Politics as usual in Japan

Well… it’s erection time again in Tokyo. Oops… I meant “election” (get your mind out of the gutter for once, will you?). How do I know, given that foreigners can’t vote in public elections? I know because my otherwise quiet neighborhood is innundated with trucks and cars sporting loudspeakers the size of my desk, driving up and down the streets spewing their political rhetoric as loudly as they can. It seems that lately there are more of these vehicles than before — each supporting a candidate for some minority party that doesn’t stand a bat’s chance in hell to win against the incumbent (elections in Japan are largely symbolic since it’s very rare for an incumbent to actually *not* win back his seat each time).

I really have no idea why these guys think that the way to win an election is to drive around the neighborhood during the day waking babies from their naps, causing dogs to howl like they’ve just been tazered, and preventing me from concentrating on the software code I’m trying to write. Oh yeah… you can leave that last part out — I can’t vote so nobody really cares if I can’t concentrate in my own home. The Japanese, however, seem to have a curious apathy toward these loud goings-on. At least I’ve never heard anyone complain. Several years ago I used to work in a tall building across the street from the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building (the “Tocho” — then, as now, the tallest building in Tokyo). At least two or three times a week, more when elections were near, huge busses, painted like military vehicles with heavy screen over the windows, would circle the Tocho blasting some kind of rhetoric or another. It was often so loud I could hear it from the 20th floor of a high-rise office building. Likewise, one can often see politicians and other manner of kooks blasting their propaganda through huge loudspeakers in front of major train stations. In highly populated areas like Shibuya there are often two such spectacles going on within earshot of each other. And hardly anybody gives them a second thought. (It might be interesting to note that Shoko Asahara, the man behind Aum Shinrikyo and the sarin gas attacks on the Tokyo subway system in 1995, once campaigned for public office using a similar methodology — in that case, the loudspeaker van was surrounded by Aum followers dressed in elephant headgear. Now *that* would have been something to see…)

From what I’ve been told, there are no laws in Japan limiting how much noise one can make on public property. It seems the only real limit is technology and the unspoken threat of being sued by someone for hearing loss. I’ve often thought of starting a campaign whereby people could report where and when these loudspeaker-carrying vehicles were operating and post an ordered list of the worst offenders — the point being that the public could then vote them out of office to send a message. Of course, the public being what they are, the publicity would probably have the opposite effect. I’ve also thought that maybe I could encourage people to start a grassroots movement to explicitly vote for those candidates who refuse to disturb the peace of their neighborhoods by blasting their voice all over creation. But… alas… I can’t vote so the powers-that-be aren’t likely to even care.

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