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Last Updated: Wednesday, 5 November, 2003, 15:07 GMT
Japan election voices: The student
Rie Yano
Rie Yano says young people find Japan's political system confusing
Ahead of Sunday's elections in Japan, BBC News Online has been speaking to a range of Japanese voters about the issues concerning them most.

Rie Yano, a 21-year-old student at Tokyo's Sofia University, is not excited about this week's election, despite the fact it is the first time she has been old enough to vote.

"It still hasn't really entered the conversations I have with my friends," she said.

She thought young Japanese people found the country's political system confusing and opaque.

It amazes me that 60% of people around me have no clue who they are voting for

For a start, she said, it was difficult to distinguish between the major parties.

"When I listen to all the speeches... they all talk about things that are related to the citizen... but it's really hard to be convinced by that because a lot of parties have the same kinds of ideas," she said.

She did admit that she and her peers were interested in Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's pledge to reform the country's moribund economy and sluggish political system.

But she said that was also mystifying because, while Mr Koizumi is promising a new approach, it is not clear how far he can face down the powerful factions in his party which are often the blocks to radical reform.

"Koizumi seems to be this new person who believes in change but at the same time he is still a member of the LDP. That really confuses us."

Possibly as a result of this confusion, and how busy they find themselves with study and club activities, the majority of young people are said to still be undecided on how they will vote on Sunday.

Ms Yano said that, according to an NHK poll last week, 60% of people in their 20s and 30s are unaffiliated to a party.

"It amazes me that 60% of people around me have no clue who they are voting for."

She said that, despite this, young people in Japan were interested in politics.

Especially pertinent, she said, was the sensitive issue of economic reform, which is affecting the nation's major businesses, and the pension system, into which the younger generation is obliged to pay but fears it may not benefit from.

Lack of debate

Ms Yano, who has lived in the US, Canada and Mexico, said young Japanese were less concerned about politics than their peers in those countries.

She thought this might be because Japan's culture does not encourage the kind of discursive environment that gives people a chance to clarify their thoughts.

"People don't necessarily want to express every single idea or opinion they hold in front of everybody else."

But she said the Japanese administration was beginning to recognise this cultural characteristic as a handicap on the international stage, and that debating classes are being introduced in high schools.

One Japanese figure who is not afraid of standing out is the prime minister. Mr Koizumi is seen as a flamboyant character - a divorcee with ageing rock star looks.

Ms Yano said that in Mr Koizumi's first year of office, this image made him extremely popular, even among people who did not really know what he stood for.

But she said young people were "much more cynical" about him now.

"People are really looking at the structural change that he's going to do," she said.

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