By Dave Aldwinckle
(Originally posted Fri, 11 Oct 1996)

You think you've got it bad in the US, with all the election brouhaha going on. At least the outcome over there is clear. Here's some news on the biggest thing happening in Japan these days--their election, which, after weeks of "yoroshiku"-screaming sound-trucks, culminates in a big blow-out in Susukino, Saturday night, Oct 19. Then 24 hours later we realized that nothing has changed.

E-Day is October 20, 1996. PM Hashimoto has called a general election in hopes, most say, of returning the LDP (Liberal Democratic Party--the "old boys") to power after a 3-year "absence". I want to tell you about the amusing political infomercials I saw this morning, and discuss what they might say about democracy in Japan.


This morning between 7:30 and 8 am, NHK (the state-run network over here) gave ten minutes each to the LDP, the Democratic Party (minshu tou), and the Communist Party (there are other parties running, but this was enough for one day).

The contrast in styles was remarkable.


First up was the Democrats "glossy" ad about each of the candidates and what election district (ku) they represented. The whole thing was unremarkable enough to leave my memory a bit hazy, but what they were getting at was this: *Their* candidates were personable and local. One guy stood next to some hooded farmers and handled potatoes (much like Al Haig handled a piglet years back). Another was paternally patting the head of a handicapped-looking person. Another was shaking the hand of a few more "just folks". No appearance of "big-business" interests, and candidates were always seen inside their constituency in the background, be it rice paddy or town hall, promising to listen. Then each and every individual candidate introduced himself, giving their own little piece of platitude on how they were going to do things better.

There wasn't much of a policy statement, from what I remember--typical for Japanese elections. Patronage, not politics, is the issue. But what got my ears burning was where Mr Yokomichi, running in my district after his retirement from the Hokkaido governorship, was there asking with a straight face for power again. This guy, a defector from the Socialist Party, did nothing to improve the lot of Hokkaido, except spend our taxes on propping up the melon industry in Yuubari (over half their profits, according to the Economist, come from tax money), and then spend more by building a southern Hokkaido missile testing ground for the Self-Defense Forces to practice on--only to get snubbed (it still lies disused) by the bureaucrats down south. Hope he doesn't win. I won't vote for him...

Next up was the LDP, but their spiel was so memorable I'll save it for last.


The Communists were the direct opposite of the Democrats. They had the boss of the whole party (I forgot how to read his kanji) read a statement about the ills of society in front of a packed audience in Shibuya, Tokyo. It was in no way a local appeal--no mention at all was made of Hokkaido. But the issues were focussed upon very strongly, in political Japanese even I could understand.

1) The American Bases should be removed, and Japan returned to an "independent country" status. Throw out the US-Japan Security Treaty.

2) Farmers should be treated with respect and given the ability to keep Japan's food supply self-sufficient. Throw out that furrin rice.

3) Society should be "reempowered" (forget the exact Japanese). Why should the people pay for the excesses of the banks and bureaucracy? Throw out the rascals.

There may have been other points, but my cereal was crunchy. One thing I remember him making clear was that a vote for the Communists was not a vote for making Japan "like the Soviet system". He pointed out that the Russians never had a "socialist" government in place (probably what he meant was a self-aware middle class) to stop totalitarians from taking power. So don't worry--we won't throw *too* much out.

A standing ovation followed from the audience.

Well, well. Even if we "Dosanko" Hokkaidoites didn't get an appeal from the local whithered Communist candidate Mr Kodama (who runs perennially like Gus Hall did in the US), the statement was a refreshing contribution to the debate arena, one which I wish the LDP "gorillas" (the jargon over here in the gaijin community) would do more of.


Our old kingpins were as stuffy as ever, and appeared relatively infrequently in the ad--except as faces being dropped like bombs on a map of Hokkaido, and as sloganizers at the end saying how they're going to take care of our future. I bet you will.

What really got me goggle-eyed was the format. The WHOLE AD--I am not making this up--was done to a Japanese RAP BEAT! Had this bleach-browned-hair DJ spinning the yellow symbol (which you see on all Hashimoto's posters saying "OPEN"--meaning an "open" government) on a turntable, and then three rappers, two guys and one girl (like EAST END X YURI) chanting the ills that today's youth face.

One segment showed a girl trying to get a job. All dudded up. But the three businessmen (in animal-head masks) were frowning at her CV before blithely throwing it over their shoulder.

Another segment showed the rappers bopping behind some potato farmers, bemoaning the fate of their fertilizers and future. The LDP promised a "50% self-sufficiency rate" for Japanese agriculture. And the beat goes on...

Another showed some city hall figures grumbling (rapping, actually) about something while the teeny-boppers bopped in the background. I was too busy laughing to get the point.

Now this was the topper: To make the point of how uniquely international the LDP is in comparison, they showed one of the Sapporo candidates (Mr Ishizaki) shaking hands with my old friend Randal Irwin--Yes! *RANDAL IRWIN*, big PR man for Voicenet, the company who owns this web server--and then having a chat with a buncha gaijin (token person of darker skin sitting closest to Ishizaki) about something the beat drowned out. My corn flakes flew across the room.

BTW, the chorus of the rap: MAKASETE MAKASETE HOK-KAI-DOU! (Leave it to us leave it to us Hokkaido!)

Yeah, that was perfect. The LDP has never given so much as a popcorn fart for the cares of Hokkaido--and their latest policy statement (spied in the Hokkaido Shinbun) indicates that "Japan has a duty to uphold the security of Asia", and that means US troops in Okinawa should also be distributed to stations in Hokkaido. Economic dependency on the mainland, blocked ties to foreign trade, lower incomes than normal. We're Kansas--without Bob Dole. And it all begs the question of the LDP itself being responsible for the current ills Japanese youth face!

Thanks for making us take the rap, guys.


Well, I've seen this tactic with the LDP before--appealing to youth when they've forgotten all about it. One hilarious news broadcast I caught a couple of years back was when the LDP hosted--I am not making this up--a disco in downtown Sapporo. Bear in mind that this was at the height of Juliana's Disco in Tokyo, when girls without panties were dancing on tables in mini-skirts.

So there were these navy-blue-suited LDP gorillas trying to bop and hobnob with all of these scantily-clad ladies about a third their age. The TV station made sure to show a coupla scenes where some old fudds had to leap from their chairs and start dancing when they realized the cameras were on them. And one sweaty guy (with his necktie still done up to the top) was explaining the importance of voting LDP to some patient but basically naked kids over the incessant boomboomboom of the speakers. At the end, the LDP's sign-up table was shown as kinda lonely, with few takers.

But seriously folks, the theme of all of today's "glossy" ads was simple and predictable--appeal to local producer interests, shut out foreign goods, make no case for the consumer when people have to produce before they can consume.

And the results are just as predictable--mass confusion leading to "the-devil-you-know" syndrome. "I don't know who I'm going to vote for," said my parents-in-law last night over tofu. Even jiichan, staunchly LDP in the past, didn't defend the current gorilla. My wife was same as usual--"I don't like that guy's face. So I'm not voting for him."

Plus ca change... It's almost enough to make one change his citizenship and enter politics himself (as former Finn Mr Tsurunen did). At least I know my wife likes MY face.

Dave Aldwinckle
Sapporo, Hokkaido 1-Ku

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