Tsukuba City Assemblyman Jon Heese Pt II: Why you should run for office in Japan


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Hi Blog. Jon Heese, recently-elected Tsukuba City Assemblyman, wrote an entry on Debito.org a month ago on how and why to get elected to local politics as naturalized Japanese. By popular demand, here’s his follow-up, in the same wiseacre style you’ve come to know and expect. Arudou Debito in Sapporo


Yes you can. Yes you Should! Part Duh
By Jon Heese, Tsukuba City Assemblyman.  
Debito.org, March 3, 2009


Thanks to all the well wishers who left very positive comments and well wishes on Debito’s page. Some of the commenters had some questions which I hope to address in this installment. Many of you are very supportive of Debito’s candidacy. I just want to make a point crystal clear: Debito is the low-hanging fruit. He’s grabbed the bait and already being reeled in. He was not my target. You were. I don’t want to read any more comments about the obvious. Of course Debito will be a great politician.

Now, let’s start thinking about how we are going to get your ass in the queue. With the few visits Debito has made to various offices, he has confirmed everything I said in the last post: 1. you don’t need money; 2. the system is designed to get you elected. I understand you don’t know me from Adam. I am not insulted that you will not take my word for it. Debito will now weigh in: Cue Debito ->

DEBITO:  Er, yes, uh, hi everybody, how ya doin’?  Ahem, I have indeed visited the city elections office and gotten documentation on how to get registered for election, and indeed all costs are covered for reasonable candidacies (i.e. any candidacy that you or I would like to run as underdogs).  Do not be deterred by potential costs.  You can do this without spending any of your own money.  And it looks quite likely you just might be elected by an electorate as jaded as this.  Back to you, Jon.

Here is a rundown of what the job entails.

Sessions in Tsukuba are every 3 months consisting of about 25 hours over 8 days spread over the first 3 weeks of the month. For this I get ¥5.4 million/year. If I serve 12 years I get a ¥15 万 pension for the rest of my life (yeah me). Salaries and perks are probably higher in the larger cities. There may be some restrictions on working but in Tsukuba I can continue doing my other jobs when I’m not obliged to be in session. I can’t say it will be the same in Sapporo but I would guess Debito would be free to continue his teaching after making arrangements.

DEBITO:  Haven’t quite thought that far ahead regarding holding two jobs, but according to Sapporo City websites non-boss Sapporo City Assemblypeople make 86万 per month before taxes.  That’s not chump change.  It’s significantly more than I make right now.  I have the feeling, however, that Sapporo City Assemblypeople treat this as a full-time job.  They certainly are getting pay commensurate to that.  Back to Jon:

About that pension (yeah, me?). As with the regular pension, I probably will end up paying for all the retired politicians and not collect anything myself. I recently attended a meeting where some dude explained to a passel of rabid local politician from southern Ibaraki how the pension system is going broke. With all the mergers of towns and cities in the last 20 years, the number of councilors nationwide has dropped from 60,000 to around 35,000. For the system to fulfill its published obligations they will be in the red to the tune of Y77 billion in the next 13 years (when they expect I/O to balance again). After the presentation, the speaker was damned near lynched by the howling mob. I’d just as soon opt out. As it stands, us newbies are stuck. We can either suck it up or vote for the taxpayer to cough up the shortfall. I hate baby boomers!

The job is only full time if you want to make it so. Personally, the meetings are only a minor aspect of the job. I see myself more as a low level statesman, explaining government to the unwashed. As a first term councilor I have no clue how things work so I mostly have to “get back” to my constituents. That said, when the local international school wanted to get a bus to stop in front of their school, they got no response to their request. When I made the same request, the bus bucho was on the phone to the principal in a flash.

I asked Anthony Bianchi about his experience in Inuyama. He gets about the same salary and has similar working conditions. However, just working on things he wanted to get done and fielding concerns from citizens made it a full time job for him from the start. Now that he is in his second term, he points out that he has become much busier with council business and projects. He stresses that anyone wanting the job should understand that the city should take priority. Just because a lot of the councilors sit on their “laurels” doesn’t mean you should. I agree.

James N commented to Debito.org last time:
I think Debito, unless he requires ZERO sleep and is Super Man incarnate, would risk having his voice silenced due to the fact that he would be getting pressure from the “Good-Ole-Boys” club to clamor down as it were. Debito may put these Good-Ole-Boys in their place, but the time and effort to accomplish these things would inevitably drain him of the energy needed to do the very valuable work he is currently doing for the disenfranchised.

Debito made similar bleatings to me. To which I say, “BOLLOCKS!” In fact the opposite is true. As a unelected representative of the disenfranchised Debito is a fart in a feedlot. As an elected rep people will listen. Yes, they WILL LISTEN! The hard part is having something constructive to say. It is one thing to complain about a problem and completely another to propose a workable solution.

