Campaign Vans Shadowed by Twitter as Japan Loosens Rules

Noise-polluting trucks with loudspeakers and politicians hoarse from giving speeches at railway stations have been a staple of Japanese elections since before the Second World War.

That may be about to change, as politicians take advantage of new laws allowing them to use Twitter Inc., Facebook Inc. and video streaming websites to campaign online.

Japan’s July 21 upper house election is the first nationwide voting since the end of a ban on candidates using the Internet to spread political messages in a nation where door-to-door campaign visits are illegal. Politicians now have a campaign tool that’s quicker, cheaper and quieter than the loudspeaker trucks.

“Online campaigning may have an impact on public opinion, and voting results could be drastically different,” said Hiroshi Naya, an analyst at Ichiyoshi Research Institute Inc. in Tokyo. “Those who aren’t familiar with online communication methods have to learn how to use them.”

Companies such as Yahoo Japan Corp. and Dwango Co., which has seen candidates tap its Niconico video streaming channel, may benefit from the new style of campaigning, Naya said.

Loudspeaker vans are legal under Japan’s Public Offices Election Act. Rules also limit the size and number of pamphlets a political group can use and where posters can be placed.

New Blogs

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party, along with coalition ally New Komeito, will probably win a majority in the upper house election, according to a July 4-5 Yomiuri newspaper poll.

Under the old campaigning rules, candidates were barred from even updating blogs or making new entries on social networks during the campaign.

The April rule change has triggered a rush of politicians starting blogs to communicate with voters.

Of the 433 candidates in the election, 121 have opened an account at CyberAgent Inc.’s Ameba blogging service. About half of them are newly created accounts since the Tokyo-based company started in April offering free consulting services for politicians to help them get used to social media, said Ayako Toba, an Ameba spokeswoman.

Septeni Holdings Co., which manages Internet advertising businesses, last month sold an e-mail authentication service to a major Japanese political party, spokeswoman Hiromi Kofunato said, declining to specify the buyer. Septeni has also begun a consulting service to help politicians open Facebook accounts.

Market Impact

Shares of Dwango have almost tripled this year and Septeni has more than doubled, compared with a 41 percent advance for the broader Topix index. Dwango’s Niconico Internet streaming service is used by 10 political parties, according to Akiko Matsumoto, spokeswoman for the Tokyo-based company.

“Those shares started to gain on expectation that the rule change would benefit the companies,” said Ichiyoshi’s Naya.

While many candidates are still beginners in the use of social media, a notable exception is Prime Minister Abe, said Jitsuko Miyazaki, who runs Haru Consulting Inc., an Internet business firm based in Yokohama, near Tokyo.

“There is no limit to using Internet to show what you are doing,” she said. “Prime Minister Abe may be the only politician standing out for regular use of online media.”

Abe has been uploading photos and comments several times a day to his Facebook account since he kicked off the LDP campaign July 4. Pictures and videos from the trip include a breakfast with his wife at home, holding a supporter’s baby during a lunch break and shaking hands with shoppers as he walked through a local market.

Obama’s Twitter

More than 5,000 people gathered in Osaka as Abe gave a speech for a LDP candidate Takuji Yanagimoto, Abe’s July 6 postings show. More than 10,700 people clicked a “like” button for that posting.

While Abe’s over 153,000 Twitter followers number more than LDP Secretary General Shigeru Ishiba’s 35,000, the roster is dwarfed by the more than 34 million people who track U.S. President Barack Obama’s posts.

Yosuke Ito, a candidate for the governing Liberal Democratic Party, is among those shunning traditional methods for the election. The 49-year-old musician has been seeking votes through Twitter, Facebook, Google Inc.’s YouTube and Niconico.

That’s Entertainment

As the new rules took effect, Ito kept his blog updated with new videos and photos while also getting help from other artists that are signed with Avex Group Holdings Inc., the agency that manages his music. The dance group Exile appeared on his blog, helping it become the most popular among the 121 Ameba sites for candidates.

Ito, formerly a stockbroker, knows where he sees the value of his campaign.

“I am campaigning mainly on Internet,” Ito said in a July 8 post on Twitter. “I don’t repeat my name from an election van or scream out a speech in front of a station. I’d rather bring my passion in packets and footage that are enjoyable to all through Niconico and YouTube.”

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