Electoral dysfunction leaves Japan’s voters feeling impotent


What starts with a tingle of excitement, is followed by a surge of activity, frantic yelling and empty promises, but is quickly spent, leaving you feeling just as empty and unfulfilled as before? Answer: a Japanese election.

While it took some Americans well into the second term of President Barack Obama’s “change you can believe in” presidency to realize that voting may be a waste of time, decades of rule by an unchanging coven of bureaucrats and Liberal Democratic Party parliamentarians have given the Japanese more time to become accustomed to the impotence of their own democratic processes.

Still, you would be hard-pressed to identify a more flaccid poll than the one that will reach a predictable climax on Sunday. Unleashed abruptly after some desultory denials-as-foreplay, the Nov. 21 dissolution of the Diet was so sudden that it will apparently disenfranchise the crews of long-distance Japanese fishing boats that had already left port when faxable ballots were made available. Of course, even if they had received them, how could the nation’s piscators know how to vote, out there on the empty sea with nary a candidate driving by in a sound truck screaming their name and party affiliation?

But then everyone seems mystified by this election, except possibly the man who called it, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Opposition parties are in disarray and are not expected to achieve politically meaningful gains. There being no open signs of dissent within Abe’s own party that need quashing, the perfectly reasonable question on many lips is, “Who is this election being fought against?”

The most plausible answer seems to be the Ministry of Finance and others in the bureaucracy who reportedly oppose Abe’s efforts to delay a consumption tax increase scheduled for 2015. If that is the case, it could well prove a high-water mark of pointlessness even for Japan: an election campaign waged against the unelected. So pull up a microscope and research this slab of whale meat while I explain how pachinko is not gambling. Just don’t think too much, because in the land of the surreal, mere realists just go insane.

When your nation’s version of the second-worst form of government requires candidates to drive around in trucks screaming their name because the law won’t let them do anything else, how can you not go insane? The only alternative is to hunker down and try to ignore the brief intrusion of yet another source of bad noise inflicted on Japanese people by their shepherd state.

As you might expect from a bothersome and demonstrably futile exercise of civic rights, voters are expected to turn out in record-low numbers. Yet the fact that most intelligent people are rightfully looking around in bewilderment is not a major concern for Abe. He and his technocratic cohorts seem to have figured out that voter disillusionment works in favor of conservatives, who just have to mobilize their status-quo-loving base to win. That is not hard in Japan, where the votes of people old enough to still be basking in the almost imperceptible afterglow of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics are prevalent in rural areas, leveraged through Supreme Court-certified unconstitutionalish (but not unconstitutional!) malapportionment that reliably delivers conservative votes in exchange for beautiful, beautiful continuity and perhaps a new community center (now with Western-style toilets!).

“Stability … is Hope” (“Antei wa, kibō desu“): That’s the vaguely Orwellian slogan of the conservative Komeito, Abe’s sometime-political allies. You can see how this simple message holds a certain appeal for those whose actuarial hope horizons don’t extend beyond the next decade, and who may want nothing new from the 21st century other than perhaps a robotic exoskeleton for the caregiver to help lift you or your even older parent out of bed. To young people dreaming of disruptive innovation or meaningful social change, however, it may come across as an exhortation to just give up.

Indeed, there doesn’t seem to be much in this election for the young or even middle-aged. Should we pay more taxes now or have a GDP-to-national-debt ratio resembling one of those science graphics where they put Earth next to Jupiter? You can have both! If Abe wins a suitable mandate from the status-quo crowd, he can presumably get on with the important task of making it easier for companies to hire people like you — by, uh, making it easier to fire people like you. Kind of a double-edged sword for people who like job security (said the tenured professor), but don’t worry, there will probably be plenty of opportunities to earn pocket money by lining up at supermarkets rumored to have butter.

I originally planned to make this column educational and write about how the now-dissolved House of Representatives has 475 seats, 295 filled from single-seat constituencies and 180 from regional proportional districts — that sort of thing. These latter districts ensure that minority parties get a few bums on Diet seats, yet also tend to reward party affiliation and name recognition over substance, since when presented with a long list of candidates, most voters will just choose the party they like or the name they recognize.

Name recognition is about the only thing the electoral laws will let you compete over anyway, so if a video of you winning a hot-dog eating contest gets 10 million views on YouTube, you may well have a political future in Japan. Joking aside, a religious group has reportedly fielded an unknown candidate named Shimomura in the same district as education minister Hakubun Shimomura, leading to speculation that the group is trying to unseat the minister by invalidating ballots that fail to specify which Shimomura they were intending to vote for. Par for the course in a system concerned primarily with the appearance of elections, not their substance.

I was also going to expound on the even-more-vacuous polls that will be held contemporaneously to confirm the retention of the five Supreme Court justices appointed since Abe’s landslide victory in 2012. Of course, nobody knows who these people are, so many voters leave these ballots blank. Asked to rule in the past on what these blank ballots mean, the Supreme Court declared that they should be treated the same as “yes” votes, in favor of retention. It is, therefore, a complete certainty that no justice will ever fail to be reappointed.

But let’s face it: You don’t care, do you? Like everyone else, you just want it to end, the stupid stupidity of the yelling and the white gloves and the comical Ruritarian sashes bearing the names of the candidates — sashes they can only wear in the 12 days immediately before the election because otherwise voters might know who they are.

