On the evening of Oct. 9, the last day of three consecutive holidays and the day before the start of the official campaign period for the Oct. 22 Lower House election, an event dubbed “Bottom Up Democracy” was held in the public square in front of the east entrance to Shinjuku Station in Tokyo.

The promoters for the event included former members of Students Emergency Action for Liberal Democracy-s (SEALDs), a student movement that staged rallies against the national security legislation two years ago, and lawyers.

High school and university students climbed a stepladder and voiced their thoughts and opinions about such topics as democracy and elections. They urged the audience to go to the polls and vote.


Yukio Edano, chief of the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDP), a new opposition party created a week earlier, also spoke at the event.

Edano pledged to start building a new political voice from "the grassroots" and called for joint action to realize “true democracy,” telling the audience that they are the ones who “play the leading role.”

Some passers-by stopped to see what was going on, while others just walked past the site scowling.

There were two young men standing at both ends of a pedestrian crossing with their backs toward the site of the event and watching people crossing the road. They seemed to be some sort of scouts since they quickly approached and talked to a certain type of people--women wearing flashy makeup and clothes.

The younger of the duo suddenly called his senior co-worker’s name and spoke to him.

“That guy, while saying, ‘you are the ones who play the leading role,’ derided us as ‘the grassroots.’”

Surprisingly, the younger scout was listening to Edano’s speech. He probably misunderstood the term “grassroots” as a derogatory expression because of certain connotations of the Japanese words for “grass” and “roots.”

“Well, we can expect no better from Japan, I guess,” the younger man commented.

While shrugging off the younger man’s indignant words, the senior scout displayed a hint of smile while listening to the politician who climbed the stepladder next and spoke after Edano. It was Tetsuro Fukuyama, secretary-general of the CDP.

“You people who still work, too, should join this big movement,” he said.

The senior scout worked harder than the younger one. Again and again, he spoke to a woman, found himself ignored and returned to the original position with a sigh and slumped shoulders.

For some reason, he kept holding in his right hand a booklet distributed by a group demanding a hike of the legal minimum wage to 1,500 yen ($13) per hour. The booklet was titled “The Secrets of the Work Culture Reform,” a reference to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s policy initiative.

What kind of language can really bring a message across to people like these two men? Can Japanese politicians speak in such a language? More to the point, do they really see these people, in the first place?


As of Oct. 20, the CDP had received more than 85 million yen in donations from some 4,000 people.

After the Oct. 22 Lower House election, Edano said, “Heavy winds (in favor of his party) were blowing” as he looked back on the election campaign.

One of the factors that helped create these winds was his own campaign speeches.

Speaking on the stump, Edano repeated three phrases countless times--“You people” “grassroots” and “democracy.”

Even though what he spoke about was nothing particularly new, Edano’s words found a strong sympathetic resonance among many voters because of a political drama that unfolded shortly before the election. This drama, which revolved around political maneuverings by two opposition parties seeking to create a new platform to pursue power, gave Edano an image as a “pure” politician who has been excluded from the power game.

Various positive comments about Edano’s speeches, such as “moving,” went viral through social media.

This phenomenon indicates how we have become sick and tired of having to constantly hear words uttered by politicians merely for political tactics to win a power game and to instigate, mobilize and divide voters.

The “winds” Edano referred to were certainly nothing stemming from any political frenzy or unreserved support.

Public expectations for politics have completely ebbed.

As they have seen so much of the ruling camp’s arrogant behavior and the opposition parties’ dismal performances, Japanese voters are--it is inevitable and all too natural--becoming increasingly disillusioned with and cynical about this nation’s representative democracy, wondering where their real representatives are.

Still, we need to search for people who can serve as our representatives and cast votes after carefully considering our possible choices so that we, as the sovereigns of the nation, do not have to resign ourselves to the reality of politics in this nation.


“I remember Sept. 19, 2015,” Fukuyama said during his speech at the event in Shinjuku.

On that day, he spoke against the national security legislation in an Upper House plenary session just before the vote on the bills.

At that time, protesters were chanting, “Hang in there, the opposition parties,” on the streets in front of the Diet building. Their voices echoed in the night sky.

Experiences of cooperation between opposition parties and citizens in the battle against that legislation have led to the new political landscape two years later.

The seeds that were quietly planted in the past will sprout all of a sudden one day.

The roots may have spread deep and wide underground even if they are invisible.

Politics by nature is a fruitful and unrestricted business that is rich in potential.

But politics in today’s Japan is extremely constrained and boring because it is stuck with a rigid framework of thinking defined by two key concepts--regime change and two-party system.

Fixation on changing/maintaining the current regime has led to such petty political actions as dissolving the Lower House for a snap election without a rationale and effectively disbanding a party without a convincing explanation.

These acts speak volumes about how politicians have completely forgotten whom they should serve through their political activities.

Principles and ideals have become irrelevant. Debate on the Diet floor has become an empty formality due to the “winning elections is all that matters” mind-set among politicians.

Minority opinions are ignored, while the sovereigns are merely seen as numbers that determine the winner. Have we ever wished for such politics?

It would be easy to become cynical about politics and just say, “We can expect no more from Japan.”

But we are the sovereigns of this nation. We cannot give up on politics.

We need to try to crack open the potential of politics.

What is most needed to do so is not a technique nor simple numbers. It is the imaginative power that enables us to envision a future we hope to see someday.

Only a clear and powerful vision can make the impossible possible.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Nov. 5