REPORT: POLITICS IN JAPAN
ON RUNNING FOR OFFICE, PART ONE
By Arudou Debito
April 23, 2003
Long-time readers of my essays might remember one I wrote in 1999, about an election deciding the fate of my hometown, Nanporo, Hokkaido. (http://www.debito.org/activistspage.html#nanporoelections) The main issue was whether the 24-year incumbent mayor would lead the town irretrievably into debt by building a ludicrous second Dai-San Sector golf course (http://www.debito.org/d3s.html), or if the former vice-mayor would steer things into a different (and hopefully fiscally-prudent) direction. After my friends and I organized a landmark public forum that ultimately exposed the mayor as corrupt, our side won the election and the golf course was halted. It was a pretty amazing show of "people power", even in Japan.
Now it's election time again. Little did I know that this time one of the candidates for the Town Council (Chougikai) would be my wife. I am learning firsthand the nuts and bolts of electioneering, and how Japanese election laws, in the name of fairness, actually end up hindering "people power"--by keeping candidates safe from closer public scrutiny.
NANPORO ELECTIONS 2003 PART ONE
C'MON CANDIDATES, WHAT DO YOU REALLY THINK?
SORRY, DEMANDING THAT GOES AGAINST JAPANESE ELECTION LAWS.
About three weeks ago, one of my townie friends, Mr Suzuki, contacted me over a matter of some import. We had had close ties over the past four years, organizing Nanporo "Town Meetings" (see above elections link), albeit with decreasing frequency given my busyness with the Otaru Onsen lawsuit (http://www.debito.org/otarulawsuit.html) and publishing a book on it. (http://www.debito.org/publications.html). Mr Suzuki, who suddenly decided to run for mayor, suggested we also get somebody from our part of Nanporo, XXXX Machi, to run for a council seat. The time was nigh to steer the town in a different direction again.
Background on the electorate: Nanporo, population around 9500 souls, was once Hokkaido's fastest-growing town. The former mayor, on a ruse to increase the town tax base, lured urban families here with cheap government loans for big houses on large parcels of land. Ten years of this produced a new electorate, split between new bed-towners (40%), farmers (30%), and generational geriatric businessmen (30%). Nanporo's town council representation, however, remained static. Out of 16 seats, only one has up to now been a bed-towner--the rest being farmers (supplementing their decreasing income with a 3,000,000 yen annual councillor salary) and local businessmen (ditto). Nobody seemed concerned that they had brought us all here, saddled us with some of the highest public service fees in Japan, yet reneged on promises to provide better secondary education (Nanporo's senior high school is one of the worst in Hokkaido; most bed-towners export their teenage kids) and a proper supermarket (even though fertile Nanporo specializes in cabbage, onions, and rice, Japan's byzantine distribution system means our local Noukyou shopping shack has few fresh veggies, let alone meat and fish; and with no nearby competition, they even charge extortionate prices). Result: apathy amidst the bed-towners, not to mention a high divorce and house-turnover rate. Nanporo's population has been slowly dropping due to an aging population and few new entrants (nobody thinks the government house loan agency is solvent without Nanporo town subsidies). The new mayor, although not a bad person, has turned out to be a bureaucrat with few novel or creative solutions. So this time the bed-towners decided to become candidates--six out of eighteen, running for fourteen seats this time. My wife, Sugawara Ayako, is one of them.
One question that may occur to the reader is: Why didn't I run? I am a Japanese citizen, after all. Simple answer: I decided against it because I already have enough to do, and can't read Japanese fast enough yet to be an effective public servant. Anyway, Ayako herself is plenty noteworthy. At 44, she is by far the youngest candidate (the other seventeen are all well into their second half-century), and one of only two women. She is also the only one clearly campaigning under issues of education, consumer choice, and increased overseas ties (she has even suggested a sister-city relationship with my hometown in Central New York, for educational exchanges). She is antipathetic to the perfunctory rural "bread-and-circuses" slogans (elderly care, preferential treatment for farming, and having the town stand alone financially in an era where indebted Japanese ghost towns are conglomerating). In fact, as far as we can see from all of the campaign pamphlets we received from rivals in the mail, only Ayako (who advertises herself as Nanporo's Joan of Arc. Seriously) has any substance to her public promises. (Most just have mug shots of candidates clenching fists and promising to fight for a brighter tomorrow; one guy even got all chummy, saying his favorite food was ramen, his favorite word "yume" (dream). Ayuh, my kinda guy.)
