Monday, April 16, 2007

Japan's campaign trucks

Over at Japan Probe, James writes about Japan's ubiquitous -- during election season -- campaign sound trucks, about which I have a certain appreciation, having been on the working side of several election campaigns now. (See this post, for example.)

As annoying as noise pollution is at 8:30am, foreigners resident in Japan must realize the severe restrictions on campaigning in Japan.

Aside from the hilarious DPJ ad, how many television ads for candidates have you seen?

How many visits to your home by candidates have you had? Heard much about debates about policy? And how many foreigners, like yours truly, have you seen on the hustings? (I learned before the first round of local elections that I was prohibited from campaigning.)

My point is that political campaigns have little choice but to rely on blunt methods, like driving around sound trucks and handing out leaflets at train stations, in trying to put the candidate's name before the public. In short, the barriers to entry facing a first-time candidate are steep.

In the traditional formulation, Japanese politicians need three "bans" to enter politics: the jiban (local support base), kanban (name recognition), and kaban (money). Each factor depends heavily on interpersonal connections, meaning that while of course the voters have to vote on the candidates, the real work towards getting elected is behind the scenes. The reliance on superficial means of exposing oneself to the public, therefore, is a symptom of deeper problems in Japanese democracy.

So gripe, but realize that the problem is bigger than just noise: it is that noise drowns out substance in the public sphere, and that even today too many decisions are made away from public eyes.

1 comment:

George Ehrhardt said...

"The reliance on superficial means of exposing oneself to the public, therefore, is a symptom of deeper problems in Japanese democracy."

Yes, if you only think of elections like we run them in America. Our elections are candidate-centered, so we allow candidates to campaign as long and however they want (and so we get a 2-year presidential election now). Be careful what you wish for. ;)

Countries with shorter election periods see elections as being about parties, not individuals. If you are voting for the LDP or DPJ, it doesn't matter nearly as much if you know anything about a particular candidate. In theory, then, short, no-ad campaigns are fine because the individual campaigning isn't what decides the vote.

In practice, though, this doesn't work so well in Japan because the two parties don't offer voters a distinct choice.

BTW: Interesting blog--please keep it up!