I went into the family business

A little late this one, but perhaps you heard there was an election in Japan.  The last PM of Japan, Mr Aso, was spectacularly unpopular – even more so than President Bush.  Yes, really.  In a country famous for being tactful, my Japanese teacher likes to call Aso “an idiot” with feeling.

So, at the end of August, ex-PM Aso’s Liberal Democratic Party were replaced with new PM Hatoyama’s Democratic Party of Japan.   Actually, we should probably say “swept from power” rather than “replaced”, because the election was an absolute rout.  Bear in mind that the LDP had held government for almost the entire period from 1955 until now.  With an electorate so happy to stick with one team, you know the previous administration must have screwed up pretty badly indeed.

The election may have been a few months ago, but the evidence remains.  I really like Japanese election posters – they’re so much more peppy than Australian ones to my mind.  Speaking of which:

Our first is for PM Hatoyama himself.  His poster’s slogan is quite stark: “Regime change”.  Don’t think that too much is going to change, though – Japanese politics is very nepotistic.  Hatoyama is a 4th generation politician; in fact his grandfather was PM too.  Mr Aso is no slouch in that area either, with a grandfather and father-in-law who were both former prime ministers, as well as a sister married into the royal family.

This is Oota Kazumi, another DPJ member.  She doesn’t have a cool slogan, but you have to love a friendly smile and fist pump, suggesting she will destroy her political enemies in a most cordial fashion.

This is Nemoto Takumi:  “First I’ll energize the area, then bring the future you wish for”.  If you ever watch the documentary Campaign about the Japanese election process (which you should!), you can learn how to do these kind of vague promises like no-one’s business.

Mashiko Teruhiko says, “As Minister for High Necromancy, I will command my legions of the undead to crush those who would oppose us”.

Ha ha, just joking of course: Cabinet positions like Minister for High Necromancy are only chosen after the election.

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So, what political party do you support? Labor? Liberals? Republicans? Democrats? I don’t care. Your party sucks. I’ve got a new party and it rocks:

The Happiness Realisation Party

Wait, what’s that…?

The Happiness Realisation Party

The Happiness Realization Party’s platform promises include: world peace; a unicorn in every house; Polyphonic Spree robes for everyone and, finally; dumping LSD into the water supply to make sure everyone actually believes this will all happen.

Actually, this isn’t your standard case of humorous English translation – the Japanese name, too, literally means “Happiness Realization Party”. They were founded in May this year, and you can read all about them on their website (okay, if you can read Japanese).

According to their site, they’re connected to a 10 million person-strong Buddhist group called “Happy Science“.  According to their Wikipedia entry, Happy Science’s prophecies include:

In 2300-2400 the new continent of Atlantis will be recreated as a result of the United States sinking. After this is complete, Martin Luther and Nichiren will be reincarnated and they will lead a new huge religious movement.

During the years of 2400 through 2500 Jesus will be re-incarnated. Another important event is that the extraterrestrials that visited the Earth in the 1980s return.

You should really read the rest of the prophecies too.  I left some out of this quote because they sounded too wacky.

Back to the secular world, the main platform of the political party is amending  Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution.  Article 9 was introduced with the new Japanese Constitution following the end of World War II, and basically states that Japan may maintain a military only for self-defense.  This is taken to the extent that if you happen to say “the Japanese army”, you’ll be quickly corrected to say “the Japan Self-Defense Forces”.

The Happiness Realization Party, founded on Buddhist values of pacifism, wishes to amend Article 9 so they can go and kick some North Korean ass.  Really, that’s what it says on their web site.  Okay, it doesn’t say “ass”, but you can tell that’s what they were thinking when they wrote it.  They want to loosen some of the strict conditions in the constitution so that they can “defend Japan against North Korean missiles”.

What started as a poster that gave me a chuckle when I was at the local supermarket turned out to be quite the rabbit hole indeed.  My planned 5 minute post has turned into a 1 hour mini-research project, and there’s a lot more to read besides.  Look for an update after I’ve had some more research time.

Alternatively, if they find that I’ve met my maker after having realised what would appear to be a suspiciously excessive amount of happiness, you know who did it and that I knew too much.  Tell the world!

Update: Somebody has already done a great job researching this.  Head over there if you want to bask in the craziness.

Obama Daitouryou done Japanese

Talk about falling into a job. Meet comedian Nozomu Sato, Japan’s “official” Obama impersonator:

Japan's Obama

Caption: “What do you think of the President? And America?”. I don’t know if this is referring to the likeness, or if they’re asking him for his political insights.  He is sufficiently qualified after all, wearing a suit and all.

Any time I’ve happened to turn on the TV of late, this guy has invariably been on, whether it be a talk show, quiz show or cooking show. Celebrities on Japanese TV (“talento”) seem to be like that – once you get noticed for your thing, whether it be some stupid catchphrase or looking like the POTUS, prepare for some super-overexposure.  Does Mr Sato say “Yes we can” a lot?  You bet!

