The Japanese parliament's lower house has been dissolved for a 16 December election.
Japanese opinion polls suggest the long-dominant Liberal Democratic Party will return to power with a conservative former prime minister at the helm.
Political experts worry former prime minister and head of the LDP Shinzo Abe will further fray ties with China, already damaged by a territorial row over a group of islands.
Few expect the election, three years after a historic victory swept the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) to power for the first time, to resolve a policy stalemate that has plagued the economy.
Japan is struggling with an ageing population and security challenges due to China's rapid rise.