Wacky antics in Tokyo's governor race, from raunchy photos to dog posters, take over the city

Residents of Tokyo say publicity stunts have far outstripped traditional campaigning in the city's gubernatorial race. Some politicians say it's the only way to get attention.

Wacky antics in Tokyo's governor race, from raunchy photos to dog posters, take over the city

Tokyo elects a new governor this weekend, but residents say personal publicity stunts have overtaken serious campaigning to a degree never seen before, with nearly nude women in suggestive poses, pets, an AI character and a man practicing his golf swing.

It's impossible to ignore. With internet campaigning still relatively new, candidates traditionally use designated election billboards — more than 14,000 of them — to promote themselves. The makeshift billboards are set up only during the short campaign season and are valuable space for exposure in a city already crammed with advertising.

But this year's wackiness — notably from non-candidates renting the billboard space — is proving exceptional, and residents have flooded election offices with angry calls and messages.


"They are distasteful. As a Japanese citizen I feel embarrassed, as I see many foreign visitors pass by those billboards and they must wonder what’s going on," said Mayumi Noda, an office worker. "As a voter, I think it’s outrageous and disrespectful to the other candidates who are seriously competing."

A record 56 candidates, including incumbent Gov. Yuriko Koike, who seeks her third four-year term, are running in Sunday's election. Many of the candidates are fringe figures or influencers seeking even more exposure.

Tokyo, a city of 13.5 million, has outsized political and cultural power in Japan. Its budget equals that of some nations, and its policies impact the national government.

Hours after official campaigning began on June 20, residents faced a stunning array of posters. For some, it's not even clear whether the person behind it is a candidate or simply seeks exposure.

One billboard featured racy posters for an adult entertainment shop. Another had an almost naked female model in a suggestive pose with a message that said "Stop restricting free speech." Others showed photos of a pet dog or a female kickboxer. One candidate called AI Mayor used an image of a metallic humanoid.

Campaign video clips have also drawn criticism. One shows female candidate Airi Uchino saying, "I’m so cute; please watch my campaign broadcast," and repeating her name in a high-pitched, anime-style voice while asking voters to be friends on social media. She then strips down to a beige-colored tube top.

In another video, a male candidate who represents what he calls a "golf party" talks about his policies while occasionally practicing his golf swing.

Under a 1950 public office election law, candidates in Japan are free to say anything as long as they do not support another candidate or carry obviously false or libelous content.

This year's escalation is partly linked to an emerging conservative political party that has fielded 24 candidates for governor. Since each of the election billboards across Tokyo has 48 squares for candidates to paste their posters, the party is renting out half the slots to anyone who pays, including non-candidates.

That kind of unexpected approach isn't regulated.

The rental cost starts at about $155 per location per day, said party leader Takashi Tachibana.

"We have to be wacky or we don’t get media attention," Tachibana said in a YouTube comment posted on the party website.

"The point is to make immoral and outrageous actions ... to get attention," said Ryosuke Nishida, a Nihon University professor and expert in politics and media. "The reason why some people find these performances amusing is because they think their objections are not taken into consideration by politicians and existing parties or reflected in their politics."

At a park near Tokyo’s busy Shimbashi train station, passersby glanced at a campaign billboard with half of its slots filled with dog posters.

"I don't decide who to vote for by looking at the faces on their posters," said Kunihiko Imada, a plumber. "But I still think these billboards are being misused."

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