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VOX POPULI: Rookie ‘celebrity lawmakers’ must show their mettle after winning

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A former pop icon and retired athlete is one of the winners of the July 10 upper house election.

Collectively known as “tarento” (celebrities or well-known media personalities), these people have no administrative or political experience.

So what does it mean for them to be members of Congress?

I first faced this question as a reporter 12 years ago, when popular actor Harada Daijiro, now 78, was running for the upper house of the Yamaguchi prefectural electoral district.

It was a dramatic turn, orchestrated by Ichiro Ozawa, secretary general of the ruling Democratic Party of Japan at the time. I was in Harada’s campaign for two months.

Isn’t it obvious to him that he’s just being used as a “poster boy” and voter for the DPJ?

I visited Harada and asked him about it during the recent Lords campaign.

“I’m not even skeptical of that criticism,” he replied. He said he decided to run in pursuit of the democratic ideal of “helping the disadvantaged.”

“This campaign taught me the realities of human nature and the vast ‘ocean’,” Harada continued. “For an actor like me, the experience was priceless.”

He is optimistic about the outcome. However, all his illusions were dashed on the eve of Election Day.

“Suddenly, I felt the audience’s reaction was icy,” he recalls.

As a professional actor, he is acutely attuned to the audience’s reactions.

“Voters may decide the day before Election Day. I know I’ve lost.”

It was actually a rout, and Harada returned to show business.

In preparation for my interview with Harada, I read Toshiro Furuya’s recently published work, “Hyoden Miyata Teru.”

The book describes the hardships of the iconic “tarento giin” (celebrity legislator) Miyata, a former NHK (Japan Broadcasting Corporation) employee and entertainer who ran from the now-defunct “Nationwide District” in 1974 House of Lords and won.

Furuya pointed out that NHK chose Miyata as the “human sacrifice” at the “strong request” of then Prime Minister Kakuei Tanaka.

Miyata died of illness at the age of 68 midway through his third term in the upper house.

All of this year’s rookie “celebrity lawmakers” have to realize that it’s their fame that has earned them party approval.

Voters are closely watching their performance on the political stage to see what they will be remembered for.

– The Asahi Shimbun, July 12

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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column covering a wide range of topics including cultural, artistic and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, this column provides useful perspectives and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.





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