A 19-year-old Japanese college student joined others casting a historic first ballot at a polling station earlier this week. Then he wondered if he had spent enough time looking into the candidates. Kouki Nozomuto, who used an early voting system in Yokohama for those who are busy on election day, is among 2.4 million newly eligible voters for Sunday’s race for the upper house of parliament, the first national election since Japan lowered the voting age last year from 20 to 18. “I thought I’ll just go in between classes, so I think maybe I should have spent more time (to prepare),” he said afterward, saying he came because he thinks it’s a citizen’s duty to vote and he wants his voice to be heard. “On reflection, that’s what I think I should have done better.”
The government and political parties are using various strategies to motivate 18-and 19-year-olds to vote, but it remains unclear whether they will — and whether they are prepared to do so. Some experts say they aren’t, at least for this election, citing reasons such as growing up in a society that emphasizes conformity over individuality, few opportunities to learn about and debate the issues and a perception that the opinions of young people are not reflected in policies.
In a public opinion poll taken by the Asahi newspaper in June, 11 percent of the newly qualified voters said they were “greatly interested” in the election, lower than the 29 percent overall. In addition, 49 percent responded they would be voting “for sure,” versus 68 percent overall.