Photo/IllutrationTakashi Tachibana stands in front of a party banner that states, “Destroy NHK.” (Toshiyuki Hayashi)

In an awkward moment for Japan Broadcasting Corp. (NHK), the public broadcaster announced that a political party, whose campaign rally cry was “destroy NHK,” had won a seat in the Upper House.

“NHK Kara Kokumin wo Mamoru To,” or the party to protect the public from NHK, said almost nothing about constitutional revision, the planned hike in the consumption tax rate in October, or what to do about the pension system during campaigning for the July 21 Upper House election.

Its leader and its candidates, a ragtag group lacking political beliefs or even gumption to serve the public, instead shouted anti-NHK slogans at their rallies, if they bothered to hold them.

But the message of the party, which is called N-Koku for short, spread largely through YouTube. The unorthodox campaign earned the party 3.02 percent of all votes cast in prefectural districts, as well as enough to win an Upper House seat through the proportional representation constituency.

When NHK announced the result on a news broadcast early on July 22, N-Koku leader Takashi Tachibana, 51, local assembly members and Upper House election candidates of the party let out a cheer.

“Six years after the founding of the party, we have achieved the goal of sending a member to the Diet,” Tachibana said.

His main policy espoused during the Upper House campaign was to scramble NHK broadcasts so that only viewers who pay subscription fees would be able to see its TV programs. Conversely, the system would allow those who do not want to watch NHK programs to avoid paying the fees but still enjoy TV programs on other channels.

During TV broadcasts allotted to parties taking part in the campaign, Tachibana repeated the “destroy NHK” chant.

That message was also a prominent part of the party’s video advertisement, which was played more than 3 million times on YouTube.

In comparison, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s ad featuring Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was viewed about 2.4 million times.

Although N-Koku candidates made little mention of their stances on other pressing issues, Tachibana indicated the party could support Abe’s long-held goal of amending the Constitution--if the LDP agrees to scramble NHK broadcasting.

N-Koku obtained enough votes to meet the conditions set for political parties, meaning it will receive about 59 million yen ($545,000) in public funds as a subsidy distributed to qualifying parties.

Tachibana already has more ambitious political goals.

“There is an extremely high possibility that I will run in the next Lower House election,” Tachibana said. Such a campaign would mean that another party candidate would take over his Upper House seat.

Tachibana has often switched posts since forming the party.

A former NHK employee, Tachibana won a seat in the Funabashi municipal assembly in Chiba Prefecture in 2015. But after about a year, he stepped down for an unsuccessful run in the Tokyo gubernatorial election.

In 2017, Tachibana gained a seat in the Katsushika Ward assembly in Tokyo, but he vacated that post after about 18 months to run in the Sakai mayoral election in Osaka Prefecture. After failing in that election, Tachibana set his sights on this year’s Upper House election.

In the meantime, N-Koku was expanding its political influence.

In the unified local elections held in spring 2019, 26 of the party’s official candidates were elected to local assemblies in Tokyo, Chiba Prefecture, and elsewhere.

Tachibana said those local election victories were key to moving the party to the national stage.

To qualify for the Upper House proportional representation constituency, a party must have at least 10 candidates and submit a minimum of 30 million yen as a deposit. The money is not refunded if a party fails to gain a certain level of votes.

Tachibana felt that if N-Koku had more local assembly members, their salaries could be used as a loan for the deposit.

N-Koku ran 37 candidates in the prefectural districts, and Tachibana did not hide the fact that his only goal in that portion of the election was to spread the name of the party.

“I have no intention of seeing any of them win,” he said during the campaign.

The candidates were chosen with no reference to their political beliefs or backgrounds. In most cases, a simple phone call was all it took for an individual to be selected as an official candidate of the party.

However, one important condition for the candidates was the ability to use YouTube.

Some of the candidates were far from enthusiastic.

One man who ran in the Kansai region was apparently too busy napping to create any campaign posters or business cards.

“During the campaign period, I just slept at home,” he said.

The party’s “open-door” policy of selecting candidates has naturally turned up some bad apples.

A number of N-Koku local assembly members have been found with histories of inappropriate comments or behavior.

A municipal assembly member in Hyogo Prefecture was fined for her actions in 2010. She and members of a group known for its racist attitudes toward ethnic Koreans stormed an office of a teachers’ labor union in Tokushima Prefecture while shouting, “Traitor.”

An N-Koku candidate who won a ward assembly seat in Tokyo in spring this year is a former Sapporo municipal assembly member in Hokkaido, who once tweeted that the indigenous Ainu people no longer existed.

Another party member, in a video he made after being elected to a ward assembly in the capital, described as “traitors” any Japanese company that does business with South Korea.

The two men have been removed from the party roster, but they remain ward assembly members.

Tachibana appears to have few qualms about joining forces with politicians who have come under fire over past remarks.

At a news conference after he won his Upper House seat, Tachibana said he would ask Hodaka Maruyama, a Lower House member, to join his party.

Maruyama was expelled from Nippon Ishin (Japan Innovation Party) for drunkenly suggesting that Japan would have to go to war against Russia to regain the disputed Northern Territories off Hokkaido.

Having Maruyama, now an independent, join N-Koku could be another move by Tachibana to run candidates in all 11 proportional representation blocs in the next Lower House election.