National / Politics

School workshops that foster political engagement prove popular in Japan

JIJI

Workshops at schools that use comedy or games to encourage young people to get involved in politics are becoming more widespread in Japan ahead of Sunday’s House of Councilors election, the third national poll to be conducted since the lowering of the voting age from 20 to 18.

The lecturers often incorporate entertainment aspects into the workshops to help students understand political issues more easily, in the hope of persuading them to go to the polls.

According to the internal affairs ministry voter turnout for teens stood at 46.78 percent in the 2016 Upper House election, in which people aged 18 and 19 cast votes for the first time ever. But young voter turnout fell to 40.49 percent in the 2017 election for the House of Representatives, the Diet’s lower chamber.

Nana Takamatsu, 26, a comedian and board director at Shokasonjuku, a Tokyo-based company that raises questions about social issues through comedy, has been holding workshops at high schools across Japan together with other comedians, aiming to convince students that they can change politics through casting their ballots.

Over 10,000 students have participated so far in the company’s workshops.

Example activities at the events include students engaging in policy discussions, by role-playing as corporate employees, or trying to identify who is the bad politician in a game based on werewolf, a traditional party game.

At one high school, voter turnout among third-year students topped 80 percent after the workshop was given.

“If everyone in their teens and 20s goes to the polls, they can exert a considerable influence,” Takamatsu said. “Because I believe that democracy would become rotten if people become too complacent about it, I want (the youngsters) to perceive not voting as a loss.”

Kosuke Furui, 24, a fourth-year student at Keio University, runs Poteto Media, an advertising agency specializing in politics.

Through workshops that use playing cards or online games, the agency shows students that politics can be the solution to poverty or other problems that they cannot overcome on their own.

“The problem is that politics has moved away from young people, rather than young people moving away from politics,” Furui said. “I hope more policies focused on young people, such as making education free of charge, will be implemented.”

At a workshop held at a high school in Itabashi Ward, Tokyo, students took a test that asked 10 questions about politics.

Kotone Kajiwara, 18, a third-year student at the school, said she had a hard time answering questions about elections as they were very difficult. But she also said, “I want to think hard and vote because people have the right to elect politicians.”

Teppei Enomoto, 17, also a third-year student, said the workshop made him eager to go to the polls. “I want politicians to bring the opinions of young people to politics,” he said.