The French general election looms, as does a round of local
elections in Britain. Japan held local elections on April 22 and showed
us all how campaigning
really ought to be done.
In this country where excruciating politeness and excessive displays
of concern characterise most social interactions and where raising your
in your own apartment to a volume where the neighbours might hear — about
one decibel above a whisper in these uninsulated houses — can mean
ostracism for you and your descendants, it is striking the way that people
feel a need to be as noisy as possible in public spaces. Pachinko parlours,
bosozoku, yanki gangs, the municipal rubbish cart, the bloke who sells
the night ramen or the mochi, the tankers that empty the septic tanks,
any vehicle bigger than a push bike turning left or right, any shop with
a front onto the street, every cafe, and seemingly each individual shelf
in the supermarket is beaming music, jingles or announcements at you.
So it is natural that the local politician should approach noise as if
it were a civic duty.
Election campaigning consists entirely of noise, of which there are two
types — Parked Noise and Mobile Noise.
In both techniques, the candidate travels mob handed. The better off,
better established candidate will have an entourage of beautiful young
male and female. Jokes about catamites are strictly forbidden. Everyone
will wear a sash bearing the candidates name, they may wear a nice suit
or a colourful windcheater, and they will definitely wear white cotton
gloves. Everyone: gloves. What is it with those gloves? Are they scared
of some kind of contamination from the voters?Parked Noise involves a
bus or lorry or van or car fitted with a speaker system that could bring
aircraft. The parking is carried out in front of a department store or
railway station or other well-peopled location. The candidate will grasp
a dramatic cluster of microphones that are taped together even if he
or she has only one amplifier and will orate passionately to an invariably
empty pavement. Passersby will put their heads down and leg it, ignoring
the outstretched hands of the flunkies. When the candidate has finished
his speech his entourage will clap politely and then the shebang will
way for the next party noise machine.
Mobile Noise is similar but involves moving — usually at the weekend
when a great many people are at home relaxing. The various candidates
each seem to pick on the same neighbourhood at the same time competing
each other for your attention. As they patrol and broadcast you begin
to feel like a fugitive, or perhaps a wrecked sailor floating in the
as the sharks circle in on you. However, these sharks are not likely
bite off your nethers. They may leap unexpectedly out of the water and
out your eardrums with a megaphone.
Several years ago a candidate tried to combine both the mobile and the
parked techniques right outside my house. We then lived in a small place,
one of a nest of four tiny houses with shared front space. The houses
were on a very quiet residential street a long way from any main road.
of four small houses facing each other and therefore making a sort of
courtyard that would trap and amplify the noise very efficiently was
much temptation for our politico who stopped and without warning let
go a full broadside at a range of about five metres. I jumped and spilled
tea on myself. My infant daughter, sleeping in the next room burst into
Incensed, I picked up the crying child and headed for the front door.
I intended to go outside and stand in front of the idiots and show them
bawling baby girl in the hopes of making them go away and perhaps shame
them into giving up this ridiculous habit of noise once and for all.
My wife physically restrained me at the front door and when I saw that
causing a diplomatic incident would likely cause a domestic one too,
I gave up.
This year for the first time I have actually been listening to the campaigners
that cruise around our neighbourhood, trying to decipher who they are
and what they might stand for.
This is how it goes: "This is Taro Aho. Arigato gozaimasu. Thank
you very much. This is Aho. Taro Aho [etc]. Issho kenmei ganbarimasu.
going to try very hard to do my very best. This is [etc.] Yoroshiku onegaitashimasu.
Please give me your regards. This is [etc, ad nauseam]"
And that's about it. How's that for a political message? All the candidates
I heard were saying the exact same thing with only the candidates name
Now, I know that in Japan it is considered polite to seek common ground
with other people in order to establish group harmony, but seeking non-controversial
consensus with your political opponents the day before an election seems
to be missing the point of parliamentary democracy. How does the Japanese
voter decide who to vote for?
Poster for the Japan Communist Party
Could it be the frequency with which they have heard the name of the
candidate? The sheer volume of transmission? The energy of the delivery?
I was coming back from a Saturday trip to the library and the cake shop
with my daughter and her friend when one of these cars bore down on us.
The middle-aged lady in the back seat in her mother-Goth makeup and white
gloves almost toppled out the window of her car waving and smiling at
us. Like so many great displays of effort in Japan it was futile. Effort
isn’t real effort in Japan unless it is heroic waste of time. The
object of her efforts were three non-voters. I am conspicuously not Japanese,
and even though I have lived here married to a Japanese citizen for nearly
20 years, am a property owner, have always worked and paid my taxes, I
am not eligible to vote. My daughter and her pal are both conspicuously
8 years old and a whole 12 years away from voting age. Perhaps the middle-aged
lady thought my daughter might grow up dreaming of the day she could at
last commit an X to paper next to that nice old lady’s name. Perhaps
she thought that I might know a voter and tell him or her of the lady’s
You can imagine the reaction of anyone hearing my account.
Leaning out of the window, you say? Waving energetically, was she? At three
non-voters, was it? Utterly futile expenditure of energy, you say? Well
she’s got my vote. What did you say her name was?”
Oops, I forgot that bit.
Of course, most Japanese voters don't decide who to vote for. They stay
home and watch TV, go shopping or cleave to a baseball game, and good
for them. I wouldn't vote for anyone who thinks that noising up the neighbourhood
on a Sunday afternoon qualifies them for public office.
I have one acquaintance who has admitted getting into the polling boothon
more then one occasion only to find she had no idea of who the candidates
were or what they represented. She returns a blank ballot when this happens.
I firmly believe
that candidates here must be elected according to the number of brothers,
sisters and cousins they have, because only family members feel any
obligation to go out and vote — perhaps just to stop the candidate
using the megaphone in the living room.