Photo/Illutration Former Justice Minister Katsuyuki Kawai, left, and his wife, Anri, an Upper House member (Kotaro Ebara, Hikaru Uchida)

The nation's summer 1974 Upper House election was so corrupted by vote-buying that a U.S. daily's coverage of it used the expression "big yen" with shocked disdain.

One candidate spent 2 billion yen ($18.79 million), and more than 100 people were arrested, according to "Minzoku Senkyo no Yukue" (The future of folk election) by folklorist Jin Sugimoto, 72.

The manager of one candidate's campaign, a member of whom was arrested, applied to this election a slogan that went to the effect, "Invest 1 billion yen and you'll win. Invest 700 million yen, and you won't win."

The manager himself was also indicted, but claimed the money he invested was meant for funding a support group, not for bribery. This individual was well known within his circles and dubbed "the god of elections."

He preached that the election outcome was determined by the amount of "saisen" (donations of money made by worshipers at temples and shrines), and he also knew perfectly well to whom and how far the "donations" needed to be made.

I heard almost identical "logic" on Aug. 25.

Former Justice Minister Katsuyuki Kawai, accused of vote-buying together with his Upper House legislator wife, Anri, pleaded not guilty with this assertion: "The intent (of giving money) was not to ask to help the campaign."

Kawai has effectively admitted giving cash to 100 individuals, including prefectural assembly members, but insisted the money was meant purely as gifts with which to congratulate them for winning elections, or as a gesture of goodwill and encouragement toward candidates seeking elected offices.

Kawai's lawyers argued that his actions amounted "jiban baiyo," which translates as "cultivating his electoral base." This unfamiliar Japanese expression is said to denote activities that are meant to solidify one's support base.

But Kawai is a seven-term Lower House legislator. If the prosecutors' allegation is true--that this already well-established politico openly shoved wads of cash into the hands of people in public restrooms and even in his own car--such behavior can hardly be construed as "cultivating his support base."

The Liberal Democratic Party headquarters provided Kawai and his wife with a whopping 150 million yen, which is said to be 10 times the normal campaign funding any candidate would receive from the party.

Did the party leaders figure that would be about the amount needed to ensure Anri Kawai's successful Upper House bid?

But in any case, I am stunned anew that such a big, fat "saisen" was changing hands even in this day and age.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Aug. 26

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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.