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Why Are Japan's Election Sound Cars So Noisy, and So Pointless?

communist party sound truck, tsuruga

Communist Party Election Sound Truck, Tsuruga. Photo by Nevin Thompson.

On July 10, 2016 Japan goes to the polls. While the purpose of the upcoming election is to choose 121 of the 242 members who make up the House of Councillors, the upper house of Japan's bicarmeral parliament, for many Japanese people it's a somewhat meaningless, low-stakes election — yet, there is one issue that generates passion amongst almost everyone in the Japanese electorate: noisy sound cars.

I can't sleep in on Saturday, my day off, with the noise from the sound trucks from morning until night.

Sound trucks and sound cars — vehicles outfitted with campaign livery and loudspeakers — are a key tool for virtually any election campaign in Japan.

The cars and trucks slowly cruise through the byways and neighborhoods that make up the electoral battlefield, blaring one message: the candidate's name, and a plea for your vote on election day.

This YouTube video captures exactly what sound cars do every election, and why some voters might find them annoying:

Video caption: “The election sound car is here and it's LOOOOOUD!”

It is argued that, especially in an election such as Japan's July 10 vote where voters are generally not engaged and not really paying attention, developing name recognition is a key part of getting elected — so using sound cars to make sure people know your name at the ballot box seems like a wise strategy — but some Japanese voters are still unimpressed with it:

Man, I hate election sound cars. For example, older dogs really hate the racket, and, just like the day after a fireworks display, some of them actually die from the stress. There's a woman in the neigborhood whose dog died this way. All I really want to do is enjoy a quiet summer.

Other voters wonder why the election sound cars simply (and seemingly mindlessly) repeat the name of the candidate over and over, without broadcasting any other useful information.

Oh, man!

“I am ‘XYZ” candidate from “ZYX” party!!”

That's all that's ever blared from the election sound car. Instead of just your name, can't we ever hear what you actually think? And why you're actually running in the election?

Arg, it's time for the noise and so from the election sound cars to start once again… Of course I'm going to go and vote, but I already know who all of the candidates are! But the sound cars just keep repeating the candidates’ names over and over again, without saying what the candidates actually believe! It's really just a noisy racket.

Spotlight blogger Mikan Box (みかん箱, mikan bako) offers an explanation about why election sound cars blare such seemingly meaningless messages:

せっかく大音量でアピールするなら、自分の意見や政策を言えばいいのに!と思っている方もいるかもしれませんが、実は選挙カーから伝える内容は公職選挙法により限定されているのです。

You might say ‘If candidates are going to blare earsplitting messages to try to get me to vote for them, why not actually tell me what they actually think!’

However, the messages that sound cars broadcast actually must follow guidelines set out in Japan's election laws.

Mikan Box refers to Article 141, Clause 3, of Japan's election law:

「選挙運動のために使用される自動車の上においては、選挙運動をすることができない」とした上で、2つの例外をあげています。

・自動車の上において選挙運動のための「連呼行為」をすること。
・停車した自動車の上において、選挙運動のために演説すること。

It is prohibited to campaign using motor vehicles. There are two exceptions to this prohibition:

・Repeating the same (simple message) from atop a moving motor vehicle
・Delivering campaign speeches from atop a stationary motor vehicle

Mikan Box concludes by saying:

つまり走行中の選挙カーでは「同じことを繰り返し言うこと」しか法律で認められていないのです。そのため、どの候補者も名前やあいさつの連呼になってしまうんですね。

しかし、そんな名前を連呼するためだけに何台もクルマや人員を用意して、本当に意味があるのでしょうか。

So, it seems that (according to Japan's election laws) the only thing candidates can legally do while campaigning from a moving motor vehicle is to broadcast the same message, over and over. And so, for that reason, election candidates in Japan have resorted to simply repeating their name and simple greetings over and over again.

However, one wonders if the effort of putting together the people and resources for these election sound cars is really worth it.

While most Japanese people find sound cars annoying at best, they still have the power to amuse. One hapless soundtruck that got stuck while attempting to cross under a railway managed to go viral:

Hey! You! Candidate Aoyama Shigeharu of the Liberal Democratic Party! Your sound truck should not be destroying public property (like that railway overpass)! […] It's a real pain in the ass!

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