TPR “Last Word” essay on “Why I love Japanese Elections”


Hi Blog. Got inspired on my way down to Tokyo yesterday, and wrote this on the fly for Trans Pacific Radio. I also read it for TPR as part of its news segment (trying my hand at podcasting there for the first time) for July 27, 2007. Have a listen at

Some interviews we did for them also coming up (one due out tomorrow on some crystal balling for the elections), so have a look at their site. Arudou Debito in Tokyo.


The Last Word

Hello Trans Pacific Radio listeners. Arudou Debito from here. Okay, I’m going to give you another one of my outlandish opinions. Wouldja expect anything less from me? Here it comes:

I love Japanese elections.

Yeah, I know, there’s a lot to be sick of. Sound truckery full of meaningless platitudes at high volume. Cookie-cutter candidates in thrall to money politics. And an electorate that never seems to throw the bums out.

But I say it again, I love the stuff.

I admit a natural bias. I was a government major in college, and I always found the science of popular appeal to be fascinating. How can you be a man (usually a man) for all seasons, saying as little as possible as many times as possible, and not alienating any potential votes by tailoring your talks to the audience? Especially in other systems (not enough in Japan, I admit) where the press tags along more, to hold candidates’ feet to the fire whenever there are contradictions in their platform.

But the main reason I love hanging around Japanese elections is because I can vote. I’ve voted four times now in national and local elections, and always love to hang around candidates during the only times they’re out of their bolt holes, and want anything to do with you. I mean when they’re speaking, or out cupping hands with the public.

Witness my sociological experiment:

You can’t see me, but I’m a six-foot white boy, aged 42, who is learning how to wear more colorful clothes as I get older. Anyway, whenever I come onto the scene, the reactions are always indicative of what kind of campaign is being run.

Up in Hokkaido, where I’m from, I’ve watched three candidates speak this election. One from the far-right “Shinpuu”, or “New Wind” party. They don’t like foreigners much, as they are the only party out there this election that even mentions public safety as part of their platform. Their handlers, who pass out pamphlets around the trucks, wouldn’t give me one, even after I asked for one. Within character. Burn in hell.

I also saw Ms Tahara, the fabled Ainu candidate, this morning in her sound truck. She’s running under convicted felon Suzuki Muneo’s splinter party. Her handlers gave me a good wave, but she saw me, she quickly averted her glance, and focused her bows and smiles on people she though would be more worth the extra second or two.

Pretty stupid, really, since even if I couldn’t vote (which I can), I might just have family here which I might influence with a bit of bad-mouthing. Bad-mouthing politicians over booze in this country is a national sport, so she’s obviously not professional enough to avoid alienating people.

Then just before I got on the train to the plane down to Tokyo this morning, there was the Social Democratic Party’s Mr Asano stepping down from his sound truck and catching the tail-end of the morning rush. He’s quite left wing, has a clear and emotive campaign stump, and basically hasn’t got a hope in this election.

Ah, so what. I like underdogs, especially when they are on my side of the fence, and actually happened to vote for him yesterday during absentee balloting. So I went up and told him so.

He turned out to be very friendly, especially after I told him I was on facetime terms with party leader Fukushima Mizuho. But more to my liking was that he even knew about the “Japanese Only” Otaru Onsens Case, and recognized me after that. He then said all the things I wanted to hear without a whiff of irony. Five minutes later out of his busy schedule we had exchanged meishi and seen each other off with waves. Godspeed. Glad I wasted my vote on him.

Anyway, the lesson to be learned here: Elections are as inevitable as taxes, and when they’re not, the country is in trouble. So if you have to learn to live with them, learn how to enjoy them.

One thing I suggest you do is to actually wave at the sound trucks. As a veteran of sound trucks myself, I speak from personal experience when I say we really appreciate it. Somebody is paying attention to us. Even if you can’t vote–or rather, especially if they think you can’t vote, the reaction you get is usually priceless.

‘Cos if they don’t wave back, don’t even deign to treat you like a human being, then let others know. Politicians of all people have gotta learn that foreigners are people too. And that some of them, no matter how they look, have got the vote now.

Listen Now:


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