OSAKA – For town, city and prefectural government offices around Japan, the key issue in next month’s Upper House election is not constitutional revision or the economy. It’s persuading 18-year-olds to go to the polls.
While political pundits pointedly pontificate about the 2.4 million new youth votes, local election commissions are making efforts to explain to 18- and 19-year-olds why casting a ballot is critical to Japan’s future, especially now that some candidates are as old as their grandparents and taking up unfamiliar topics.
To this end, a couple of Kansai regional governments have wisely dispensed with the bureaucratic discourse to produce manga and anime that promote the election process. Although they might appear amusing at times, they carry a serious message.
The city of Nara’s website offers a five-minute anime about three women (voiced by what sound like men) celebrating their 18th birthdays. When one says she now wants to vote, the other two reply they have no interest or don’t know anything about voting.
After threatened by a character who warns of the dangers of voting in ignorance, a character named Naranara appears, telling the teens that, yes, many younger Japanese don’t vote, perhaps because they don’t know much about politics. But with Japan facing a declining birthrate and rapidly graying population, Naranara adds that it’s more critical than ever for 18-year-olds to vote.
The video then breaks into a musical number in which the three ladies sing a perky, off-key song about being 18, on the edge of adulthood, and the need to think about politics and for themselves. It ends by urging viewers to do their homework.
Nearby, the city of Ikoma has made a more serious four-page flier that includes a two-page manga of its mascot Takemaru-kun.
Takemaru-kun tells a group of 18-year-olds that because they didn’t have the right to vote before now, it was difficult for society to reflect their views. But if young people vote, even older politicians will be forced to listen, the mascot adds.
The other two pages explain that voting is important because you pay tax whenever you buy something or earn income. It’s money the Diet members decide how to use, and how they do so directly impacts your lifestyle, the flier says.
Whether such efforts will attract younger voters to the July 10 poll remains to be seen. But the Nara and Ikoma examples show that some local governments are at least trying to get out the youth vote.