Voting began Sunday in Tokyo in the metropolitan assembly election, with 253 candidates contesting 127 seats in what is widely seen as a prelude to the upper house election in July, a crucial test for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's Liberal Democratic Party.
The main focus is on how voters will evaluate "Abenomics," which combines massive fiscal stimulus, bold monetary easing and a growth strategy, and is aimed at pulling the world's third-largest economy out of chronic deflation.
Riding on relatively high popularity, the LDP headed by Abe aims to gain an overall majority in the 127-seat assembly with its junior coalition partner New Komeito party.
Abe has described the election as a battle to be won "at any cost" as the outcome will set the tone for the nationwide polls next month when voters are expected to deliver a verdict on his handling of the seven-month-old government.
Political parties hope to inject momentum into their campaigns for the House of Councillors election set for July 21.
Memories remain fresh within the LDP of the party's crushing defeat in the previous assembly election in 2009 that paved the way for the Democratic Party of Japan to take the reins of the central government for the first time. The LDP regained power in the general election in December last year.
In Sunday's election of the DPJ-dominated assembly, the LDP is fielding 59 candidates, the DPJ 44, New Komeito 23 and the Japanese Communist Party 42.
The Japan Restoration Party, taking part in the assembly election for the first time with 34 candidates, is also in the spotlight as co-leader Toru Hashimoto has indicated he may step down depending on the outcome.
The Osaka mayor, in order to contain political repercussions, has apologized to candidates running on the party's ticket after facing a barrage of criticism for his recent remarks about Japan's wartime military brothels.