Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara, an outspoken nationalist who is fond of riling Japan's neighbors, yesterday secured a third term leading the world's largest metropolis.
Ishihara, who has used racial slurs for Chinese and Korean residents, vowed to devote his fresh four-year mandate to his pet project of bringing the 2016 Summer Olympics to Tokyo.
"I have been continuously bashed by the media and there have been regrettable misunderstandings and exaggerations. But the public had good sense and saw through that," the novelist-turned-politician told a news conference.
Tokyo was one of 13 provinces holding elections in the first nationwide test for embattled conservative Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in the run-up to July's upper house vote.
Exit polls put incumbents ahead in most races, with official results due later. Ishihara's main opponent conceded he was easily defeated.
Ishihara, a prize-winning novelist once spoken of as a contender for prime minister, is known for harsh criticism of China, North Korea, foreigners, immigrants, women -- and even the French language.
He has ignited outrage by ordering public school teachers in Tokyo to sing Japan's national anthem at school functions or face punishment.
Twelve other Japanese prefectures held gubernatorial elections yesterday.
Ishihara, 74, a longtime stalwart in Abe's ruling Liberal Democratic party (LDP), declined the party's formal backing this time to woo independent voters. But he is still supported by the LDP and its coalition partner, New Komeito. Opinion polls put him ahead of Asano, 59, who is backed by the opposition Democratic Party.
Ishihara's critics say voters are becoming increasingly disillusioned with the governor amid allegations of cronyism and expense fund abuse, and Asano's focus on social welfare could resonate better with voters concerned about Japan's rapidly aging society.
Ishihara has been credited with pushing through reforms such as restricting diesel emissions for better air quality and cutting government spending. He is also backing Tokyo's bid to host the 2016 Olympics, while Asano has decried it as an extravagant ego trip.