Japan Lower House election – Meet the candidates Part 0 – What voting means and how it works

On Tuesday, parts of Japan’s political net-osphere will go dark as the official campaigning period begins for the August 30 general election to select members of the nation’s lower house of parliament. Considering that this election has the potential to take government control away from the ruling Liberal Democratic Party for the first time in 13 years, national and international attention on this race is high.

So what can I add to the conversation? My interest in Japanese politics and other current events is fairly intense, so I plan to follow this story with the same rigor I apply to my other favorite topics.

Mainly,  I plan to profile the candidates up for election in my district (Tokyo’s 13th) to give a worm’s-eye-view of the election from my perch in Adachi-ku, Tokyo. Some readers will recall my series of candidate profiles leading up to last month’s Tokyo prefectural assembly elections.

But first, some opening remarks:

What will this election decide?

On Sunday, August 30, Japanese voters will go to the polls to elect all 480 members of the House of Representatives, the more powerful house of the country’s bicameral legislative branch of government. After the election, the Diet (Japan’s word for its parliament) will be convened to choose a prime minister, who will then form a cabinet. The upper and lower house will each conduct a vote, but if the upper house vote differs from the lower house’s, the lower house’s choice will prevail. If one party has won an outright majority of seats in the lower house, it can elect a prime minister without the aid of any other party, but if not various parties will have to negotiate and form a coalition government.

The lower house is where most substantive legislative business is done. It controls the passage of the national budget, can override an upper house veto with a two-thirds vote, and most importantly decides the appointment of the prime minister. The DPJ currently controls the upper house, which is a less powerful but still significant part of the legislative process.

The party (or coalition of parties) that wins this election will ostensibly gain control over essentially the entire country—if the DPJ gains control it will preside over the executive branch, dominate both houses of the legislature, and possess the power to appoint Supreme Court and lower court justices.

In practice, however, the prime minister and cabinet’s power has been limited – to give a very broad outline, powerful ministries set the agenda on most important national issues, the legislature exists mainly to ratify that agenda and distract the public with loud but ineffectual drama and scandal (in exchange for funneling money back to their districts), and the judicial nominees are almost never decided by the elected officials themselves.

The opposition Democratic Party of Japan are on track to make significant gains in this election, though it will be a tall order to increase their current standings (110) to exceed the LDP’s total of 303. The DPJ are campaigning on many issues, but perhaps first and foremost on a revolutionary vision of administrative reform. They believe that the bureaucrats in the country maintain power based on, in Secretary General Acting President Naoto Kan’s words, a “mistaken interpretation of the Constitution” that bureaucracy has the inherent right to control government administration, while it’s the job of the cabinet and legislature concentrate on passing laws. The DPJ would like to wrest control away from the “iron triangle” of unelected bureaucrats, powerful business interests, and their cronies in the Diet and place power squarely in the politicians’ hands. But more on that later.

How are members selected?

Since the law was changed in 1993 following a major LDP electoral defeat, members of Japan’s lower house have been chosen using two parallel systems – 300 are selected through single-member districts nationwide similar to the US House of Representatives, while the remaining 180 seats are allotted through a proportional representation system (or PR for short).

Under Japan’s PR system, the parties running in the election field candidates in each of 11 regions. On election day, voters write down two votes for the lower house – one for their preferred individual in their district, and the other to choose a party they’d like to receive the PR seats in their region. In the interest of counting as many votes as possible, votes will still count if a voter writes in the name of an individual running in the region or the party leader’s name instead of the party name.

For example of how this works, in 2005 the Tokyo PR district had 17 available seats. To win a seat, a party would have had to earn at least 5.88% of the vote, or 389,682 votes. Only one party that ran (Shinto Nippon with 290,027 votes) failed to gain a seat in this district.

