The Fools: A Joke Political Party in Japan Wins a Seat (and Taxpayer Funds)

The Fools: A Joke Political Party in Japan Wins a Seat (and Taxpayer Funds)

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Kadota Setsuyo
How a party that seeks to "topple" Japan's public broadcast system made waves - and secured power - through performance art.

My previous article about Yamamoto Tarou and the Reiwa Shinsengumi was the feel-good story of Japan’s 2019 Upper House election.

Sadly, it’s now time to turn our attention to a “political party” (and I use that term loosely) that may well spell the end of civilization as we know it.

The Fool: Tachibana Takashi (立花孝志) and the Protect the People From the NHK Party (N国)

To understand this story, it’s important to understand Japan’s national broadcaster, NHK (日本放送協会; nippon housou kyoukai). As a public broadcaster, NHK operates on a similar model as the BBC in the United Kingdom or PBS in the United States: its funding primarily comes from taxpayers.

In Japan, NHK is legally entitled to collect broadcaster licensing fees from anyone who owns a television. The company enforces this through a network of door to door fee collectors who harass anyone who hasn’t paid up. The collectors are largely contractors, and some have gained notoriety in social media for their overly aggressive tactics, such as shouting at people who won’t answer the door, or even forcing their way inside residences.

As you’d expect, this behavior hasn’t endeared them to the populace. And NHK’s financing model has become even less popular as NHK has insisted on collecting fees from cord-cutters who don’t watch broadcast television. That growing frustration inspired at least one man to take matters into his own hands.

In 2013, former NHK employee Tachibana Takashi established the Protect the People From the NHK Party (NHKから国民を守る党; NHK kara kokumin o mamoru tou) – known more popularly know by the abbreviation N国 (n-koku). Tachibana reportedly quit the organization in disgust in 2005, after a report in the news/gossip rag Shuukan Bunshun (週刊文春) levied accusations of accounting misconduct. The party has no platform or policy save one: to move NHK from a mandatory fee model to a “scramble broadcast” model, where only customers with TVs who elect to pay the annual fee get NHK’s programming.

Ever since, Tachibana has been trying to get his party’s foot in the door. Until now, they’ve enjoyed zero electoral success.

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But this year, things got interesting.

Using NHK to Attack the NHK?!

Because Tachibana’s N-koku is a political party with standing candidates, its candidates have a legal right to air time on the nation’s public broadcaster in a segment called seiken housou (政見放送), or Broadcasting of Political Views.

Yes, that’s right: the party that seeks to topple the NHK made its case in appearances on NHK.

Rather than make a serious appeal to voters, however, the party decided to make a mockery of the entire process, and used their time to lampoon the accursed object of their hatred. There was candidate Machida Toshimitsu (町田紀光), who made an appearance in giant strawberry head gear and sunglasses.

Machida Toshimitsu on NHK broadcast

There was entertainer Satou Erii (佐藤恵理子), who looked like she had dressed to ringmaster a circus rather than run for office.

Satou Erii on NHK broadcast

And then there was the cherry on top: candidate for Mie Prefecture, Kadota Setsuyo (門田節代).

Kadota’s video (below) begins normally. Well, almost. After introducing herself as the “Kadota Sisters,” she dismisses talk of Tachibana and the N-koku being a “cult,” and emphasizes the party’s goal of moving NHK to a scramble broadcast system.

But then the “Kadota Sisters” appear.

Kadota begins arguing with different versions of herself about the NHK, during which she runs through a litany of the broadcaster’s scandals. She alludes to a famous episode in which one of the studio’s female weather reporters, Okada Miharu (岡田みはる), broke down crying in the middle of a broadcast, with Kadota argues that the weathercaster was driven to a breakdown by “harassment and bullying.” (On her official blog, Okada pleaded exhaustion, but some industry insiders back up accusations of power harassment.)

Kadota then launches into a re-enactment of the Okada incident that’s amusing, disturbing, and insulting all in one hot take…

NHKをぶっ壊す!【政見放送】 NHKから国民を守る党【門田  節代】三重選挙区

参議院選挙 #NHKをぶっ壊す #令和の百姓一揆 1 北海道 山本 貴平 (44)(男) 09012566866 2 青森県 小山 ひな子(52)(女)09077383441 3 岩手県 梶谷 秀一(53)(男)08041437709 4 宮城県 三宅 紀昭(57)(男)09024916002 5 秋田県 石岡…

These performances were met with derision from many quarters of the Internet. Foreign observers likened the antics of the N-koku to English “politicians” such as Lord Buckethead and Mr. Fishfinger. (Washington state in the US, where I live, has its own version: Goodspaceguy, whose policies include colonizing space and abolishing the minimum wage.) Aghast Japanese observers, however, were not amused, and started the hashtag #nhkから国民を守る党に投票してはいけません (Don’t Vote for the Protect the People from the NHK Party) to protest this mockery of the nation’s politics.

Unfortunately, the voters of Japan didn’t pay heed to this call. While N-koku didn’t elect any of its prefectural representatives, it earned 3.02% of the zenkokku vote, where voters vote for a party and seats are rewarded proportionally. That 3.02% was enough to receive a single seat, and elect the party’s first-ranked candidate: Tachibana Takashi himself.

N国「ぶっ壊す」連呼し国政へ 何が起きた、その戦略は:朝日新聞デジタル

NHKから国民を守る党(N国)が参院選比例区で1議席を得た。候補者たちは選挙運動で、国政に関する態度は示さず、ひたすら一つのフレーズを繰り返した。「NHKをぶっ壊す」。この作戦で、選挙区で計3・02%の票を得て、国庫から政党交付金を受ける資格も得た。何が起きたのか。 …

(JP) Link: N-Country, Screaming “Topple Them,” Enters National Politics; What Happened – and Their Strategy

So who voted for these jokers? A survey after the election found that the party garnered a total of 1.97% of the vote. As for its voter base (feminists, contain your shock here), 68% of N-koku’s voters were dudes. Some 27% of its voters were in its 40s; over 60% were between the ages of 30 and 50.

Tachibana’s elections mean two things that a significant portion of the Japanese public finds galling. First, N- koku now has a small bit of political power – enough to ingratiate itself as a swing vote with the majority in hopes of advancing its own narrow agenda. Tachibana has already said that he’d gladly vote for Prime Minister Abe’s proposed revision to Article 9 of Japan’s Constitution, which would allow Japan to participate in armed conflicts around the world – on the condition that Abe backs N-koku ‘s “scramble broadcast” policy towards NHK.

Second, political parties in Japan that meet certain criteria are eligible to receive public funds. With its election win, N-koku now qualifies – which means that the group will receive around USD $590,000 a year to further its mission of “toppling” Japan’s public broadcaster.

Voter disaffection is a large and growing issue in Japan. This election saw low turnout, especially among the young. N-koku is a symptom of that apathy: a party that has no business holding any power in government but won a seat at the table through viral gag reels.

While we can all have a good laugh over N-koku’s antics, they’re no longer a joke. Tachibana Takashi now has a vote in the Diet – and he’s willing to sell it to the Abe admin to get what he wants.

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Jay Allen

Jay manages the technical writing practice for ercule, an SEO, content strategy and analytics firm. A lifelong geek, wordsmith, and language fanatic, he has level N1 certification in the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT).

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