"MURASAKI, MuraSaki de gozaimasu! 27 sai degozaimasu. Yoroshiku onegaishimasu!"
If you live in Japan (or, at least in Omura), you probably woke up with a smile on your face because the sound of a squeaky woman's voice over a loud moving speaker didn't startle you out of bed. I know I did! I am talking about campaigning for the elections of the local candidates that will be happening today.
For those of you who do not know how campaigning happens here in Japan, allow me to enlighten you a little. I really don't know anything about local government in Japan, but I do know how they get their name out to their constituents. Maybe a little too well...
In my town, there are 36 people running for different seats across town. They are probably running for some sort of councilman position within their precinct or "neighborhood." They print and distribute pamphlets -- putting them in people's mailboxes. I've gotten several over the last couple of weeks. They have posters that they paste up all over town. There are also big boards all over town that show all the people running. I think this is a fantastic idea because it allows you to at least KNOW who is running (as seen below...thank you ZARA for the pictures*!!).
Our favorite guy (Murasaki Hiroshi) is smack dab in the middle and the only one with a horizontal poster.
Some of them stand on the side of the street with their banners and campaign. Murasaki does this and this picture is the from the first time we spotted him!
(We stopped in the middle of the road to take a picture...which turned out blurry...but this is the first time we came into contact with him!)
And, the most popular way to campaign in Japan is to get into a big car or van with HUGE load speakers on top, drive around town and through neighborhoods, and yell your name and "THANK YOU" into them over and over...and over and over... Yes, it's annoying! Especially when it wakes you up every single weekend. Here's what the vans look like:
(a picture from Z's car) They are EVERYWHERE during election time. I can even hear them during class time...
Ok, so now onto the story of how I got to CAMPAIGN in Japan! How many JETs can say they've done such a thing? Somehow I think that if we aren't the first, then we are pretty close to being the first.
Our favorite guy is Murasaki. He's 27 years old -- and he sells himself that way. Zara got a pamphlet about him a while back and got as far as seeing he was only 26 (before the elections started) and thought that was really cool. She googled "Omura" and "26" and found the guy! She let us know about him and we thought it was neat, but didn't think much of it because we can't vote. However, from the time we saw him on the road, we began to have interest in him and the campaigns around Omura. It wasn't until about a week and a half ago that Meg and I were riding our bikes down the main road in Omura after enjoying dinner in the park that I spotted him on the corner by Jusco and Starbucks. We turned around, crossed the street, and talked to him!!! I asked him, "Do you remember me? I took your picture from the car by Sun Spa!" He started laughing as the light bulb went off...YES! He remembered us! As we were standing there talking to him, both Meg's and my students kept going by on their bikes on their way home. One of mine drove right past us and said my name. Murasaki picked up on it right away, "Oh, your name is Mary!" He asked Meg's name and he remembered our names. We also showed up in his blog (half way down the page) the next day. Since that day, we were determined to talk to him again and get a picture. We looked unsuccessfully for days...until yesterday.
Meg and I had just gotten back from a nice lunch in the park (we are taking advantage of the weather and the BEAUTIFUL Omura park) and Jusco when we got messages from Zara. She had seen Murasaki's team on the street campaigning! She got to my place in about 5 minutes and we were out of there as quick as you can say "Murasaki, Murasaki degozaimasu!" We were going to find him this time!
We went back to where she first spotted him, but they had moved on. We didn't give up, though. We drove around and in about 5 minutes all three of us jumped with joy (literally) when we spotted his van. WE FOUND HIM!
Now, a couple of days earlier, the three of us wanted to know what it feels like to be a politician campaigning on the corner. Meg and Zara made this sign (read: 27 Murasaki):
We went out to the corner across the street and waved/bowed at the passing cars. We decided not to use the sign just in case it would inflict negative consequence on his campaign (because we aren't really involved with his campaign). But, we had a blast waving, smiling, and bowing at people. We even got quite a few smiles, waves, and bows back in return! The best part was when Meg and I went to our favorite restaurant up the street the next day and got asked about it. Ha ha, they had seen us! They were wondering WHY we were doing that and I told them that we just wanted to do give GENKI (energetic) greetings to people. Yes, we were ready for the real thing...even if it had only been a joke among ourselves.
