This photo is from the famous Asakusa Samba Carnival. It’s been happening every year since 1981 when the mayor of Taito Ward invited the winning dance team from Brazil’s Samba Carnival to Japan. The weather for yesterday’s event was beautiful until about 3 pm when it suddenly started to pour. A lot of the spectators quickly headed for home, but the dancers seemed to love it.
For a country that invented rock gardens, personal stereos, and tea ceremonies, Japan sure can be noisy sometimes. Walk down pretty much any street here and you’re going to face a sonic assault by everything from sweet potato vendors to crosswalk songs to right-wing extremists. With all the noise pollution in this country, you might think the politicians would want to do something about it, but that’s not going to happen any time soon because they are some of the worst offenders in the whole country. Come election time, every political wanna’ be rents a truck and the biggest speakers he or she can find, and starts cruising the streets.
Senkyo-sha (election vehicles) are all about name recognition. In Japan, ballots do not have the candidates’ names written on them, so voters are required to write down the name of the person they want to vote for from memory. Plastering the car with the person’s name and repeating it over and over really does get extra votes.
A lot of people wonder why on earth politicians choose to drive around all day in sound trucks instead of campaigning door to door or putting up posters. As is so often the case in Japan, there is a semi-logical rason/pat answer for this. Before 1945, vote-buying and influence peddling were a huge problem in elections. Often, an important businessman or landlord would go around telling people how to vote, and everyone in the commmunity would have to do what they were told because their jobs or homes depended on keeping him happy. Due to this practice, candidates often won 100 percent of the vote in their areas, and many elections were jsut a sham. To solve the problem, it was decided that door-to-door campaigning should be made illegal, and political candidates turned to sound trucks to bring their message to the people.
Another reason for sound trucks is that political candidates today face a bewildering array of campaign rules and regulations. They cannot hand out business cards, approach people on the street, and even the number of election posters and pamphlets they are allowed to print is strictly regulated.
On top of the van in this photo, you’ll see two uguiso-jo, or “bush-warbler ladies.” Their job is basically the same as that of a seven-year-old child on a long car trip – wave at anything that moves. When the politician is speechifying on top of his truck, they take turns standing beside him and waving at the crowd. When the candidate needs to take a rest, they stand in his place repeating phrases like “Thank you for your attention,” or sometimes, just saying his name over and over.
From 8 AM to 8 PM (you can practically set your watch by them in the morning if you live at the beginning of their routes), sound truck drive slowly through the streets, disrupting traffic and deafening bystanders with their ear-splitting volume. The speakers on most election trucks are capable of amplifying a regular human voice (around 60 decibels) up to around 100 decibels. One hundred decibels may not sound like much, but since 100 decibels is 40 times more intense than 60 decibels, people who get blasted by sound trucks could be in for some serious ear damage. Why are there no restrictions on noise pollution in Japan? Seeing as the biggest noise-pollution violators are one: Japan’s politicians and two: Japan’s right-wing extremist groups (who are some of the biggest contributors to the ruling Liberal Democratic Party) what incentive do the politicians have to pass a law that would stop them and their supporters doing something crucial to their existence.
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