Politics in Japan

Haruhi Suzumiya for President 2012

It’s quite nice to not live in the U.S. when a Presidential election rolls around, because you can look forward to a peaceful year without being bombarded by a lot of negative political messages 24 hours a day. That’s not to say Japanese elections are a walk in the park — the primary method of getting people to vote for you involves driving around in a car shouting “I am Yamada! I will work hard for you! Please support me in the upcoming election!” through a loudspeaker from dawn til dusk — but at least that part is over within a week or so.

Politics in Japan are fundamentally different from in the U.S., as they are probably are in every country. While the U.S. has a two-party political system with Republicans and Democrats, even tough it was not that way in the beginning, Japan has a number of active parties, including the current ruling Democratic Party of Japan, which is a lot more like the democratic party of President Kennedy then the version we have today (eh! hem!), which rode to power on a “manifesto” of promises like making expressways toll-free and paying every family $130 per child per month, most of which have been repealed quietly; the pro-business Liberal Democratic Party, which held power for nearly 50 years in postwar Japan; the New Komeito Party, once the official political arm of the Sokka Gakkai evangelical Buddhist religion; the Japan Communist Party, and so on. To be right-wing in Japanese politics means to be pro-Emperor as well as pro-Yasukuni (the controversial shrine where Japan’s wartime leaders are interred, as well as the souls of all the normal souldiers who faught and died). Right-wingers famously drive around in loudspeaker trucks blasting songs from World War II, and sometimes (awesomely) the theme to Space Battleship Yamato (Sort of the Star Trek of Japan); they also lament Japan’s weakened position in international politics and get very upset over territorial disputes with China, South Korea and Russia. Left-leaning Japanese dislike the Emperor and the Japanese national anthem Kimigayo, seen as a symbol of Japan’s wartime aggression, and some educators have been fired for refusing to sing the song at official events. Left-wing Japanese are apt to be pro-China and critical of the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty that has bound Japan and the U.S. militarily for the past half-century. So next time you get all upset over how messed up our country is think about Japan. For they have quite a more interesting struggle on their hands.