You probably already know that it is the quest for fairness that drives all this — that limits candidates to just one or two sound cars, one campaign speech, a few minutes of public-access time on NHK and a fixed number of posters of a mandated size in designated places. Fairness also dictates how much candidates can spend on lunch boxes for their supporters. And it is because of the quest for fairness that canvassing voters directly is prohibited, along with doing anything that makes it possible to connect with the people on subjects such as policy or law-making. As described by professor Dan Rosen in a recent article, “The guiding principle is: everything is forbidden, except that which is allowed.” This was demonstrated when the Kanazawa Bar Association was told by electoral authorities to cancel an street demonstration against the state secrets act planned for Dec. 10. Why? It might have violated electoral laws. Talk about political issues during an election? Preposterous!

With last year’s Upper House election fresh in the memory, you are probably also aware that “allowed” finally includes use of the Internet and social media for campaigning, though subject to counterintuitive restrictions that are backed by criminal penalties. (For example, candidates and parties can use email to distribute campaign information but members of the general public cannot.) Given that the decades-old restrictions described above remain in place, it is like being allowed to have sat-nav on your ox cart but only being allowed to use a single buggy whip.

But you don’t want to know about this either, do you?

The desire to protect your sanity by looking away from the Cthulhian horror of Japan’s electoral system is perfectly understandable. That’s fine, because the abyss of Japanese governance doesn’t want you staring into it either, so a system that discourages thought or debate makes sense for everyone.

Soon, very soon, it will be over and the be-toupeed ojisan will herd back into the sweet muffling embrace of the Diet building, and democracy will be safely back in the hands of unaccountable bureaucrats who are doubtless already designing the latest range of cartoon mascots to address the problem of voter apathy.

Besides, in this election there is nothing to debate anyway: Abe will win, declare he has a popular mandate and charge ahead with using the Bank of Japan’s magical time machine to finance the revival of Japan’s glorious past, filled with Olympic stadiums and shiny new levitating trains. With a cheap yen, the cult of monozukuri (making stuff) will prevail, and even if most Japanese people can no longer afford them, the world will be full of people waiting to buy a slightly improved Panasonic plasma TV or Sony’s latest effort to revitalize the Walkman (“Listen to your favorite tunes while kickboxing!”).

You may instinctively suspect that, just like the rest of life, quantitative easing and deficit financing are time machines that only go one way, and it isn’t backward. If this is proved true, it will almost certainly be a truth revealed in the form of a massive, utterly predictable fiscal crisis that will render future elections even more frenzied and pointless.

I can’t help wondering if that isn’t what a lot of people in Japan secretly want — and not just the hedge-fund managers smugly predicting the nation’s economic collapse on MSNBC and other people who enjoy saying “I told you so.” I mean thinking people who are so disillusioned that they see crisis as the only way to achieve meaningful change, and policymakers who will be able to do what it takes despite the pain and without any attendant responsibility because, hey — CRISIS!

If you think about it, though, responsibility is the bedrock of democracy. And though it may be the second-worst form of government, the alternative is demonstrably worse.

Like it or not, final responsibility in a democracy lies with you. So if you can, ignore jaded cynics like me and make the effort to go out and vote. If enough people participate, maybe — just maybe — it might finally stop being pointless.

Colin P.A. Jones is a professor at Doshisha Law School in Kyoto. Law of the Land appears in print on the second Thursday Community Page of every month. Comments: community@japantimes.co.jp

  • Japanese Bull Fighter

    I wonder if there is any other country other than Japan where voters are told to take the advice of a foreign national writing in a foreign language? I wonder if there is a Japanese language newspaper in the United States where I can write opinion pieces in Japanese advising Americans on their electoral system and how they should vote?

    • JusenkyoGuide

      You honestly don’t think that just about every other single country media DOESN’T comment on US elections?

      • Japanese Bull Fighter

        From what I have seen in Britain and in Japanese language publications and news reports in Japan, the media (1) basically reports rather than comments; (2) what it reports is basically what the US media itself is saying; (3) I’ve not seen or heard either British or Japanese media advising Americans in either Britain or Japan to vote let alone suggesting for whom they should vote.

      • JusenkyoGuide

        You might want to go look at editorials… They do that. A lot. Amazingly enough, this is an opinion piece in the opinion section of the paper.

      • Japanese Bull Fighter

        Japanese language editorials? I suppose it is possible. But, I wonder what would be the purpose of a Japanese language editorial telling Americans to vote let alone telling them who or which party to vote for. I would rather doubt that there are all that many Americans who read Japanese language editorials when they are tying to make up their minds about who to vote for. Indeed, I doubt that there would be all that many who would read British newspaper editorials for the same reason. Do you have some examples?

      • JusenkyoGuide

        http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/2012/11/how-many-uk-titles-have-endorsed-romney-none First thing that popped up on Google. As for reach, who knows. Obviously there are Japanese readers of The Japan Times, for whatever reason. There are also obviously nationalized Japanese who might still prefer to read in English, and o course there are those like me whose SO is Japanese, and will be voting and who discusses politics with the non-Japanese. Sure, I can’t vote (here) but there is no reason why someone who is living in Japan (and as a professor of law is more knowledgeable about Japanese law than the average person, Japanese or non) cannot espouse an opinion on the subject or encourage one way or another.

      • Steve Jackman

        Americans and Britons regularly comment on politics and domestic issues of each others countries. In fact, Barak Obama even went to the UK before being elected President, where he engaged with the British people on all matters of American issues. We happen to live in a global world, where what happens in one country has effects around the world. I’m afraid, your comments only expose your own narrow world view.

