Social media propels independent candidate to 2nd place in Tokyo gubernatorial election

Koike Yuriko has won her third term as Tokyo governor in Sunday's election.

But an independent candidate who was little-known in the capital before the campaign came in second, after spreading his message through the extensive use of social media.

Ishimaru's YouTube account

Ishimaru Shinji, former mayor of Akitakata City in Hiroshima Prefecture, earned more than 1.5 million votes without any support from political parties. His numerous posts on X, YouTube and other social media attracted hordes of young people who came out to vote for him.

Ishimaru picked up 75,000 followers on his X account during the 17-day-long campaign. His rivals' numbers are considerably lower: 10,000 for Koike, and 14,000 for former Upper House lawmaker Renho, who was considered the face of the largest opposition force, the Constitutional Democratic party.

Ishimaru's most popular YouTube video had received 860,000 views as of noon on Sunday. That is more than 30 times higher than the top-ranking videos by his two biggest rivals.

He gained support from internet-savvy people in their teens and 20s. His early fame came from short video clips while he was Akitakata's mayor. He is seen fiercely criticizing local assembly members.

When Ishimaru wanted to make a speech go viral in the Tokyo campaign, he put a sign on his official vehicle encouraging people to take photos of his campaign and post them on the internet.

"AI Yuriko" on YouTube

Governor Koike also tried hard to appeal to voters through social media. For example, "AI Yuriko" used an AI-generated version of herself to talk to viewers on YouTube. She used this to boast of her achievements during her eight years in office.

Exit polls showed both Koike and Ishimaru got around a third of their votes from independent voters. The main ruling Liberal Democratic Party and coalition partner Komeito voluntarily backed Koike. Meanwhile, Renho failed to impress a significant number of residents dissatisfied with the current government.

The results of the Tokyo race may have a big effect on how candidates in the upcoming Lower House election use media in their campaigns.