Since the original bed-towner councillor is retiring his seat, we thought Ayako has a pretty good chance of getting in--by appealing to the housewife vote (especially since the other woman is a member of the Japanese Communist Party, and a well-known do-nothing incumbent). There is also, for better or worse, the fact that she is known for being married to me, a kinda well-known do-everything. So she threw her hat into the ring.
TRYING TO RAISE SOME ISSUES, ANY ISSUES
I decided to stay as much in the background as possible during her campaign. If she was to be elected, I wanted it to be on her strengths, her merits, and her proposals, so that with the force of her convictions and a popular mandate she could be an effective councillor without any crutches. My job instead was to create a venue where the electorate could see that somebody out there has a real agenda for real problems. Not just homilies about ramen dreams. So like the one which contributed to the mayoral upset four years ago, I organized a forum where all the candidates could get together, parade a platform, and be asked questions from the floor.
I drew up pretty much the same forum proposal I did in 1999--invite all candidates, have them give a five-minute policy statement, then allow questions from the audience by paper or microphone. All told, it would be two hours of good, honest communication between elector and elected. Fora at the local level are highly unusual in Japan, since regular campaigning as I said avoids substance: i.e. going around in sound trucks screaming "yoroshiku" (please treat me favorably) and "ganbarimasu" (I'll do my best) all day, making platitudinous speeches outside a few public areas, getting permission to walk into companies and shake hands with everyone (apathetics are suckers for these two-handed cupped-handshakes, especially when people have nothing else to go on except "kizuna" (interpersonal connection)), and rely on their party machines to contact people and secure vocal promises of five to ten votes each (one of my eccentric uncles called my wife four years ago to get me to vote LDP, even though I didn't have Japanese citizenship yet). I thought that one of the larger successes of American democracy (New England Town Meetings) might help shake voters out of their apathy.
Unfortunately, I didn't reckon on the interventions of Nanporo's Electoral Steering Committee (Nanporo-chou Senkyo Kanri Iinkai, "Senkan" for short) and its arcane rules.
The first thing the town bureaucrats at the Senkan said was, "Why are you trying to hold this forum on the day before the election, on Saturday, April 26?"
Me: "Because by then five days will have elapsed since the 'offical campaign period' started." (Yes, it's that short.) "We will have at least had a chance to hear what candidates have said so far and be able to ask more informed questions."
Senkan: "Why not do it before the election period? You did so four years ago."
Me: "Because I learned my lesson. Four years ago, candidates were able to weasel out of it. Since they were not yet 'officially confirmed' candidates, they technically could not talk about their policies outside of the 'official campaign period' (senkyo kikan). Thus attending this forum would allegedly void their candidacy. I want to plug those loopholes this time around."
Senkan: "But you cannot sponsor the forum."
Me: "Why not? As Chair of our organization, the 'Chihou Bunken Forum', I did so four years ago."
Senkan: "Yes, but your wife is running for office this time. Nobody, especially not us at the Senkan, will believe that this forum is impartial."
Me: "I am not participating in her campaign."
Senkan: "Doesn't matter. 'Shakai tsuunen' (social convention) dictates that you will be biased. And don't ask your Vice-Chair, Mr Suzuki, to chair the forum either. He's running for mayor. Find a neutral person."
I did. The abdicating bed-town councillor. Senkan: "We'll accept him because he's a private citizen again. But you should consider moving the date to before the election period."
Senkan: "Because under Electoral Law 164, Clause 3," he thumbed through a six-centimeter-thick book, "only political parties and Individual Candidate Support Groups can sponsor fora then." (okonau kojin enzetsukai, seitou enzetsukai oyobi seitou tou enzetsuzai o nozoku hoka, ikanaru meigi o motsute suru o towazu, kaisai suru koto ga dekinai)
Me: "You mean private citizens can't?"
Senkan: "No, they can't."
Me: "So how can we ask our candidates any questions?"
Senkan: "You can go to each one of their support group meetings."