    • Shiki Byakko

      I don’t know if you knew this, but Japan Times is actually Japanese (shock).
      The CEO is Toshiaki Ogasawara and their office is in Tokyo.

      Also Colin P.A. Jones lives in japan, he works at the Doshisha Law School in Kyoto.

      English publication =/= Foreign publication. Most Japanese may not speak english, but that doesn’t mean that ALL Japanese do not speak or understand english.

      In the US there are not only publications on a language other than English that talk about politics, but even TV stations. ¿Ever watched Univision?.

      • Japanese Bull Fighter

        Yes, I know that the Japan Times is owned by Nifco, a Japanese company that makes plastic bits for the automobile industry. Yes, I know that Colin P. A. Jones lives in Japan. I know where he works. I too live in Japan. Unlike Jones, I am a Japanese citizen. Yes, I know there are foreign language media in the US. I grew up in the Chicago area. The first radio station I worked for is now Spanish language. I lived in California where Spanish radio and television was common even in the 70s. BUT, a very large fraction of the audience for Spanish media in the US is made up of citizens who can vote. There are relatively few Japanese citizens who have English as their first language. The JT claims a readership (not circulation which is much lower) of something over 200,000. It asserts that about half of its readership is Japanese. Let’s call it 110,000 Japanese readers. That’s 0.08 percent of the Japanese population.

      • Steve Jackman

        Do you not see the fallacy in our own argument, Japanese Bull Fighter? Since you are an English speaking Japanese citizen, you yourself fall in the 0.08 percent of the Japanese population, who you deem to be unimportant and inconsequential.

      • Shiki Byakko

        Yes, it is a small number, but so what?. Are you trying to say that you are no allowed to have a political opinion and talk about it publicly if your readership is small?

        And congratulations you are a Japanese citizen, it changes nothing, even non Japanese citizens have opinions too, even if they cannot vote themselves

      • Japanese Bull Fighter

        I don’t know if you knew this, but Toshiaki Ogasawara got stiffed 100 million yen for dodging taxes a couple of years ago. Search on his name plus tax evasion for details. This was written up in the JT among other venues.

      • Shiki Byakko

        And I don’t know if you knew this, but you just made an Ignoratio elenchi. I don’t even understand what are you trying to say anymore, probably nothing, you just want to be right even when it makes no sense at all.

        What does the tax related problems of the CEO of Japan Times has to do with anything is beyond my grasp.

      • Japanese Bull Fighter

        Your posting asked whether I knew who owned the JT. I wanted to show that I had in fact researched this issue, perhaps in greater depth than you had.

      • Shiki Byakko

        (ーー;) Why do I get the impression you are kind of obsessed with this site.

      • Steve Jackman

        I think I understand why Japanese Bull Fighter and a handful of other posters here are so obsessed with this site.

        There is a void in the other Japanese media, where Japanese journalists have learned to self-censor themselves and not criticize many of the negative aspects of Japan. This is because of the way journalists are intimidated, blacklisted, coerced, ostracized, bullied and threatened with physical violence by nationalists and conservatives in Japan, if they dare to write anything critical about the country.

        Luckily, The Japan Times fills this void, since it is blessed with having owners and contributors who are not so easily intimidated, and who do not go along with those who are always attempting to hide the truth. They have the courage to offer a more objective and balanced view of how things really are on the ground in Japan. This is something that extreme elements in Japan clearly hate, hence their obsession with trying to discredit this newspaper and anyone associated with it. I should add that The JT is not their only target, since they also routinely go after CNN, BBC, The New York Times and The Washington Post.

      • Shiki Byakko

        Well, let’s not go to the other side either. The Japan Times has a very clear bias, and I’m not saying that’s something bad, but saying that it is balanced and objective is just not really correct.

        Either way, it doesn’t really even matter, this was an opinion post, it is OBVIOUSLY biased, because it is an opinion, and that’s ok. The main stream media always tries to play safe anywhere in the world, but saying that nationalists are the only ones with voice is kind of not true either. As far as I know most people in japan do not associate or even like the nationalists rhetoric, in part because Yakusa also play to be nationalists to commit crimes, which is also said to be a conspiracy against nationalist in their front.

        Let’s stop the conspiracy, the overblown rhetoric, and lets focus on the CONTENT and ARGUMENTS just for once, ok?

      • Steve Jackman

        Does the name Joe McCarthy mean anything to you?

      • zer0_0zor0

        There is a tie-up with the New York Times, I believe.

        There would also appear to be a number of foreign intelligence officers contributing articles to the JT, like most English language media outlets outside the US.

        When it comes to elections, where is the line on interference in domestic politics? The US Constitution has a clause about sedition, I believe.

        Mind you, in this case I agree with the author, by and large, that electoral politics in Japan has dysfunctional aspects, and that attention needs to be brought to those aspects so that the system can be improved.

    • samarkand

      God forbid that a long-term resident of Japan should have any thoughts on what happens in the country where he lives. God forbid that an American, whose own country has a security agreement that compels it to militarily come to Japan’s defense in the event of an attack, should have any opinions on what happens in Japan. God forbid that any of us should have a broad perspective on the world — an increasingly interdependent one where, whether it’s the economy, militarism, or climate change, what happens in one country tends to affect everyone else.