Something I learned during my election, there is no more “I” in my new job. If anything is to get done, it can only be done by “We.” Look at all the problems we face, from global warming to “pick your your favourite gripe.” Everyone has said, “If enough people would just get their head out of their asses, we could change things.”? Here is the scoop, boys and girls, things change when everyone wants them to change. When things are not changing… well, clearly people don’t want to change.

No change may be a result of not knowing of the problem. This is where debito.org is making a difference. However, elected reps no longer have the option to just bitch about bad situations. You may call it co-option, I call it planning the fights you can win. And you win those fights because you have the support of the masses, not just because something is the right thing to do.

As for getting co-opted, squeaky wheels get silenced when given the responsibility to fix the f***ing problem instead of just moaning about it. Personally, I’d rather see Debito grabbing those horns and steering the bull than to see another blog posting which only makes me feel better by pointing out how much crappier many NJ’s lives are than my own.

Ask yourself, do I read Debito’s blog because I really want to help, or just because I want to feel superior to both the poor bastards being taken advantage of and the morally inferior perpetrator of any given infraction of human rights? If you really want to help, then morally, you must begin the process of citizenship today. Otherwise you are just as guilty for inaction as your favourite nemesis. Well, OK, maybe not quite as guilty. Anyhoo, just remember, build a man a fire and you’ll keep him warm for a night. Set a man on fire and you’ll keep him warm for life.

You may now go and wash. With soap. And don’t forget to wash behind the ears.


8 comments on “Tsukuba City Assemblyman Jon Heese Pt II: Why you should run for office in Japan

  • thanks for this-i for one am very interested in jon and what he is doing..

    btw ,is there anyway to get a view of what sorts of things he does on a day to day basis??

    im sure a lot of people reading,dont know what a japanese assemblyman actually does as the japanese i ask certainly dont!

  • Jon – That was great. I am more than happy to be wrong regarding my last post on this topic. You answered my concerns directly which is very rare for politicians!! lol!!

    Debito – With a PH.D. under your belt, you could become a mega senpai in no time flat if you run for office. Go for it!!

  • Mark in Yayoi says:

    Always instructive to see more from Jon Heese — or, indeed, from any foreign-born politician changing Japan for the better, from the inside. I want to run for office myself some day, and pieces like this sure can be inspiring.

    One quick question for Jon: do you speak and understand Japanese perfectly, like a native? I worry about the potential humiliation of not being able to understand the rapid speech of an angry detractor, or being sabotaged by someone using really difficult vocabulary to embarrass me during a speech. Have things like this happened to you, and how did you deal with them?

  • yes,i wondered about that as well-i wondered more about the writing element,as although many nj who have come to japan speak very good japanese,the number who can write very well in japanese is much fewer(and tends to be restricted to those educated here)

    — I shouldn’t worry too much, methinks. There are secretaries to help out with perfecting the written stuff. As for the spoken, I’m listening to Ozawa’s press conference at this moment, and have the feeling that WE NON-NATIVE speakers could give a better, more composed, less rambling speech. And this is the head of the DPJ? What a waste of political power.

  • D.B.Cooper. says:

    I realize I’m out of step with the mutual admiration society that this entry has become but it seems that the `let’s get elected`camp is losing touch with reality.
    The problems that crop up constantly here are inherent in the system. People lured into the system by money,fame,power etc legitimize the system and instead of being part of the solution they become part of the problem.
    I will of course be interested in what great changes the overpaid and condescending Mr. Heese oversees, between explaining government to his adoring constituents and moving bus stops, but I remain skeptical that they will be very radical.

  • For anyone interested in following my activities I have started a blog at http://aishiterutsukuba.jp. I am not an academic so I am not as used to writing as regularly as Debito.

    Cooper-san, the system is designed to prevent radical changes. Would you really want it otherwise? Just ask the Russians how much fun radical change is. Even the East Germans have not had it so easy. And at $10,000 a house, Detroit seems to enjoying radical changes of their own.

    Personally, I hope the system has a mechanism which allows radical change in times of need, but today is not one of them. I’m glad change is hard. Otherwise, anyone could do it.

  • rather interested in hearing how d b cooper plans to make life better in japan for all..
    if he doesnt actually have any ,then i would advise that he refrain from having a pop at people who are actually trying to make things better..

    anyway,@ jon…

    sorry if ive missed it,but is there an aishiterutsukuba blog version in japanese?
    if so could you point us to it?

  • FYI, Hakuba Village in northern Nagano Prefecture just welcomed its first ever non-native neighborhood ku-chou. Details (in nihongo) at


    I went to Hakuba today, and the feedback I got from foreigners and natives alike was positive.

    区長は英国人 外国人多い白馬村和田野区で就任







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