Japanese decide elections are just a laugh

FROM RICHARD LLOYD PARRY

in Tokyo

If Yukio Aoshima was a Western celebrity, he would be somewhere between Garrison Keillor and Norman Wisdom. A grinning, jug-eared 62-year-old, he began his career 40 years ago as a radio sketch-writer, making his name as the housewives' favourite on amiable variety shows like Bubble Holiday and Grown-Ups' Comic Strip.

A book of folksy memoirs about his father won a prestigious literary prize. The songs he wrote in the Sixties for an all-singing, all-dancing pop group called the Crazy Cats are yodelled by drunken businessmen in karaoke bars all over Japan.

This weekend, Mr Aoshima hopes to become one of the most powerful politicians in Tokyo.

For politicians, tomorrow's elections for the governorships of 11 cities promise to be as traumatic as the Kobe earthquake or last month's gas attack on the Tokyo underground.

The governorship elections, which come up every four years, are usually lacklustre affairs. This year they seemed more than usually predictable, after the ruling coalition of conservatives and former Socialists chose to unite behind joint candidates. However, the plan backfired. In the two biggest cities, eccentric "citizens' candidates" are threatening the drab paper-pushers who traditionally fill the top jobs.

Another elderly comedian, "Knock" Yokoyama, seems almost certain to win the vote in Osaka, with double the poll ratings of his closest rival. The Tokyo and Osaka regions are massive urban sprawls, with populations of 8 million and 2.5 million. Their annual budgets exceed those of many countries.

But, opinion polls predict that Mr Aoshima, a former member of the Diet's Upper House, is neck-and-neck with his establishment opponent, a grey figure, a former deputy cabinet secretary, Nobuo Ishihara.

The comics are riding a wave of disgust with incumbent politicians who have shown themselves unequal to the recent disasters. Japanese public life is widely seen as a conspiracy between politicians and big business. But Mr Aoshima has mounted his challenge on a minute budget of 200,000 yen (£1,450), which is a fraction of the usual campaign bill.

Both comedians have made brilliant use of a neglected political tool - television. During the 1993 general election, when the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) was finally toppled by a coalition of small reform groups, television stations and party chiefs made token efforts towards a more adversarial style of political journalism. There were probing questions and soundbites. But, when the reformed coalition evaporated, after a cynical compromise between the LDP and its former Socialist enemies, so did the combative interviews.

Mr Aoshima and Mr Yokoyama are proving that television can be a powerful political force, and that comedians' jokes can count for more than political slogans and bribes.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Arts and Entertainment
Under the skin: Sarah Kane in May 1998
theatreThe story behind a new season of Sarah Kane plays
Arts and Entertainment
Preening: Johnny Depp in 'Mortdecai'
filmMortdecai becomes actor's fifth consecutive box office bomb
Sport
Bradford City's reward for their memorable win over Chelsea is a trip to face either Sunderland or Fulham (Getty)
football
News
Lars Andersen took up archery in his mid thirties
video
Voices
Focus E15 Mothers led a protest to highlight the lack of affordable housing in London
voicesLondon’s housing crisis amounts to an abuse of human rights, says Grace Dent
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Operations & Logistics Manager

£38000 - £42000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the UK's best performing...

Recruitment Genius: GeoDatabase Specialist - Hazard Modelling

£35000 - £43000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our award-winning client is one...

Recruitment Genius: Compressed Air Pipework Installation Engineer

£15000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leading provider of Atlas ...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Coordinator - Pallet Network

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Opportunity to join established...

Day In a Page

Woman who was sent to three Nazi death camps describes how she escaped the gas chamber

Auschwitz liberation 70th anniversary

Woman sent to three Nazi death camps describes surviving gas chamber
DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

The inside track on France's trial of the year

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
As provocative now as they ever were

Sarah Kane season

Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea