Students seek to raise political awareness among fellow young people

by Takuro Kishimoto


Frustrated with widespread political apathy among their peers, some university students are thinking creatively about how to get the younger generation more interested in politics.

Less than 38 percent of people in their 20s voted in the 2012 Lower Hours election, according to the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry.

It was the lowest rate of any age group and far below the overall turnout rate of just over 59 percent.

In the 2013 Upper House election, only 33 percent of people in their 20s voted, again well below the overall rate of toward 53 percent.

Now some university students are taking it upon themselves to kindle political awareness and involvement among the millennial generation.

The nonprofit organization YouthCreate recently arranged for around 30 young people to meet four members of the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly and discuss how to boost a community’s value and appeal.

The event was an informal stand-up party of a kind the organizers have dubbed a “Voters Bar.”

“I talked with assembly members for the first time and I felt close to them,” said participant Kiho Fujii, 21. “I’ve never voted in an election but will do so next time.”

YouthCreate is headed by 28-year-old Kensuke Harada, who, while a student at the University of Tokyo, established a group that aimed to get more 20-somethings to vote. This led to the Voters Bar concept.

YouthCreate has held these meet-your-lawmakers events in places such as Kyoto, Shiga and Okinawa prefectures, and plans to host more elsewhere in the future, Harada said.

Ryo Masuzawa, 26, a Tokyo Institute of Technology graduate student, operates a food mail-order website.

When he was still an undergraduate, he helped a candidate in the 2009 Lower House election in his hometown in Nagano Prefecture. The experience kindled his interest in politics.

Before launching his website this month, Masuzawa conducted a trial in June by selling rice. He informed buyers of how Japan’s agriculture will likely be affected by the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade liberalization arrangement.

“Japanese people are highly selective about food,” he said, and that is one way to stir interest in politics.

Masuzawa sets a food-related political theme each month and sends a brochure to buyers to make them think about current political issues and possible impact on their purchase.

Yamato Aoki, a second-year student at Keio University, began trying to boost students’ interest in politics in 2012, when he was a high school student.

This spring, Aoki, 20, arranged a meeting between 100 high school students and some Diet members to debate whether the legal age of adulthood should be lowered to 18 from 20.

The debate was held in the Diet building. Afterward, Aoki compiled a report arguing that schools should set aside more time to teach issues related to taxation and employment.

“Junior high and high school students should be given opportunities to think of politics, as their minds are flexible,” Aoki said.

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