- By Alicia P.Q. Wittmeyer
Alicia P.Q. Wittmeyer is assistant managing editor for online at Foreign Policy. Her work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post, and Forbes, among other places. She holds a bachelor's degree from U.C. Berkeley, and master's degrees from Peking University and the London School of Economics. The P.Q. stands for Ping-Quon.
The real-life Shinzo Abe has had his fair share of critics — those who find his nationalist inclinations distasteful, for example, or others who are deeply skeptical about his so-called Abenomics plan to save the Japanese economy.
But who could dislike the cartoon version of the Japanese prime minister? Flipping through the air, his downcast face unchanging as he bounces higher and higher in his gray suit — he’s adorable.
That appears to be the effect Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) is going for in releasing a new smartphone game called "Abe Pyon," or Abe Hops. In the game, a tiny Abe hops higher and higher in the skies on different platforms above the building that houses Japan’s legislature. Climb higher, and the game offers up facts about Abe and the LDP. Miss a platform, and Abe will look at you reproachfully before plummeting to the ground (my personal high score was a pretty unimpressive 312 meters above ground).
"There were worries that some young people thought the LDP was distant, that we lacked intimacy … that they didn’t know anything about us," Takuya Hirai, a lawmaker and head of the LDP’s Internet strategy team, tells Reuters.
An upper house election in July will mark the first time Japanese politicians can use the Internet as part of their election efforts — a long-standing ban on online and social media campaigning was lifted earlier this year — and Abe Pyon is an attempt to get a jump, so to speak, on winning over younger, tech-inclined voters.
The party faces an uphill battle. Japanese society is dominated by the elderly, and Japanese politics is no different. Power is held disproportionately in aging, rural Japan, and politicians tend to act in the interests of their elderly constituents — one reason why it’s been so difficult to achieve desperately needed social security reform, for example.
So can a cartoon politician really make a difference in the LDP’s bid for the votes of Japan’s alienated youth, who barely vote at all and, when they do, usually vote for the other guys?
What the game lacks in substance it makes up for — a bit — in creativity; even Obama’s famously youth-friendly 2009 campaign never cast its candidate in a video game. And, to be fair, Abe — an avid Facebook user himself — is also continuing to push for the somewhat more significant measure of lowering the voting age on constitutional referendums from 20 to 18. But in a country where the average age of people casting ballots in the 2009 general election was 54.2, a cute jumping man in a suit will only get you so far.