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.
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 newly elected Upper House member who has severe physical disabilities has said that her presence as a lawmaker will help turn Japan into a country where the socially vulnerable can live comfortably. Eiko Kimura, 54, of the political group Reiwa Shinsengumi, also voiced concern Friday over the current welfare service system for people with disabilities, as commuting and other economic activities are not covered through public aid. "(For example) there's no system allowing lawmakers with severe disabilities to be at the Diet while receiving (necessary) care," said Kimura, who has cerebral palsy. Kimura and Yasuhiko Funago, a lawmaker from the same political group who has amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, received their certificates of election through proportional representation. "I'm just overwhelmed and speechless," Funago, 61, said through his caretaker.
Lawmaker Yasuhiko Funago has a neurological disease that means he cannot speak and communicates by blinking to his carer or operating a computer system with his mouth. But he is demanding to be heard as he fights to improve the lives of people with disabilities in Japan, where many in the community complain of feeling "invisible." "I was a corporate soldier before I had amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and had hardly any opportunities to have contact with people with disabilities," Funago told a committee in November. "I had no idea how people with disabilities or illness were living," he said in the remarks read by his parliamentary aide. Such "ignorance" leads to "prejudice and discrimination," the 62-year-old warned.
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.