Youth Voter Apathy Threatening 'Breakdown' in Japanese Democracy

LinkAsia's Rei Toyoda looks into reports of growing political apathy among Japan's youth, and suggests what needs to be done to re-engage Japanese youth in the political process.

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  1. On November 16, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda announced his intention to dissolve the House of Representatives. Noda decided that a general election for the Lower House would be held on December 16, with the the campaign period commencing December 4. This means that the Japanese general election is less than two weeks away.
  2. Recent numbers have shown that the voting rate for young people, aged 20-29, is incredibly low. Only 47 percent of young people voted in the last general election, compared to 85 percent for people aged 65-69. Voting rates for people between 20-29 are the lowest for any age group. There have been frequent reports recently that political apathy is growing among young people, as political scandals flood the news everyday.
  3. Disillusioned with Democracy: Japan
  4. So are Japan's youth as apathetic towards politics as mainstream media makes them out to be? To get an answer, I decided to go straight to the source.
  5. I created a questionnaire for my friends on social media to ask if they were going to vote in this election. I received 24 responses, and the answers surprised me. Sixteen answered yes, seven said no, and one was unsure. To be honest, I didn't expect that many people to confirm that they were planning on voting. 
  6. I then asked them why they were voting, or why not. 
  7. "I have beef with recent politics..."
  8. "I am going to vote. I have beef with recent politics, so I think I should express my opinions by voting instead of just thinking."
  9. "I'm too young to vote..."
  10.  "I can't vote now because of I am too young. But I will vote next year. I became interested in politics when I spoke with my professor and with American and South Korean friends who all have strong opinions about politics."
  11. "I'm going to vote. I don't usually watch the news, but I'm beginning to have a sense of crisis. Therefore I'm going to vote so as not to be left behind by the general public as a citizen of Japan."
  12. "If I waive my right to vote..."
  13. "If I waive my right to vote, then I have no right to complain about politics or society. Therefore I'm going to vote responsibly."
  14. "Politicians who know..."
  15. "Politicians who know that the voting rate amongst young people is low are thinking it is not necessary to consider policy that effects young people. If everyone votes, the policies will change. If we want the general public to think about the well-being of young people, then young people have to vote themselves."
  16. What I found after questioning my friends is that they haven't been fully invested in politics, but they have a sense of impeding crisis.
  17. Young people between 20 and 24 years of age account for six percent of the voting public. This means that young people are a considerable minority. If this trend of young people not voting continues, the gap between young people and politicians will increase. To prevent this from happening, Japan needs to rekindle young people's interest in politics across the board. If the small sample size of my friends is any indication, there is a desire to become more involved, especially as the situation worsens. 
  18. The Japan Youth Research Institute recently polled high school-age students in Japan, South Korea, China, and the United States about their perceived ability to make a difference in government. They were given two statements and asked whether or not they agreed: "I can't influence governmental decisions as an individual" and "I think I can change society by participating." 
  19. Astoundingly, 40 percent of Japanese high school students agreed completely with the first statement, that they couldn't influence government's decisions. None of the other three countries had higher than 20 percent agreement. The trend held for the second statement as well. Only 6.5 percent of Japanese students polled believed that they could change society by participating. All of the rest of the countries polled higher than 10 percent on that question. Japanese students feel helpless. The country needs to start teaching young people that they can make a difference in society.
  20. Teaching youth that they have a voice is a start. But what else can Japan do to increase youth participation in politics? One answer is increasing online resources. Most young people in Japan are heavy internet users, yet online election campaigning is prohibited. This means that the top source of political information for young people is completely cut off. If the ban on online campaigning is lifted, it will greatly increase youth participation. There are several organizations working to lift the ban, such as the "One Voice Campaign."
  21. The gap between young people and politics is growing bigger and bigger. If Japan doesn't do something to shrink it, there will be a breakdown in the democratic system. Japanese youth must become invested in politics for Japan to become a truly democratic country.
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