Yesterday (January 5) was the last day for candidate registrations for the Yamagata Prefectural governor's race.
By the end of the workday only the incumbent, Yoshimura Mieko, had registered.
Without an opponent with whom to grapple Yoshimura immediately, without the expense and bother of an election, began her third term as governor. (Link)
Yoshimura's case is somewhat special. Unlike most local officials, she has strong backing from Democrats, Socialists and Communists, rather than main Liberal Democratic Party/Komeito alliance running much of the country. She also has members of the Yamagata prefecture LDP establishment supporting her. As a consequence, her being reelected without an election is a reflection of her popularity across the political spectrum.
However, having incumbents being returned to office without election is becoming a saddening habit in Japanese local politics (Link). Running for office costs money (starting with the kyotakukin candidate deposit) and can alienate you from the victorious candidate and his/her supporters in the local community. If one is, by some circumstance, elected to office over an incumbent, being forced to lead a local government saddled with precipitous declines in the social and economic environment must be no fun at all.
So it is not just through hyperpartisanship or authoritarianism that democracy can wither. Depopulation and genteel decline are effective as demoralizers, too.
Democratic election of local government -- one of the key reforms of the U.S. Occupation -- becomes just one more aspect of that which was Japan that is fading away. (Link)