• Kyodo

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Voters in Japan, including 18- and 19-year-olds who are newly eligible to cast a ballot, have expressed their hopes and fears over the July 10 Upper House election as campaigning kicked off this week.

Jinshiro Motoyama, a 24-year-old student at International Christian University in Tokyo, said he was concerned about Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s drive to amend the war-renouncing Constitution, and believed the sensitive issue was being pushed into the background.

“Even if he wins the election by using sugar-coated words on the economy and other issues, I wonder if he’ll be able to claim he has secured a public mandate (for constitutional revision),” Motoyama said.

Abe did not touch on the issue in his first stump speech in disaster-hit Kumamoto on Wednesday.

Takeshi Otsuka, who runs a food-machinery manufacturing firm in Osaka, expressed hope for Abe’s Abenomics policy, which features large-scale monetary easing, flexible fiscal spending and structural reforms to exit from deflation.

But he said business conditions were harsh. “The number of clients is half of what it was 20 years ago. It could be further halved in the next 20 years,” the 65-year-old said, adding he was stepping up efforts to increase exports to Southeast Asian countries.

“I don’t want the government to lay out measures that center on big companies. I hope for measures that will lead money to flow also to small and medium-sized enterprises,” he said.

In high schools, some students were enthusiastic about being able to cast ballots for the first time in a national election, following the lowering of the voting age to 18 from 20, which came into effect Sunday.

“I was thinking that politics has nothing to do with me, so I’m happy that I can take part in elections,” said Kiriko Morioka, a student at Keiai Gakuen Senior High School in the city of Chiba. Morioka will turn 18 shortly before the day of the vote.

Kana Kumagai, an 18-year-old high school student in Miyagi Prefecture, said she will vote for a candidate who will “seriously” try to tackle the population decline and other problems affecting her local community, which is still recovering from the 2011 earthquake and tsunami disaster in Japan’s northeast.

“I want the opinions of young people to be reflected in reconstruction projects,” she said, adding that while elderly people may want their hometowns restored to the way they were, younger people may want something different.

Kumagai said she came to realize the importance of politics through the reconstruction process. Her home was swamped by massive tsunami and she lived in temporary housing before moving to her new home, which was built in the city of Kesennuma.

Tomoki Samukawa, a 19-year-old student at Waseda University in Tokyo, said he wanted politicians to discuss policies from a “long-term perspective.”

The economy may recover in the short term if Abenomics proves successful, but politicians should think more about “long-lasting systems that will help address the scarcity of nursery schools and concerns over the care of the elderly,” he said.

“I want to vote for someone who will send a message about the future,” added Samukawa, who is involved in activities to raise youth awareness of political issues.

Meanwhile, people who still cannot return to their homes because of the 2011 Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant disaster complained they do not have sufficient access to information on candidates in the Fukushima constituency.

“How can I choose a candidate . . . when I can’t get information easily,” said Joji Takeda, 81, who used to live in the town of Futaba in Fukushima Prefecture but now lives in Saitama Prefecture.

The town has sent him documents on the candidates, but he cannot listen to stump speeches or look at signboards that display posters of the candidates.

“With no fixed dwelling place, I somehow don’t feel this election is related to me. I don’t think I can decide (who to vote for) by voting day,” he said.

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