Me: "What, all eighteen of them, plus two mayoral candidates? You just try to raise a question as they preach to the converted. And then you can't get them to debate with each other because they'll never be in the same room. That's unwieldy."
Senkan: "You could get them to do a co-sponsored support group (kyoudou enzetsukai). That would be legal."
Me: "And equally unwieldy. The Communist Party agreeing to sponsor with Koumeitou? As if."
Senkan: "Well, if the candidates themselves would try to organize a forum..."
Me: "That's a ramen dream. They aren't about to submit themselves to increased scrutiny, or participate in a debate they might lose in public if they don't have to. I'm sure they'd rather stick to sound-truck platitudes."
Senkan: "So why don't you invite the non-party candidates? There are still fifteen councillors and both mayoral candidates left over."
Me: "Okay, I'll do that. But I still want to hold it on the eve of the election."
Senkan: "Fine. But under electoral laws, during this time period you cannot use regular networks, such as newspaper fold-ins (orikomi--advertisements tucked in as separate pieces of paper) or public-sector channels, for political purposes. Only the post office, at your own expense." Which would be, after printing up all the flyers and addressing all the envelopes, about 80 yen times 3500 households...
Me: "Okay, I give up. I'll arrange the forum for the weekend before the election period starts. April 20th okay? Then I can advertise through the newspaper fold-ins, right?" Right.
So I got to work. I faxed every single candidate, telling them the contents and goals of the forum. It was to be completely neutral, with equal time for stumping, a neutral emcee, with audience questions on issues to be directed at all attendees. Our local Senkan even got the approval from Hokkaido Senkan Headquarters. Things looked set to go.
However, this time, our local Hokkaido newspaper distributor decided to blow a whistle.
Distributor: "You want this forum announcement to be a newspaper fold-in? No can do."
Me: "And why not?"
Distributor: "Because newspaper regulations dictate that fold-ins cannot be used for 'political and religious affairs, or social issues'" I asked for written proof of this, which he produced. "You want to use this network, the forum has to be cleared by the Senkan."
Me: "It has been."
Distributor: "Then I want it cleared with Hokkaido Shinbun's Sales Department HQ. My company has to take the heat for any complaints that come from the public, and I want to be sure..."
Me: "Look, I think you're being overly anal. Not one week ago, when I tried to advertise my book 'JAPANESE ONLY--The Otaru Bathhouse Refusals and Racial Discrimination' as a Nanporo fold-in, you tried to refuse it because you took it upon yourself to editorialize, deeming the book's very title 'a social issue'. One call on my part to your precious Hokkaido Shinbun Sales Department HQ revealed that my book announcement was to be treated as a mere advertisement of a product, not a call to action or a rally to a political cause. Now kindly remember who the customer is here and take my goddamn fold-in money."
Distributor: "But on the announcement, you've listed the names of the candidates who have agreed to attend. Are you sure the Senkan cleared that?"
Oh for crying out loud, what could possibly be wrong with listing attendees?
Senkan: "Under electoral laws, you are not allowed to bias the public against any candidate. What would the public think if only some people were listed as attendees? Would they not think badly of those who decided not to attend?"
Me: "Look, do you guys spend late nights dreaming up ways to interfere with freedom of speech and normal democratic processes? If the candidates decide not to attend, that should be said candidate's responsibility, not ours. They refuse on their own recognizance. If they haven't the guts to attend, that should be known about."
Senkan: "But that could inadvertantly create a bias."
Me: "So could a gaffe from one of them during a debate. But are we to suspend all debate because debators might make people think ill of them, due to their own choices?"
My Senkan man finally laughed. "C'mon, make it easy on yourself. Just don't put any names on the forum flyer."
Me: "I think people have the right to know who will be attending. Nobody will attend if they don't think any candidates will show. Get real."
Senkan: "Okay, I'll pass this by the Senkan HQ again..."
Me: "Sorry, there's no time for that. Thanks to the shift in the date, there are only three days until the forum. I have to get this to the newspaper now for the forum announcement to appear the day before. Up to now I think I've been thoroughly cooperative with you. Now tell me what happens if I run this announcement as is."
Senkan: "Well, that means the forum goes on without Senkan approval."
Me: "Oh. Will I be arrested?"
