Tokyo Governors Race Has 56 Candidates

When voters in Tokyo cast their ballot for governor of the world’s largest city on Sunday, they will be spoiled for choice.

Fifty-six candidates are contending for the office, a record. One who styles himself “the Joker” has proposed legalizing marijuana and says polygamy can address the nation’s declining birthrate. Another is a pro wrestler who hides his face on camera and vows to use artificial intelligence to complete governmental tasks. There’s a 96-year-old inventor who says he will deploy gas-fueled cars that do not emit carbon, and a 31-year-old entrepreneur who took off her shirt during a campaign video and promised “fun things.”

It might look like democracy run amok. But in fact, the race is profoundly status quo and the incumbent is projected to win a third term.

The proliferation of candidates reflects fatigue with politics as usual, and many of them are unserious attention seekers, creating a farcical, circuslike atmosphere and putting real change further out of reach.

“I wonder if this is democracy in action, or whether it’s like an ‘up yours’ to democracy,” said Emma Dalton, a senior lecturer in Japanese Studies at La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia. Multiple candidates have criticized the incumbent, Yuriko Koike, “in the most vulgar way,” said Ms. Dalton. “Because they know she’s going to win.”

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