There will be a Parliamentary election in Japan this Sunday, and the big news is that the LDP (Liberal Democratic Party,自民党, Jimintou ), the governing party for 54 years (minus 9 months in the 90s) is – to put it delicately – going out on its ass. Now the DPJ (Democratic Party of Japan,民主党 Minshutou), the party who will win this election, is a cobbled-together mish-mash of LDP retreads, former members of the defunct Socialist Party and some even more blatant opportunists (viz.,Makiko Tanaka, the Power-Whore of Niigata™, whose only admirable accomplishment was presciently referring to George W. Bush as an “asshole” while she was Foreign Minister in 2001). That doesn’t sound too promising, but I don’t think the Japanese who actually bother to vote are really concerned about this: they just need a change, any change, from the social and economic inertia of the past decade. The LDP ran out of ideas years ago, the leadership loathes each other openly, so much so that they have gone through four different leaders (and, by default, prime ministers) since 2006. The current prime minister, the autocratic Taro Aso, has been been dubbed the Bush of Japan for his mangling of his native language and his cushy, out-of-touch background, and is hated and laughed at in more or less equal measure. Anyway, something big is going to happen in the next few days.
All day, all over town, big trucks with loudspeakers have been riding through neighbourhoods, imploring, begging voters to support the LDP or its ally, the Komeito (which is backed by the weird and influential Buddhist sect, Sokka Gakkai). The Opposition Democratic Party is probably doing the same thing; I just didn’t happen to hear them tonight (and the local Communist Party probably only has one truck and it’s somewhere else). At around 7pm, the trucks were going opposite directions on different blocks and the echoes of their shouting bounced off the apartment buildings and cancelled out their ‘messages’ (“Please, please vote for me! I’ll do my best!! Thank you! Thank you!”– again and again and again). Dogs barked in the distance – an ominous sign, at least in the movies.
About half an hour ago, the doorbell rang. I didn’t answer it right away, thinking it was probably some other old guy trying to sell newspaper subscriptions. It rang three times, then I put a t-shirt on (it’s humid this evening) and answered the door.
There was a clunk as I opened the door on someone who had been obviously trying to squint through the peephole. It was one of my neighbours from down the hall, a woman in her mid-50s who always smiles just too much and asks just too many questions about where I’m going when we meet on the elevator. At least one nosy bat like this is virtually required by law to live in any apartment complex or residential street in Japan, so one accepts them as coming with the territory and deals with them accordingly, like the athlete’s foot you occasionally get from the showers at the gym. She was with a younger woman, who stood behind her. She bowed and reminded me that she was my neighbour down the hall. Since I obviously knew this, I thought something was afoot. But I bowed back, and wished her good evening.
She asked me if I was aware that there was an election campaign in Japan. After the cacophony in the streets this evening and all this week, I would have to be dead not to, but I didn’t say that. I just said something like, “Yes, the election. It’s on Sunday, isn’t it?” This elicited the usual cries of amazement at how wonderful my Japanese is from the women in back (it isn’t; trust me). “Yes, that’s right,” the neighbour said, “and you know that at the elementary school by the station … (…is where we vote, I knew she was going to say, because that’s where polling stations almost always are in Japan).” “And as for you…?”
“Well, no, I’m not Japanese, so… (or hadn’t you noticed?)”
“Ah, yes, yes, of course. I see. Well, now…,” she was looking ever-so-discreetly over my shoulder as she spoke, trying to see what a gaijin apartment really looked like, or…
“Um, is your wife in tonight?” After living next door to me for six years, did it never occur to her that I was single? A Japanese wife would be fairly obvious, I thought, especially one married to a foreigner in this neighbourhood. Maybe she thought I kept her in purdah or something and only took her out to vote. I was baffled.
“Hitori desukedou…” I ungrammatically replied. I’m not married.
“Oh, is that so?” ”
“Oh, well we’re (a phrase I didn’t know but guessed that it meant campaigning for) Tabata-san.”
“Komeitou,” the other woman said. Aha! Sokka Gakkai! Might have known! And she’s the local ward-heeler!
Lacking the vocabulary to tell them what I thought of mixing religion and politics (which is technically illegal here), and not wanting to get on the bad side of religious zealots (she’s not the only one in this building), I just said, “Jyaa, gambatte kudasai,ne (literally, Well, do your best, but said to wish anyone good luck in an endeavour).” That effectively ended the conversation on a positive note, and they thanked me profusely and backed away, bowing, having accomplished absolutely nothing in their quest for votes. Judging from the level of organization I’ve witnessed from the governing coalition tonight, expect a landslide for the DPJ on Sunday.