Senkan: "Er, no. Just frowned at. If you run a biased forum on the day, however, we may have to disqualify the candidates."
Me: "But as things stand now, nobody can be disqualified or arrested, pending the neutral outcome of the forum. Right?"
Senkan: "That's right. I will be attending and watching."
And that's how a week of negotiations wrought a forum. We had a full house (85 attendees, mostly elderly farmers), and four councillor candidates (no incumbents, all bed-towners trying to get some exposure) including my wife having their say. Good news was that both mayoral candidates (the incumbent mayor, seeing the names of attendees, changed his mind and showed up) were there, and both gave good accounts of themselves with practical ideas. Everyone I talked to was happy the forum happened; even my Senkan man deemed it suitably neutral. It was another precedent set, for the next turn of the electoral cycle.
But the point about Japan's odd democratic processes still stands. As in all election systems, candidates need only care about securing a sufficient number of votes from their loyalists. Which means that unless called upon to comment on larger issues, all they have to do is play it safe. Problem is that Japan's electoral rules effectively silence the issue-raisers--by discouraging the public from treating them like candidates before the "official election period", or by making it near impossible to get them debating or answering questions in public during it. Without the ability to create independent public fora, communication winds up being all top-down and heavily-controlled.
The negative consequences of this short-circuited democracy are not too difficult to find. Aside from voter apathy through a sense of futility, abuses occur, even in a place as small Nanporo. For example, the largest vote-getter last election, the Koumeitou rep (who literally has a religious following, thanks to the sponsoring Souka Gakkai demanding blind favoritism), seems oblivious to our educational problems. Instead of trying to improve the high school, it turns out last month during town council proceedings he tried to get some teachers fired from the local (high-quality) grade school--simply because they would not stand when the controversial Japanese national anthem was played. Misguided ideology like that should be more known about: Should you vote for such a nitwit? It would have been nice if that matter of public record could have been raised in the media. Or a public forum, ahem.
But then again, I guess that's a bias. Under Japanese electoral law, any potential opinion at all qualifies as a bias. So try to remain apathetic when organizing people power in Japan.
END OF PART ONE
PREVIEW OF PART TWO:
On hitting the campaign trail with my wife: the sociology of public appeals in a society which intensely mistrusts politicians yet demands little of substance from them, and other cultural quirks as we learn how to cup our hands for those warm-fuzzy two-handed handshakes.
Arudou Debito, Nanporo, Japan
April 23, 2003
(read on for PART TWO--RUNNING THE CAMPAIGN. DID IT WORK?)
By Arudou Debito
April 28, 2003
I sent out a report a few days ago talking about pre-election activities in a small town. My main point was how public attempts to increase communication between candidate and electorate are actually thwarted by too many election rules (http://www.debito.org/nanporo2003elections1.html). This time I would like to take the reader on the campaign trail itself, as my wife, Sugawara Ayako, runs for town council office, and discover why so many Japanese candidates simply wind up shouting slogans from sound trucks.
1) TAKE YOUR MARKS
2) TAKING OFF
3) ELECTION RESULTS (including other international candidates in Japan)
4) CONCLUSIONS AND LESSONS
TAKE YOUR MARKS
My wife and I arrived at the Nanporo town hall on Tuesday, April 22, at 7:55 AM, taking our seat amidst other candidates and their reps for a briefing from the Electoral Administrative Committee (Senkan). Topic: How to wage a clean and fair fight.
Senkan: "The election period starts from 8:30 AM today, Tuesday, April 22, and will end at 8PM on Saturday, April 26. For those five days, you may campaign on your sound trucks between 8AM and 8PM, and make phone calls until midnight. However, if you are campaigning outside, you may do so only within a short distance of your sound truck, or somewhere where you have a 'campaign permission banner' which you will receive momentarily. You will also receive a fixed number of official campaign armbands (wanshou) for your compaigners to wear, which will keep you from having too many people on your team. You as town council candidates may only spend about 1 million yen on your campaign...", plus another fifteen minutes of directives which need not be reproduced here.
