Tokyo Governor Race Sees Unprecedented Use of Billboards for Outlandish Publicity Stunts

Tokyo will elect a new governor this weekend, but residents claim that personal publicity stunts have overtaken serious campaigning to an unprecedented degree, with almost nude women in provocative poses, pets, and a man practicing his golf swing.

It’s impossible to overlook. With internet campaigning still relatively new, candidates traditionally utilize designated election billboards — more than 14,000 of them — to promote themselves. These temporary billboards are erected only during the brief campaign season and represent valuable space for exposure in a city already saturated with advertising.

However, this year’s outlandishness — particularly from non-candidates renting the billboard space — is proving exceptional, and residents have bombarded 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 is seeking her third four-year term, are running in Sunday’s election. Many of the candidates are fringe figures or influencers seeking even more exposure.

, 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 were confronted with a staggering array of posters. For some, it’s unclear whether the person behind the poster is a candidate or simply seeking attention.

One billboard featured racy posters for an adult entertainment shop. Another displayed an almost naked female model in a suggestive pose with a message that read “Stop restricting free speech.” Others showed photos of a pet dog or a female kickboxer. One candidate, calling himself AI Mayor, used an image of a metallic humanoid.

Campaign video clips have also attracted 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 disrobes to a beige-colored tube top.

In another video, a male candidate who represents what he calls a “golf party” discusses his policies while occasionally practicing his golf swing.

Under a 1950 public office election law, 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.”