Last Sunday’s upper house election was notable because it was the first time 18 and 19-year-old were allowed to vote. Both current parties courted the youth vote, and while many look to the youth as more likely to oppose the current pro-war regime, the LDP got the most support from young voters. According to a Kyodo News report, 40 percent of new 18 to 19-year-old voters voted for the LDP in the proportional representation segment, while the Democratic Party (the main opposition,) received 19.2 percent.
When it came to whether youths think Japan’s war-renouncing Constitution should be revised, results were 47.2 percent of teenagers said they were against the revision, while 46.8 percent were in support.
In recent years, Japanese youth have been very much characterized by their apathy when it comes to participating in elections. But now with the lowered age requirement, more of the younger demographic has started to gain interest in voting.
One event that helped spark more youth turnout on Sunday was “Don’t Trash Your Vote,” a combination of voting party and rock concert in Tokyo’s Shimokitazawa neighborhood that mixed popular bands with updates on the election in between as well as a results viewing on the TVs following the music. 23-year-old college student Mio Takahashi said this was a great way to help encourage young students and workers to vote who would rather go to a concert than a voting both.
“Young Japanese people are constantly wanting to go out to parties in order to feel cool, other times they’re just busy at school or finding a job, so a lot of them don’t worry much about how elections might affect them,” Takahashi said. “But this kind of event helps spread the message that voting and knowing who you elect for our government is also important, so I think it’s a great idea mixing it with good music.”
Entertainment means, such as music, have been popular in Japan to send political messages. Naoya Matsumoto, a 30-year-old bass player and drummer for one of the bands at the Sunday event, agreed that a lot of bands enjoy the chance to help motivate the audience for a greater cause.
“When our band heard about this, it sounded like a great opportunity for us to play to people while also getting a message across about the importance of politics and helping inform more young Japanese people,” Matsumoto said. “In between each band, someone would get up and talk about the incoming results, as well as motivating them as young people to make a difference.”
Even the LDP has used music to help garner votes. In an attempt to appeal to Japan’s Otaku (people very invested into Japanese manga and anime), as well as Net Uyou (cyber right-wingers) demographics, LDP officials gave a speech Saturday in front of the AKB 48 Cafe (named after the all girls band criticized for promoting sexualization of pre-teen girls but has a huge following in Japan). The AKB members elections often have just as much attention as the governmental parties elections do, so it very well may have impacted the results.
For the youths who have protested and voted to attempt to stop Abe and his parties from revising the constitution, the future does not look very bright. Students Emergency Action for Liberal Democracy (SEALDs), has been the primary youth protest group against Abe’s undemocratic plans of the past several years, but may soon be disbanding. Last October, SEALDs announced it would plan to dissolve following Sunday’s Upper House election, mostly because their members have all grown into their early 20s and will soon graduate University. SEALDs was also a proponent of using music to send messages to youths who may have not many opportunities to be taught why avoiding a dictatorship-like future is similarly important to them finding a job out of school.
Known for its demonstrations that sometimes included rap-influenced music and stylish placards, SEALDs was very much encouraged by political professors and democratic party officials to continue their resurgence in youth activism that sparked hopes in society that the nation’s youngsters may finally start caring about who is elected.
It begs the question: Why disband when the country seems to need youth protest the most? SEALDs leading members said if any other members wish to create a new group they may do so, but why weren’t any followup leaders in place? It could be because of the demanding needs of daily life and job-hunting, which many Japanese college students seem to value over taking any kind of political stand when schoolwork is more important. Seeing how music can really draw out the uninformed young Japanese to vote, this could be a major issue now that Abe and his parties control a two thirds majority in the Upper House and could rewrite the constitution. Without the streets filled with angsty, pro-freedom music from SEALDs, it might all be replaced by LDP members buying out their own shows to promote a new, more conservative generation of young adults.