"In a few moments, you will choose by lottery your registration number. This is, among other things, for your campaign posters." Residents of Japan will know well what this means: whenever there are elections, out of thin air pop up segmented billboards made of concrete-forming plywood panel in various public places. The mugs' gallery. You get a number which determines in which quadrant where your poster gets thumbtacked. To avoid possible psychological advantages from the tyranny of numerology, each billboard has numbers arranged at random in different quadrants. "Be sure that your posters cannot be found in any other public place than those billboards, your campaign banner area, or your campaign HQ (renraku jimusho). Now comes the lottery. You will choose a chopstick from this box with a number affixed to the bottom. The person who arrived here earliest and registered his or her name on the blackboard will get first pick, okay? Good. Let's get started." Out of eighteen council candidates, we arrived fifteenth, but picked number eleven. "Two ones are better than one," we soon numerologized. After being formally processed, we were out the door by 8:45 AM as engines warmed up outside.
The professional candidates knew what they were doing. Within minutes, all of their sound trucks which had been waiting outside for the past hour (all seventeen, including the two mayoral candidates) were loaded with white-gloved supporters in fluorescent jackets. Other affiliated cars sped off to put up their posters in 47 designated places around town; by the time I returned to Nanporo from work for lunch that day, every single candidate had their poster up. We were all equally off and running.
For those who have never had the joy of seeing a Japanese election sound truck in action, a brief description: It is usually a van or minivan that in the back can seat (or rather, allow to lean outside the windows all day in what must be an illegal, not to mention excruciating, practice) around four bodies, flailing a witches-broom of eight white-gloved hands. The extremities quickly become desensitized to the elements. Atop the van like Jawaharlal Nehru's fez is a box--proclaiming the candidate's name with perhaps a slogan or photo, with speakers sprouting from every corner (the deluxe fezzes have a place for people to stand and shout). In the front of the van sits the driver, of course, with the candidate riding shotgun. Candidates are unmistakable in the crowd, as they usually wear a dark suit (if male) or a creamy dress (if female), complemented by a wide white laminated tasuki (sash) bearing his or her name. To complete the visuals are the aural stimuli: Two or three mikes inside the van are readied for the candidate and two hog-callers, shouting out sloagns (name, thanks, and apolitical buzzwords showing their spirit) a few hundred thousand times for twelve hours. Wending their way along residential areas and busy avenues, the sound truck is usually escorted front and back by two more cars of gloved and luminescent supporters. The flurry of words can be heard on country roads well over a kilometer away, and their doppler effect is enough to annoy friends of mine, one of which said: "I flip off every one I pass, or if I pull up next to one at a light I crank up Eminem in my Alpine stereo so loud my car shakes. If this were Honolulu or anywhere else in most of the world we'd be shooting at them."
We didn't do all that, not because we feared reprisal, but because we were cheap. All we did was affix Ayako's large laminated campaign posters (they cost 1000 yen each, and we ordered 100, so we were gonna get full use!) in strategic places on my Nissan Terrano (The cops told us that we could only do it in two-meter square areas on any face of a vehicle. After we realized that nobody was paying attention to our sorry little setup, we plastered our windows). We had no soundtruck fez, not even a megaphone (nearby towns and cities of Naganuma, Kitahiroshima, Ebetsu, Kuriyama, and Kurisawa were also running elections, so they were all rented out). We had no payroll for constant supporters waiting at a rented election house with warm meals and drinks (Ayako's mom came out to do all that in our house). But volunteers we had--friends from Sapporo and Tomakomai who came all the way out to spend an a day with us. We didn't even have formal uniforms for them (red was Ayako's color, so helpers searched their own closets) or sashes (our local calligraphy teacher made her some yellow thingies). But even with all this bargain-basementism, unexpected surprises--good surprises--were in the offing.
THINGS START TO TAKE OFF
The first, most important windfall was due to the forum I told you about in Part One. The retiring bed-town candidate, a Mr Kobayashi, was impressed enough with Ayako's platform to throw his weight behind our campaign, saying in public that she was his successor. Once he had gone that far, he couldn't let us lose. He gave daily advice on how to campaign, made phone calls to a number of his supporters, and procured various invitations to public convocations which involved the high-profile campaign of the incumbent mayor. We would find ourselves parking the Terrano next to the mayor's flash getup. A few introductions and practice speeches in public later, we suddenly realized we had been incorporated into his camp.