      • Japanese Bull Fighter

        He’s welcome to his opinions just like any other guy at the bar. But, his column is allegedly about law in Japan. He has written some good articles on law. He should stick to that subject. If I want to hear opinions, I can go out drinking. I don’t get a solid analysis of legal issues that way.

      • Steve Jackman

        Japanese Bull Fighter, just because you prefer to stay ignorant, does not mean that your view is shared by thousands of other Japan Times readers, including myself. Why are you always so keen on muzzling opinions of other long term foreign residents of Japan, like you recently tried to do with Jeff Kingston, and now you’re turning your guns towards Colin Jones?

      • Japanese Bull Fighter

        Muzzling? If anything my comments give them loads of free publicity.

      • Steve Jackman

        Perhaps, you have an over inflated sense of self-worth?

      • Japanese Bull Fighter

        Quite possibly. You certainly seem to think I am worthy of attention. If you think I am capable of “muzzling” people who write for the JT, I must have something going. And, just for the record, I certainly don’t want to muzzle Jones. I do want him to write about Japanese law. I figured out that election campaigns in Japan were a farce sometime in the early 1970s. I do not need him to tell me that. Some of his articles on law have, however, been quite good and useful.

      • Steve Jackman

        Yes, I engage with you, because unlike you, I value diversity of opinion. But, the main difference between us is that I am a Humanist, and you are not.

      • GIJ

        “I figured out that election campaigns in Japan were a farce sometime in the early 1970s.”

        If your assessment of election campaigns in what is now your adopted home country of citizenship is correct, then why exactly does it matter so much that non-citizens like Jones are editorializing about Japanese elections in an English-language newspaper? Your irritation with this column by Jones would make much more sense if election campaigns in Japan were not farcical. As far I’m concerned, it really doesn’t matter who advises whom to vote in an upcoming election if the campaign that precedes it is just a farce.

        You sound rather extremely passionate about Japan Times columnists and what they choose to write about (to the point where you wrote “I do want him to write about Japanese law” in reference to Jones). Why don’t you contact Ogasawara Toshiaki, the chairperson of The Japan Times, about starting your own monthly column for the newspaper? The current rotation of Debito, Jeff Kingston, Gregory Clark, etc. is a bit stale and in need of a different perspective.

      • Japanese Bull Fighter

        If JT commentators on Japanese politics want to be useful, they should tell us how to get beyond the farce. Complaining about Japanese election campaigns is like complaining about rail service in Britain. Everyone already knows there are serious problems. Bitching won’t fix the problems. If you want to be useful, come up with a strategy for reform. Anyone can complain. I do it myself. Frequently. That does not translate into reform or an effective opposition. If you want to be useful, don’t tell us that there is a problem. We already know that. Tells us how to organize an effective opposition that will get the problem fixed. If I had a proposal that I thought would work, I would beg the JT to let me write about it. I don’t. I presume the JT pundits can do what I cannot. Let’s see it in print. Presumably the foreign perspective of the writers lets them see things the Japanese cannot. OK. Then tell us. I’m not objecting to foreigners writing and advising on Japanese politics. I’m objecting to the utter banality and uselessness of the content.

      • Steve Jackman

        Judging from your comments, I am guessing that you are not very good at problem-solving, since the first step towards solving any problem is to rigorously analyze it from all angles.

        Analysis of a problem requires an open mind, critical thinking, diversity of thought, respect and willingness to listen to opinions you may disagree with, and an ability to ask probing questions. These are all skills you seem to lack.

        In many respects, your comments are doing a great service by exposing a mind-set, which is all too common in Japan, and a key reason why the country is unable to solve its problems and move forward. You just need to be careful, so as not to become too much of a caricature.

      • GIJ

        “I’m not objecting to foreigners writing and advising on Japanese politics. I’m objecting to the utter banality and uselessness of the content.”

        This is not the impression you gave in your earlier comments on this thread. You kicked off this rather passionate comments thread by rhetorically asking “I wonder if there is any other country other than Japan where voters are told to take the advice of a foreign national writing in a foreign language?” So it wasn’t the “useless, banal” advice itself that seemed to bother you, but rather the fact that Jones is not a Japanese citizen and that he wrote this article in English.

        You then went on to repeatedly emphasize how strongly you objected to the occurrence of non-citizens advising citizens of any country on how to vote in an upcoming election. Which leads me to wonder: If Jones became a naturalized Japanese citizen tomorrow and started writing a column in Japanese for another newspaper but with the exact same “useless, banal” content that you found here, would you react in the same way or differently?

        And if the uselessness and banality of the content you read on The Japan Times is what really bothers you, fine but how does this make The Japan Times any worse than any of the Japanese language newspapers published in Japan? Are the contents of Yomiuri, Asahi, etc. really so much more useful and so much less banal than what you read here by the likes of Colin Jones and Jeff Kingston?

      • tisho

        No, quite the opposite actually. He has a very low self esteem. His problem is that the author criticizes Japan, and portrays Japan in a negative way, and since he has a very strong group-mentality, he perceives this as an attack on himself. His understanding is that a lot of people will create a bad view of Japan and will then therefore apply that to him, which he doesn’t want that to be applied to him, so he doesn’t want Japan to be portrayed in such a way. He doesn’t have a problem with people talking about Japan as long as its a positive thing or as long as it does not effect him personally. Japanese people have a very strong group mentality, so its difficult for him to understand that people from Europe and the US do not associate or judge individuals based on their nationality.

