Democracy is a strange beast. Obviously, it’s incredibly important to have direct representation and a voice in government, but opening up the process to everybody means that . . . well, it means that you open up the process to everybody, even the weirdos, kooks, and crackpots.
You get strange politicians all over the world. The US has boasted both a professional wrestler and a bodybuilder governor, and a town in Alaska even has a cat for a mayor (Stubbs 2016!).
“Mister mayor, please . . .”
Japan is no different. In Japanese government, you get some pretty strange politicians and some even stranger candidates. And what’s great about Japanese politics is that there’s a tradition of seikenhousou (政見放送), an uninterrupted, solo, televised broadcast of a candidate’s political views.
With elections coming up in Japan, eccentric and unusual political candidates have once again come out of the woodwork to make a grab for power; or at least, make their voices heard.
Let’s take a look at some of the wildest candidates in Japanese past and present:
Rock and Roll Nationalist TOKMA
46-year-old TOKMA is has made his occupation as a musician, but with the governorship of Tokyo opening up, he’s decided to try a career change.
Apparently caught up in the nationalist fervor surrounding this year’s dispute over the islands in the sea of Japan, TOKMA actually visited the Senkaku islands earlier this year.
He belongs to Japan’s Happiness Realization Party, and states his positions the only way he knows how: through a music video:
With a katana for a microphone stand, you know he’s not messing around.
TOKMA’s political views are pretty extreme and a little angry, but maybe that’s to be expected out of a rock star politician. We’ll see how TOKMA’s larger-than-life image suits him during his first foray into the political arena.
Bald Anarchist Koichi Toyama
A few years ago, Koichi Toyama’s run for the Tokyo governorship caught the attention of the internet when his seikenhousou was posted to YouTube.
Running on an anarchist platform, Toyama’s speech was far from your typical political pandering. Say things like “
This nation must be destroyed! I do not have a single constructive proposal!” doesn’t usually get you elected.
When all of the votes were counted in the governor’s race, Toyama won some 15,000 votes, or a whopping 0.27% of the final vote.
Not one to get discouraged, the next year Toyama went on to run for President of the United States in 2008. He’s convinced that Japan is a 51st state of the USA, and he can therefore participate in US elections. Whether or not anybody recognized his run as legitimate is another issue entirely.
Once again, Toyama wowed audiences with an impassioned speech full of lines like: “
I was a political prisoner for two years. The instant I was released, I ran to McDonald’s. I had a Big Mac and a Coke. It was fantastic.”
In case you didn’t hear, Toyama did not win the 2008 US Presidential election. Instead, the election went to some guy named Obama (must be Japanese).
Just last week, Toyama declared that he will run for House of Representatives in Kumamoto’s 1st district. We’ll see how this election goes for one of Japan’s most fiery political figures.
Singer and Movie Star Yuuya Uchida
In the 60s and 70s, Yuuya Uchida collaborated with a who’s who of classic rock and roll superstars, including the Beatles and Frank Zappa. Towards the end of his music career, he gave acting a shot, appearing in a few Japanese movies and the Ridley Scott film Black Rain.
And then in 1991, he tried something really different: running for Governor of Tokyo.
Uchida was, of course, given his seikenhousou to say what he wanted, but his message was unorthodox, even by seikenhousou standards.
During his one shot to deliver his message to the Japanese public, Uchida did pretty much everything imaginable to make sure that his message wasn’t received by the Japanese public.
He spoke in both English and French. He sang in English and Japanese. He never once even alluded to policies he might implement as Governor of Tokyo. And he seemed to somehow finish his speech under the time limit and just sit in awkwardly for a while.
Uchida, of course, didn’t win the election. I wouldn’t feel too bad for him though; he continued to act in movies, and leads a rock and roll lifestyle to this day. Hell, if you’re in Japan, you can join Uchida for his “New Years World Rock Festival.” For rocking for over forty years: Mr. Uchida, we salute you.
Mitsuo “Jesus” Matayoshi
If it’s not already obvious from his name, Mitsuo “Jesus” Matayoshi thinks that he’s Jesus Christ. This isn’t too outlandish because, as we all know, Jesus lived, raised a family, and died in Japan (or so they claim).
Matayoshi has claimed that he plans to bring judgement upon the world by ascending to power through the political process. He starts by assuming a relatively minor position – a mayorship or governorship – then continues climbing the ladder to Prime Minister of Japan, then Secretary General of the UN.
While Matayoshi has run for countless political positions, he has yet to actually win any of his campaigns. Over the course of two decades, Matayoshi has run for the mayorship of two towns, governor of Okinawa, and positions in the Japanese Diet in three separate districts.
Despite his claim to godliness, Matayoshi is an Old Testament angry, vengeful God. Matayoshi has been known to tell his political opponents to commit seppuku, the ritual suicide practiced by samurai. When I ask “What Would Jesus Do?,” the answer is rarely “tell somebody to disembowel themselves.”
Following calls for suicide, Matayoshi also usually threatens to personally throw his political opponents into the fires of Hell. Not the kind, loving God most of us like to envision.
Smile Party President “Mac” Akasaka
While a lot of these candidates are pretty angry and negative, Mac Akasaka is a bright ray of hope in an otherwise dark political landscape.
Akasaka is the president of Japan’s Smile Party, a party with seemingly only one member – Akasaka himself. But that hasn’t kept him from pushing his pro-smile agenda.
All of Akasaka political speeches have the same themes of happiness and smiling. He usually even gives lessons on how to smile during his speeches, in case you were having trouble. And while Akasaka’s speeches are all more or less the same, his outrageous wardrobe changes all the time.
The magic happens around two minutes in.
Akasaka hasn’t been politically active for very long (only since about 2007), but in that short time he’s really given it his all. He’s run in races for everything from local city positions to seats in the Diet to the governorship of some of the country’s largest prefectures.
It looks like Akasaka is throwing his hat in the ring once again this year by running for Governor of Tokyo. Will this be the year that the Japanese embrace a pro-smile agenda? Probably not, but I’m still a believer.