Extremely low voter turnout is a major issue in Japan. For example, voter turnout for Japan's recent Lower House election held on December 17, 2014 — in which voters had a say about who the prime minister would be — was just 52.66%, the lowest voter turnout in Japan since the end of the Second World War.
Various factors contributed to low voter turnout in this past election, including poor weather that was so bad in some parts of the country that voters could not make it to polls. However, another trend is contributing to low voter turnout: voter participation among Japanese millennials is extremely scant, according to the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications.
What is the main cause of the low turnout among the young generation? On the one hand, the cohort of younger voters is relatively smaller than in the past; this is partly because of declining birthrates.
At the same time, it's said that Japanese people don't really consider politics to have any connection with their lives. For example, a recent survey conducted by public broadcaster NHK revealed a sense of distrust young people feel towards elections — they believe that “their votes can change nothing”.
Meanwhile, there are some young people in Japan who have been making numerous efforts to encourage youth participation in politics.
YouthCreate is a non-profit led by 29-year-old Kensuke Harada. Harada became alarmed by what he perceived to be a lack of interest by his fellow youth in the political process in Japan. As a result, Harada decided to establish the student group “ivote” with his friends.
Since then, the ivote team has worked at increasing voting rate among people in their 20s. Harada established YouthCreate to continue his campaign with his comrades after graduation.
Harada talked to Huffington Post Japan about the cause of low voter turnout among the Japan's younger generation:
I think there are various reasons [for low voter turnout in Japan]. That said, one thing that is very obvious is that there is the common perception that their lives will never change for the better no matter how politics change. This attitude itself is caused by a sense of distrust towards politics. Many of the youth think that politics is automatically functioning on “the other side” of them and that their relatively fewer number of voices are drowned out by voices of the more numerous older generations.
Harada also said that the younger generation in Japan “cannot imagine exactly how it is like when politicians say they are willing to get back the booming economy of good old days”, since the young generation have never experienced life during the “bubble” economy.
Having working as an intern in the office of a Japanese member of parliament after graduating from university, Harada started to feel the need to connect the youth and politicians:
I found politics very important, realizing many politicians, their staffs, executive officers, and medias interviewing them — not everyone, of course — hoping to improve their regions or the entire country itself. However, the vision of these politicians has not reached the young generation of Japanese voters. […]
I thought this was not good. After all, government prioritizes the voice of older generations who go to vote, while the youth believe they have nothing to do with politics. […]
I believe the young generation and politicians do not have conflicting goals. They just do not know each other — they cannot imagine what the other is thinking. It is a pity and very frustrating to hear the youth say “politicians do nothing for us” while politicians say “the youth think nothing about the society”. If there is even a slight connection between them, their relationship possibly begins to change to make a difference in the future of Japan.
Included in his efforts to change youth towards participating in elections, Harada pays special attention to the annual “coming-of-age ceremony” where young people receive formal societal recognition for turning 20.
In Japan the voting age starts at 20, and the “coming-of-age ceremony” is therefore a good opportunity to change the perception among Japan's youth that “politics are very far” from them.
To give the “new adults” an experience of “changing something by voting”, Harada launched an “imitation election” project to let youth themselves vote for the subjects they want the mayor to address during the coming-of-age ceremony.
Harada and his organization have also launched a “Voters Bar”, a campaign to provide a place for both politicians and the youth to gather and interact. Harada says by providing opportunities for communicating with politicians in person, youth gradually realize that politicians a”re ordinary adults as well”.
When we held a “Voters Bar” in areas away from the big cities, discussions between youth and politicians became animated, including such common topics as the schools or restaurants they have in common.
Younger Japanese people notice that politicians are ordinary yet very passionate about improving the community. At the same time politicians also become aware that the young people also thinking deeply about their own future and about society.
Almost half of the young people who take part in this gathering usually do not go to vote, but they apparently are interested in politics. It is important to make these young people are to be seen by politicians.
今日実施した若者と地方議員の気軽な交流会Voters Bar in 岡山！全国での通算18回目の開催は代表原田の地元の岡山で開催！4名の議員さんと高校生から社会人まで28人の参加者！大学の地域活性化拠点での実施でした。 pic.twitter.com/gQR3Dta1ev
— YouthCreate (@YouthCreate_PR) 2015, 1月 25
A “Voters Bar” was held in Okayama, where our leader Harada was born. This is the 18th gathering since this campaign was started. Four local politicians and 28 participants from high school students to young adults all came out. We held the gathering in the same place we had once worked on reinvigorating of community in our college days.
YouthCreate also held workshops as one of their activities.
YouthCreate の選挙前、ワークショップ始まります( ´ ▽ ` )ﾉ 主体的にマニフェストを読むよ！！楽しみ。 pic.twitter.com/lvAIK1zDzW
— みそら (@muuun9) 2014, 12月 13
YouthCreate’s pre-election workshop is about to begin!( ´ ▽ ` )ﾉ I’m excited about reading each party’s manifesto on our own initiative!!
Harada, who has witnessed the positive effects of interactions between the youth and politicians, sends a message to the younger generation: “What we need to show politicians is, more than voter numbers, how much more engaged and influential these young voters can be”.
According to Harada:
It is a mistake to believe that voting changes nothing. If you vote, something will change. You may have believed that the relatively smaller population of younger voters cannot influence politics, but if the voting rate among young people increases, or if politicians notice the increasing number of young supporters, then things may change. […] Isn't it regretful to say, “I should have done something at that time” in 10 years? That’s why I go to vote — I do not want to regret what I did not do afterward.