clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:


The new leaders of Japan's two largest cities have thrown a pie into the face of conventional politics.

In Sunday elections, voters chose former TV comedians over mainstream politicians to be governors of Tokyo and Osaka prefectures, which include the cities with those names plus their surrounding areas.Tokyo's governor-elect, Yukio Aoshima, is best known as the main character in "Nasty Granny," a popular TV show that began in the 1960s in which he donned a gray wig and kimono. Osaka's new leader, "Knock" Yokoyama, once dressed as a ballerina for his stand-up comedy routines.

Yokoyama announced he would no longer go by his stage sobriquet, and asked to be referred to by his given name, Isamu.

Despite such indications that the new leaders intend to take their roles seriously, major-party politicians were appalled.

"I'm astonished at this unbelievable outcome," said outgoing Tokyo Gov. Shunichi Suzuki.

Both Aoshima and Yokoyama, who were not backed by major parties, campaigned against the establishment, and commentators Monday said that was just what voters wanted.

"Comedian governors may not jibe with common sense, but isn't it sound judgment that led voters to splash cold water on the existing political system?" the Asahi newspaper said in an editorial.

Prefectural governors have significant power. A governor presents the budget and bills for enactment by local assemblies and supervises local officials.

With Tokyo's gross product roughly equal to Britain's or Canada's, and Osaka's equal to that of Spain and the Netherlands, the prefectural governors are considered nearly equivalent to being the head of a nation.

Both new leaders, who are former members of Parliament's upper house, campaigned against bloated city budgets and backroom decisionmaking, and said they received no corporate donations for their campaigns.

Aoshima, 62, limited his campaigning to appearances on a government-sponsored TV program for candidates. Yokoyama, 63, campaigned by bicycle to save money.

"People have lost faith in political parties," Yokoyama said. "This is a sign of the times."

Voters said they were tired of the failure of Japan's national ruling coalition of Liberal Democrats and Socialists to reform politics and the bureaucracy.

"People are really tired of dirty politics," said Tokyoite Kazumi Hosoda, 28, adding she was delighted that Aoshima won. "I am glad we found a governor who seems trustworthy."

"Bureaucrats shouldn't be running our country," agreed Shinji Fukuda, 41. "I was glad to see anyone other than a former bureaucrat get elected."

Voter disgust toward politics has been simmering for several years following a string of bribery and corruption scandals which led to the ouster of the long-ruling Liberal Democrats in 1993. The Liberal Democrats returned to power last year in a coalition with the Socialists.