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Kaleidoscope of the Heart: Voting is Japanese youths' new rite of passage

Rika Kayama

Revisions to the Public Offices Election Law lowering the legal voting age to 18 from 20 came into effect this year, just in time for the July 10 House of Councillors election.

There are some people who wonder if 18-year-olds, most of whom are still in high school, are capable of choosing a candidate and voting properly, but I for one am in favor of the new voting age. I think it's excellent that young people now have the chance to express their strong opinions about our society.

However, to the question, "Is an 18-year-old really an adult who can formulate a solid opinion?" I would have to answer "no." Until the present era, the psychology community considered 18 to be the age when a person had more or less got a good grasp on what kind of person they were. They were ready to start work, or go onto more specific study in university, or to begin looking for their life partner.

But what about now? I believe that there are very few 18-year-olds now who have a firm idea of who they are, or who can make solid decisions grounded in their own will about study and work. From this perspective, it's understandable to think that 18 is too early an age to start voting.

However, that begs the question: "How old does a person need to be to make their own decisions?" There are more and more people these days who declare that, though they are legal adults, they are still "searching" for themselves. There are ever more people in their 30s, 40s or even 50s who come to my practice and tell me, "I can't find myself. I've tried a lot of different things, but I just can't think of a job or a lifestyle that's really me."

There are others whose sons or daughters have started their adult lives, and the parents ask me, "Will my kids be OK?" Some admit to being so concerned they call the companies their children work for.

That being the case, I think we ought to give 18-year-olds -- many of them nearing graduation from high school -- the vote, simply to say to them, "All right, now is the time to use your head. You ought to be able to make a choice for now (in an election)." This will usher them into adulthood, a full member of adult society, hopefully sparking a new self-awareness. Then parents, too, may be able to tell themselves that their teenage child, heading out to vote, has become an independent individual.

I'd like to add that today's young people have spent their entire lives in a Japan that is struggling economically, and have a pretty good idea of what the world has in store for them. As the world goes through its upheavals, there are many young people who have used the free flow of information across our planet to develop a real globalist sense.

I have high expectations of the coming upper house election and its newly enfranchised 18- and 19-year-old voters. We have to somehow get adults who say they have "no interest in politics or elections" involved again, too. (By Rika Kayama, psychiatrist)

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