[DC notes to self and others in brackets]
November 6, 1989 - ELECTION RESULTS
"I am very angry that Recruit scandal candidates won," said Shimizu in an uncustomary huff.
Across from him, Mrs. Morikawa was shaking and stuttering. It was taking her a long time to find the right English words to express herself. "Nothing change... it uh... like before... okay to... uh... receiving much money."
Tanahashi's sweet voice trembled, "I am ashamed of the Japanese people. They only want more for themselves."
"This is worse than I hoped for. I am so disappointed," said Etsuko with her head lowered. "I do not want to see the children's faces this afternoon at school."
Kubo wasn't saying anything. She never seems to care what's going on in the news. She had started this MMC off by mentioning that she was going shopping for shoes after we were through. The election results trampled over her topic, but not before she showed-off the fine pair of red leather pumps she was wearing to go shopping in. She said that even though she was going to buy cheap shoes, she wanted to be seen shopping in expensive ones.
I let the class talk a while in Japanese to get their election frustrations out of their systems. While they did so I put some water on in the kitchen and brought in a bowl of expensive purple grapes that we'd received in a box from the mother of a couple of girls in one of Elin's classes. I counted the grapes and figured they cost thirty-five cents each. We see these special fruit gifts on display in the train station. Melons will cost up to eighty bucks. Savvy Ishitaki says, "Don't waste a melon on a Westerner."
When the class saw the grapes they stopped talking for a second and exclaimed over how choice they were and thanked me for the offering.
"We have missed an important opportunity to reform the system," said Etsuko picking her first purple prize from the twig and peeling off the skin.
Hands reached for the bowl, each hesitant to go before the others but soon everyone was peeling and savoring. Before he'd finished chewing his first, Shimizu spoke. He said the problem is that everyone had hoped that the reform would happen elsewhere and that, all over Japan, people voted for the same old establishment, the certainly-not-liberal, Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) which has totally domanated Japanese politics since the war. Shimizu said that people voted for LDP candidates because they would bring the most money and construction projects to their home districts. "But this is no excuse," he said licking his lips.
He's actually a stanch LDP supporter, though he was opposed to their "tax reform." On top of the latest round of scandals, people were mad at the LDP for the new taxes. Even though he owns a liquor store he was disturbed that the tax on luxury items was adjusted down so that expensive booze cost less than before. (This had the curious effect of causing these items to sell less when they were no longer appropriately priced gifts anymore for important people.) And he thinks it's wrong that, even though the consumption tax hit food and medicine, the old and sick received no compensation in their marginal fixed incomes. They were the ones who the consumption tax was touted as being for in the first place.
None of the members of the MMC really wanted to rock the boat too much - they just wanted to adjust it. Mrs. Morikawa said that the LDP is in bed with gangsters and that its roots go back to prewar fascists. She voted for the so-called Japan Socialist Party (JSP). I asked her what she hoped for if they won control of the Diet, that strange Latin-based translation for the name of their congress.
"Oh I don't want them to win," she said. I just want them to gain some seats and have more influence. Their platform is to not recognize the South Korea but the North, and that would be very bad. And they oppose the mutual protection treaty with America, and that is very important to stop Japan from becoming militaristic nation again."
Delicate Tanahashi had announced solemnly the week before, that after much deliberation, she had decided to vote for the Communist Party (not to be confused with communism anywhere else). It's a strange party and I was a little embarrassed for Tanahashi that she voted for them. She had decided to because they didn't have any scandal-ridden candidates and also because they had been the first to advocate a democratic society with open elections and right to assembly earlier in the century. But after all that it turned out that she had the same ultimate strategy. She just wanted them to influence the LDP a little bit - not to become too powerful.
Etsuko had voted for the candidate from the smallest party, the Shaminden. I can't remember the name in English but in Japanese it sounds like a people's socialist party and they are an offshoot of the JSP. She brought me one of their posters and lo and behold, written in English was: THINK GLOBALLY, ACT LOCALLY. I thought they must be a really hip environmental group but Mr. Shimizu popped that bubble. He said they mainly tried to get more federal money spent locally and were fairly isolationist. He furthermore said that Japanese would be better off if they thought globally before they acted globally. Anyway, Etsuko had the same idea in voting for them as the other ladies.
