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Success of celebrities in Japan poll shows arrival of 'internet election age'

NHK Party leader Takashi Tachibana, left in middle row, is seen celebrating on July 11 after it became certain that YouTuber Gassy, pictured on a screen in the bottom right, would secure a seat in the House of Councillors election. (Mainichi/Yohei Koide)

TOKYO -- Many celebrities have secured seats in the House of Councillors election held in Japan on July 10, signaling the advent of a full-fledged "internet election age," where popular individuals who have a platform can be elected without relying on organizational support.

    Ken Akamatsu, a newcomer who ran on the ticket of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), gathered the most individual votes among high-profile candidates in the proportional representation bloc. He obtained some 530,000 votes, which was also the largest number gathered by any of the 178 candidates in the proportional representation constituency.

    Akamatsu posted a video on Twitter in which a female character similar to one who appears in his manga series "Love Hina" said, "I'm suffering because I don't have any support groups!" The post also conveyed that he was a strong advocate of freedom of speech and countermeasures against pirated copies of works. It appears that he gathered support from a wide range of fans. In an online program after the ballots were counted, he said, "(Even after the election win,) you still will be able to see my illustrations. I'd like to raise young people's interest in politics through manga explaining policies and laws."

    NHK Party newcomer and YouTuber Gassy also won an upper house seat for the first time after gathering about 290,000 votes. He is known for exposing scandals and behind-the-scenes information on celebrities, and his YouTube channel has over 1.2 million subscribers. He reportedly campaigned online from Dubai as he thought returning to Japan may result in his arrest for fraud he committed in the past. In a video streamed after his election win, he smiled and said, "Everyone, this is a big deal because you'll all need to call me 'teacher' from now on."

    Suidobashi Hakase, from the comedy duo Asakusa Kid, who ran as a Reiwa Shinsengumi candidate and newcomer, was elected for the first time after garnering about 120,000 votes. He actively engaged in live streaming of his stump speeches on social media.

    Among the elected were also actor Mitsuko Ishii -- an incumbent backed by Nippon Ishin (Japan Innovation Party) who gathered about 70,000 votes -- and actor Kiyoshi Nakajo, who garnered some 50,000 votes.

    As for electoral districts, Akiko Ikuina, an LDP newcomer who was a member of the pop idol group Onyanko Club, won a seat by gaining around 620,000 votes in the Tokyo constituency. While crowds gathered to see the former idol's campaign speeches across Japan, there was online backlash over her actions, including leaving many questions unanswered in policy questionnaires conducted by news organizations, and reporting different responses to each media outlet.

    Taro Yamamoto, actor-turned-politician and leader of the minor opposition party Reiwa Shinsengumi, won about 570,000 votes and secured a seat in the Tokyo constituency in the upper house election. Another candidate named Taro Yamamoto, who ran in the proportional representation bloc while being backed by the NHK Party, failed to win a seat, but gathered some 50,000 votes.

    Meanwhile, radio personality Sanshiro Matsuyama, who ran in the Nagano constituency as an LDP newcomer, had a close contest with an incumbent belonging to the largest opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, but lost in the election following reports of scandals with women.

    (Japanese original by Shiho Fujibuchi, Political News Department)

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