Raw Japan

Slices of Japanese business, politics and life

Punching puppets offer election action

August 25, 2009

Attack advertising is in its infancy and Japanese election debates are staid affairs between men in suits who take their turns to speak and don’t get angry.

finger-puppet-7The election on Sunday is a battle between the heavyweight LDP and the up-and-coming Democrats, who have a big lead in the polls, but the only big punches you’ll see thrown are among tiny finger dolls on a puppet stage.

Japan prefers consensus in its politics and has been ruled by the same party for most of the last  half-century, so what can a puppeteer do to appear topical without boring his audience?

Mitsuaki Tsuyuki at the “Lucky Laugh Theatre” in Tokyo has turned to Punch and Judy, reducing Prime Minister Taro Aso and opposition leader Yukio Hatoyama to a couple of bat-swinging midgets a few inches tall.

It seems to be working, as puppet show audiences warm to the election.

“The leaders are really fighting fiercely at this point in time… both here and there,” 63-year-old Sayako Suzuki, who brought her friend to the 500 yen ($5) show.

Others said they agreed the puppet theatrics were pretty realistic, in a country where scandals have robbed politicians of respect.

finger-puppet-3“They are actually scrambling for the chairs in the parliament like the puppets fight for a toy chair here,” said 61-year-old businessman Toru Yahagi after he watched the show.

Tsuyuki has handcrafted five politicians – starting from popular former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi five years ago.

He had not planned to make so many but political life can be stranger than fiction as Japan has run through a string of leaders.

“I first handcrafted Koizumi and was going to add new ones whenever new Premiers came along. But they replaced their leader every year, and I got tired of making new ones,” he told me.

“I may quit adding to my collection.”

Photo credit: REUTERS/Hyun Oh

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