Raw Japan

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Youth appeal a bonus for Japan Democrats?

July 29, 2009

In the rural prefecture of Fukushima, north of Tokyo, you can’t help but notice it: The opposition Democrats are quite simply younger than their ruling Liberal Democratic Party counterparts.

The youngest member of the Fukushima prefectural assembly, Tomo Honda, is a 34-year-old Democrat. On a visit to the local LDP headquarters, though, I failed to spot anyone whose hair was not grey.

“I support them because they have a lot of young people,” 41-year-old real estate agent and Democratic Party fan Hideyuki Miura told me outside Fukushima city station last week. “They listen to what young people have to say.”

The Democrats’ policies to support parents, such as with monthly cash handouts of 26,000 per child for those with young kids, are a factor for some voters in next month’s election. But they won’t necessarily alienate Japan’s growing ranks of older people, some of whom are also eager to see a new direction.

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“I’ve pretty much decided on the Democrats,” said Tamotsu Ishii, 60, who is unemployed. “They are new and fresh,” he added, admitting nevertheless that he was uneasing about whether the inexperienced opposition party could actually govern.

Not that the LDP has given up. Youth has not traditionally been an advantage in Japanese politics.

Fukushima’s LDP Secretary-General Kenji Saito, 65, told me he expected to maintain the party’s three seats in the prefecture to the Democrats’ two.  The situation was worse at the time of the 2005 election, he said, because rural people felt former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s reforms had made them poorer.

Fukushima residents are concerned about farming issues, and the mountainous prefecture needs more of the road-building projects the Democrats criticise as wasteful, he said. Boosting the number of babies comes further down his list.

“Policies to boost the birth rate are all very well,” he told me. “But what about those who don’t have children? It’s going to be a big tax hit for them.”

Photo credit: REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

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