Ok, back to the story. So, when we spotted the car, we busted our Murasaki sign out and hung it out the window. They stopped and the guy came out and probably figured out who we were (because of the mention of Meg and me on his blog). He allowed us to follow them back to the headquarters, which turned out to be RIGHT NEAR THE EKI (train station). Wow...we really haven't used the train in a while. Who knew it was so close all that time? ANYWAYS! We spotted the van at 4pm. Let's start this adventure.
We arrive at the headquarters and are taken upstairs (a big room on top of a salon).
We walk in and Murasaki is there. He sees us and just about falls over in laughter and happiness. He remembers Meg and me (including our names!) and is happy to meet Zara. They offer us tea and mounds (really) of omiyage sweets. We have a few chats here and there, but then Murasaki sits down and somehow our conversation turns into him asking us if we want to ride around in the van.
We've been joking about getting to ride around in a van for about a week at this point. It was about to happen! And hey, we had practiced, so we are more than ready! Let's GOOOO!
We get in the van (ok, his is only a car, but VAN is more fun to say), roll down the windows, and for the next 3 1/2 hours (not kidding you) we wave and greet people on the road with genki "arigatou gozaimaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaasu!" Murasaki was so ecstatic about us being there, saying how it was something that's never been done before (foreigners campaigning in the van). Personally I think we were great assets to him on this run. We got a lot of double takes and when we saw our students they went wild (or stared in disbelieve). During the car ride, we stopped a total of three times to get out and wave while Murasaki said things of substance. Meaning, in the car, all they say (over and over) is their name and THANK YOU! We were still so excited! We got out and waved on the street near Max Value, Jusco, and the eki.
We also stopped a few times for him to talk to some people. I have never seen someone bow SO deep and long. Check out this 90 degree action (WITH a handshake!)!
A little bit before 8, we were taken to the community center in the neighborhood of Suwa (where he is running). He was giving a lecture on his campaign and we got to attend! Not including the rest of the Murasaki crew, there were probably 25-30 people attending. We were attentive and we even understood some of it! One of his funny stories had to do with Omura Beef. There's beef in Omura? Apparently so...and it's comparable to Kobe beef. He talked about how he went to a restaurant with some people and they had Omura beef...and it cost about 200 dollars for all of them (without drinking sake). We were wondering the same thing as he was...there are COWS in Omura? Where do they keep them? His point was that the city has to promote the things that we have. Apparently we have pretty good beef. Who knew?
He spoke VERY solidly and with a lot of enthusiasm, energy, and PASSION. To be honest, I haven't ever followed a candidate this closely (even though I technically don't know his whole platform or even what he's really running for), but you don't have to understand any words in order to see his passion for what he's doing. This has impacted me. If I ever hold office in something political and someone asks me where/when I became interested in politics, I will have to smile and reply with, "Well, when I was living in Japan..." :)
After the speech was over (about an hour and a half later), we helped clean up (and were being silly) and got invited back for dinner!
Zara had two large containers for macaroni salad, which they loved. After dinner, we had some very interesting, fun, and genuine conversations. Zara told them that they (Z and M) have a "mondai" (problem) -- no boyfriends! I told them to help the girls out. They said that they don't have girlfriends either...and Z and M paper-rock-scissored over them (that's how Japanese people settle disputes). They just about died laughing. I don't have that problem though, heehee. (*smiles*) Zara told them the story on how we found Murasaki and how it's quite hard to make friends our age around here. I think that last night solved our problem. After, we were talking about how from the very beginning (when Meg and I talked to him on the street and even when Take came out of the car and told us to follow them to the headquarters) there was no awkward tension whatsoever. They absolutely embraced us from the very beginning. We are invited to go to the party tonight after the elections are over -- we are SO going. I hope that we can meet up with these people again, they are really neat...not to mention a future Omura politician! Oh...connections! :)
Could you say we are leaving our mark on this small town? Oh, I think so... I've done so many more cool things here than I ever thought was possible. I have some amazing friends! I want to make a video of all of this once it's over. Hopefully I will get that done this week sometime. Until then, VOTE MURASAKI!! :)