Here’s this week’s Media Mix about the improved fortunes of the Japan Communist Party in recent elections. As stated in the article, the media generally doesn’t take the party seriously, even though they are paying closer attention. Maybe that sounds contradictory, but there is an important distinction. As far as elections go, since the 1970s the JCP’s role has been seen as nothing more than that of a spoiler, a party that siphons votes away from other, more “deserving” opposition forces. What its success in the general election last December and the local elections last month seem to indicate is that the JCP is now drawing not only liberal-minded voters away from other nominally liberal parties, but also attracting people who might not have voted otherwise.
The press has picked up on this, but it still can’t quite get past its queasiness regarding the JCP. In the Tokyo Shimbun article I cited, the writer refers to the “allergy” that many people have towards Komeito, the LDP’s coalition partner, which traditionally has been aligned with peace-themed issues and thus would seem to be more liberal or maybe progressive in outlook. However, the electorate’s negative reaction to Komeito has nothing to do with its politics and everything to do with its structure, which derives much of its influence from a close association with the Soka Gakkai, even though party members deny that the religious organization and its charismatic leader, Daisaku Ikeda, have any say in Komeito’s policies or direction. However, everyone assumes, probably correctly, that Soka Gakkai’s members are all Komeito members, as well, and the party can always count on their vote. In much the same way, the public and the press think that the JCP relies for its continued existence on the support of a dedicated base that does anything the party says. And there are some similarities in effect. Over the years, my Japanese partner has had several friends and acquaintances who belong to Soka Gakkai, and while they are not fanatical about it, they always invite her to organizational functions and campaign for Komeito candidates. Recently, when she expressed interest in JCP’s organ, Akahata, because it often covers current affairs with more complexity than the national dailies do (full disclosure: she does much of the research for Media Mix), the paper’s local distributor kept calling and emailing, trying to get a subscription out of her. I wouldn’t call the Komeito or JCP tactics in these regards proselytizing, but they are pushy and focused, and so I think many people, including those in the press, confuse them with each other. As far as the JCP goes, it has less to do with “communism” in the philosophical sense of the term and more to do with “groupism” as a Japanese person would understand it. Shedding that image is half the JCP’s problem if it wants the press to treat it as an equal with the other parties.