Abe turns to manga to woo young voters

In the manga produced by Mr Abe's Liberal Democratic Party, a girl's interest in politics is sparked by her crush.
PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Eight-page comic starring a love-struck teenager explains dry government policies

A Japanese schoolgirl in the throes of puppy love and Abenomics do not seem to have much in common.

But in this election year, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has to contend with a big new wave of young voters. And this is where Asuka, the teen manga character, comes in. 

Asuka, whose interest in politics is sparked by her crush in school, is the star of an eight-page comic that aims to reach out to the young by explaining otherwise dry government policies. The tagline "Japan needs the force of its youth" says it all.

Next month's election in the Upper House is the first one in which 18-year-olds will vote for the first time, after the voting age was lowered from 20 last year.

This schoolgirl fantasy is the plot of Kuni ni Todoke (Deliver To The Country), the manga produced by Mr Abe's Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). This title is similar to that of a popular long-running romance manga series titled Kimi ni Todoke (From Me To You).

In the manga produced by Mr Abe's Liberal Democratic Party, a girl's interest in politics is sparked by her crush.
In the manga produced by Mr Abe's Liberal Democratic Party, a girl's interest in politics is sparked by her crush. PHOTO: LIBERAL DEMOCRATIC PARTY

The LDP's junior coalition partner, Komeito, has also created a cartoon mascot named Komesuke to woo young voters.

The big question, however, is whether the 2.4 million young Japanese added to the electoral rolls will bother to exercise their right to vote.

A poll of 3,000 youngsters aged 18 and 19 in April by Japanese daily Asahi Shimbun found that 62 per cent either do not talk or rarely talk about politics. And, going by the 2014 general election, just 33 per cent of those in their 20s voted, compared with 68 per cent of those in their 60s. The overall voter turnout that year hit a post-war low.

Accessories specialist Erika Kitamura, 27, said she is not interested in politics. But her curiosity was slightly piqued by the Komeito mascot, which she finds "cute".

SIM University senior lecturer Lim Tai Wei, who has done research on Japanese popular culture, told The Straits Times that using manga and mascots will soften the hard edges of politics, which is considered by many to be a taboo or sensitive subject in Japan.

Manga and mascots also hold a massive appeal to younger women and male otaku fans (those passionate about anime or manga), he said. "Manga comics are able to reduce complex topics and distant subject matter into convenient formats."

The LDP-Komeito coalition is expected to retain its majority in the Upper House in the upcoming polls, though several opposition parties have agreed to work together in a rare show of unity.

Mr Abe is aiming to secure a two-thirds majority in the Upper House so that he can push through a bid to rewrite the post-war pacifist Constitution to allow Japanese troops to fight overseas.

This deeply unpopular measure - and contentious issue - has been left out of the LDP's 26-page election pamphlet released this week.

Another contentious issue is the success of the Abenomics mix of monetary policy easing, fiscal stimulus and structural reforms to stimulate growth. The leaders of four opposition parties agreed this month to jointly highlight the purported failure of "Abenomics" in the hustings.

Meanwhile, diplomatic pageantry was on display in the manifesto, with a full-page picture of Mr Abe hosting US President Barack Oba- ma in Hiroshima last month. Mr Obama had paid a moving tribute to victims at the site of the world's first nuclear attack. Support for Mr Abe's Cabinet rose three points to 56 per cent, in a poll published in the Nikkei newspaper after that.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 11, 2016, with the headline 'Abe turns to manga to woo young voters'. Print Edition | Subscribe