FANTASTIC VOYAGE: Making my voice heard, even from Japan

VOTING ACROSS THE PACIFIC — Jeff Asai readies his ballot to be sent from Nara Prefecture to Santa Clara County.
photo courtesy of Jeff Asai

On Aug. 28, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced his retirement due to health reasons, and Sept. 16, less than three weeks later, his successor Yoshihide Suga had been named and installed as the new Japanese prime minister.

The political system in Japan is such that the prime minister is not determined by popular vote. It is the responsibility of the ruling party in the Cabinet to elect a candidate, and then it is put to a vote in the Diet.

So many people in Japan find the American election system interesting. They find the process incredibly long but also a spectacle. Of course, there is serious concern about who the next president will be and the candidates’ positions toward trade and foreign policy are looked at, but in the end it’s not like Japanese citizens have a hand in the outcome. So it’s like watching a reality TV show (well, it is a reality TV show) and seeing who will get voted off the island.

This year, like the last presidential election, I voted from Japan using an absentee ballot. I sent my ballot back quite early this time. I had gotten it in early October and had sent it back on Oct. 6. Unfortunately, due to the pandemic, any guaranteed delivery methods that include tracking would take up to a month to deliver. So I sent my ballot through the regular postal system. Fortunately, in California (as I’m sure is the case with many states) you can check to see if your ballot was received through the election office Website. I confirmed that my ballot was received in mid-October.

Of course, sending your ballot early has its problems as well. During the primaries, the person I voted for announced they would drop out of the race after I had sent my ballot. Had I known that they were going to drop out, I would’ve obviously changed my vote to one of the candidates that was still running. Likewise, any “October surprise” that the candidates plan is pretty much useless against voters like myself. I watched the first presidential debate out of a sense of civic duty more than anything else, but skimmed through the second debate because my ballot had already been sent. The candidate I chose could’ve kicked a puppy on the way up to the stage and there’s nothing I could do to change my vote anyways.

But in the end, we all have to fulfill our civic duty of voting. You have to vote, especially if you are a minority. It is the only way that politicians learn to take our concerns seriously. If Asians don’t vote, there wouldn’t be any reason to try to court their vote. We need to vote not just to elect the person we want into office, but to ensure that future generations will be heard and taken seriously.

I am in a unique position in that if the vote turns out to be not to my liking, I can change my citizenship. A lot of people say they’ll leave the country, but I already did that. And unrelated to the election, I have already looked at the process of becoming a Japanese citizen. But in the end, I don’t think I will pursue it, regardless of the election outcome. Because when you lose, you don’t pick up your marbles and walk away. You redouble your efforts to get things to where you think they should be.
So no matter where in the world you may be, I hope you were able to make your voice heard!

Jeff Asai, a Yonsei who grew up attending the San Jose Betsuin Buddhist Church, writes from the town of Asuka, Nara Prefecture, where he serves as an assistant minister at a Jodo-shu temple, Jokokuji, teaches English and lives with his wife Yae Hosokawa with their children Madoka and Yui. He can be reached via e-mail at jeffasai@gmail.com.

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