Tokyo gubernatorial elections have their share of fringe characters. From wacky inventor Dr. NakaMats to the even wackier but much loved perennial Mac Akasaka, the ballot is always colourful. Until mainstream politicos like Morihiro Hosokawa and Yōichi Masuzoe threw their respective, ragged hats into the ring, things were looking decidedly freaky with ultra-nationalist Toshio Tamogami, supported by octogenarian Shintarō Ishihara, a real contender at the start. The most viable left-leaning candidate for Sunday’s election is benign elder statesman-type Kenji Utsunomiya, who is endorsed by the major political parts on the Left.
But there are other options for the voters and the most radical is Tatsuo Suzuki.
While both Utsunomiya and Hosokawa are anti-nuclear power — and likely splitting the vote because of it — Suzuki is not only hangenpatsu, he goes several steps further than any other candidate on the ballot. No more nuclear power. No more military build-up. No more poverty and death-by-overworking (karōshi). And certainly no Olympics, that year 2020 boondoggle to end all boondoggles this side of the millennium.
As with all of the main candidates for the election, Suzuki is no spring chicken (he is 73). Like Utsunomiya he has an avuncular charm and is a lawyer by profession. But Suzuki’s road to the Bar is where the difference lies between him and any of the other possible new governors.
Born in Tokyo in 1940, Suzuki took part in the 1960 Anpo struggle against the renewal of the security treaty with America. He then graduated in 1964 and joined NHK, becoming a senior unionist at the broadcaster. He continued to participate in the major New Left causes of the day, including the protests against the docking of the nuclear-powered submarine, USS Enterprise, at Sasebo in Nagasaki in 1968, and then the fight against the renewal of Anpo in 1970. During the latter he became a senior figure in the Hansen Seinen Iinkai, the youth workers’ organisation formed in 1965 to protest against the Vietnam War. At its height it had branches at some 500 places nationwide. It was an umbrella organisation and had links with both the mainstream left and New Left, such as Chūkaku-ha, Kaihō-ha (Kakurōkyō) and the Second Bund.
He was fired from NHK due to a dispute and then became a lawyer. Since passing the Bar exam in the early 1990’s he has made a name for himself as a leading counsel in New Left causes. These include the railway union Dōrō Chiba’s fight regarding workers who lost their jobs following the privatization of what is now JR, as well as being the lead lawyer in the arduous legal campaign to free Fumiaki Hoshino. Hoshino is a Chūkaku-ha activist imprisoned for nearly forty years following the death of a police officer in the so-called Shibuya Riot Incident in November 1971, in which both Chūkaku and Hansen Seinen Iinkai rallied in central Tokyo to protest the Vietnam War and the terms of the restoration of Okinawa.
It comes as no surprise then that his election campaign has been heavily supported by Dōrō Chiba, the Revolutionary Communist League (Kakukyōdō) and student activists. Suzuki is a well-known face at Hosei University too, since he also heads the legal fight against the police and college’s clampdown on activists on the campus. Over 100 have been arrested since 2006. However, the reputation of the New Left in Japan being what it is, his portfolio of past activism may be a hampering when it comes to getting the man on the street’s vote. No doubt to compensate, all of Suzuki’s pamphlets and campaign literature seem to emphasize an accessible, humane candidate earnest about pacifism, workers’ rights and nuclear situation. The language is still undeniably New Left — with plenty of slogans calling to “topple Abe” — but the face is softer. Times have changed.
Come Sunday, Suzuki’s chances are likely slim compared to populist Masuzoe. But that day a demo is also being held in Shibuya the mid-afternoon by the supporters of Fumiaki Hoshino, with the march starting from a park very near to Suzuki’s previous employers, NHK (and whose board has revealed its frightening rightist tendencies of late). Obviously, the timing of this is no mere coincidence but it does mean there has never been a more appropriate day to vote for Suzuki.