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Japanese young people helped LDP win election

  • November 13, 2017
  • , Mainichi evening edition , p. 2
  • JMH Translation

Are Japanese young people becoming “conservative”? In last month’s Lower House election, the approval rating for the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) was much higher among people in their teens and twenties than any other generations. So what drives them to support the LDP?


An exit poll conducted by Kyodo News on the election day shows that 47.2% of people in their teens and 42.1% of people in their 20s said they voted for the LDP in the Tokyo proportional representation block. Meanwhile, around 30% of people in their 30s to 70s said so. As for people in their 60s, 28.3% of people supported the LDP while 28.4% backed the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDPJ). The tendency of the youth supporting the LDP was also seen in other proportional representation blocks.


Shonosuke Nogami [sp.?], a 19-year-old freshman at Keio University, says, “The opposition parties focused on the scandals involving Moritomo Gakuen and Kake Educational Institution in the election. But it was not a policy discussion. It also seemed that candidates for lawmakers, who belong to the legislative body, are encroaching on judicial independence despite the separation of the administrative, legislative, and judiciary branches of government. So I couldn’t support them.” He did not vote but said he leans toward the LDP.


Yui Kuwahara [sp.?], a 20-year-old sophomore at Waseda University, says, “My greatest concern is finding a job. The job market is improving. I don’t want that to change because of a change of the government.”


It can be said that the LDP’s landslide victory was attributable to eligible voters who got tired of the constant alignment and realignment in the opposition bloc and voted for the LDP as a better option.


A group of researchers led by Toshio Tomoeda, a specially appointed sociology professor of Osaka University, have conducted a survey of more than 10,000 high school students in Fukuoka and other areas every six years for three times since 2001. When asked, “Does it stand to reason to abide by school rules,” a total of 68.3% of the students said “yes” or “generally yes” in 2001. But the figure substantially increased to 75.4% in 2007 and to 87.9% in 2013. As for the question of “Do you think Japanese culture and traditions are superior to those of other countries?” 29.6% said “Yes” in 2001. The figure continued to rise, reaching 38.7% in 2007 and 55.7% in 2013.


Tomoeda says, “In a society full of risks, it’s better to go along with existing rules than to deviate from them. So young people today tend to prefer a vertically-structured society and value the maintenance of order.”


He has also found out that youngsters today are living in two spaces — the conventional “public space” and the “enjo [burning] space” on the Internet. If they stand out in the public space, they won’t be criticized directly on the spot but be bashed in the burning space afterwards. So they avoid stirring debate.”


Is devotion to country the reverse side of a feeling of emptiness?


Some argue that the rightward shift of young people contributed to an increase in the number of LDP supporters. Writer and social activist Karin Amamiya, who once belong to a right-wing organization, is a member of the lost generation, who entered the work force from 1993 to 2005, when the labor market was extremely tight. After the collapse of the bubble economy, she gave up her dream of studying at an art college and worked part-time. At one workplace, she was forced to compete against foreign workers. “I thought that the place was the bottom of Japan. I was often told [by the employer] that foreigners work harder than Japanese despite the low hourly wage. The only difference between me and the foreigners was the fact that I’m Japanese,” she explains as a reason for starting to embrace right-leaning ideas.


In the current Japan, an improvement in the job market was primarily caused by an increase in the number of non-regular workers and Japanese society, whose population is declining, cannot develop a scenario for economic growth. Amamiya says, “Young people feel an excessive attachment to the country because they feel they have nothing. I see my former self in the young people who insist on a constitutional amendment as if from a sense of despair.”


Koichi Taniguchi, a professor of legal philosophy at Tokyo Metropolitan University, has asked freshmen to write a paper on Article 9 of the Constitution over the past decade since 2006. Roughly 60% of the students advocated constitutional revision while about 40% insisted on protecting the Constitution. He says there was even a female student who wrote, “Fire a missile into North Korea.” But Taniguchi is skeptical about simply concluding that a growing trend toward conservatism among young people is the cause [of the growing preference for the LDP] because when he recently asked students which political parties they think are liberal, the answers varied — from the CDPJ and the Japan Communist Party (JPC) to the LDP and the Party of Hope.


In Japan, the definitions of liberalism and conservatism are vague to begin with. Taniguchi says, “In the U.S., liberals desire active government intervention in society and the market and favor a larger government that taxes more while conservatives emphasize free market competition and aim for a small government that taxes less. But in Japan, the ideological aspects, such as pro- and anti-constitutional amendment, are underscored.”


Further, Taniguchi points out that [Japan is] excessively obsessed with a mindset stemming from the “1955 system [or the composition of party politics established in 1955.] He says, “Nowadays, students are not bound by such a mindset. They don’t regard conservatives as the right wing and liberals as the left wing.” (Abridged)

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