How to Talk About Politics in Japanese
By Matthew Coslett
On December 19, 2016
Last month was a staggering month in American politics. Despite my not being an American, everyone at my specialist school seemed to want to know my opinions on the election. Did Clinton deserve to win? Would Trump be good for Japan? What did all this mean for the world?
Honestly, I found it a little difficult to talk about all the topics that Trump’s surprise win brought up at first. A lot of the words that you need to talk about politics aren’t the types of words that come up in most textbooks. However, these are exactly the kind of vocabulary that learners should master. After all, politics affects things on a global scale.
Regardless of your views it’s worth learning how to talk about politics as there are a lot of useful words and kanji. When discussing politics, the most important kanji to learn is the 政 kanji which is found in most political words.
Some of the common words that include this kanji include the terms 政治 (politics), 政府 (the government), 政見 (political opinions) and for talking about a 政党 (political party). Even trickier words such as talking about 密室政治 (behind-the-scenes political maneuvering) still include the 政 kanji.
After this, the words become a little trickier. Luckily a lot of Japanese words have similar concepts to the English words. The kanji for the left and right-wing that you see in the dictionary, 左派 and 右派 respectively, or what’s more commonly spoken, 右翼 and右翼, are made up of the kanji for left/right and the character for “faction”, or “wing”.
While these are useful words for talking about politics generally, this election also brought up a lot of unique topics that are worth learning how to express. I found myself mulling over 民主主義 (democracy) and how the 選出 (election results) are binding.
I also learned the words that talk about which party is the 与党 (ruling party) and how the Democrats have become the 野党 (opposition party). This also turned up the word for taking a 落選 (loss in an election).
Of course, political opposition may not matter with the amount of power that the Republicans hold. A conversation about the power of the Republican-ruled senate lead to the tricky word for a 長期一党支配 (one-party country) coming up for the first time in conversation.
Many Japanese people also want to discuss some of the new president’s more controversial policies, and these topics introduced a lot of new words that I hadn’t heard before. These included words for the Muslim registration plan:イスラム教徒登録論, his Mexico wall plan: 国境の壁, and the dissolution of the TPP trade agreement: TPP 離脱.
Even beginner to intermediate learners can gain something from talking about politics. My friends told me that the recent visit by Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to America to have a semi-formal meeting with President Elect Trump was a great opportunity to get the two words for political leaders cemented into their brains: 大統領 for President and 首相 for Prime Minister.
So whether you are a Republican a Democrat or neither, one thing is for certain: there’s plenty to talk about! These words will hopefully give you a good start.