Kobayashi also gave us homespun advice about how to get our face to stick out in the crowd: Stand outside first thing in the morning at one of the road arteries, then bow and wave to the Nanporoites commuting to Sapporo. Stand outside the local Noukyou shopping center ("outside" meaning the sidewalk by the parking lot--any closer would be an election violation) to bow and wave as people enter and exit the parking lot (maybe even say hello as people walk out juggling car keys with their groceries). Drive around a few neighborhoods (where living in a small, compact town has its advantages) and wave at houses (with a few brave kids and their moms waving back)...
The trick is to keep doing it. Once you start, you can't quit halfway or people will wonder what happened to you. You get caught in a classic Prisoners' Dilemma--everyone else is out there exposing themselves, so if you don't join in you don't look like you have any fighting spirit. People are also suckers for drama--if they see you out there looking like drowned rat (two of the five campaign days had cold, cold rain) putting on a brave face, you start getting a sympathy vote--not least because you're showing people just how much you want the job. You might find the lack of response you get in the beginning a bit disappointing, but wait: once there is some sense of precedence (and word-of-mouth saying who's hard at work), people start waving back more and more.
Especially when it was me out there. After finishing classes, I went home to put in a few hours. I put on my flashiest duds: cinnamon jacket, red turtleneck, and grey trousers with black shoes. Then I came up with a real attention-grabbing device: my sash. I converted a fluorescent-yellow fabric-covered cable, used for towing cars, into a fashion statement. Big, suitably heavy and equipped with two silver hooks (clasped together to make a circle), it looked very silly draped over one shoulder diagonally (especially when I stuck one of Ayako's campaign posters to it). But it got attention. Especially when people had to slow down and look around our car as they exited the parking lot, leaving them no choice but to look in both directions--at us waving and bowing--before they merged into traffic.
It was one of the few times where a White boy's inability to avoid attracting attention worked to a pleasant advantage. Lots of people did double-takes as they drove past, then looked beyond me to the postered Terrano to see Ayako and friends bowing away in bright red. A day of this later, we developed a style. Like the New York City cops who learn how to dance by directing traffic, I learned how to do a general George Bush wave as a car approaches, catch a startled eye, hold it, and get a smile (if not a wave) from the housewives (whom we were targeting). I even got snickers from older truck drivers (who eventually broke down after three or four trips past) and cops! (they like being saluted) And once they turned into our parking lot and became temporary captives, Ayako went up and made a few bows, got a few handshakes.
Momentum reached red-shift we reached the end of the campaign period (which, in retrospect, is a very long five days). Presents came in from friends and strangers of power drinks, sake, letters and posters of encouragement. Our campaign posters wound up being put up on the 47 billboards (scattered over around 500 square kilometers) by complete strangers. Somebody found us a spare megaphone, and we started driving around neighborhoods in earnest, broadcasting her slogans (in between music from Yamaguchi Momoe, Murashita Kouzou, and the Carpenters, literally striking a chord with her generation of housewives). She also handwrote and sent out 600 postcards (postage covered by the town electoral budget) outlining her platform. At some point in time, we started to feel like we could actually win this thing.
By Saturday night, the eve of the election, we found ourselves part of a juggernaut campaign machine, led by the mayor, with twelve of the eighteen candidates standing shoulder-to-shoulder in front of the Noukyou supermarket. A couple hundred old-town folk swarmed and listened to his proposals for the town future (which actually cribbed from Ayako's policy statements--the problems of the local high school, plans for international exchanges). It was soon clear that the three candidates who had not thus far campaigned much at all were going to lose. And since one new new-towner had been campaigning for years and was probably going to get in, only one seat up was left up for grabs--Ayako versus the two Communist candidates.
SWITCHING IT OFF ON CUE
After the Saturday night rally, there were two more hours of vertiginous sound-truck rush around the neighborhoods. Every district was effectively carved up into fiefdoms secured for certain candidates; our part of the town, however, was up for grabs. But it was not unpleasant. Whenever our sound trucks inevitably crossed paths, or we drove past a rival's campaign headquarters, we would sportingly wish each other success over our PA systems. We would get out and shake hands in bonhomnie, as if we were all fellow candidates it together, part of the club and good friends for the public to see. We even got supporters to believe they were part of the team; they in turn would to recruit more supporters to root for us--so that they wouldn't be on a losing side. Who cared about issues anymore? We were all doing our best in the holy spirit of teamwork. The only ones who wouldn't play this game were the Communists (who consider this kind of public friendliness politically unethical--they prefer to divvy out votes more quietly), so the mayor's political machine decided to use that against them. We heard word that votes were being sent from somewhere towards Ayako. Within those final two hours, the battle lines were drawn and sealed.
