Photo/Illutration Former Lower House Speaker Takahiro Yokomichi in 2017 (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

Takahiro Yokomichi, a liberal politician who served as Lower House speaker and Hokkaido governor, died of intrahepatic bile duct cancer at a Tokyo hospital on Feb. 2. He was 82.

His funeral was held with close relatives attending.

Born in Sapporo, Yokomichi began working in his hometown as a lawyer after graduating from the University of Tokyo with a law degree.

But he switched to politics after the abrupt death of his father, Setsuo, a Lower House member of the Japan Socialist Party, in 1969.

That same year, Yokomichi, then 28, was elected to the Lower House for the first time as a JSP candidate.

He became known as a powerful debater and was regarded as the “prince” of his party.

In 1972 in the Diet, he demanded answers from the government about a secret deal between Japan and the United States over the return of Okinawa Prefecture to Japanese sovereignty. The deal was discovered in confidential Foreign Ministry cables obtained by a Mainichi Shimbun reporter.

Eleven years later, Yokomichi moved to local politics and won the Hokkaido governor race with the support of the JSP.

During his three four-year terms as governor, Yokomichi promoted efforts to develop competitive local products after the northernmost main island saw a decline in key industries, including fisheries and coal mining.

In 1996, a year after he finished his third term as Hokkaido governor, he joined the Democratic Party of Japan and won a Lower House seat in the election the same year.

At the DPJ, he led a group of lawmakers from the former JSP who argued for preserving Japan’s war-renouncing Constitution.

Yokomichi became Lower House speaker in 2009 after serving as vice speaker from 2005.

As Lower House speaker, he attended the annual government memorial service for the war dead in August 2011, five months after the triple meltdown at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant.

In his speech, Yokomichi expressed great remorse that Japan experienced another nuclear disaster, mentioning the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, and the U.S. hydrogen bomb test that exposed the crew of the Daigo Fukuryu Maru fishing boat to radioactive fallout in 1954.

“It is extremely regrettable when I think about why we Japanese came to rely on the myth of the safety of nuclear plants,” he said.

Yokomichi retired from politics in 2017, when he decided not to run in the Lower House election that year.