The fact that relatively fewer votes are needed to win a PR seat has convinced smaller parties to try their luck. Most recently, the Happiness Realization Party, a newly formed political wing of new religion Happy Science, has decided to field more than 300 candidates in all single-member and PR districts (though as of this writing it is unclear whether they will actually go through with it). The religion’s leader Ryuho Okawa has announced his intention to run in the Kinki PR district with the top position. To do so he will need 3.45% of the vote, which would have been around 375,000 votes in 2005. His party would have to seriously improve its performance after winning a dismal 0.682% (13,401 votes in 10 districts) of votes in the Tokyo prefectural elections. Okawa had originally planned to run in Tokyo, but Tokyo has a higher 5.88% hurdle to overcome.

How does voting work in practice?

After entering the polling station, voters will be handed a paper ballot and a pencil (yes, a pencil, not a pen). They will be directed to a table with a list of candidates and instructions on how to vote. There they will write in the name of their preferred candidate along with their PR vote. To make it easier for voters to remember, many candidates spell their names using phonetic hiragana instead of kanji, which can be harder to write and have many different readings.

Since this election will also include a people’s review of nine of Japan’s 15 Supreme Court justices, voters will be required to mark an X next to the names of justices they would like to see dismissed. Blank votes will be counted as in favor of keeping them on.

In my next post, I’ll talk about the issues and outlook for this specific election before getting into the more provincial task of profiling my local candidates.

Tokyo assembly election: Meet the candidates (Part 6 of 10) – Nobuyuki Nakayama (New Komeito)









From Tokyo Prefectural Assembly Election

Next up is the second Komeito candidate, Nobuyuki Nakayama. His Komeito backing makes him a sure-fire winner in this election for the reasons I outlined in my previous post. He is also the only Adachi-ku candidate to sport a Cindy Crawford-esque beauty mark.

Unlike his party ally Tomotoshi, however, there is little doubt that Nakayama is a dyed in the wool Soka Gakkai member. His entire education from middle school to his master’s degree was spent in the SG school system (and read below to find out how much he respects SG leader Daisaku Ikeda).

Nakayama is finishing out his first term in the prefectural assembly. Before entering politics he earned the right to promote himself  as a “lifestyle and welfare expert” by spending 18 years in the welfare office of Meguro-ku (meaning his career closely resembles that of JCP candidate Yoshie Oshima).

A look through his blog shows that he tends to be positive and reserved except when he talks about Communists. He has no sympathy for teachers who refuse to sing the national anthem and accuses JCP assemblymen of negotiating in bad faith in budget resolutions.

Something interesting: Nakayama maintains two blogs: one for his official duties, and another “personal blog” ostensibly for his private thoughts and visits to factories and industry associations.

NakayamaOne thing I learned from reading through the personal blog is that Adachi-ku is home to the RSS Group, a maker of “high-quality” oshibori (wet-naps for use at restaurants) that are sold through a “rental” system wherein the company takes care of all cleaning and maintenance. Also, every fall the local wholesale market holds a festival where they sell fruits and vegetables and have a produce-themed roulette game. And there is a ginormous meat wholesale market in Shinagawa.

His favorite quote comes from a slogan issued by Beijing residents on the occasion of the death of former Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai during the Mao years: “The people love the people’s premier / The people’s premier loves the people.”

Nakayama’s thoughts on Soka Gakkai

Seemingly rare for a Komeito politician, on May 17, 2007 he gave a candid explanation of his personal connection to Soka Gakkai and his party’s relationship with it. In a gushing blog post about SGI leader Daisaku Ikeda, he calls Ikeda a “philsophical giant” (思想的巨人) and describes his thought and achievements as “no less than a feat of greatness in human history” (まさに人類史的な偉業そのもの). The post was inspired by an article in the Seikyo Shimbun (Soka Gakkai’s official daily newspaper) covering yet another honorary title bestowed on Ikeda, this time from the John Dewey Society.

Interestingly, he has a subtle and critical take on the role of his party in Japan’s democracy, which I will paraphrase here:

He is proud to be an assemblyman from the Komeito, the party founded by Dr. Ikeda. The Komeito, though a minority party, has boasted many shining achievements, thanks to the battles fought by senior members who have never forgotten the spirit of the party’s foundation “together with the masses,” and their dedicated supporters.

