Photo/IllutrationVoters in Yokohama listen to a speech on Oct. 21, the last day of campaigning for the Oct. 22 Lower House election. (Kazuo Takagi)

A simple turn of phrase has the power to startle, tug at the heartstrings and even summon up wondrous new thoughts.

So let us ask: How many people have had such blessed encounters while listening to campaign speeches for the Oct. 22 Lower House election?

The political language of Japan, as a whole, has become extremely barren.

Our prime minister shouted, “We cannot afford to be defeated by such people” while trying to drown out a chorus of chants calling for his resignation from some members of his audience during a speech he was giving in front of JR Akihabara Station in July.

When an internal document of the education ministry in connection with the recent scandal over the Kake Educational Institution was disclosed in May, the chief Cabinet secretary likened it to an “anonymous letter.”

These and other abusive remarks, prevarications and total unwillingness by central figures in the current administration to engage in dialogue have sown deep public distrust.

A snap election was called far too abruptly, and we are now seeing a flood of terse catchphrases everywhere.

The ruling Liberal Democratic Party, for example, cited a “national crises” in calling the snap election. Its campaign platform contains repeated references to the phrase, “We will defend ... through and through.”

We are curious to learn what the party has to say about its own responsibility for having invited those “national crises,” given that it has been at the helm of government for most of the time since it was founded in 1955.

Its secretary-general, however, barked at a jeering crowd, “We got it, so you shut up!”

Kibo no To (Hope), the new political party that was the focal point of the recent drama over the realignment of lawmakers, is all about “hope.” It stresses “hope” about politics, about household finances and about the world. It touts “12 zeros,” which cover everything from zero nuclear power to zero pollen allergy.

But it is probably the single word of “exclusion” uttered by the party leader that made the deepest impression on people. She said she had "absolutely no intention of accepting" liberal elements of the main opposition Democratic Party who wanted to join her party.

The very act of trying to use plain expressions and draw public attention should not be denied in itself. Such efforts are probably effective to a certain extent in realizing open politics.

But it seems to us that the act of trying to draw people’s attention has become an end in itself.

“Defending” something “through and through” or reducing something to “zero” often requires sacrificing something in exchange.

Light comes with its own shadow. When they are not struggling to find and use language to address an issue in its entirety, no room is left for dialogue that should follow. That is when language loses its sheen.

This unsettling state of affairs is not unrelated to a trend that permeates our society; making do with short text in exchanging messages and vying for more “likes” earned online represent certain aspects of today’s Internet community. All that inevitably means scrimping on details and jumping to conclusions. Politics alone should probably not be held responsible for the hollowness of language and lack of dialogue.

This weekend, just ahead of the voting day, is a good opportunity to once again check out the language being uttered by the candidates and political parties.

Let us ask if their language is down-to-earth and sufficiently convincing. Let us ask if the policies they are touting could withstand the appraisal of history. Let us ask if they have the power to imagine the anxiety and emotional turmoil that lie deep in people’s hearts and if they are facing up to those sentiments squarely. And let us ask if they are struggling to address these issues in their own words.

Due respect should be given to any question or sense of discomfort that may arise. We should think about where that question or sense of discomfort comes from and carefully assess, to the extent we can, the real faces of the candidates that lie on the far side of their terse catchphrases.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Oct. 21