The maverick mayor of Osaka, Toru Hashimoto, launched his national party onto Japan's political stage Wednesday, vowing to chart a new course for the country.
Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Restoration Association) will field 350 candidates across Japan in general elections expected later this year, with the aim of seizing a majority of seats in the powerful lower house.
"Great battles will start from today. I would like to create Japan's new course together," Hashimoto told a ceremony in Osaka, his powerbase and the headquarters of the new party, according to Kyodo News.
"Our mission is to present a third option to voters" in upcoming polls, the 43-year-old said.
Japan's established parties are struggling to inspire, with the opposition Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) unable to capitalise on the travails of the governing Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), whose unpopular prime minister has just rammed through a tax rise.
But Hashimoto, a colourful figure in the often staid world of Japanese public life, whose quick wit and ready iconoclasm stand him apart from establishment politicians, has said he will not run for parliament himself.
Instead the former lawyer and father-of-seven will remain in Osaka as leader of his new party while continuing his day job as mayor of Japan's second biggest city.
Commentators say the decision to base the party anywhere other than Tokyo could chime with voters fed up of the very centralised nature of Japan, where all roads lead to the heaving metropolis.
Pledges unveiled on Wednesday include halving the current 480 seats in the lower house and introducing direct elections for prime minister.
The incumbent, Yoshihiko Noda, is the sixth man to do the job in as many years, a turnover rate blamed on the fragile factionalism that has produced a string of largely impotent and short-lived leaders.
On Tuesday seven sitting lawmakers said they would leave their parties and join Hashimoto.
Observers say no one grouping will win a majority this autumn, and Hashimoto is expected to be courted in the coalition-building that looks set to follow a popular ballot.
Some opinion polls have shown more people want to vote for his new party than either the DPJ or the LDP.
Opponents charge Hashimoto is an opportunistic populist with little substance to back up his hustling style.
But most grudgingly admire his political savvy and ability to turn almost any situation to his advantage.
A chuckling Hashimoto shrugged off a recent magazine report of an extramarital affair, telling reporters it was true but his wife had not known about it. "There'll be a big penalty to pay when I get home," he smirked.