At 8PM, the town went silent for another four years.
Well, in the end, did all this campaigning work? On Sunday, April 27, 2003, the polls were opened from 8AM to 8PM. I was selected as one of ten representatives to do balloting "tachi-ai", and I counted and checked every single one of 5,703 votes for the town councillors between 9PM and midnight last night.
NANPORO-CHOU MAYOR RESULTS:
1. IZAWA Toshimi (incumbent) 4,366 votes
2. SUZUKI Masatoshi (new) 1,160 votes
This race wasn't even close. Friend Suzuki, who got us into this election in the first place in Part One, ran a rather lonely campaign (where he drove around neighboorhoods reading his campaign promises--not merely banal slogans over and over). It got him over 1000 votes, but that clearly was not enough. It wasn't how the game is played.
NANPORO-CHOU TOWN COUNCIL RESULTS:
(all candidates are incumbents and unaffiliated with any political parties, unless otherwise indicated)
1. OCHIAI Susumu (Koumeitou) (old townie) 465 votes
2. GAWASE Toshihiko (farmer) 461 votes
3. SAWADA Kazukiyo (old businessman) 437 votes
4. HONMA Hidemasa (new--the "ramen dream" farmer) 433 votes
5. SATOU Shouichi (farmer) 418 votes
6. OKA Shinichi (farmer) 410 votes
7. TAKEIDA Shinji (old businessman) 361 votes
8. MIYOSHI Fujio (farmer) 354 votes
9. TAJIMA Hideki (old businessman) 345 votes
10. ISHIKAWA (farmer) Yasuhiro 327 votes
11. SHIRAKURA (farmer) Kenichi 315 votes
12. SHIGAURA Manabu (new) (new townie) 301 votes
13. SUGAWARA Ayako (new) (new townie) 258 votes
14. NANBU Youko (Communist) (occupation unclear) 246 votes
Bubbling under and losing their seat/chance for a seat:
KUMAKI Kimio (Communist) (occupation unclear) 227 votes
KONDOU Chouichiro (new) (old townie) 176 votes
IMAIZUMI Masamichi (new) (new townie) 121 votes
MIYAMOTO Masahiro (new) (new townie) 49 votes
CONCLUSIONS AND LESSONS
As you can probably tell by the rushed tone of this report, I am writing in a bit of a daze on three hours' sleep and after two classes. Still, some realities on getting elected are setting in. If I could point to one thing that probably did the most to get Ayako established as a candidate, it was probably that forum I told you about in Part One. According to the rumor mill, Ayako made a good first impression, enough so that the old housewives (more likely the ones to vote in a 56.51% turnout rate) started jawing about this young sparkly shikkari shiteiru woman who's better than the Communist broad. And once that image was out, and early enough in the election period, it was just a matter of reconfirming that day after day, thankfully for less than a week.
Which goes to show that if you want to get elected in a small town, anywhere, you gotta get out there and make your presence known. The candidates who made a written statement, then just sat and waited for votes to come to them (Imaizumi and Miyamoto) got left behind. Those who went against the flotilla were locked out (Kondou only ran because he wanted to knock out neighbor Tajima, Kumaki played by Japanese Communist Party rules and did not come off as friendly at all in public). In short, and with help from incumbents, Sugawara Ayako learned how to play the game.
But this time around it wasn't just Ayako who won in Japanese elections. Naturalized Japanese Anthony Bianchi (email@example.com), of Inuyama, near Nagoya, and Jeremy Angel (firstname.lastname@example.org)'s wife, Chiyoko, of Fujimi, near Nagano, also won seats in their local assemblies. Send them your congratulations.
So there is some news here: there is hope that people of international backgrounds will further establish and foster the inevitable idea of foreign-born person as local resident. We are, after all, learning to play the game like anyone else. And now we are getting political representation. We shall soon see what sort of future that brings.
April 28, 2003