Two candidates with severe disabilities belonging to the opposition group Reiwa Shinsengumi won seats in the Upper House election on Sunday, scoring an important victory for disabled people in a country where they have long been encouraged to stay in the shadows. In addition, the wins by Eiko Kimura, 54, and Yasuhiko Funago, 61, marked the first by candidates not belonging to a so-called political party since the open-list, proportional representation system was put in place in 2001, the Asahi newspaper said on its website. It is also a sign of society's changing attitudes toward such people. Reiwa Shinsengumi was set up in April, but it still does not have accreditation as a political party. Kimura, who has cerebral palsy, did not even know how to buy train tickets when she chose to move out of a facility for the disabled and live in a Tokyo suburb at age 19.
A lawmaker with severe physical disabilities attended his first parliamentary interpellation Thursday since being elected in July and became the first lawmaker in Japan ever to use an electronically-generated voice during a Diet session. In the session of the education, culture and science committee, Yasuhiko Funago, who has amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a condition also known as Lou Gehrig's disease, greeted the committee using a speech synthesizer. He also asked questions through a proxy speaker. "As a newcomer, I am still inexperienced, but with everyone's assistance, I will do my best to tackle (issues)," he said at the beginning of the session. An aide then posed questions on his behalf and expressed his desire to see improvements in the learning environment for disabled children.
A new anti-establishment group led by actor-turned-politician Taro Yamamoto made a surprisingly strong showing in the Upper House election Sunday, reflecting a sense of stagnation and growing public frustration with vested interests in the country. Reiwa Shinsengumi candidates Yasuhiko Funago, 61, who has Lou Gehrig's disease, and 54-year-old Eiko Kimura, who has cerebral palsy, won Diet seats by priority in the group's proportional representation list. In an unusual twist, Yamamoto, 44, won more votes than any other candidate in the proportional representation segment of the election but was unable to retain his seat in the House of Councilors because the group only won two seats. "Taro Yamamoto may have lost his parliamentary seat, but Reiwa Shinsengumi made a huge advance," a smiling Yamamoto said at a news conference early Monday, noting the grassroots group now qualifies as a political party eligible for subsidies as it won at least 2 percent of the votes cast nationwide. It is the first time since the current electoral system debuted in 2001 that a group unqualified as a party has won a Diet seat via proportional representation.
The Upper House on Sunday started renovation work for two newly elected lawmakers with severe physical disabilities. As Yasuhiko Funago, 61, who has amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, and Eiko Kimura, 54, who has cerebral palsy, use bigger-than-normal wheelchairs, the Upper House removed three seats from its chamber for plenary sessions to create space for them to attend. The seats were at the back of the chamber near a doorway. Funago and Kimura won their races in the July 21 election as candidates for Reiwa Shinsengumi, a political group founded in April by actor-turned-politician Taro Yamamoto to "challenge the establishment and status quo." Electric power sources will be installed where the two lawmakers will sit so they can use them to charge their wheelchairs and medical equipment.
A lawmaker with severe physical disabilities highlighted the various difficulties disabled people encounter in their daily lives as she attended her first interpellation in the Diet on Tuesday since she was elected in July. "I want to ask questions so more rational considerations will be made" in society for people with disabilities, Eiko Kimura, who has cerebral palsy, said to the standing committee of land and transport. Kimura won a seat in the July 21 Upper House election as a member of Reiwa Shinsengumi, an anti-establishment political group founded in April by actor-turned-politician Taro Yamamoto. For roughly 30 minutes she raised questions about the barrier-free accessibility of evacuation shelters during typhoons and other natural disasters, as well as the availability of toilets for the disabled. According to the House of Councilors, it marks the first time a lawmaker requiring a wheelchair and an aide due to a disability has asked questions during an interpellation session.