Efforts are underway in Japan to win the hearts and voices of alienated young people
TOKYO, Oct. 28 (Reuters) – Momoko Nojo’s campaign for the upcoming elections in Japan revolves around social media and t-shirts, but she is not running for office. Instead, the activist fights a different struggle – against the apathy that keeps young voters away from the polls.
It’s no wonder the boys don’t vote, as many of them say the candidates are predominantly male, old, and disconnected from their concerns.
Only 10% of the MPs in the recently dissolved lower house were women; the proportion of female candidates in the governing coalition is even lower. The average age of the male and female candidates is 54 years, with more than a third being 60 years or older. A handful are over 80.
Women’s rights are not discussed, and other issues such as gender equality, support for young families, the severe labor shortage and the dysfunctional immigration system are hardly on the agenda.
The split means that only a third of young voters have voted in the last decade, and some analysts fear that participation in the upcoming October 31 poll could be the lowest in post-war history.
“In this situation, the voices of young people will not be reflected in politics,” said Nojo, 23 and a PhD student.
“By not voting, life for this generation becomes more difficult. Whether it is problems with raising children or other issues, so that politics reach our generation, you have to vote, you have to participate.”
Japan’s situation contrasts with that of the United States, where the US Census Bureau said the turnout of 18- to 24-year-olds in the 2020 presidential election was 51%.
Nojo, who developed an interest in activism while studying in Denmark, is not easily discouraged and has already triumphed against great adversity. She rose to fame earlier this year with a campaign in which Yoshiro Mori, the over 80-year-old Tokyo Olympics boss, ousted after making sexist remarks.
But apathy among young voters is ingrained, reflecting long-term systemic problems in Japanese politics, often dominated by families elected across generations, analysts said.
The fact that the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), which threatens to suffer heavy losses in this election, has only held power for a short time in the past six decades, also creates a change of heart, is impossible.
“I’m not going to vote because I just don’t feel like it’s connected to my life,” said Takuto Nanga, 22 and comic book artist. “Even if the top changes, there will still be problems like in the past.”
It’s especially bad for women. Only 9.7% of the LDP candidates are women, 7.5% of the coalition partner Komeito.
“Even elected MPs have no chance at the important cabinet departments. There are only a handful in the cabinet, and there should be so many more. Then women would feel that they are participating,” said Airo Hino, professor at Waseda University.
While emphasizing topics like climate change, lowering tuition fees, and gender equality would help attract younger voters, the process needs to be attractive too, argues Hino.
That means rejecting traditional newspaper campaigns, dull speeches and sultry political appeals on NHK’s public television for social media – which some politicians like Taro Kono, who are often named in polls as the first choice for prime minister, have successfully exploited.
“Almost no one reads these huge party campaigns, and it is impossible for young people to need a mediator,” added Hino.
Voter comparison apps are also useful, where people answer questions and find out which political party is closest.
“It’s mostly a game, but that’s fine. There’s a lighthearted way to find a party you like and then vote,” said Hino.
Aside from her online campaigns for “No Youth No Japan”, Nojo has taken a similar path, partnering with a clothing company to produce a range of t-shirts with quirky designs that deal with themes – life, peace, equality and the planet – emphasize and vote.
“Clothes are worn every day, it’s a way of expressing your opinion and showing yourself,” Nojo said with the hope that they would become conversation starters and encourage wearers to choose.
It is painfully clear that something needs to be done.
“With a larger population and higher voting rates, the voice of the older generation is inevitably stronger,” said Ayumi Adachi, 20 and a student.
“To get what we want, we have to raise our voices. We have to vote.”
Additional coverage from Akira Tomoshige; Writing Elaine Lies; Adaptation by Muralikumar Anantharaman
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