FOCUS: DPJ heavyweight, LDP rookie to face off in Yamanashi.
Two contrasting candidates fielded by the two main parties are set to face off in Yamanashi Prefecture, located west of Tokyo and known for Mt. Fuji and vintage wines, in the crucial July 11 House of Councillors election.
The main opposition Liberal Democratic Party has chosen Noriko Miyagawa, a 31-year-old former junior and senior high school teacher, in the hope that she will be able to play the role of giant slayer against DPJ heavyweight Azuma Koshiishi, 74, who is running for his third six-year term.
The LDP is aiming to reverse the David and Goliath scenario in the Okayama Prefecture constituency during the previous upper house election three years ago, when the DPJ's fresh-faced Yumiko Himei defeated the much older former internal affairs minister Toranosuke Katayama, an LDP bigwig.
Environment Minister Sakihito Ozawa, who is tenaciously backing Koshiishi, chief of the DPJ's upper house caucus, has declared that the contest in Yamanashi will be a decisive battleground in the upcoming election because the stakes are high for the DPJ.
''Mr. Koshiishi is a mainstay of our party. He has been the backbone of nation-building processes at the Diet and we ask you to return him to parliament again,'' Ozawa recently told local voters.
Koshiishi, a former teacher and leader of the Yamanashi chapter of the influential Japan Teachers Union, is often referred to as the ''don of the upper house'' because of the strong influence he wields in the chamber and his extended network of political bigshots. He is also a key figure in the DPJ who met with former Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama and former DPJ Secretary General Ichiro Ozawa shortly before they announced their resignations.
Both candidates are taking to the streets of the prefecture, speaking to voters about their aims and political positions.
''Politics should serve people who are socially vulnerable, and a strong economy and strong social welfare should return us to a politics that is kind to those people,'' Koshiishi said in a speech in front of his election office in Kofu when official campaigning began on June 24.
Koshiishi is seeking to defend the seat by underscoring his around 20 years of experience as a national lawmaker and the DPJ's political agenda aimed at realizing a strong economy, strong finances and strong social welfare, as outlined by Prime Minister Naoto Kan in his policy speech in the Diet.
Miyagawa, on the other hand, is calling for a ''generational change'' in the constituency. Targeting young voters and swing voters, she has accused the DPJ of having failed to live up to people's expectations since it took power.
During a speech in front of JR Kofu station on June 24, she said, ''I promise to contribute to building a society in which people who make an effort are rewarded for their hard work.''
She told Kyodo News the night before the start of official campaigning, ''In terms of the consumption tax, the LDP clearly presented the 10 percent figure first and the DPJ is just trying to ride on our plan. Which party is more serious about tax reform?''
Miyagawa was referring to recent remarks by Kan in which he called for discussions between the ruling and opposition camps on raising the consumption tax rate and said he would use the LDP's proposal to double the current 5-percent rate as a ''reference.''
But neither candidate appears to have established a clear lead among voters in the constituency.
A 52-year-old taxi driver said, ''I don't really care if it's the DPJ, the LDP or other parties as long as they can turn the economy around,'' adding that her proceeds are around half of what she earned six years ago.
Reisuke Nagai, a retired resident of Kofu in his 70's, said he will give the DPJ another chance in the election because he believes it will take more than a year to make significant changes, including turning around the economy.
''It is only eight or nine months since the DPJ took power. I will give them at least two years to do what they need to do,'' Nagai said, adding another change of power in such a short period of time would make the situation even worse.
However, Setsuko Horiuchi, a 77-year-old resident of Kofu, said, ''I will vote for Miyagawa because I believe in a society in which people, especially young people, are rewarded for their hard work, instead of a society that relies on generous social welfare with high costs.''
The LDP, which has designated Yamanashi as a ''constituency symbolic of the LDP's resurrection,'' sent President Sadakazu Tanigaki to the constituency to support Miyagawa. In his first stump speech since the start of official campaigning, Tanigaki declared that the party will wage an all-out battle against the DPJ to take the prefecture.
''We have to stop the dole-out policies of the DPJ government for the sake of the next generation,'' Tanigaki said, citing the Greek sovereign debt crisis as an example of the results of such a policy.
It was the first time for an LDP president to kick off official campaigning for a national election outside of Tokyo, according to Miyagawa's office.
No LDP lawmakers currently represent Yamanashi in either chamber of the Diet, following the party's historic defeat in last summer's House of Representatives election, which ousted the long-ruling party from power.
In addition to Miyagawa and Koshiishi, three other candidates are running in the constituency where one seat is up for grabs.
They are Hitoshi Hanada, 49, a candidate of the Japanese Communist Party, Naoyuki Nemoto, a 44-year-old psychiatrist running as an independent, and Takashi Kigawa, a 36-year-old former police officer, also an independent.