However, compared to the amazing greatness of founder Dr. Ikeda, the Komeito’s achievements are but a trifle. In addition, many supporters have been gnashing their teeth in anger at the recent political situation. He feels that the Komeito has become an “unprincipled party… that prioritizes controlling the government over the interests of the people.” Specifically, he is disappointed that the party did not hold Ishihara accountable for the mismanagement of Shinginko Tokyo.

One reason Komeito founder Ikeda is so widely recognized by global research institutions and universities is that his thoughts and beliefs are backed up by actions and achievements that these institutions recognize as “miracles.” Most of Ikeda’s followers work in their respective fields with a sense of mission and have produced results that are appreciated by many.

He then pledges to do his best as a local politician to stretch beyond the boundaries of status, philosophy, and belief to bring peace and happiness to as many people as possible and help the less fortunate.


I appreciate his forthrightness, though I personally cannot support his party’s mission to use the tools of government to realize Ikeda’s vision.

Tokyo assembly election: Meet the candidates (Part 5 of 10) – Haruhisa Tomotoshi

As the election looms, I am frantic to get these profiles done. To that end, tonight I will cover one of the New Komeito candidates: Haruhisa Tomotoshi (63). He is an incumbent and (like fellow Komeito candidate Nobuyuki Nakayama) has a near-certain chance of keeping his seat – LDP estimates of their party’s chances to keep control of the assembly assume that all 23 Komeito candidates will win.

Thanks to close ties with lay Buddhist movement Soka Gakkai, the Komeito enjoys a solid base of support among believers in Tokyo. Adachi-ku is also home to Akihiro Ota, the current president of the national New Komeito.

Some also speculate that the Komeito systematically inflates voter rolls by instructing Soka Gakkai followers across the country to move into election districts three months before the vote (the minimum residency period to become a valid voter). This may be true, but I would be kind of surprised if other parties didn’t at least try and employ similar tactics if they work so well.

Mrs. Adamu and I have a hard time supporting Komeito candidates because, like the Communists, they claim to be moderate but in fact have a hidden agenda. In the Komeito’s case, it is to protect the interests of Soka Gakkai, the Buddhist sect that provides election funding and sets their political agenda. The agenda itself tends to be quite mild, but I find the sum of their activities unacceptable: they inject religion into the political process, they maintain an aura of intense secrecy and refuse to explain why Soka Gakkai feels the need for political representation, and their activities appear to openly flaunt the democratic process to to protect a very narrow segment of society.

Anyway, let’s look at these guys.

Haruhisa Tomotoshi









From Tokyo Prefectural Assembly Election

As this poster might suggest, Tomotoshi “the man who really gets it done” does not feel he needs much introduction.

He is a veteran politician who spent five terms as an Adachi-ku assemblyman before moving on to the prefectural assembly, where he is currently on his second term. According to a JANJAN video, he was born in Manchukuo in 1945 just as WWII ended. He was never able to attend high school after his father died around 1960 when Haruhisa was 15. He had to work to support his mother and siblings before becoming an elected official at age 38.

One of the toughest fights of his political career was against Communist-backed Adachi-ku mayor Manzo Yoshida. Yoshida, who was mayor from 1996-1999, cancelled an unpopular building project and pushed to expand welfare services. Tomotoshi and other conservatives in the assembly fought Yoshida tooth and nail, and eventually successfully ousted him through a no-confidence motion.

As for his accomplishments, Tomotoshi takes some of the credit for completing the Tsukuba Express and Toneri Liner (two new train lines that run through Adachi).

It is unclear whether he is a Soka Gakkai believer.

In closing, watch this paranoid anti-Komeito propaganda video. They claim that the Komeito are being used by Soka Gakkai in an anti-Japanese plot to destroy the Japanese people’s lives:

Love the Final Fantasy-esque background music!

“After death cometh judgment” – Why are there so many Christian signs in provincial Japan?