      • Steve Jackman

        I couldn’t agree with you more. Your analysis is spot on. I have seen this repeatedly in Japan, among both, Japanese and non-Japanese.

      • GIJ

        In an ideal world, every newspaper columnist (and academic, like you) would stick to writing about topics in their areas of original and deepest expertise. If this is what you are unhappy about–newspaper writers and other people deviating from what their columns are ostensibly about and writing about other topics that are of interest to them (for example, a general election being held in Japan in 3 days’ time)–then you must be unhappy and discontent pretty much all the time.

        So you’re a Japanese citizen and apparently you are extremely unhappy that non-citizens are publishing de facto opinion pieces about the upcoming election in an English-language newspaper that is based in Tokyo. This much I get. Why you read The Japan Times everyday–something you obviously don’t have to do–is what I don’t get. Why do you read things that clearly irritate you so much?

        For what it’s worth, I would react with total indifference if I found out that non-citizens in the country where I reside were publishing opinion pieces in a newspaper printed in their native language (different from the native language of the majority of the population) about whom citizens should vote for in an upcoming election. In an open, democratic country such a scenario does not strike me as problematic or offensive in any way.

      • Japanese Bull Fighter

        I read the JT for the same reason Edward Said read a load of drivel about “the orient” as part of his research for his book on Orientalism. I read the JT for the same reason people who study fascism or racism or communism read the writings of fascists, racists, or communists. The foreign image of Japan and foreign press coverage of Japan is one of my teaching and research areas. (Yes, I know that the JT is not strictly “foreign” in the sense that it is owned and bankrolled by Nifco a Japanese company that makes plastic bits for the automobile industry. That ownership does not make it Japanese in the sense that the Asahi, Yomiuri, Mainichi, Sankei, or Nihon Kezai are Japanese. Indeed, a number of JT writers make a point to claim or assert that they are giving you something you do not get from the Japanese press or Japanese writers. Similarly, many of those who write comments here make a point of praising the JT for providing that which the Japanese press does not provide. That makes it “foreign” for my purposes.)

      • Steve Jackman

        I’m sure you will find a lot of support for your way of thinking from fascists and religious extremists around the world. They will certainly be able to relate to the way you categorize Japanese media you agree with as “Japanese”, while discounting Japanese media you disagree with as “foreign”. Bravo, Japanese Bull Fighter!

      • KenjiAd

        I get what you are saying and even agree with you to some extent. But I actually got a different impression from the article at issue. I’m guessing JBF might have felt the same way.

        My issue is that the article is quite unprofessional, a kind of piece that’s more suitable for his personal blog. The first paragraph establishes the overall tone:

        What starts with a tingle of excitement, is followed by a surge of
        activity, frantic yelling and empty promises, but is quickly spent,
        leaving you feeling just as empty and unfulfilled as before? Answer: a Japanese election.

        Brilliantly written, but this isn’t a journalistic writing. In fact, it’s a kind of thing that many if not most expats in any country enjoy talking about among expat community. JT, especially this very forum, caters to the expat community and I suspect the author knows it and that’s why he wrote it this way.

        I slightly differ though from JBF in that I don’t think there is anything wrong with it. Jones can write anything in whatever the style he wants. But it doesn’t mean everyone should like it. That’s all.

    • Steve Jackman

      You really do have blinders on, Japanese Bull Fighter! Did it ever occur to you that countries like the UK and the US are extremely diverse and their citizens hail from countries around the world? Because of this racial, ethnic and religious diversity, the media there is blessed with a great diversity of opinion (unlike Japan). On top of this, due to the free nature of these countries, their media routinely covers opinions by foreign journalists.

      Some of the most famous “American” journalists are actually Canadian. Have you ever watched CNN or BBC? If you had, you would have known the incredible diversity of their newscasters and journalists. You ought to get out more often!

      • Japanese Bull Fighter

        I’ve listened to the BBC every day for decades. (I have a home in Britain.) The BBC has never told me that I should vote or who I should vote for in American elections. As far as I can recall, the BBC has never editorialized about the idiocy of American campaigns with their negative media advertisements and billions spent on general elections although this very different from the way things are done in Britain. I of course know that some NEWS READERS on American television have been non-citizens, usually Canadian, but I do not know of any foreign nationals who regularly advise American voters on who they should vote for or criticize American election campaigns. Do you?

      • Steve Jackman

        What are you talking about? It’s not just the BBC. Have you ever heard of The Guardian newspaper or The Economist in the UK? Do you not know that The Guardian newspaper in the UK exposed the Snowden story about surveillance programs run in the US by the US government? The Economist, another British publication, is often full of news, analysis and criticism of events in the US. Again, your comment just demonstrates your own lack of knowledge about such things.

      • Japanese Bull Fighter

        Of course I know both and I have often criticized The Economist on FaceBook for its writing on the US. Indeed, when it endorsed Obama it wrote “This is America’s election, not ours, and some Americans think the rest of us have no right to an opinion.” I was one of those Americans.

      • Steve Jackman

        So, let me get this straight. If it is true that you, Japanese Bull Fighter, obtained Japanese citizenship at the ripe old age of 53, are you saying that before that you had no opinions about Japan, or did not have any right to express them, since you were not a Japanese citizen?

