- Local Political Participation in Japan: A Case Study of Oita by Dani Daigle Kida
Political participation is perhaps one of the most widely studied topics among political scientists. When it comes to political participation in Japan, however, we still have a range of questions that require further investigation. Dani Daigle Kida makes a new contribution to this literature by shedding light on various underinvestigated forms of political participation at the local level, in particular, contacting a politician directly, attending a public meeting, and campaigning for a candidate. She also examines how the recent policy revision to lower the voting age has changed the civic education curriculum and discusses the extent to which this change may, or may not, affect young citizens' political attitudes.
Kida's research is primarily based on her five-year field research in the City of Oita in Kyushu. As she notes, Gerald Curtis's Election Campaigning Japanese Style, one of the most influential studies in the literature of Japanese politics, is also based on field research in the prefecture of Oita.1 In addition to administering interviews and undertaking participant observation, Kida fielded a survey with 158 respondents to examine a range of questions about citizens' political attitudes and behavior.
The main question Kida intends to answer is: "why do Japanese participate politically?" (p. 4). More specifically, she examines the following three questions (p. 6; also p. 124): "In what ways do citizens acting individually or in groups attempt to exact change and/or influence public policy? How does the government/bureaucracy engage citizens in political participation? What is the relationship between political participation and attitudes toward government?" By examining these questions, she presents a rather bleak picture of Japanese citizens' local political participation. Namely, Japanese citizens do not—and often cannot—actively participate in local policy processes, do not have a sense of efficacy, and do not trust the government.
Following the introductory chapter, in chapter 2, Kida examines various political actors and their interactions with citizens and reaches the following conclusion.
[T]here is little incentive on the part of the individual city council members and bureaucracy to engage citizens in citizen participation in the decision-making [End Page 434] process via town meetings, citizen panels and forums as it would undermine the bond that politicians spend considerable time cultivating among themselves, citizens, and industries. Due to the lack of institutionalized space for citizens to participate locally in policy decisions, citizens, when trying to effect change or influence policy, are forced into default client-patron relationships with individual politicians in the absence of ability to directly affect policy, which in turn leads to a low sense of efficacy.(pp. 33–34)
Chapter 3 further examines institutional constraints that discourage or prohibit citizens from participating in policy processes. Kida's in-depth description of town meetings and her examination of various websites are helpful for us to understand a range of constraints. Kida repeatedly claims that the government does, indeed, solicit citizens' opinions via various channels but there is no transparent way for citizens to know how the government considers these opinions and whether these opinions lead to decisions to introduce or change policies. She argues that these barriers discourage local political participation and reduce a sense of efficacy.
Chapter 4 focuses on citizens' support for a political candidate by belonging to a support group for that candidate, known as kōenkai. For this chapter's research, Kida undertook one-on-one interviews with young kōenkai members. She points out the importance of a kōenkai's role in building personal and business networks, but questions whether networking is relevant to the aggregation of interests in particular policy issues. If kōenkai activities are not related to policymaking, she argues, such a type of participation could be defined as "unacknowledged participation" (p. 72). The main argument here is similar to the arguments in previous chapters. She writes, "Although the highly organized (koenkai) group is filled with 'bodies' to participate...