Thomas D. Segel
Do We Need Japan's Laws to Control the Silly Season?
It is hard to get one's head around the fact that we have become a nation of
perpetual political campaigns. They seem to start with a person's birth and end
when the last breath is exhaled.
With the final votes counted for last November's election, the public should
have seen some relief. But, no, no, no...now the media is telling us who will be
running for President in 2012. There are even claims that political ads are
already being aired on television, though none have appeared on my screen.
All of this political chatter has me reflecting back to the days when our family
lived in Japan. This nation, the size of California, has some of the most
restrictive political campaign laws found in any democratic society.
In Japan, candidates for public office are restricted in every aspect of
campaigning. Though a political party can advertise its position prior to any
election, no individual candidate can run ads in newspapers, or radio or
television. Law covers the total number and size of campaign posters. No
candidate can have name advertising on banners, caps, T-shirts, pins, badges or
any other item that might promote candidacy. No candidate can knock on doors of
homes or businesses, nor may they enter people's homes. They may not use the
Internet or any social network once a campaign season officially starts...even
their supporters cannot mention them on any of the social networks. Thankfully
the usual length of the campaign season is only 17 days.
So, how does a candidate get his or her message to the public? In Japan every
person running for political office is allowed to have one campaign van. The
usual practice is to have it rigged with a powerful public address system with
speakers atop the van pointing in every direction. From dawn till dark these
vans drive the streets of the country with the PA system at maximum volume and
the candidate repeating his or her name and the office being sought over and
The candidate can have an official color. Workers and volunteers can wear shirts
and headbands in that color, but no name or message can be printed on those
items. The candidate can wear a sash with his or her name printed on it.
When not in that van with loud speakers blaring, the candidates can climb on top
of the van and deliver speeches. Most of the time, however, they just keep
repeating their names over and over again, along with solicitation of the public
vote on Election Day.
When we lived in Japan it was the custom of all candidates to wear white gloves
while campaigning. That was thought to be symbolic of a person entering politics
with clean hands. That custom has faded away for most of those running for
political office today.
Since they are restricted from knocking on doors or entering homes, those
seeking office will send volunteers ahead to do the door knocking and ask people
to step out of their houses to listen to the candidate.
I sometimes think it would be nice to have a little of the Japanese style
campaign brought into our political races. It would stop all our media clutter
and put an end to all of those phony campaign promises.
A popular locale for campaigning in Japan is the railroad station. Almost
everyone takes the train; making station platforms are an ideal place to find
large numbers of people. However, since everyone is in a hurry, no long message
is ever offered. It is just the chanting of the candidate's name and vote for me
over and over...and over. But, hey...it is only for 17 days.
About Thomas D. Segel
Thomas D. Segel, a career journalist and
broadcaster, completed 26 years of service in the United States
Marine Corps, with the majority of his assignments spent in
joint service commands covering military events and action
throughout Asia. His post military career was as Director of
Information for the Marine Military Academy, followed by
employment as a Texas state official. His position at the time
of retirement was Director for the Division of Information,
Texas Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation, Rio
Grande State Center.