By Philippe Mesmer and Philippe Pons

Posted today at 6:00 p.m.

While democracies are torn apart by polarization of political discourse and radicalization favoring populism, Japan is the exception. The Archipelago, admittedly shaken by the mistakes in the management of the pandemic, ignores for the moment the political and social turbulence experienced by Europe and the United States.

The demonstrations are small, street violence and the looting of public or private property non-existent, the safety of cities remains intact and strikes go unnoticed. Political stability, with a dominant party in power for decades (except for a parenthesis between 2009 and 2012), rare signs of extremism: Japan at the start of the 21st centurye century gives the image of a society with little protest, if not sluggish. On closer inspection, the observation is less obvious: society is less homogeneous and more diversified, even rebellious to power, than one might think.

Factors undoubtedly hamper social dynamics. First, a feeling of vulnerability: the earthquake followed by a tsunami in March 2011, combined with the nuclear disaster at the Fukushima plant due to human neglect, prompted the Japanese to question the myth of security. based on technology maintained by leaders. The rise of a nationalist China in a fragile regional geopolitical context also contributes to this reluctance.

Society is changing

Japan, whose expansion in the 1960s and 1980s astonished the world, was a young country. He is no longer. Aging (over 65s represent 28% of the population) combined with the fall in the birth rate contributes to a stagnation in political life. While seniors vote for the dominant Liberal Democrat party, young adults shun the ballot box (the abstention rate in the October 2017 general election was 48%) and those who attend vote conservative. The majority does not feel represented and does not vote.

This electoral silence, which reflects a disaffection for parties, reflects a crisis in classic forms of symptomatic political participation and a loss of confidence in the political system among young people. But this does not translate into a citizen resignation. Behind the stagnation of power, as evidenced by the governance crisis in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic, society is changing.

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Income gaps are widening, precariousness is increasing and new questions are emerging in the public debate (inequalities, climate emergency, parity, sexual minorities, etc.). Although Japan is at the 120e place out of 156 in the global report on the gender gap (2021) and that sexism remains anchored in the old generations, mentalities are changing and no longer accept this behavior. Women are making themselves heard more and shying away from the constraints of social conventions, minorities are expressing themselves and the young generation wanders between mobilization and withdrawal into what directly affects them – sometimes pathological withdrawal with withdrawal into oneself and isolation for months, even years (a state designated by the term hikikomori, the walled ones).

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