      • Japanese Bull Fighter

        Ripe age of 67. I certainly did not think I had the right to advise Japanese citizens on voting. Similarly, I never told UK voters (the UK has many non-citizen voters) how they should vote. Generally, I don’t think I have the right to tell anyone how they should vote anymore than I have a right to tell them what their religious beliefs should be.

      • Firas Kraïem

        Well, too bad, everybody has the right to an opinion (“like any other guy at the bar”, yes?), and even to express it in writing. It’s called freedom of speech, and I thought it was an eminently American value. You are really a joke.

      • Japanese Bull Fighter

        Didn’t say he did not have a right to his opinion nor did I say he does not have a right to express it. Read what I wrote and respond to my questions if you have something to say. And, if anything you seem to be trying to deny me my right to express my opinions. As for American values, I think the just published report on CIA torture tells you what American values are these days.

    • Bernd Bausch

      You seem to be outraged that Jones comments about the election process in Japan. Even if that is not common in other parts of the world (and to be honest I don’t have the faintest idea if foreigners do or don’t editorialize about elections in other countries), what’s wrong with it?

      • Japanese Bull Fighter

        If he’s got ideas for a viable reform movement, let’s hear them. Otherwise, he’s just blowing off. Everyone likes to blow off. He’s lucky that the JT pays him to blow off. But, blowing off is not going to get the electoral system reformed.

      • Bernd Bausch

        Do away with the country/city imbalance (a countryside vote is worth up to 5 city votes – incredible!). Announce elections longer than three weeks in advance. Loosen the very restrictive campaign rules a little (it doesn’t have to become as extreme as in the USA). Educate the voters about the supreme court vote.
        The fact (if it’s a fact) that the administration does what it wants, no matter who leads the government, should have a reason. One might want to analyse it and change it.

        While Jones doesn’t say any of this explicitly, this is what I get out of his article. Perhaps I am missing a few more points.

      • Japanese Bull Fighter

        All very sensible and all things that at least some Japanese have been trying to get done for years, even decades. The first citizen suit challenging the voting difference was in 1962 – 52 years ago. It’s not that the Japanese people need Jones to tell them that a 5:1 difference is bad news. The Japanese Supreme Court has ruled that this is a violation of the Constitution. Still the buggers do nothing. Don’t tell us this is bad news. We already know that. Tell us how to get the buggers to fix it. That’s where Jones and the other gaijin commentators could make a real contribution.

      • A.J. Sutter

        Unfortunately, there isn’t anything that can be done to make the J-Supremes change their views, even though they are abusing the Constitution. The only thing is to replace the whole constitutional structure of Japan with a much more democratic one.

        Since the problem with the current Court is that they ignore part of the Constitution (the part that says that an unconstitutional government action is null and void, art. 98 (1)), the new Constitution should have @ a very different procedure for selecting Justices; @ clear criteria for when a malapportioned election violates the Constitution; @ default provisions requiring that a new election be held within 90 days if the election law is found to violate the Constitution, and specifically a list proportional system with the entire country as 1 district; and @ provisions that election districts be recalculated every 10 years (or more frequently) based on a national census.

        How to get such a new constitution? I’d propose a constituent assembly, organised by citizens outside the current political parties or the Diet. Precedent: the convention that wrote the US constitution, which was not what the delegates were authorised to do.

      • Japanese Bull Fighter

        A much more positive contribution than the Jones article. It is my understanding that (1) the Supreme Court has repeatedly said that the Diet should face up to the redistricting issue and (2) that the current Supreme Court system is quite similar to one used in some US states. There have been some hints that if the Diet does not face up to the issue, the Supreme Court will not just say that an election is in violation of the Constitution but, as you suggest, that the result is also null and void. Commentators have noted that the wording of decisions has been increasingly critical of Diet inaction. Keep in mind that an activist supreme court such as the US has is quite unusual. For example, Britain did not have a “supreme court” (in name) until 2009 and it is much more limited in power than the US Supreme Court. My sense (and that of Japanese legal commentators) is that the current Supreme Court is very unhappy with Diet failing to respond but that it is currently unwilling to force a political crisis by invalidating an election. In any event, it is good to see that at least some readers of this thread can offer ideas worthy of debate rather than just blowing off.

      • A.J. Sutter

        Thanks. You may be a little optimistic about the Japan Supreme Court, though. Nothing in the US Constitution says that the Court may rule laws passed by Congress invalid because unconstitutional; Chief Justice Marshall invented that form of judicial review. In the case of Japan, though, the principle is explicitly written into the Kenpou, and yet the justices wilfully ignore it. For malapportionment cases, this has been going on since the 1960s, and yet they’ve remained eerily patient. One political factor contributing to this is that the Chief Justice nominates all justices for the Court, and the PM has the power to say no; so the CJ doesn’t want to rile the PM. (A retired justice mentioned this to me as a possible explanation for why the JSC let the 2012 election pass without invalidating it, even though that case was legally more egregious than the election cases preceding it.)

        Britain isn’t really such a pertinent example: it doesn’t have a written constitution, and for centuries it’s had the principle of “Parliamentary supremacy,” which precludes US-style overturning of statutes (what Brits call “primary legislation”) on grounds of unconstitutional content. The new UK Supreme Court reviews whether “secondary legislation” (what Americans call regulations) exceeded the authority granted in the primary statute; it can also express an opinion as to whether primary or secondary legislation violates European human rights law, though Parliament can ignore this. The US isn’t at all alone, though, when it comes to invalidating primary laws: Germany’s Federal Constitutional Court invalidated over 600 laws between 1949 and 2010, during which time the JSC invalidated only 6. Since the JSC invented their “unconstitutional but not invalid” remedy out of thin air and in direct contradiction of the written Kenpou, they could be considered activist, too, in a perverse sense of the word.

