OKURA, Yamagata Prefecture-For Matilde Nagase, a trip to the Philippines in May opened her eyes to the differences between the atmosphere surrounding election campaigns in her native country and in Japan.
``Here in Okura village, everything is very quiet. You can't even feel that there is an election. Nobody is talking about it. In the Philippines, everyone was talking and debating about the elections, and you would think they were the candidates themselves,'' she told The Asahi Shimbun.
Nagase has been voting in elections here since becoming a Japanese citizen seven years ago. She first came to Japan from her home in Cavite province in the central Philippines in 1986 to marry a Japanese farmer she met through an omiai, or meeting between single Japanese men and prospective wives. The event was arranged by the municipal governments in the Mogami area.
Even at home with her husband, their three children and her in-laws, Nagase said nobody talks about the election.
People in this farming town see no reason to get excited about it, she said. ``They don't expect anything good to come from elections. For them, regardless of who wins in this election, things will still be the same, or could even get worse.''
In Okura, where farmers and their wives must supplement the family income with second jobs, Nagase said the effects of the economic slowdown are felt especially keenly. The bonus her husband receives for his office job is now half of what it was 10 years ago.
Nagase, who works at a souvenir shop in Okura, said she could not understand why local people will have to feel more pain for the economy to improve, as Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi advocates. All she wants, she said, is a higher salary for her husband and herself and more job opportunities for Okura residents-a feeling shared by many in the town.
``People here don't agree at all that they have to experience more pain. What Koizumi wants is different from what the people here want to happen,'' she said.
``The Japanese are already used to having a comfortable life. It would be very difficult for them to be poor again, especially when there is no assurance that they can be rich again,'' she added.
But Louella Shoji, a Filipina who married a Japanese office worker in Masuda, Akita Prefecture, said: ``Filipinos are used to having a difficult life, so I am not worried about getting by if the economy takes a turn for the worse.''
In the 10 years Shoji has lived in Masuda, she has seen the effects of the economic slowdown in the prefecture. She is even unsure whether her husband will get a midyear bonus this year.
Sotaro Saito, a 49-year old farmer's son and deputy manager of Okura Village's Agriculture Division, said some local farmers earn extra income as construction workers.
Another effect of the economic slowdown is the inability of many farmers to find wives in their own areas, as local women leave for the cities in search of better jobs.
The result has been an increase in the number of arranged marriages between the farmers and women from China, the Republic of Korea (South Korea), the Philippines and other countries.
Saito himself met his wife, a Filipina, through an omiai arranged by the municipal government in 1986. They now have four children.
Not all of the international marriages resulting from the omiai have been so successful, however.
Four of the 10 couples who married through Okura's local omiai, for example, have divorced. The record is even worse in the town of Masuda, where all five Japanese-Filipino omiai marriages ended in divorce, prompting local authorities to stop hosting the matchmaking events.
Nevertheless, omiai events continue, as commercial operations step in and take over from the municipal governments.
Saito, meanwhile, said that with the many problems they are now facing, farmers should carefully consider who to vote for, despite the alliance between farmer's groups and the Liberal Democratic Party.
``Farmers have voted for the LDP for a long time out of self-preservation. But even though they continued to blindly vote for the conservative LDP bloc, the situation has only worsened. So the farmers should decide whether to vote for the LDP or not, taking into consideration the situation around them,'' Saito added.
Leotes Marie Lugo is guest researcher with the Asahi Shimbun Asia Network.