What starts with a tingle of excitement, is followed by a surge of activity, frantic yelling and empty promises, but is quickly spent, leaving you feeling just as empty and unfulfilled as before? Answer: a Japanese election. While it took some Americans well into the second term of President Barack Obama’s “change you can believe in” presidency to realize that voting may be a waste of time, decades of rule by an unchanging coven of bureaucrats and Liberal Democratic Party parliamentarians have given the Japanese more time to become accustomed to the impotence of their own democratic processes. Still, you would be hard-pressed to identify a more flaccid poll than the one that will reach a predictable climax on Sunday. Unleashed abruptly after some desultory denials-as-foreplay, the Nov. 21 dissolution of the Diet was so sudden that it will apparently disenfranchise the crews of long-distance Japanese fishing boats that had already left port when faxable ballots were made available. Of course, even if they had received them, how could the nation’s piscators know how to vote, out there on the empty sea with nary a candidate driving by in a sound truck screaming their name and party affiliation?
But then everyone seems mystified by this election, except possibly the man who called it, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Opposition parties are in disarray and are not expected to achieve politically meaningful gains. There being no open signs of dissent within Abe’s own party that need quashing, the perfectly reasonable question on many lips is, “Who is this election being fought against?”
The most plausible answer seems to be the Ministry of Finance and others in the bureaucracy who reportedly oppose Abe’s efforts to delay a consumption tax increase scheduled for 2015. If that is the case, it could well prove a high-water mark of pointlessness even for Japan: an election campaign waged against the unelected. So pull up a microscope and research this slab of whale meat while I explain how pachinko is not gambling. Just don’t think too much, because in the land of the surreal, mere realists just go insane.