kids and foster development. Interestingly, he places “small and medium size corporations” first on his list of groups he wants to help. Contrast this with the consistent “people’s lives first” campaign of the DPJ.

  Chances of winning: Mihara won the 2007 by-election by a substantial margin, so as the successor to popular mayor Yayoi Kondo, Mihara will likely land within the top six despite the anti-LDP sentiment.

 Tell me something interesting about this guy: On his list of accomplishments, Mihara claims to have led the fight to ban “legal drugs” in Tokyo which I assume refers in part to magic mushrooms, which were legal in Japan until around 2001. According to his site, his efforts led to “Japan’s first anti-drug ordinances” (which in Japan is kind of like banning werewolves) though he doesn’t say when.  He is also a big supporter of Governor Ishihara’s efforts to install security cameras around the city.  

 If you spend most of your adult life serving under a loyal factionist LDP Diet member, that apparently means you get to earn extra money by serving on various boards and committees. That’s at least true for Mihara, who sits on the board of an organization that runs group retirement homes and as a “councillor” (member of the management council) at a Buddhist-run school. He also heads the Adachi Gateball Association (had to look that one up).

Mihara Easter Egg

If you load just the top-level domain of Mihara’s site it opens what appears to be an older version. It contains some of the typical profile info, but toward the bottom of the page he links to a bunch of fad diet websites and then this dude:


This is James Skinner, a US-born motivational speaker for upwardly mobile Japanese. He speaks native Japanese and gives high-energy talks encouraging the audience to focus and make their companies more profitable:

His audience apparently consists primarily of corporate managers. I don’t know what this says about Mihara’s qualifications, but considering all he’s accomplished in his career maybe paying for these life coaching services was worth it.

Tokyo assembly election: Meet the candidates – Katsuhiro Suzuki


Katsuhiro Suzuki (51) – This first-time candidate has DPJ backing and is running on his status as a born-and-raised Adachi-ku resident and his achievements as a businessman. He has spent most of his career in the job training industry and is currently active as a member of the local DPJ’s policy committee.

After starting at Recruit and then “a consultant company,” in 1996 he became involved in the establishment of Nagase PC School, an IT-related job training operation that, in his words, specialized in turning part-timers and “NEETs” (people Not in Employment, Education, or Training) into full-time employees. After that experience he moved on to other job training businesses before entering politics. Former colleagues from Recruit and his job training businesses are advisors and managers of his political campaigns.

Policy: His policies nominally focus on furthering the mission of his private-sector experience (getting underutilized young people into the workforce) in the political field. But other than that external flavoring, he seems to propose throwing money at Tokyo’s problems just like everyone else.

Generally, he is very proud of his achievements in the private sector and believes those lessons apply to government. Though not part of his official campaign literature, his Livedoor blog features commentary on issues of the day and provides clues to his way of thinking. 

One of his most passionate blog posts comes from March 2009, in which he outlines why former executives like him belong in politics. He thinks politicians need “private sector skills” (民間力) defined as: creativity 創造力, the ability to be a producer プロデュース力 (meaning to put together and follow through on projects), the ability to know what’s happening on the ground 現場力, competitive strength 競争力, the ability to manage people マネジメント力, the ability to manage a business 経営力, and the ability to evaluate results 評価力.

Chances of winning: As a new and untested candidate he might have a tough time against several incumbents. From 2001 to 2005, the DPJ has picked up a seat from the LDP, moving the party standings in Adachi-ku from

  • LDP – 3
  • Komeito – 2
  • Communist – 1
  • DPJ – 0


  • LDP – 2
  • Komeito – 2
  • Communist – 1
  • DPJ – 1

With the polls behind the DPJ, Suzuki might have a chance to edge out another LDP candidate (I expect the Communists and Komeito have the votes to keep their people in power). However, the election in Adachi-ku is more competitive than usual, contrary to the prefecture-wide trend. There were 7 candidates in 2001, 8 in 2005, and this year there are 10. On top of that all the incumbents except are running again, save for the Communists. If the vote splits among new candidates Suzuki might be in trouble.

A touch of humanity:  He once headed his local PTA and claims to have had a dual-income household with his wife for the past 20 years, but that is all he is apparently willing to tell us about his personal life.

I went through this guy’s entire blog to try and find something truly interesting, and the closest I could come up with was that rant about how awesome corporate executives are. But I have a theory for why this is so: he spends all day every day speechifying in front of Ayase station. As his blog will back up, he seems to always be either in Kitasenju or Ayase station speaking into a microphone about how badly he wants to represent Adachi-ku. For months now I have seen him outside Ayase Station.

