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Movement begins to "wake up" young people to voting rights

By: Kenny Ehman

Date Posted: 1998-06-20

The law gives every Japanese citizen twenty years of age and older the opportunity to vote in Japan, but getting young people to vote has become a growing problem for the nation. It is now a major concern among politicians and community leaders, who have also watched steady increases in juvenile crime over the past decade. The voting issue is seen as particularly important here on Okinawa, which has one of the worst economies of all the prefectures in Japan. The unemployment rate here on the island recently reached 7.8%, its highest percentage in over twenty two years. With 48,000 people unemployed, both high school and university graduates are finding it increasingly difficult to find good paying jobs. Despite these negative factors facing young adults, voter turnout for people in their 20's is at an all time low.

Yasukuni Kinjo and Yoshitaka Nohara, two members of the Okinawan business community, thought immediate action was necessary to help reverse the trend. Kinjo, a 28 year old graduate of the Universtiy of the Ryukyus, leads a group of students from various universities around Okinawa, trying to increase awareness to current political and social issues facing Okinawa. "One of the problems is the lack of information that is aimed at young people. Most young people feel that politics and politicians are of a totally different world from their own. Also, most of the popular television shows that target young people very rarely focus on political or social issues, further distancing today's issues form the younger generation," said Kinjo.

Together, Nohara and Kinjo formed the "Wake Up Club" for the purpose of "waking up" young people to the issues that are affecting them, and to the importance of their right to vote. The idea came about three years ago during national elections. "We looked at the data and saw that over 14,000,000 people between the ages of twenty and thirty didn't vote. The data also showed that in Okinawa alone, 100,000 young people did not go to the voting polls. We were surprised and embarrassed," explained 35 year old Nohara, who is an advisor to the group. The two realized that the problem would only become worse if nothing was done, so they decided that it was necessary to change the way young people think. "Most young people have the attitude that nothing matters," continued Nohara

Trying to get young people to think more about current events and their right to vote, the "Wake Up Club" decided to put together a concert, which took place on Saturday, June 7, at the Okinawa City Civic Center. Supported by the "Ryu Fu Kai", the committee was able to draw many different entertainers and musicians, who all lended their own voices to help promote participation in elections by more young people. Some of the performers included the rock band "Shishio" and 70's singer Yutaka Sadoyama, who was himself a well known leader among university students during the Vietnam War era. Alberto Shiroma of Diamantes also stopped by to encourage young people to vote, as well as 21 year old Akihiko Nago, the Bantam Weight Boxing Champion of Japan.

The biggest surprise of the night was the personal appearance of Governor Ota. The Governor gave a short speech, his words stressing the point that it is up to young people to make a new and better Okinawa. Received warmly by the crowd, everyone seemed to be overwhelmingly pleased at having the Prefecture's highest government official in attendance.

As for the "Wake Up Club", and everyone involved the concert was a huge success. Over 2,000 people filled the Civic Center, along with many staff and supporters. Working entirely as volunteers, the "Wake Up Club" was able to focus attention and gather momentum for this year's upcoming national elections, being held in July. The question now remains, whether or not Okinawa's young people will begin to take notice of the problems occurring within therir country, and more importantly, their ability to change things through the voting process. The group continues to be active with weekly meetings, and is busy printing and handing out information around the different universities on the island. "The concert is over, but we are not," said Nohara.

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