      • Japanese Bull Fighter

        I agree that Britain is a dubious comparison. Judging by you apparent knowledge of the subject, perhaps you should be writing for the JT on legal subjects rather than Jones. I’ve only met one former Japanese Supreme Court justice. From what he had been saying to others, he struck me as so conservative that there was no point in asking him anything substantial so I stuck to small talk. I certainly agree that the “it’s unconstitutional but that does not invalidate the election” decisions are bizarre

      • KenjiAd

        I think the biggest problem of Japanese elections is not the election per se.

        I think it is because policies in Japan are actually being made by the bureaucracy whose members are not elected. Who sits on top of them (Ministers) doesn’t really matter.

        You see, perhaps for cultural reasons, Japan doesn’t really have the American-style top-down system where a strong leader directs the movement of his/her entire group. This is true even for most companies.

        Decisions by a person who happens to be the top “leader” position do not trickle down as is. Instead, each decision needs to be agreed upon by semi-consensus at every step of the way.

        This way ensures a harmony among the group, but is a very inefficient way of getting things done. That partly explains why Sony can’t seem to change itself. The Japanese government has the same problem.

        I know I’m exaggerating a little bit, but this difference in decision making process between Japan and western countries (most notably America) must be taken into account when we are discussing the election reform, I think.

      • KenjiAd

        In other words, people in Japan think that election doesn’t matter, because it really doesn’t matter that much who gets elected.

    • DantheMan

      “I wonder if there is a Japanese language newspaper in the United States where I can write opinion pieces in Japanese advising Americans on their electoral system and how they should vote?”

      There are a few. My wife wrote for one a few times when we lived over there.

    • putaro

      There certainly could be a Japanese language paper in the US criticizing the government. I doubt there’s a large enough readership for it to succeed, but it could happen. As an American, I am used to people from all kinds of other countries coming up to me and criticizing the United States. That’s their right and it’s my right to listen to them or ignore them as much as I please.

  • Steve Jackman

    I found one section of this excellent article by Colin Jones to be particularly telling. It refers to the automatic reappointment of the five Supreme Court judges who were appointed by Abe: “Asked to rule in the past on what these blank ballots mean, the Supreme Court declared that they should be treated the same as “yes” votes, in favor of retention. It is, therefore, a complete certainty that no justice will ever fail to be reappointed.”

    This would be quite hilarious, were it not for the fact that it perfectly encapsulates the absolutely corrupt and self-serving judicial system in Japan. Someone needs to expose the corruption which is so endemic in the Japanese judiciary and burst the bubble of these Supreme Court judges.

    • Japanese Bull Fighter

      Seems rather like the way the US Supreme Court has handled electoral issues. Have you forgotten the US Supreme Court decision on the 2000 presidential election recount in Florida?

      • Steve Jackman

        Japanese Bull Fighter, you have missed the point once again. It would be helpful if you could at least read comments before responding. The point here is the appointment process of Supreme Court judges. In the U.S., they go through a vey public and rigorous process before judges are appointed to the Supreme Court. Obviously, not so in Japan.

      • Johnny Standards

        I’m with Japanese Bull Fighter here in that while Colin Jones
        usually writes a perspicacious piece, but this article seems to be geared towards appeasing the sentiments of the Hub crowd, rehashing the everyman themes without any particular new insight. It is discursively conservative, predictable….same
        old, same old. If I want a concise critique of the electoral system I’ll look to the Japanese media, who do a much better job knowing what the negative public sentiment is but then raising the dialectical bar a notch.

        This piece reminds me those big music label but slightly
        menacing rock stars trying to sound seditious, all the while aimed at the impressionable teenage market by selling the impression that they are still valiantly flipping the bird at their parents.

        Colin Jones might want to consider how his piece serves
        as a mouthpiece for people from those who clearly don’t actually Live In Japan but still think they are at the vanguard of exposing its seedy underbelly, to those who perpetuate the one homogenous Japan myth, to blasts of fairly blatant

    • rossdorn

      Well, Steve, you are of course right.
      But the people of Japan has understood, they will turn out at the election in droves and re-elect Abe, because Japan needs a strong government to right this wrong.
      And all the others….

  • Mike

    Wonderfully written Colin! Bravo!
    It captures my sentiments exactly. If only the majority of the electorate could understand what you are preaching, this country would have a brighter future. But oh well…

    • Japanese Bull Fighter

      Perhaps if he wrote in Japanese, more voters would understand what he is “preaching.”

      • Shiki Byakko

        You are free to translate

      • Mike

        What bridge were you sitting under?

    • rossdorn

      I think you miss the point…. I have talked to many people and have not found a single one, that does not know this.

      Yet most will still vote for Abe.
      You see? The japanese DO know, and still do as they feel, they are being told. Japanaese almost always function out of fear. They were never tought to think and then act.

      • jimbo jones

        “Japanaese almost always function out of fear. They were never tought to think and then act.”[sic]

        stupidest comment on this thread. to classify a whole country full of people this way is ignorant at best and nationalistic at worst.

      • rossdorn

        Hmmmmm. Just while we are at it… would the only intelligent qustion about this subject be… wehther it is true?