In Japan, President Obama is called “Obama Daitouryou”, which can be literally translated as “Big Chief Obama”. People in Japan love Obama, but perhaps for more than the obvious political reasons. In a country where studying English can give you a big leg-up career-wise,  every bookstore I walked into during and after the presidential election last year was playing (and selling) a CD with Obama’s speeches. Not a bad idea, actually – those crisp, lawyerly tones would be an excellent model to learn from.

Ah, so extrapolating from that, then: perhaps if I were to model my Japanese on Fake Big Chief Obama’s, my Japanese would get…. weird.  Weirder.

Japanese politics – the movie

For most of the time since I’ve arrived in Japan, I’ve been fascinated by the election process. Politics are generally interesting, but politics in Japan have some fairly unique features. Finally, some of my questions are answered!

Campaign is a fly-on-the-wall documentary about the Japanese electoral process. Most of the documentary is presented in a very unobtrusive manner, with no commentary from the director. It’s hard to know if it was skillfully edited to do so, but the whole story left me just a little bit more sorry for the state of the democratic process. Although it’s about the Japanese political process, no doubt many of the lessons can be applied to many countries.

The long-ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) of Japan decide to put up a Mr. Yamauchi as their candidate in a council by-election (he’s on the poster above). Yamauchi runs a coin and stamp collecting shop, and is by most accounts, just a little odd. He has absolutely no experience in politics. He did, however, go to the right university, has a pipe dream to be Prime Minister, and looks nice in a suit.

So, the massive machine of the LDP swings in behind him, organising posters, appearances at events and a loudspeaker car. Amazingly (or not), none of the candidates run on any real policy, other than to “pursue the reforms”. In fact, the main tactic employed is blanket name-brand coverage. Say your name as many times as possible to as many people as possible. One senior campaign adviser to Yamauchi solemnly observes that he should aim to say his name once every three seconds, and to “bow to everyone, even telegraph poles”. So, Yamauchi swings into action, hitting the streets by foot and touring in one of the infamous vans fitted with loudspeakers that begin bleating their repetitive messages at 8am on the dot. On a personal note, even Yamauchi wonders whether the announcements will annoy people at such an early hour. I can answer that. Yes. Yes, they do.

For Yamauchi, this is really like boot camp. Although he’s the candidate, he’s at the bottom of the food chain. His senior, seasoned campaigner advisors constantly berate him for his manner, his bowing technique, that he doesn’t shake hands correctly, or that he’s late for events. He’s always made to be keenly aware of the debt he owes his party for helping him, and to return favours in the future when they are due.

Ultimately, he is a somewhat pitiable figure. He has to put up with a lot to achieve his goal, which he uniformly absorbs without comment. Perhaps the most telling moment is when the Prime Minister of Japan at the time, Koizumi, makes a personal appearance to promote Yamauchi as the LDP’s candidate in the by-election. However, Yamauchi is not deemed important enough to actually appear on the platform with the Prime Minister – he has to be content with standing below the more senior party officials where no-one can see him, frantically waving his hands to the crowd. He was, however, very excited to shake Koizumi’s hand as he briefly walked past, and personally pledge to “push the reforms”.

Perhaps the most sobering point of all was how aware the participants were of the many farcical aspects of the election process. However, no-one has the motivation to change them once they themselves are absorbed into the insulated political world.

Campaign is in Japanese with English subtitles – recommended for anyone interested in politics or Japanese culture.

See the trailer

We gotta a great big convoy, ain’t she a worrying sight

Today, I got my first sighting of the famous black-ish vans of one of the Japanese nationalist groups:

Now, I don’t know too much about these groups other than the small amount I’ve read, but they’re usually ultra-right-wing, and often favour a return to Japan’s imperial era, serving under the Emperor. Post-World War II, Japan has a largely pacifist policy with heavy influence from the United States. I understand that the Nationalists are not big fans of this. By most accounts, they are not a group you would want to mess with, and have historically resorted to intimidation against ideological foes.

These guys were hard to miss. The blaring imperial-sounding music is the first giveaway. Follow that up with the long line of twelve weathered-looking, uniformly painted buses and vans fitted with megaphones and flags, and they stand out a bit. I didn’t find out a lot of detail about this particular group, other than that they were likely out today to mark the anniversary of the dropping of the atomic bomb on Nagasaki.

In spite of the deafening waves of marching music bouncing off the downtown buildings, most of the people around me didn’t bat an eyelid as the procession passed. I’m not sure what to compare them to exactly, but they seem to be a fixture around here, at least.

Japanese electioneering – a visual tour

I’m assuming there must be some sort of election going on at the moment here – my lack of a TV and functional Japanese illiteracy makes it difficult to determine. But, always one to put in my two political cents, I’ll judge the candidates based on purely visual terms. After all, even if they don’t want to admit it, that’s what everyone pretty much does in most elections anyway.

I firstly saw this fellow the other afternoon:

He had a lot to say to the passers-by, but no-one really seemed to be listening. The fellow beside him also reminded me a lot of Brant from The Big Lebowski, so extra points for that.

Then, this poster was foisted on me at the train station the other morning:

If I could vote, I’d vote for that guy! Now he looks like a fella you wouldn’t mess with.