Disenchantment with politics in Japan: Nothing changes, ever

Political interest is scarce in Japan. It goes so far that a right-wing populist can rail against migration – and nobody cares.

A few people cross zebra crossings on the street

“Everyone only looks at themselves and their own problems” Photo: Zuma Wire/imago

“Demos bring nothing. That doesn’t change anything anyway.”

It’s the second time in a row that I’ve heard that phrase. In a day alone. I heard it once in the morning while speaking to an interviewee for an article. Then I heard the same phrase again that evening while discussing the morning’s conversation with a friend.

I am not surprised that a person I only contacted because of my work takes a protest-critical attitude. But having a good friend share the same opinion is frustrating. Mainly because it’s not true. I think so anyway.

In Japan, on the other hand, the two men are not entirely wrong. As frustrating as it is, global movements like Fridays for Future, Black Lives Matter or #MeToo in Japan not even a candle. No matter how powerful the protests cause a global outcry, in Japan they slam against a wall and then lie motionless, like a squash ball. As if that weren’t bad enough, demonstrations are even perceived as scary or as a disturbance of the peace. This applies to both left-wing and right-wing protests.

Stupid who operates processing

That’s why right-wing populists can stand in front of the busy Ueno train station in Tokyo with their car with nothing but Japanese flags and huge loudspeaker systems and shout whatever they want – nobody will come and call for a counter-protest. No students chasing the car away with whistles. No police to intervene.

During his speech, the man holding the microphone can mock Germany for dealing with its own Nazi crimes. He will then say that this should never apply to Japan, because heroic soldiers who contributed to today’s prosperity died here. The crimes committed by Japan during World War II – from the so-called comfort woman issue to the Nanking massacre and the experiments on people in Harbin – do not belong in Japanese school books.

Pedestrians who walk past such a car may look up briefly. Some may be listening with half an ear. But as soon as the traffic light turns green, they keep walking. The same applies to left-wing protests.

Everyone is the architect of their misfortune

The indifference with which Japanese society ignores such statements shows people’s disenchantment with politics. Problems like burnout, poverty or sexism, with which they have to deal in everyday life, is not a matter for politics, but for individuals. Hold on, because everyone holds on. If you are dissatisfied, change your life – or your attitude.

In the this year’s House of Lords election on July 10, voter turnout was just 52.05 percent. Two days, after Abe is murdered became. Many who did not participate simply have no interest in politics – and no trust. They are not convinced that politicians, mostly old Japanese men, can do anything to improve their lives.

In the next election in 2025, the right-wing conservative Jimintō (LDP) will be elected as the governing party anyway. And in it an old Japanese in a suit and with nepotism will take the lead. But he won’t be able to change anything. Everyone only looks at themselves and their own problems. They don’t realize that the problems are all interconnected. As well as? Finally everyone is silent.

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