(Updated mistranslation “regional” based on reader comment)

In his liveblog of Murakami’s new novel 1Q84, Daniel Morales of Howtojaponese challenged the folks at MFT to find something out for him (emphasis added):

 17:03 Done with Chapter 12. No topics on the Aum yet, but religion does come up. Will be interesting to see where he takes it. One question I’d like to see someone answer (maybe someone at Mutantfrog?) is why do so many houses in Japan have signs with Christian quotes on the side? I haven’t seen too many in Tokyo, but they were all over the town where I spent three years. Always the same color pattern – dark brown with yellow lettering. They said things like “The blood of Christ forgives all” or “He died for our sins.” Can’t seem to find a picture anywhere. (Update: Matt provided this link in the comments.)

We at MFT love a good challenge, and thankfully this one wasn’t all that challenging. Thanks to Matt’s link, I was able to Google my way to the name of the group responsible: It is the Miyagi-based “Bible Distribution Cooperation Society” a loosely organized association of Christians at least partly led by American missionaries. This is one of the same groups who uses soundtrucks and bullhorns in the Shinjuku station area to get out the message of Christ, so those in the know might not be surprised that these signs also come from the American missionaries.

The short answer to Daniel’s question is that this group asks the owners of the house or any other public facade to let them post the signs, and the owners say yes. What follows is the same answer in much more detail, but first let’s give a little background of what we are talking about in case some readers haven’t seen the signs.

The signs

So if you’ve never been to Japan or just not to a part of Japan where the signs are visible, let me clue you in – in various places, mostly in areas outside the major urban centers, you will often see signs that look something like this:

sssas

This one reads “After death cometh judgment- The Bible.” According to the site, it is posted on a bus stop near a middle school in Iwate Prefecture. Or this:

skms

“God is watching, even in your private life – The Bible.” (Taken in Akita Prefecture). Or this:

tmss2

“The wages of sin is death—The Bible” (Akita Prefecture)

(This site has LOTS more of the signs along with some Jack Chick-style pamphlets and a heaping helping of snarky commentary)

As you can see, they are written in white and yellow text on a black background in uneven, ransom-note fonts and usually contain the starkest of messages about what the God will do to you if you fail to accept Christ. If their intent is to scare the living crap out of people then they are remarkably effective as the signs are truly the stuff of nightmares (or at least a scene out of Carrie or The Texas Chainsaw Massacre). These are not the only public displays in Japan that appear to be judging you on the spot, but they are by far the creepiest I’ve seen.  I just don’t understand the point of making these signs so creepy. If you want to make Christianity appealing wouldn’t you try and make people feel welcome instead of scolding them like this?

My personal encounters with the signs come during regular trips to visit inlaws in Tochigi Prefecture, near the Gunma border. Mrs. Adamu, her parents and I usually take backroads to avoid the high tolls, so we get to see several of these signs en route.

At any rate, the placement of these signs on cracked concrete structures and rusted out corrugated aluminum bus stops and storefronts reinforces the general theme of depression and stagnation that dominates the areas I’ve visited. Whenever I see another of these white-on-black reminders that God is watching, it makes me  wonder if it is meant as a protest against all the rust and malaise of Tochigi and Gunma.

The group

Now that we know what these signs are, let’s try and answer the next question: who is doing this and why?

According to Wikipedia, these signs are mainly the work of the Bible Distribution Cooperation Society, founded around 1950 in part by an American ex-soldier named Paul Broman who has dedicted his life to spreading the word of God using this unusual method. According to this now-defunct blog of a Japanese Christian minister, Broman took Japanese citizenship in 1970 and funds the activities of the group through his IT services business GrapeCity Inc (UPDATE: Though Broman would be about 82 right now, I haven’t seen an obituary anywhere so I assume he is still alive). According to the group’s website, they initially started their activities in Iwate and Aomori but in the late 1950s expanded internationally. According to Wikipedia, other activities of the group include sound trucks (you may have heard them in Shinjuku) and a Christian school based in Miyagi. They are an independent evangelist group not affiliated with Mormons, Unification Church or any other of the major groups.

Also according to Wikipedia, the signs are posted with the permission of the building/structure owners, and often they are neither a member of the association nor even Christian. They simply allow their real estate to be used for ads, similar to political posters and some other ad schemes, though apparently the association is either not allowed or does not offer to pay in exchange for the permission.

