| 27 May 2024, Monday |

In Japan, efforts afoot to win hearts, and votes, of the alienated young

Momoko Nojo’s election campaign in Japan is centered on social media and T-shirts, but she is not standing for government. Instead, the activist is fighting a different battle: indifference, which stops young people from voting in elections.

It’s no surprise that many young people don’t vote because candidates are largely male, old, and uninterested in their issues.

Only 10% of members in the recently disbanded lower house were women, and female candidates in the ruling coalition are even less represented. Male and female candidates are on average 54 years old, with more than a third being 60 years old or older. Only a few people are over the age of 80.

Women’s rights aren’t discussed, and concerns like gender equality, assistance for young families, the severe labor shortage, and the broken immigration system aren’t even mentioned.

Because of this disconnect, barely a third of young voters have voted in recent elections, and some observers believe turnout in the upcoming election on Oct. 31 will be the lowest in postwar history.

“In this situation, young peoples’ voices won’t be reflected in politics,” said Nojo, 23 and a graduate student.

“By not going to vote, life will become more difficult for this generation. Whether it’s problems with raising children, or other issues, to get politics to turn to our generation you have to vote, you have to take part.”

Japan’s situation contrasts with that of the United States, where, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, voter turnout of those aged 18-24 was 51% in the 2020 Presidential election.

Nojo, who developed an interest in activism while studying in Denmark, is not easily discouraged and has already triumphed against huge odds. Early this year she shot to fame with a campaign that ousted octogenarian Tokyo Olympics head Yoshiro Mori after he made sexist remarks.

But apathy among young voters is deep-seated and reflects long-term systemic issues in Japanese politics, often dominated by families who have been elected through generations, analysts said.

That the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), which is on track to suffer hefty losses in this election, has held power for all but a brief period over the last six decades also creates a sense change is impossible.

“I don’t go to vote because there’s just no feeling it’s connected to my life,” said Takuto Nanga, 22 and a comic illustrator. “Even if the top changes, there’ll still be problems like in the past.”


For women, things are especially bad. Only 9.7% of LDP candidates are women, with 7.5% for coalition partner Komeito.

“Even elected, women lawmakers don’t get a chance at the important cabinet portfolios. There are only a handful in the cabinet, and there should be so many more. Then women would have the sense they’re taking part,” said Airo Hino, a Waseda University professor.

While emphasizing issues such as climate change, cutting university fees and gender equality would help lure younger voters, the process also has to be appealing, Hino argues.

That means rejecting traditional campaigning in newspapers, stump speeches and turgid political appeals on NHK public TV for social media – which some politicians, such as Taro Kono, often cited in polls as a top choice for premier, have used to good effect.

“Almost nobody reads those massive party campaign platforms, and for young people it’s impossible, a facilitator’s needed,” Hino added.

Voter matching apps, where people answer questions and find out which political party comes closest, are also handy.

“It’s mainly a game, but that’s fine. In a lighthearted way you find a party you like, then you go vote,” said Hino.

Aside from her online campaigns for “No Youth No Japan”, Nojo has taken a similar tack, partnering with a clothing firm to produce a series of T-shirts with quirky designs emphasizing issues – life, peace, equality and the planet – and voting.

“Clothes are worn daily, it’s a form of expressing your opinion and showing yourself,” Nojo said, with the hope being they’d become conversation starters and spur wearers to vote.

That something must be done is painfully clear.

“With a larger population and higher voting rates, inevitably the voice of the older generation is stronger,” said Ayumi Adachi, 20 and a student.

“To get what we want, we need to speak up. We need to vote.”

  • Reuters