One reason I have trouble supporting this guy is he apparently forces his interns to wear uncomfortable-looking business suits:

uncomfortable 542e7c1db7e59b1208e8-1024


And for good measure here’s one of Suzuki and Ren Ho (taken at a Rengo-affiliated local union meeting):

Ren Ho

Tokyo assembly election: Meet the candidates – Satoru Onishi

(Corrected below)

July 3 marked the start of the Tokyo prefectural assembly election. The sound trucks are out in force:

From Tokyo Prefectural Assembly Election

Hype over the election on the news is almost exclusively focused on whether it will be perceived as an LDP loss. The LDP-Komeito coalition currently controls the assembly in a rough equivalent of the current Lower House situation, so failure for the LDP is defined as whether the DPJ unseats the LDP as the top party. If that happens, LDP members are expected to call for Prime Minister Aso’s head on a platter (and possibly make ex-comedian Miyazaki government Sonomanma Higashi PM install a caretaker PM ahead of the general election that must be held by September. Correction – Higashikokubaru could realistically only become PM after the general election. Apologies for the brain lapse).

Each party has stressed some local issues: The LDP/Komeito emphasize their efforts to help the local economy, while the DPJ tries to inject hot-button issues like the ailing bank Shinginko Tokyo and opposition to plans to move Tsukiji fish market to Toyosu.

For their part, the Happiness Realization Party (the new political arm of neo-Buddhist religion Happy Science) is playing up the threat of North Korea to scare people into supporting their party’s suggestion that Japan go ahead with a pre-emptive strike.

These are the issues candidates mention to the national media and in open-air speeches, though the campaign literature barely mentions them. At least in Adachi-ku, on paper every candidate has almost the exact same policy proposals – more welfare, more infrastructure, more of anything you can spend money on.

In Adachi-ku, 10 candidates are competing for 6 seats. Today I’d like to briefly introduce the one candidate Mrs. Adamu and I found somewhat reasonable:

Satoru Onishi – incumbent DPJ member

Satoru Onishi (48) – A current first-term assemblyman running for re-election, his political experience comes from a turn as the public secretary to DPJ Lower House Member Ritsuo Hosokawa (a former Socialist MP and current Shadow Defense Minister). He left the secretary position in 2001 to mount an ultimately unsuccessful run for the Tokyo assembly but succeeded the next time around in 2005.

Policy: Onishi predictably advocates generous welfare programs, such as a monthly 26,000 yen handout to families with children and lower classroom sizes, to benefit “your IMPORTANT children and grandchildren, for the NEXT GENERATION.”

Chances of winning: In the 2005 election Onishi came in 4th behind an LDP and two Komeito candidates. This year polling would indicate his party is set to do much better at the expense of the LDP, so it’s a pretty safe bet he will win re-election.

A touch of humanity: As graduate of Ritsumeikan University’s economics faculty, he and I share an alma mater (I was a one-year exchange student).

Since the Tokyo election commission publishes the home addresses of the candidates (PDF – don’t tell the personal information worry-warts), I was able to locate the apartment complex where Onishi lives. According to Google Maps, he lives right next to the mall where this stupid human trick took place:

Filipino Grocery in Adachi-ku Danchi

I was riding my bike around Adachi-ku Sunday and came across this danchi (danchi = low-rent, often public apartments, this one run by Tokyo prefecture) that apparently has a lot of Filipino residents who must work at the local factories:

Another great find on yesterday’s trip was this cheap supermarket ABS Wholesale Center (located here). They had my favorite cheap Chilean wine (Frontera Cabernet Sauvignon) for only 530 yen! It is usually around 700 or 800 yen at Ito-Yokado.

Tokyo Prefectural Elections July 12

On July 12 the Tokyo Legislative Assembly elections will be held. While the TLA does not appear to do much in the grand scheme of things, this election is personally important to me as it will mark my first experience with an election where Mrs. Adamu can actually cast a ballot (in previous elections she could not vote for one reason or another). With that in mind and in the interest of being an informed voter’s spouse, I decided to take a look at what this is all about with a focus on Adachi-ku, the ku I call home.

How is the assembly chosen?

With 127 members (one representing roughly 100,000 people), Tokyo’s legislature is the nation’s biggest local assembly of any kind. Members come from 43 mostly multi-member districts and are elected all at once to four-year terms using the single non-transferable vote system similar to the Lower House elections prior to 1994. For example, in Adachi-ku’s case, voters choose an individual and the top six vote-getters win seats. The 42 districts consist of the 23 cities or “ku,” 18 cities within the prefectural boundaries, and one to cover all the outlying islands. Adachi-ku, where I live, is allotted six seats.

Most local elections in Japan are held all at once every four years in what are called the “unified local elections” (統一地方選) (the last round was in 2007), but Tokyo’s are held two years after that. They used to sync with the rest of the country, but the schedule got screwed up in 1965 when an LDP bribery scandal spurred leftist parties to push for a recall, leading to a voluntary dissolution and early election.

Currently, the LDP-New Komeito coalition maintains an overwhelming majority of seats (with a respective 48 and 22 members each), followed by the DPJ with 22 members, 13 Communists,  and single-digit membership from the left-leaning Tokyo Seikatsusha Network and unaffiliated politicians.

