It’s a tale of two city councilmen like no other.

This weekend the citizens of Karatsu City in Saga Prefecture are heading to the polls to choose their city council for the next term. However, this time they are faced with a unique dilemma of how to vote for either Shigeru Aoki or Shigeru Aoki.

The incumbent, 56-year-old Shigeru Aoki, is hoping to hold onto his seat for a fifth consecutive term, but will have his work cut out for him against 43-year-old challenger, Shigeru Aoki. It has been a tricky campaign so far for each man as they have exactly the same name right down to the kanji (青木茂).

▼ Incumbent Shigeru Aoki (left) and challenger Shigeru Aoki (right)

It gets worse too.

Both are independent so cannot be distinguished by party. They have a similar work background with the incumbent Aoki having worked in a construction company and the challenger Aoki runs his own construction company. They are both running similarly themed campaigns centered around making Karatsu City more self-reliant, and each man’s electoral power base is in the same neighborhood.

In fact, each Aoki has claimed that confused supporters have accidentally walked into their opponent’s headquarters to offer words of encouragement. This adds an extra difficulty to campaigning since in addition to conveying their platform, they have to somehow make it crystal clear exactly which Shigeru Aoki is talking to them.

▼ Each man’s campaign poster also includes distinguishing information such as age or labeling as “incumbent” or “newcomer.”

This is a problem for the election organizers as well. When it comes time to count the ballots which are handwritten, how can they be sure which Shigeru Aoki is which?

The Ministry of Internal Affairs which oversees the voting process is asking all voters to write something to distinguish the candidates from each other on the ballot; preferably by writing down their age or whether they are the incumbent or challenger. Failing that, any objective description will be allowed.

Some examples of preferred ballots are:

“Aoki Shigeru, 56”
“Aoki Shigeru, incumbent”

Other possibly acceptable ballots would be:

“Aoki Shigeru, with glasses”
“Aoki Shigeru who graduated from Fukuoka University”

However, any subjective descriptions of a voter’s desired Shigeru Aoki would be deemed unacceptable by vote counters and rejected, examples of such include:

“Aoki Shigeru, the smart one”
“Aoki Shigeru, the one who looks like he could lose a little weight”
“Aoki Shigeru, the guy who complimented my haristyle last week”

All ballots that simply read “Aoki Shigeru” will be automatically divided between the two candidates. However, this may hurt their chances of winning among the pool of thirty-something other would-be city council members.

When asked about this situation by the media, the candidates had this to say:

“This time around I have the same name as someone else. I have no choice but to also promote any  personal information that will set me apart at the time of voting.”
[Shigeru Aoki]

“Having the same name as has gotten both our campaigns added attention online. I want to use that to reach out to younger voters this election.”
[Shigeru Aoki]

This is the first time in Karatsu City that two candidates had the exact same name, but according to  Mainichi Shimbun it has happened three or four times in the history of Japan. Asahi Shimbun cites two cases: one in Manazuru, Kanagawa in 1997 and one in Naruto, Chiba in 2003. Both were also city council elections.

In this case, it is not too surprising to find a double Shigeru Aoki. A study by genealogist Hiroshi Morioka in 2014 said that Shigeru Suzuki – only one kanji character off from our troubled politicians – is the second most common full name in Japan.

This all hearkens back to the run-off between John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt and John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt that is still discussed by political scholars on long road trips to this day. Many a song was written about that legendary election.

Sources: Mainichi Shimbun, Asahi Shimbun
Featured image: Twitter/@N3fxC