Raw Japan

Slices of Japanese business, politics and life

Watching the giants fall

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Some elections count more than others, and never more than when a longstanding dominant party is sent packing. I’ve been lucky enough to witness turning points in four countries on two continents.

France, India, Italy, now Japan — all have rejected one-party dominance for the rough and tumble of alternating majorities. In each case, I was fortunate to behold history.

JAPAN-ELECTION/Japan’s election on Sunday marked the end of an era that started not long after World War Two and saw Japan rise from the ashes of defeat to a global economic power. Japan’s revival took root in an iron triangle locking the Liberal Democratic Party, bureaucrats and Japanese industry.

Now the LDP is tasting the same bitter fruit as paramount parties in other countries whose voters decided a few decades in power for one party were enough. The circumstances in each country were different, but the democratic impulse was similar and the result much the same.

Seven election words to watch for

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Here is a quick tutorial on seven words you might find helpful to follow the Japanese election on Sunday.

どぶ板選挙 (Dobuita Senkyo) means a grassroots election campaign.  The term became popular to illustrate how veteran lawmakers from the governing Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), struggling in the campaign and worried about losing their previously safe seats, have been running around in their constituency to meet as many voters in person as possible. ”Dobuita” means wooden boards laid across a ditch to cover and “senkyo” means election. So the term suggests that candidates visit voters door-to-door, walking on the “dobuita” to enter homes. But the Japanese election law forbids candidates to visit individual houses during the official campaign period.

Net noodle-slinging heats up before election

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“Be nice to kids too,” shouts a kid with his hand raised.

“OK, OK. Here, I’ll give you 26,000 yen worth of toppings,” responds the ramen chef who looks suspiciously like Japan’s opposition Democratic Party leader Yukio Hatoyama, as he sprinkles more toppings on a bowl of noodles.

With Japan’s long-ruling Liberal Democratic Party at risk of losing power for only the second time in more than a half-century in an election on Sunday, the party is stepping up its campaign against the opposition with a new series of Internet attack ads – a rarity in a country that has leaned towards the polite and boring in election tactics.

Aso flags LDP conservativism

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To some people a national flag is little more than a piece of cloth, while to others it is a sacred symbol that embodies a country’s ideals. It was the latter that Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso apparently tried to score some easy points with this week in the run-up to the Aug. 30 election that voter surveys show his Liberal Democratic Party party is likely to lose.

In a televised debate, Aso accused the main opposition Democratic Party of Japan of defacing the national flag, commonly known locally as the Hinomaru or “sun circle”,  at a gathering for one of its candidates in southern Japan this month.

Ruling party takes off gloves, irking opposition

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Japan’s conservative ruling party,  torn  by internal feuds and facing a possible loss in an Aug. 30 poll, is making attacks on the opposition Democratic Party of a sort rare in a country where many have had an allergy to Western-style negative campaigns.

The strategy — portraying the novice Democrats as weak on security and profligate on spending –  prompted a harsh reply from the opposition,  who polls show have their best-ever chance of defeating unpopular Prime Minister Taro Aso’s Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) in the election,  ending its more than half a century of nearly unbroken rule.

Japan’s election allergy on the Internet

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Tech-savvy Japan is home to many high-tech companies and more than 70 percent of its people use the Internet. But politics on the Web falls far behind.

Both politicians and voters can be found online. Lawmakers have their own blogs and channels on sites such as niconico and youtube, and political parties such as the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and main opposition Democratic Party of Japan have websites.  A couple of politicians are even tweeting on ”Twitter“.

Unpopular PM to voters: “No-one’s perfect”

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For the crowd waiting for Prime Minister Taro Aso to show up for a campaign speech in Ome on the western edge of Tokyo, it was a bit like watching the warm-up acts before the main attraction.

Aso picked ruling party candidate Akinobu Nomura’s home district of Ome  to kick off a campaign for the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly election, the results of which are likely to affect the unpopular 68-year-old premier’s chances of keeping his own job ahead of a nationwide poll expected next month.

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