Friday, 30 November 2012

Back to the future -- Japan election diary 2012: Day 14

Click here to go to Day 1 of the 2012 Japan Election Diary.

A spring in his step
Is less youthful nonchalance
Than fear of what's next

Our Man has been known to go running. He supposes the more correct term is jogging, but that conjures up images of leggings, '80s big hair and Olivia Newton John, and Our Man can't be doing with any of that. Running is not so much a matter of vanity, except that he just wants to cheat death a little longer if he can. And having only quit smoking in his 30s, he's got a lot of distance to make up.

He's lucky that within five minutes of the bunker is Teganuma (snapped above with his phone), which makes for a good running track, 18km all the way round,  even if he can rarely make more than 10km before collapsing in a heap back at the bunker. The lake, which is fed by the Tonegawa river, the Mississippi of Japan, used to be the most polluted in the country, but the wise old city fathers got round to stopping pumping the lake full of Kashiwa's sewage, and now it is eighth or ninth most polluted, an achievement they have up in lights, literally -- the ranking is displayed above the city library car park.

Some of the locals will tell you that Abiko is the Kamakura of the north and manage to keep a straight face, and now that it doesn't smell of sewage every time you get off at Abiko Station, Our Man supposes that claim is less preposterous than it sounds for a modest commuter town a couple of kilometres from Tokyo. Though, strictly speaking, Teganuma is not a lake, it's a swamp. Which would make Abiko more the New Orleans of Japan. Our Man can dream.

Around this lake as Our Man gets physical, physical, he can hear the old men's camera bodies talk. If you go running at dusk, you will see dozens of elderly men flocking to the eastern edge of the lake to take pictures of the reflections of the disappearing sun. He'd like to think this was a reflection of some deeper spiritual meaning, something Buddhist or a reinterpretation of the native Shinto religion of nature worship. But it's hard to see much of a worship of nature in the paparazzi scrum of pensioners, lovingly manipulating their equipment. Our Man has been around newsrooms for the better part of two decades but he has not seen as big ones as the old men have poking over their tripods. When not staking out the planet's biggest star, the old boys are out in force snapping cherry blossoms, as if recording and collecting signs of life were the same as living it. Ho hum.


While out running it struck Our Man that he hasn't explained any of that dull stuff about the nature of the election, you know, seats and constituencies and stuff. This is partly, of course, because he didn't know until he looked it up on wikipedia just now, and partly because in the age of wikipedia, why does he need to know anything?

He can't answer that, but for completeness, he'll rehash the entry here. But he'll keep it brief. There are two houses in the Japanese parliament, known as the Diet. This election is for the stronger of the two, the House of Representatives, which has 480 seats, 300 divvied up in single-seat constituencies, 180 in 11 regional blocs for proportional representation. Citizens get two votes, one for their prefered candidate and one for their preferred party which dishes out the PR seats. But constituency maps still heavily favour rural areas: a member from hicksville Tottori represents 242,484 voters, but a member from downtown Yokohama represents 493,147.

What do all the numbers mean? They mean any election is skewed toward the countryside and not the cities where 75 percent of Japanese live. It means that the reactionary parties who play well in rural areas have a leg up. It means party bosses hold sway over which candidates can sup from the proportional representation teat. It means that the whole election is illegal since all votes are supposed to be of equal value, not dependent on where you live. The Japanese supreme court said so. Ho hum.


Looking for meaning in life is somewhat pointless, looking for meaning in the Japanese elections is entirely pointless, Our Man concludes after reading these two quotes from a link on twitter he clicked on today:
A wise man once said that all human activity is a form of play. And the highest form of play is the search for Truth, Beauty and Love. What more is needed? Should there be a ‘meaning’ as well, that will be a bonus? If we waste time looking for life’s meaning, we may have no time to live — or to play.
Arthur C. Clarke
The human species has inhabited this planet for only 250,000 years or so-roughly.0015 percent of the history of life, the last inch of the cosmic mile. The world fared perfectly well without us for all but the last moment of earthly time–and this fact makes our appearance look more like an accidental afterthought than the culmination of a prefigured plan.
Moreover, the pathways that have led to our evolution are quirky, improbable, unrepeatable and utterly unpredictable. Human evolution is not random; it makes sense and can be explained after the fact. But wind back life’s tape to the dawn of time and let it play again–and you will never get humans a second time.
We are here because one odd group of fishes had a peculiar fin anatomy that could transform into legs for terrestrial creatures; because the earth never froze entirely during an ice age; because a small and tenuous species, arising in Africa a quarter of a million years ago, has managed, so far, to survive by hook and by crook. We may yearn for a ‘higher’ answer — but none exists. This explanation, though superficially troubling, if not terrifying, is ultimately liberating and exhilarating. We cannot read the meaning of life passively in the facts of nature. We must construct these answers ourselves — from our own wisdom and ethical sense. There is no other way.
Stephen Jay Gould

And finally, it looks as if that nice Dr Kada, head of the no-nuke Nippon Mirai no To -- Japan Party of the Future -- now has her very own centre left umbrella party. She can allegedly claim loyalty from 60 likely diet members, though Our Man can't remember where he read that. She's also big into cleaning up lakes, particularly Lake Biwako, Japan's largest lake, so that would play well with Abikans.

A final note, that may or may not be relevant. Her party has a fax number featured prominently on its website, which is decidedly '80s for a bunch of folk calling themselves The Japan Party of the Future.

Until tomorrow.
This blog series
 is now a great
 book. Honest.
Cleaned up and
 all presentable,
Guts Pose: Diary of a
 Japanese election
 gone bad
features a previously
unpublished afterword
 by me and foreword
by Michael Cucek.
You can buy it here.

Go to DAY 15

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