“The people all said, ‘Sit down, sit down, you’re rockin’ the boat.'”
— Nicely-Nicely Johnson, “Guys and Dolls”
In the recent Kyoto governor’s election, the winning candidate, Tadatoshi Nishiwaki, was the former governor’s handpicked successor who was heavily backed by all of the ruling and opposition parties except the Japanese Communist Party. Nishiwaki also had the support of the Kyoto mayor, the business community, and the head of every city and town in the prefecture.
In short, he was the very definition of the three words that one increasingly hears older politicians, bureaucrats and business leaders uttering at election time: anzen (safe), anshin (secure) and antei (stable).
These three concepts form the basis of politics at the national level. However, the words themselves are increasingly heard in localities where a rapidly aging and shrinking population is ever more worried about its political and economic future, and ever more reluctant to risk fundamental change that could lead to what is perceived as an unsafe, insecure and unstable situation, no matter how much change outsiders say is needed.
Whether talking to voters in speeches, symposiums or rallies, men and women north (often well north) of 60 years old who are local political or business leaders rally support and sympathy by talking about the need for making anzen, anshin and antei choices about Japan’s political future.
Substitute “their own economic future” “for “Japan’s political future” and you’re probably closer to the truth. But given voter demographics, who can blame them?
Politicians in places where ever-fewer voters, regardless of age, bother to cast ballots (turnout for the governor’s race was just 35 percent) have little incentive to spend a lot of time talking about how they will try radical new things once in office.
Basic change is unwelcome to a lot of people, elderly or not, who face immediate practical problems like making sure there are social welfare services to take care of their parents and, in many cases, their younger children.
During the governor’s election, the Kyoto media spoke of the growing problem of daburu kea (double care), which refers to the need for working voters generally in their 30s to their 50s to care for both elderly parents and young children in the same household.
In such cases, they are apt to be suspicious of any new candidate who wants to make unprecedented changes.
Small towns and villages vote based on the safe, stable and secure historical and personal relationships between them and the candidate, as well as contributions made by the candidate’s family to the community. In other words, they vote for the person who has the connections to get things done.
But with population declines being caused by natural deaths, fewer births and working-age people fleeing for mega-cities like Tokyo and Osaka, as well as predictions that many places in Japan could go virtually extinct in the next few decades without new residents (Japanese or otherwise), reassuring increasingly nervous elderly voters that you are a safe, stable and secure choice is at the top of every political candidate’s to-do list once they decide to run.
In April 2019, local elections will take place nationwide. Dozens of governors, mayors, prefectural and municipal assembly members, and town and village council members will be chosen.
Yet whatever their affiliation, and whatever policies their party is known for at the national level, local candidates’ bywords, at least those of the winners, will no doubt be “safe, stable and secure”.
They’ll campaign on the promise that, if elected, life with them will be smooth sailing through rough socioeconomic waters and around dangerous shoals (future uncertainty), not a voyage into the unknown and untried that may well end up rocking, and possibly capsizing, the local boat.
View from Osaka is a monthly column that examines the latest news from a Kansai perspective.