Poll reveals pessimism
Japanese think tank The Genron NPO surveyed 1,000 people in September, across a spectrum of age and gender groups.
They asked how people saw the nation's future. Only 25.3 percent had an optimistic view. More than half -- 57.3 percent -- were pessimistic.
They asked people which issues concern them most. Topping the list were social security and climate issues, followed by the rapid aging of society and population decline.
They asked people whether they thought the current politicians and political parties could solve these issues. Roughly 70 percent said they didn't think so.
"Politicians are not representing us"
Respondents were more split when asked if they thought their elected representatives were actually representing them. Forty-five percent said they were not and 41.5 percent said they were. Younger respondents in particular said they were not being represented.
The survey then asked people why they felt they were not being represented. The largest group, about 38 percent, said politicians only think about the public during elections. Eighteen percent said politicians are not reliable, and almost 20 percent said there is no serious debate in the Diet. Only 4 percent said they had no interest in politics.
Democracy in Japan
Responses were more evenly split about the state of democracy in Japan. About 40 percent said they were satisfied and about 40 percent said they were not.
The poll found that a majority of people trust the country's judges, professors and the media. But Japan's politicians, political parties and the Internet all fared poorly, trusted by less than a third of respondents.
Yu Uchiyama, a professor of political science at the University of Tokyo, said the findings are worrying.
"The most critical point is that only the judiciary has the people's trust, and lawmakers have lost it. Democracy relies on a balance of the judicial, legislative and executive branches," he says.
He also noted that only 40 percent of people said they thought democracy was the best possible kind of political system.
Common challenge for democratic world
Shortly after the survey results were released, politicians and researchers from Europe and Asia held a conference in Tokyo to discuss why populist parties are surging and traditional political parties have lost trust.
One attendee said people see traditional parties as playing power games without the input of voters. Another said the number of people living in poverty is increasing, and people who are losing hope in the future are trying to change the system.
Toru Yoshida, a professor of political studies at Hokkaido University, said the populists are winning with the support of people who don't traditionally take an interest in politics.
Mapping out a better future
Uchiyama and Yoshida believe Japan's political system needs to change, so they are teaming up with other political researchers to draft some proposals. They say their plan will include reform of the electoral system and the functions of the Diet.
The question is: Will the politicians themselves see things the same way? It's they who will have to institute any changes the researchers come up with. They will, at least, have time on their side. Barring any snap election, the next time the nation goes to the polls will be 2021.