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This week’s featured article

TOMOHIRO OSAKI, THE JAPAN TIMES

For high school student Aine Suzuki, the Lower House’s move on Thursday to pass legislation that would reduce the voting age to 18 from the current 20 was akin to a dream come true.

“I hope the lowered voting age will encourage more young people to pay attention to politics and make efforts to get their messages across,” said Suzuki.

The move to lower the voting age — the first in 70 years — gives an estimated 2.4 million people aged 18 and 19 suffrage at both the national and municipal level. They will get their first chance to vote next summer, when an Upper House election is slated to take place.

In a nation where the voices of the elderly tend to be prioritized by politicians over those of young voters, politically active students like Suzuki herald an opportunity to empower youths in society.

But not everyone who may benefit is thrilled about the move, as found in a poll of passers-by on the streets of Tokyo’s pop-culture mecca in Shibuya.

Tensei Takashima, a 17-year-old high school student, said he was taken aback, saying the move to lower the voting age was too abrupt. To him, it does not seem real that he will be able to vote next year.

Political apathy among youths is nothing new in Japan. Turnout among voters in their 20s for a Lower House election in December, for example, hit a record-low 32.58 percent, the lowest among all age groups, an internal affairs ministry survey shows.

In order to break the status quo, Daisuke Hayashi, an assistant professor at Toyo University who specializes in citizenship education studies, said the impending drop in the voting age points to the greater need to overhaul social issues education in school, which prioritizes book-learning and memorization of facts.

First published in The Japan Times on June 5.

Warm up

One-minute chat about elections.

Game

Collect words related to age; e.g., “birthday,” “young,” “age limit.”

New words

1) akin: similar; e.g., “Pity is akin to love.”

2) suffrage: the right to vote; e.g., “Women won suffrage.”

3) herald: introduce, announce or foretell; e.g., “The flower heralds spring.”

4) abrupt: sudden; e.g., “The abrupt decision confused us.”

5) apathy: lack of interest; e.g., “He reacted to the news with apathy.”

6) overhaul: examine thoroughly and make change; e.g., “We overhauled our work rules.”

Guess the headline

Some Japanese teens welcome move to re_ _ _ _ v_ _ _ _ _ a_ _, others apathetic

Questions

1) When will the first election be in which under-20s can vote?

2) Why are some youths excited while others are nervous about the change?

3) Are most young people actively involved in politics?

Let’s discuss the article

1) What did you feel when you first had the chance to vote? (If you haven’t yet, how do you think you will feel?)

2) What do you think about lowering the voting age?

3) What needs to be done to prepare for lowering the voting age?

Reference

日本では20歳になると様々な権利と義務をもち、より深く社会とかかわることになります。その中でも、選挙権は日本社会を形作っていくメンバーとして迎え入れられたという大きな証であり、この権利を手に入れる日を待ち望んでいる”未成年”がいることも納得です。 しかし、18歳から選挙権を手に入れるという改革に、期待よりも不安を多く持っている当人たちが数多くいることも重要な現実として直視しなければなりません。

権利を得るということは、その結果に対して一定の責任を負うということです。投票をしても、棄権しても、自分の一票が日本の社会の在り方の一端を担うことになるということに身の引き締まる思いでいるであろう”10代の有権者”に対して、私たちは何を示していくべきでしょうか。

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