(An aside: This willingness to ugly up the neighborhood I think speaks to the owners’ complete lack of anything resembling taste or the basic decency to maintain an appealing public space. The towns, for their part, also seem to have no interest in keeping their neighborhoods nice. I am sure someone will tell me to shut up and stop making Alex Kerr-style arguments to legislate taste, but in cases like this I have to side with those who’d rather see fewer eyesores) 
 
The association’s official homepage, true to its funder’s background, is well-designed and contains a lot of information, though an uninformed viewer might not immediately recognize that this is the group behind the odd signs and the loud, judgmental announcements in Shinjuku (I’ll accept that maybe the cartoon sound truck at the top of the page gives it away). 

On the “About” page, the group’s stated objective is to “directly communicate the word of The Bible” (「聖書のことば」をそのまま伝える」). Their listed activities are distribution of free literature at primary/middle/high schools, “broadcasting” the word of The Bible in areas where many people congregate, individual proselytizing by Christians, and communication of the word of The Bible on placards and signs. They are not a membership organization and do not solicit members. Though the group lends “mutual help” and coordination, each member is individually responsible for his or her activities. Wikipedia indicated that there are apparently other groups who are not affiliated with the original society who have imitated their style. Based on this mission statement I don’t think they would mind imitators.

The group’s activities are completely self-funded and seek no charity. They boast that they have distributed 60 million Bibles to 18 countries throughout their history. They claim to pass out 1 million Bibles in Japan each year.

It is hard to know how many people are involved with these efforts. I am still waiting for an email response from an affiliated group, the Church and Home Educators Association Japan (CHEA Japan). For reference, various estimates count between 1 and 3 million of Japan’s people as at least nominally Christian. Protestants, for their part, comprise around half a million or 0.4% of the population (this is a Wikipedia figure apparently taken from Adherents.org. Like all such estimates it is probably pretty unreliable).

Vintage evangelism

 The site also features a photo gallery of the group’s work that includes some vintage signs (unfortunately undated!). Some of these are really cool so I’ll post the best of them:
 

p32

“Jesus is the way, truth, life.”

christ-died-for-the-sinners

“Christ died for the sinners.”

god-is-not-in-the-shrine

“God is not in the shrine.”

after-death-you-shall-be-judged

“After death cometh judgment.”

bullhorn-on-an-electric-pole

i-am-the-way

Front: “I am the way.”

schoolgirl-uses-visuals

god-gave-his-only-son

John 3:16 – “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”

blood-of-christ-gods-only-son

“The blood of Christ, God’s only son, purifies all our sins – The Bible.”

There are lots more on the site, so I advise you to check them out! 

Fun with Christian signs

These signs have become something of an underground social phenomenon due their sheer ubiquity (in Japanese some refer to them as キリスト看板 or roughly “those Christian signs”). One site (linked from Wikipedia) lets you create your own scary signs in HTML. Here is my version of Nietsche’s “God is dead” quote:


















No retrial for Asahara – clock ticking

Tokyo Court Rejects Aum Cult Leader’s Retrial Plea, Kyodo Says


 

By Stuart Biggs

March 19 (Bloomberg)—The Tokyo District Court turned down a request for a retrial for Shoko Asahara, the leader of the Aum Shinrikyo cult who was sentenced to death for the murder of 19 people in sarin gas attacks in Japan, Kyodo News reported.

The retrial plea, filed in November by Asahara’s second daughter, was turned down because what it claims is new evidence wouldn’t be sufficient to overturn his sentence, Kyodo said, citing unidentified people familiar with the case. The report didn’t provide further details of the contents of the plea.

Asahara, whose real name is Chizuo Matsumoto, was sentenced to death in February 2004 for the attack on the Tokyo subway in 1995 that killed 12 people and another attack in the city of Matsumoto a year earlier that left seven people dead. The group is alleged to have killed 27 people in total.

Asahara, 54, lost a final appeal against the death sentence in September 2006, Kyodo said.


14 years later, Asahara might face the gallows this year…