What Do Japanese People Think About Politics?
By Meagan Finlay
On November 11, 2016
With the recent drama that was the United States presidential election, the world has seen with eyes wide-open what Americans think politically. But whatever the reasons may be for a Trump President-elect, many are wondering how the media, polls and prediction sites could have got it so wrong.
Living in Japan, it got me thinking: how do people here feel about politics? About politicians? I took to the streets of Osaka to ask those questions. This is by no means an in-depth poll, but I managed to talk to about 25 people between the ages of 18 and 40. Here’s what they had to say.
Have you ever voted?
While most people I talked to have voted before – most recently in July’s Diet election – some hadn’t voted in years, or ever. I asked one man in his 30s why he hadn’t voted in the past five years and he said that a lot of the elections are for government positions that he feels are “too separated” from him and the problems he faces daily;
If it were an election for mayor or city commission, I think then I would go.
Another trend I noticed was that a lot of 19-year-olds were caught in the middle of a turbulent new era for voters: the lowering of the voting age from 20 to 18. All of the 19-year-olds I spoke with felt unprepared to vote so, despite their newfound right, many abstained in the last election.
However, a young girl who had just turned 18 told me:
I haven’t voted yet because I hadn’t turned 18 until after the election. But I think it’s important for me to be aware and informed since I now have the ability to vote.
These young people seem to be taking their new responsibility seriously, but don’t feel an urgent need to rush to the polls any time soon.
What do you look for in a political candidate?
I received a lot of answers basically adding up to one common picture: someone who cares about Japan, someone who will be transparent with finances, and someone who will look out for welfare systems like pensions.
With a recent string of politicians misusing public funds – scandals like that of ex-Tokyo governor Masuzoe (which ended in his resignation) and a local city commission pocketing some of the municipal budget both come to mind – Japanese people feel burned by politicians they’re supposed to trust with their tax money.
One young man in college said he doesn’t care about politicians because he feels that they don’t care about him.
When he goes to the polls, he basically goes in to vote for whomever his parents tell him to.
This is a common sentiment parroted throughout news programs and on college campuses. According to exit polls after the July Diet election, 40% of Japanese teens voted for the current ruling party.
What does this mean? This doesn’t reflect an active support of the current political party of system but rather a “don’t rock the boat” kind of attitude. This is the only political party they’ve known, and as Japanese culture tends to dictate, they naturally strive to maintain a status quo.
Do you talk about politics with your friends? Why or why not?
Almost no one talks about politics with friends. When I asked why they don’t, one woman in her late 20s stated:
A lot of my friends hold different opinions from me, so it would turn into a fight and I don’t want that.
One man in his early 30s said that he did talk with friends about it sometimes;
We don’t really mean to. We’re usually drinking and it just comes up like, ‘Oh, things are getting messy up in Tokyo, huh?’ But neither of us are experts so we either end up just parroting what we heard on the news or having the conversation just fizzle out.
One trend I noticed that differed from Americans is how Japanese voters make their decisions. A lot of the people I talked to spoke in very broad terms about social issues. Americans, on the other hand, tend to choose very specific issues close to their hearts and base who gets their vote on those issues.
While Japanese people tended to say things like, “Politicians should care about Japan’s future,” Americans would say something like, “I vote for whoever is pro-environment.” This really illustrates Japan’s tendency towards group-consciousness, don’t you think?