Monday, November 7, 2011

Politics: Visible & Invisible

My first introduction to Japan outside of video games and language classes was politics. When I decided to start down the path of Japanese Studies, I took the intro class offered at my first university, University of Washington. The intro course there was taught by a professor who specialized in Japanese politics, so not only did we get the usual Meiji period, occupation period, 90s bubble economy lectures, but we also talked a great deal about Japan's political parties.

The two main parties nowdadays are the Liberal Democratic Party (jimintou / LDP) and the Democratic Party of Japan (minshutou / DPJ). Since the American occupation, the LDP had been the majority almost all the time until the general election in 2009, when the DPJ took power, forming a coalition with a couple other minor parties. The only other party with a significant amount of seats is the New Komeito Party (koumeitou / NKP), a party with close ties to the Souka Gakkai buddhist group.

While here in Japan, although there have been election cars and candidates giving speeches on street corners, I didn't hear much talk at all of politics like there is in the United States. Politics just doesn't seem to come up in conversation here, although it is likely a difficult topic to bring up. The only time I've seen national politics in action is speeches and voting. When my host parents voted, they brought me along, and although I couldn't vote obviously, I was allowed to go in and observe. Unfortunately, I couldn't take any pictures inside.

An election car, you can see the person inside reading from a script over the loudspeakers

The other time I saw politics in action was in the middle school I'm assisting at. I biked to school one day, and after I parked my bike and started walking to the entrance, I noticed kids wearing sashes lining the student entrances asking for others to vote for them. A couple of them came up and shook my hand and asked for my vote, though it was more to be funny, because teachers aren't allowed to vote in student elections. There were also posters put up with students names in the hall, much like the candidate posters you can find around the city during election season. A couple of times during lunch, the student candidates would make speeches over the loudspeaker while everyone listened in their classes. Also, at the first year morning meeting, all the first year candidates gave short speeches. I regrettably missed the election itself (there was another event at the same time), but got to see the assembly announcing those elected.

Students campaigning outside
Student campaign posters inside the school

First year students in the election give speeches to other first years

Election results at the weekly morning assembly

So, although you can easily find politicans making speeches and calls to vote during election time, both in school elections and in local ones (the visible side), much of the issues remain undiscussed among people outside of the voting booth (the invisible side).

(Images of school elections taken by myself)
(New Komeito, Democratic Party of Japan, Liberal Democratic Party logos are copyright of their respective parties, and are reused here for descriptive purposes at low resolution under the Fair use clause of copyright law)

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