Kouta Matsuda is new at politics but hopes his experience managing a popular chain of coffee stores in Japan will give him and his small party an edge over rivals in a national election on Sunday.
"I'm going to first work on making the economy better," the lean, floppy-haired Matsuda shouted from on top of a van in Tokyo's busy Shinjuku district last weekend.
"We don't have organisations or groups backing our party. It's a tough fight, so we're asking each one of you to vote for us," he said to applause from the crowd, surrounded by campaign staff wearing aprons with the slogan "Fun, Energetic Japan!"
Matsuda, 41, is running from "Your Party", the most popular of many small parties in the spotlight ahead of the July 11 upper house election because of the big role some could play in policymaking after the election is over.
Others include the pro-reform New Renaissance Party and the Buddhist-backed New Komeito, which stresses social welfare.
Prime Minister Naoto Kan's ruling Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) dominates the lower house and will almost certainly stay in power regardless of the election outcome, but if it falls short of a majority in the upper chamber, as polls predict it may, it will need help from other parties to pass legislation smoothly.
That would open the way for partners, however small, to wield influence over policy, possibly fuelling confusion at a time when the DPJ needs to move quickly to tackle issues such as fiscal reform, deregulation and an overhaul of the pensions system.
"Small parties may not want to jump into a coalition with the DPJ right away so they may start off cooperating on a policy-by-policy basis before a full-fledged tie-up," said Mikitaka Masuyama, professor at the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies.
"But in any case, having many parties involved would lead to legislation and policy decisions becoming very time-consuming."
A Kyodo news agency survey published on Wednesday showed the DPJ could fall more than 10 seats short of the number it needs in the election for an upper house majority.
The DPJ has already had a taste of messy coalition politics, having seen the People's New Party (PNP) and the Social Democratic Party (SDP) punch above their weight on policies in a coalition formed last September. The SDP left in May after a feud over a U.S. airbase under Kan's predecessor, Yukio Hatoyama.
If the DPJ fails to win a majority even with the PNP, it will likely seek additional partners, although who and how many it may tap would depend on how many seats they fall short.
While opposition parties have all ruled out teaming up with the DPJ, analysts say the dynamics will change after the vote.
A small loss could open the way for a tie-up with the tiny New Renaissance Party, headed by a popular ex-health minister, or with Sunrise Party of Japan, another group of lawmakers formerly of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) which was ousted from power last year.
But a big loss may force the DPJ to woo bigger parties, such as the Buddhist-backed New Komeito or the pro-reform Your Party, led by outspoken former financial services minister Yoshimi Watanabe and recently gaining voter support.
In the worst case, all the parties may refuse to join the ruling coalition and instead only cooperate with the DPJ on an ad-hoc basis, potentially bringing policies to a standstill.
"It will be a fight among opposition parties to force their agendas through," said Hiroshi Hirano, a political science professor at Gakushuin University.
"One party could agree to a bill only in exchange for some compromise in another bill, but that could upset another party whose cooperation is also needed. The DPJ has a majority in the lower house, but it will have a mess in the upper house."