text and photo by Grigoris A. Miliaresis
For anyone who, like me, has lived through the Greek election campaigns of the 1970’s and the 1980s, the era of Konstantinos Karamanlis and Andreas Papandreou, the huge rallies in Syntagma Square, the thousands of plastic flags and the millions of giant-sized posters all over the country, the pre-election period in Japan looks almost unnatural: if we put aside the candidates’ vans roaming the streets and momentarily disturbing the peace with their loudspeakers and their brief stops for a speech in front of the stations-local centers, it is very possible that the occasional visitor might not even understand that the country is going to elections. And even if they do, they probably won’t understand the intricacies of the system leading to Japan’s, Britain-inspired, two-tier Diet.
Like almost all things in Japan, the political system was created during the times of the great reformer, the Emperor Meiji; it was based on Western models but in the almost one and a half century that followed, it was modified dozens of time to reflect society’s transformations, the population shift from rural areas to the cities and the changes effected by international politics. At the same time, and as regards to the election campaigns, the legislators have being trying hard to achieve a balance between big and small parties, rich and less rich candidates and information and propaganda: limited time on television, ban (until this year) on Internet campaigning, total distancing of the underage (i.e. under 20 year olds) from any political activity, billposting of very small posters and in very specific spots etc.
Human nature being what it is, all these haven’t been as efficient as their engineers would have wished: the system of voting and apportionment of parliament seats is incredibly complicated, citizens are asked the moment they come of age to display political will and maturity without having being trained for that, the Japanese politics’ scene is among the most corrupt in the developed world (the average time in office of a Japanese prime-minister is about a year), the most popular politicians are often the most controversial (ex-Tokyo governor Ishihara Shintaro, Osaka mayor Hashimoto Toru and “shadow shogun” Ozawa Ichiro are telling examples) while the fact alone that the country is being run for more than half a century by the same party is strongly indicative of serious political deficits; that Japan is still functioning as effectively as it does, is probably proof that the Japanese simply ignore their politicians and do what they know must be done.
Grigoris A. Miliaresis is a journalist and translator. He has worked for many newspapers, magazines and publishing houses and specializes in the Internet, the martial arts and Japan where he has been living for the last few years.