JinK: Bishop-san, did you vote in the recent presidential election?
Bishop: I didn’t actually. I could have voted by absentee ballot, but I’m a resident of
California, where it was clear who would win anyway. But this year it was
a very high profile election.
JinK: It was, wasn’t it? It was interesting for me, being the first election season since
I’ve moved to the U.S. Over 80 million people watched the debate. Is there always
this much hype around election time?
Bishop: Well, this time was a bit of a special case, but yes every election there is
a lot of hype. In contrast, Japan’s elections are pretty dull, aren’t they?
I get the impression that Japanese people are generally not too interested in politics.
JinK: For sure. I mean, Japanese politics is a lot harder to understand. A lot of the time
it’s not clear what issues should be discussed, or what order they should be discussed
in. At Diet (Japanese congress) sessions, people push issues that don’t matter,
and go after each other about who said what and have these meaningless arguments.
So, politicians use careful wording so they avoid saying something that could be
used against them, and give these vague fluffy answers instead. As a result,
a lot of discussions go on, but there is no increased understanding about the real
issues, nothing gets done, nobody commits to anything , and bills are just railroaded
Bishop: In the U.S., at least the issues are clear. Of course, politicians will use straw man
arguments and other tactics when it suits them, but in general their stance on
political issues are more black and white.
JinK: I agree. And not just the politicians; that’s true of the citizens too. I feel that
a lot more Americans are open about sharing their political stances. A lot of people
put signs up in their yards about which politicians or policies they support. There are
also a lot of people who put political bumper stickers on their car. In Japan, that
would be unthinkable.
Bishop: That’s true. I’d never thought about it before, but the most you ever see
in Japan is posters with politicians’ names put up around election season,
and nobody puts anything on their own home, so you never know who
JinK: In the U.S., you know who your neighbors support. This election was
a more notable one than usual; I’d see signs and think, “Really? That family is
supporting that politician?” Of course, who someone supports politically is
their own choice, so there’s nothing wrong with that, but it seems that professing
it so proactively to everyone around you would cause a lot of problems.
In Japan, even among husbands and wives some don’t talk to each other about
who they voted for. In general, I think the majority of people don’t talk about
who they support. It just causes unnecessary troubles.
Bishop: Oh, really? In the U.S., there are a lot of people who could never marry
someone who had different political values or supported a different political party.
For husbands and wives not to talk about politics at all feels very strange to me.
But I suppose if they had different values, they would be happier not talking about it.
Actually, even in the U.S. it’s generally said that you should not discuss politics
or religion in polite company.
JinK: If that’s true, then why do people put election signs on their front yards?
Bishop: I think there are a few reasons. I think that there is a great diversity in values
and opinions in the U.S., and it’s normal for there to be clashes when these
differences arise. So I think there’s an aspect in which people need to be able to
say what they think and assert their opinions in order to get by in day to day life.
On the other hand, in Japan you don’t assert your opinions. There are a lot of
unspoken agreements and rules, and if everybody follows these, there’s no conflict,
no lawsuits, and society generally gets along harmoniously.
JinK: That’s an interesting viewpoint. For sure, Japanese people tend to not want
to disturb the peace, and most people won’t clearly state their stance if they
don’t have to; a lot of people will even change their stance as the situation calls for it.
Self-assertiveness can make others uncomfortable, and could be seen as a selfish act.
Bishop: I agree. The second reason is that in the U.S., when the political party in power
changes, there are drastic changes in budget allocations that have real effects on
people’s everyday lives. Especially for those with low income, they need to worry
about losing public assistance, and more recently the issue of whether someone
has health care or not is a life-or-death issue for some. So they vote like their life
depends on it. In Japan, it’s hard to see what changed when somebody new is elected.
JinK: Certainly. I feel that in my everyday life too. I recently got an email from school
saying they wanted donations because the education budget had been cut.
Bishop: Exactly. So the impact of the leaders changing is very significant.
Another reason I can think of is, I think that similarly to sports, elections are a kind
of intellectual entertainment show that everyone gets excited about. I remember
when I was still in elementary school, a politician that my parents supported lost the
election, and my parents were so disappointed that it made me cry. It’s kind of
similar to the disappointment you feel when the local sports team that you support
loses. In Japan people do post stickers of the baseball teams and artists they support.
It’s kind of like that.
JinK: In Japan, almost nobody gets that passionate about supporting a politician,
especially publicly. If you clearly make a political assertion, people will think you’re
someone with dangerous ideas. One thing I like about the U.S. is that you can
separate the person from their viewpoints, and respect each other’s beliefs.
In Japan, if people have different viewpoints, there is a tendency to start disliking
the person, not just their beliefs, so it’s safest to just keep opinions to yourself.
Bishop: That’s true. By the way, JinK-san, what do you think of the current
JinK: Bishop-san, don’t ask me a question like that! Of course I have my fair share of
thoughts and opinions, but even in the U.S. that question is not politically correct,
and furthermore I don’t feel it’s my place as a Japanese person to say too much about
what the American citizens have decided.
Bishop: That’s what I thought you’d say. Harmony is the greatest of virtues. OK, let’s have
a discussion “off the record”.
JinK: Bishop-san, you really get it don’t you. That’s the Japanese way.
Fact#23. In Japan, most Japanese people do not share their political stances in public nor post political stickers