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Yuriko 'Joan of Arc' Koike calls for reform of Tokyo as she stresses 'solo fight'

Yuriko Koike waves to passersby from her campaign van in front of JR Shinjuku Station in Tokyo on July 18, 2016. (Mainichi)

Many passersby extend their hands to greet Yuriko Koike, a candidate in the ongoing Tokyo gubernatorial race campaign, as she calls for support from voters emphasizing that she is "fighting all alone."

"Don't you lose," says one pedestrian. "Thank you," a smiling Koike, 64, replies as she shakes hands with the person.

Members of ward assemblies in Tokyo who support Koike have expressed surprise at her popularity.

"I've never seen any candidate who attracts so many people," an assemblyperson says.

"The image of her as a heroine who is being bullied in a male-dominated society may be prevalent," another says.

During her tense campaigning, there was one light moment that helped her relax. On July 15, her birthday which came a day after official campaigning for the gubernatorial election kicked off, a group of supporters who came to listen to her speech sang "Happy Birthday" for her in chorus.

"I'm moved that so many people wished me a happy birthday," a smiling Koike said.

A native of Hyogo Prefecture, Koike studied at Cairo University after leaving a Japanese university. After working as a newscaster, she entered the political world in 1992 when she won a seat in the House of Councillors. She later moved to the House of Representatives and served as environment minister and defense minister. In 2008, Koike became the first woman to run in a ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) presidential election although she lost the race.

She is now running in the Tokyo gubernatorial race without support from the LDP even though she is a member of the governing party.

Koike criticizes the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly's decision-making process in her campaign speech, saying, "Let's put an end to the metropolitan administration in which only a handful of people make decisions on policies that are unclear," and calls for "drastic reform of Tokyo."

Her aides say, "She's far more enthusiastic about winning than ever," while some of her supporters compare her to French warrior-heroine Joan of Arc.

Koike is expected to receive little organizational support since the LDP is backing another candidate, Hiroya Masuda, a former Iwate governor and internal affairs and communications minister.

"I willingly accept a little bit of risk and use that as a springboard to try hard. That's my style," Koike said.

Koike takes pride in launching the "Cool Biz" campaign -- in which workers are encouraged to dress lightly in summer to reduce the use of air conditioners to cut greenhouse gas emissions -- when she was serving as environment minister.

To demonstrate that she prioritizes environmental issues, Koike visited Hachijo-jima island, south of Tokyo, on the second day of her campaigning to observe a geothermal power station. She is dressed in green clothes to symbolize her environmental friendliness during her campaigning.

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