Muhammad Ali Combatant Inoki Among Japan Election Winners

A former Japanese wrestler who took on boxer Muhammad Ali in a cross-discipline bout in the 1970s is among the winners in his nation’s election to the upper house of parliament yesterday.

Antonio Inoki, 70, was elected as a member of the Japan Restoration Party, resuming a presence in Japan’s legislature decades after he fought Ali to a draw in 1976. The ballot, which suffered a slump in turnout as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s ruling coalition swept to a majority, also saw a television actor win a seat on a platform opposing the restart of nuclear reactors after the 2011 Fukushima meltdowns.

“I would like to thank everyone who gave me energy as I rushed around sweating for this,” Inoki, who has made several trips to North Korea, told Fuji Television last night. “I would like to focus on diplomatic issues.”

First elected to parliament in 1989 as a member of the now-defunct Sports and Peace Party, Inoki a year later traveled to Iraq and met with Saddam Hussein, helping to secure the release of Japanese hostages in Iraq during the Gulf War. He lost his seat in 1995.

Inoki, whose real first name is Kanji, frequently appears on television programs, commercials and in video games, and was the first Japanese to be elected to the Wrestling Federation’s Hall of Fame.

Anti-Nuclear Activist

His victory is a bright spot for the JRP, which has seen its prospects slump since forming last year and winning the third-most seats in November’s lower house election. Party co-founder and Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto came under fire for comments in May justifying the forced prostitution of Asian women for the Japanese Army during World War II. The party won seven seats, according the exit polls by NHK Television.

Television actor and anti-nuclear activist Taro Yamamoto also won a seat in the contest, running as an independent. Yamamoto, who last year lost a bid for the lower house, campaigned against restarting atomic reactors shut down after the March 2011 Fukushima meltdowns at the Fukushima plant. He is also opposed to Japan joining the U.S.-led Trans Pacific Partnership trade talks, which Abe has made a signature policy.

Takeshi Fujimaki, a former adviser to billionaire investor George Soros, won on a JRP ticket on the proportional representation ballot. Fujimaki said in an April interview that the Bank of Japan’s "huge bet" by boosting its quantitative easing won’t turn the economy around and is instead sending the country toward default.