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Actor-lawmaker's political group picks 2 disabled candidates for Japan upper house race

Eiko Kimura, right, and Yasuhiko Funago, center, are seen in Tokyo on July 3, 2019. In the center background is House of Councillors member Taro Yamamoto, the head of the political group Reiwa Shinsengumi, which is fielding the two disabled candidates. (Mainichi/Kenta Miyahara)

TOKYO -- Actor and politician Taro Yamamoto has announced that his political group Reiwa Shinsengumi is fielding two candidates with severe disabilities for the July 21 House of Councillors election.

Reiwa Shinsengumi will field the pair in its "special quota," or those given top priority on a party's list of proportional representation bloc candidates. The special quota was introduced under 2018 revisions to the Public Offices Election Act.

Yamamoto, a 44-year-old upper house member, told a July 3 press conference in Tokyo that his recently established group is backing Yasuhiko Funago, 61, and Eiko Kimura, 54. Both Funago and Kimura require assistance in their daily lives.

If the two candidates win seats, the Diet building will apparently need upgrades to make it barrier-free. Campaigning for the upper house election kicked off on July 4.

Yamamoto, meanwhile, said he will run this time as a proportional representation candidate, not from the Tokyo constituency where he was first elected. Instead, the group will put up newcomer Yoshimasa Nohara, 59, a member of the lay Buddhist group Soka Gakkai, in the Tokyo constituency.

"For me to stay on as a legislator, I will need to gain votes in addition to having the two candidates win the race (in the proportional representation bloc)," Yamamoto said, suggesting he hopes to cash in on his name recognition to get multiple candidates backed by Reiwa Shinsengumi into the upper chamber.

Funago suffers from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), which he developed at age 41 while an employee of a trading house. As he can hardly move his body on his own, he uses a special communicator to perform his duties as vice president of a nursing care service company. When asked at the press conference why he is running for office, he said through his caregiver, "Because it's my creed to devote myself to the service of others."

Kimura, meanwhile, has had cerebral palsy since she was 8 months old. She can hardly move her legs and left hand and uses a wheelchair. With the assistance of her helper and others, she has been engaged in activities calling on authorities to enhance support measures for people with disabilities.

For Funago and Kimura, it would be difficult to move around within the Diet building, or to climb onto the podium or cast signed votes in the chamber. Funago also needs his special communicator. Their election would require the legislature to consider a wide range of assistance, including mobility within the legislature and the way question and answer sessions are conducted.

(Japanese original by Kenta Miyahara and Yusuke Tanabe, Political News Department)

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