Spring 2015
Published by the Consulate General of Japan in New York / Japan Information Center
Changes to Voting Age? 20 or 18?
  • A New Voting Age?

    The voting age in Japan, currently set at 20 years old, may soon be changing. A bill has recently been submitted to the National Diet to lower the voting age in Japan to 18. The younger age is the standard not only in the US, but in many parts of the world. Of 198 countries recently surveyed, 176 nations allow citizens to vote at the age of 18. If the bill passes, about 2.4 million new voters would be participating in the next election.

    Japan, like the US, is a representative democracy in which one of the fundamental rights and responsibilities of every citizen is to vote. Every few years Japanese voters go to the polls to elect members to the National Diet, Japan’s parliament, to represent them. Let us take a moment to examine this process in the House of Representatives, the lower house of the Diet.

    Japan's National Diet Building
    Source: www.shugiin.go.jp 2015
  • Casting Two Ballots

    Every voter in Japan casts two ballots in elections for the House of Representatives; one ballot is for an individual candidate, and the second is for a political party. This is because there are two methods for filling seats. The first, known as the "single-seat constituency" method, is perhaps more familiar to Americans. Voters in each district choose from a list of candidates, and whoever has the most votes wins.

    The second, the "proportional representation" method, is more common in Europe. In this system, voters in each region pick from a list of parties. Each party is granted seats in the House of Representatives in accordance with the percentage of votes received.

    For example, there are 475 members in the House of Representatives. The country is divided into 295 electoral districts, and voters in each district choose an individual candidate to represent them. The remaining 180 seats are elected by proportional representation. For this purpose, the country is partitioned into 11 larger electoral blocs. Constituents in each bloc vote for political parties, which appoint a certain number of representatives based on the percentage of votes they received.

    Therefore, according to the Japanese system, candidates who do not receive enough votes in the single-constituency ballot may still gain seats in the House of Representatives through the proportional representation ballot.
  • Expatriates and Voting

    Japanese citizens living overseas are also able to vote in national elections. Expatriates come to their local embassy or consulate, such as the Consulate General of Japan in New York, to fill out and submit their ballots. This is slightly different from the American system, in which absentee voting is done through the mail. American expatriates do not vote in-person, but rather fill out ballot forms and send them back to the United States.

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