        Oh well… never mind…

      • vellyr

        Certainly there is some culturally-fueled bile in that post, but the gist of what he’s saying is correct. Double-think is very strong here. People are very quick to write things off as impossible and go back to their worn-in rut. Everyone has their own ideas about what the country needs, but they’ll never discuss them or promote them because that would involve disagreeing with people.

    • Johnny Standards

      Not intending to slight the JT, but this newspaper is more suited to Japanese readers who want to improve their English, or for temporary foreign visitors or workers who want to get a basic, simplified look
      at Japan issues. Personally, I use it as a resource to gauge the sentiments of a certain segment of the non-Japanese demographic.

      However, for those of us who actually Live In Japan there is little reason to use such newspapers as a source of Japan insight. I mean, why
      would anyone actually Living In Japan read, say, a New York Times article to try and get a better perspective of the country they live in? Japan has a vibrant and varied press and, even though I stumble on some Kanji, I find that the understanding of the issues and the views expressed inside Japan (usually by Japanese people) to be much more aware, nuanced, and perceptive regarding the subtleties of domestic issues than English-language sources simplified for outsiders.

      • Lucky

        I hate to disagree, but the majority of Japanese journalists write puff-pieces and as of Dec. 10th, you’re more likely to get better insight from non-Japanese language media since they would for the most part fly under the radar of Japanese press-restriction laws.

      • Johnny Standards

        Well that’s the stereotype of course and I believed it as hand-me-down accepted wisdom among the NJ community when I first arrived in Japan over twenty years ago. However, since I have really started Living In Japan (that is, actively within a fully Japanese community), I have come to see that it is a myth. Most of the people who characterized the Japanese media as such either couldn’t or didn’t read it, so how would they know? I’m not the greatest Kanji reader but I owe it to my future in Japan to be informed of the local scene by locals. What if immigrants to the UK read about UK society and politics only in their mother tongues and via a press that is geared towards appeasing their tastes?
        The competition among newspapers and especially weekly/monthly magazines in Japan is intense and puff pieces will not be read or sell well (although like anywhere I have come across a few). Many weeklies/monthlies contain insightful and sharply critical interviews and/or analysis by academics, experts, and various opinionists, and there is a wide variety of opinion being expressed, some of it quite authority-adversative. In comparison, the dumbing-down version I tend to see in the foreign press (naturally simplified for outsiders) tends to be predictable, often pandering, and rather superficial.
        As for press restrictions, barring libel and defamation, where are they? There are press restrictions on access to Fukushima based on alarmist material that emerged a few years back but monthlies like Ronza still present robust and searing critiques of economic policy or the nuclear industry in Japan, as do even lighter mags like Aera. Many of the shukan weeklies critique the Abe administration but with the type of locally informed insights and awareness that the foreign press are generally unable to uncover (thus their reliance on out-of-date tropes or surface-scratching disguised as digging into the underbelly). Hell, I’ve even seen TEPCO and government reps get reamed by academics and analysts on NHK.
        I think the it’s the foreign press that is keeping its readers in the dark regarding Japan — or at least is pandering to their tastes.

  • J.P. Bunny

    A most enjoyable and informative read.

  • GIJ

    I can’t think of a better piece of propaganda for the Chinese Communist Party than what Abe Shinzo and the Liberal Democratic Party of Japan are providing right now. Chinese communists will never get tired of telling anybody who listens that democracy is a sham, a joke, and a farce. Is the average Japanese citizen and eligible voter in Japan inclined to disagree at this point?

    A favorite saying among Japanese for a long time was “Economy first-rate, politics third-rate (経済一流、政治三流).” For many years (until the 1990s) this was funny and Japanese could laugh, because of course Japan’s economy was a world-beating juggernaut that no Asian or even Western country could apparently compete with. Japan’s politics were an irrelevant sideshow. But that saying is not so funny anymore.

    • rossdorn

      Well, looking at the results of all elections since the end of the war, “the average Japanese citizen and eligible voter in Japan” will not agree-
      This is Japan, like America, the greatest and only worthwhile culture on the planet. Nothing, not even democracy, can be bad here…
      Never forget, these are the people that jumped off cliffs in ’45 because the authorities had told them that americans will eat them.

      Plus ca change… now its the Chinese and the North Koreans. There is justice in all of this. You either learn, or you pay the bills. And when the people that cause a problem do have to pay the bill for a mess, like the present economy being pushed down a drain,…

      There is so little justice in this world, lets be grateful….

  • Dan

    What`s the best form of government?

    • A.J. Sutter

      There are several ways of answering that question: the best in an ideal sense, and the best for each of the various real-world types of countries or communities. Check out “Politics” by Aristotle.

      • Dan

        He just seems to be alluding to a superior form of government that we are all supposed to know about and I was hoping someone could pull me out of the dark.

      • zer0_0zor0

        no, you are one of the damned…
        …and that’s where we want to keep you!

    • MeTed

      See CPAJ below.

      He is implying all forms of governement are bad, but if you’re going to have one, you should choose the least worst – democracy.

  • I really wanted to be in Japan for this election. I was in Japan for a municipal election and one of the candidates was standing outside of the train station with a loudspeaker and a goat. So I wanted to see if for a Federal election, there would be candidates with a goat, or perhaps two goats, or more… Dude with the most goats wins !!!

  • CPAJ

    Dan: it’s an oblique reference to a quote by Winston Churchill:

    “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.”