"Doesn't anyone but Mr. Shimizu vote for who they want to win?" I asked.
Etsuko pointed out that even Shimizu didn't want the LDP to win big either. "We all think they are the experts who know the best foreign policy and keep the nation economically strong. But they should be more honest and care about little people."
Kubo finally spoke up and said she voted for the LDP.
"Ahah! Why?" I asked.
She said the only candidate that she and her husband paid any attention to was a very nice young man whose family was close to theirs. He was untainted by the scandal and was running for reelection. I asked her what this nice young man thought about the consumer tax which she disliked so much, her favorite pastime being to shop, and she laughed and said, "Oh he does not understanding things like that. His family is very rich and his father and uncle are in politics. They do not know about the problems of usual people."
All week in English classes and on the streets in conversation with neighbors, I heard the words "embarrassed" and "ashamed," mainly from people over twenty-five years old, but this was even true of some of the college students, housewives and sarariman (salarymen), who had had very little to say before the election. There was a general atmosphere of disappointment. I can sympathize. The candidates I vote for in the States hardly ever win. Sometimes I get superstitious and wonder if things would turn out better if I voted against my candidate. My Japanese friends are happy to hear me rant and rave about politics back home - it helps to even the score. Shimizu said that before he met me he thought that only Japan had politicians to be ashamed of.
One thing we won't miss is the noisy electioneering. The campaign sound trucks, representing all the various candidates and parties, will no longer be wandering around the city beseeching at such insane decibel levels. I asked when the candidates brought up issues or debated.
"They don't," said Shimizu. "They just say, 'Onegaishimasu, onegaishimasu,' (Please, I beg you, if you would be so kind...) over and over."
"And when someone wave to show support, they say, 'Thank you, thank you, thank you,'" said Morikawa.
"And the name of the candidate," added Etsuko eating the next to last grape and getting her bright red lipstick on the tip of one of her fingers.
"But don't they ever mention issues?" I asked eating the last grape because I knew that otherwise it would sit there forever, "like the consumption tax or the cost of elections or land prices."
Shimizu said that a candidate might brush over the issues in a five minute talk at a supermarket but everyone agreed that even there, when the candidates are with voters, they mainly just go around shaking their hands and saying "please be good to us" and "thank you very much."
"How can you put up with those sound trucks? I don't understand. To me it's just hard to... I can't believe it..." I mumbled failing to find adequate words to express my feelings about this phenomena.
"Everyone, every candidate uses them," said Tanahashi. "But I think they are very noisy and should not be allowed. I have tried to stop them in my neighborhood. I talked to my friend who is a neighbor and to the man who is head of our neighborhood association. I also asked him to stop the chimes in the morning and evening which tell the time. They are located near our house. I said we have clocks and it is very noisy."
"Yes, we can hear them from here. What happened?" I asked.
"He said that they would consider it. But they didn't even bring it up in neighborhood meeting. So my neighbor and I are thinking we will go from the house to the house and ask people to sign petition asking no more loud chimes in our neighborhood so we can have a fine living condition."
I was astounded. "That's fantastic!" I said. "You're an activist. Keep us informed." Gentle, fragile Tanahashi was trying to take on the male powers that be.
"People would not allow all this noise in the States." I said. "They'd be furious. I know we're generally noisier people than you are but we have a stronger sense of a right to privacy." I bit my tongue to stop myself from saying we'd blast 'em off the road. They'd take me literally. Etsuko had just asked me last week if everyone in America carries guns.
I'd already blown it just a few days before. It's probably because Elin wasn't there that day to stop me from making an idiot out of myself. I was with a few English teachers after Japanese class at a youth hostel on a hill. There were two sound trucks down below on different sides, wailing up their eerie echoing messages. They were unbelievably loud - and two at once! And how did we Americans and one Australian react? We started attacking them with imaginary machine guns going "Da da da da da!"
Kubo from the MMC, who is one of the teachers there, walked out and exclaimed to me, "But David, this is not Bukkyo (Buddhism)!" I stopped firing long enough to ask her if she liked what she heard.
"They all do it," she answered.
"Not good enough," I responded and resumed firing.