Sounds of Tokyo 4: Election Season


Japanese election seasons are brief and furious: two weeks of breakneck politicking packed with all the drama and surprises of their more protracted American counterparts. Two factors make it possible. First, Japan’s parliamentary system encourages large numbers of parties. This year was especially chaotic: one ruling party had been ousted in 2009, the new one had since become deeply unpopular, and a number of new voices were entering the fray following the nuclear disaster of 2011 and renewed territorial disputes with China and Korea. All these players had very little time to organize themselves because the election was not scheduled. Facing parliamentary gridlock and declining popularity, the ruling party suddenly dissolved the legislative session in November and called for a new election the following month.

The second reason Japanese elections are bonkers, and the reason for this post, is that Japan does not seem to regulate public noisemaking. If you have something to say you just take it to the street. Each political party owns a fleet of loudspeaker-equipped vehicles that ply the streets constantly for the two weeks leading up to voting day. Most of them just repeat the candidates name over and over again, which apparently helps. Other cars seem to give little sermons, which for better or worse, I couldn’t understand. Somehow I don’t think that is the point anyway. So close your eyes and picture the scene: a brisk December day on any street in Tokyo. No neon, just black suits, short skirts, tiny dogs and ugly buildings…and then this:

It is up to you to judge the aesthetic value of incomprehensible chatter, something I have spent a lot of time doing these past two years. But from someone who has heard a lot, Japanese babble is by far the best.


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