What do they do?

In typical assembly fashion, they are responsible for passing local ordinances (条例)  and approving the prefecture’s budget, which at 6 trillion yen just for the general account is on par with Finland’s GDP.

The prefectural assembly’s other enumerated powers according to the Tokyo Prefectural Assembly website include investigating and auditing the executive branch, passing a no-confidence motion against the governor, and responding to requests from Tokyo residents to investigate various grievances.

What are some of their more recent achievements?  How powerful are they?

Since Tokyo’s government is set up somewhat similarly to a US state (unicameral legislature and a fairly powerful directly elected governor), the assembly can wield significant power if the party/coalition holding a majority of seats is opposed to the governor’s agenda. However, this is not currently the case, so right now they don’t do much.

News outlets openly report that the assembly is all but a rubber stamp for the executive, owing to a comfortable relationship with recent cozy LDP-Komeito majorities (and occasional DPJ cooperation) and three consecutive terms for Governor Shintaro Ishihara, who is not officially backed by any party but has an ideological affiliation with the LDP-Komeito as one of Japan’s leading conservatives. Prefectural assembly meetings are perfunctory affairs in which the elected members simply read from a script which has been prepared in advance by bureaucrats from the governor’s office, a process euphemistically called nemawashi i.e. backroom dealing. The Communists and other leftist parties do their best to stir up scandal (Ishihara’s lavish trips abroad and the catastrophic small-business bank among them), but voters keep voting in this conservative bloc.

Most of the assembly’s routine agenda appears to be fairly mundane, except when they are called on to give their blessing to the pet projects of either Governor Ishihara or the national government. A look at the agenda of assembly meetings in 2009 shows such typical local administration as minor revisions to health service fees, approval of staff rosters for the fire departments, and the establishment of a new police precinct. However, it is unclear how much room for originality the prefecture has when they must contend with the agendas of the Tokyo prefectural bureaucracy (firmly controlled by Governor Ishihara) and the prerogatives of the internal affairs ministry.

In May, the prefecture passed an emergency supplementary budget to provide economic stimulus in coordination with the central government’s efforts. They approved spending of 134.9 billion yen (with about half the funding from the central government, with the rest paid for by revenues from prefectural revenues and a bond issue). The money went to beef up a consumer protection agency, subsidize day-care centers, pay additional outlays to pregnant women, fund high-tech education, and more.

A 2007 report from citizen journalism site JANJAN decried the governor’s strong influence over the prefectural government, owing not only to the majority LDP-New Komeito who form a loyal right-wing support base thanks to their alliance in national politics, but also to a compliant DPJ. For example, the legislature is in charge of regulations/zoning of prefecture-run wholesale markets, and this includes the world-famous Tsukiji fish market. A decision made in 2001 to move the market to Toyosu, where more modern facilities can be constructed, met with opposition at the last minute due to claims of pollution at the new site in Toyosu. However, the assembly members were not hearing it and the move remains on schedule for 2012.

In another example of Ishihara’s absolute control over his pet projects, the Tokyo legislature gained national attention recently for approving multiple bailouts of New Bank Tokyo (新銀行東京). This bank was created as the fulfillment of Ishihara’s campaign promise to start a bank for small Tokyo-based companies during a bid for reelection in 2002. After opening for business in 2004, just three years later the bank became insolvent due to notoriously lax lending standards that led to enormous losses from the very beginning. But despite this embarrassing failure, the Tokyo assembly was unwilling to refuse Ishihara’s insistence on providing the bank with 4 billion yen in new capital and a new lease on life. In this instance the DPJ members opposed the bailout but it passed with LDP and Komeito support.

The media outlets reporting these scandals seemed genuinely frustrated with the assembly for these recent scandals, but it seems like they should save their breath for the governor’s office, because once Ishihara has made up his mind the TLA won’t do much to stop him.

Other so-called “third sector” businesses directly run by Tokyo Prefecture include the “Toei” subway lines and buses and prefectural government housing.

What are the issues in this election?

There are none. If you have heard anything about this upcoming election, it is probably  that a poor showing by the LDP could spell trouble for Prime Minister Aso’s government and could trigger an early election (latest reports are that Aso might just dissolve the Lower House before the prefectural elections.  Not even the Tokyo Shimbun could identify an angle outside of whether the LDP-Komeito coalition can hold onto power. I’ll go into more detail on the candidates themselves later, but their pledges tend to focus on populist rhetoric like helping small businesses, cutting income taxes, and lowering medical fees.

Otherwise, interest in the election is fairly low (but higher than a typical US election). The last election in July 2005 boasted a mere 43.99% turnout, which falls somewhere among the typical turnout of 40-50%.


OK, that’s enough for now. Next time I will try and profile the candidates in the election and see if it makes a difference.