Meet Komesuke, the talking grain of rice that will supposedly empower Japanese young people to head out to the polls this weekend.
Created in 2013 by the Komeito party, the fluffy bean-shaped mascot educates voter through policy videos and interviews with lawmakers. In one video, Komesuke says his political party “is doing its all to make sure that young people can participate in society.”
Komesuke even has his own Instagram account in which he poses with a variety of random objects, including a Starbucks frappuccino, a small red wagon, and a cheeseburger. His bio says, “I’m Komesuke! I’m from Tokyo. I love rice. I’d like to become friends with everyone.”
At only 535 followers, it looks like Komesuke could use a little help with that last part.
The creepy — but adorable — mascot came about in response to low voter turnout among young people. According to the Wall Street Journal, only about a third of people in their 20s voted in a lower house election in late 2014, yielding one of the lowest overall voting turnouts in decades.
Japan, which has the oldest population of any country on Earth, passed a law to lower the voting age just last year, from 20 to 18. This age group will head to the polls for the first time this weekend for Parliament’s upper house election.
Komeito is not the only political party to court young voters — the opposition Democratic Party hopes to increase turnout by inviting teen models to talk show-style events with lawmakers. Participants have the opportunity to chat with governmental officials about policies they would like to see adopted, such as free ice cream and more shelters for abandoned pets.
“These models have a lot of big fans, and these events might be an opportunity to make those fans think that politics is actually a part of their lives and that they should vote,” Democratic Party lawmaker Akihiro Hatsushika told the Wall Street Journal.
The Tokyo Metropolitan Government also enlisted models to spark interest in the democratic process.
It created a short Youtube video featuring a pair of models—Ryuchell and his girlfriend Peco—dancing around an imaginary land called “Vote City,” or Tohyo-to. Vote City is filled with dancing sumo wrestlers, pandas, flowers, and giraffes, among other objects. Peco repeatedly jams her vote in the animated ballot box, which smiles mechanically and raises its stubby arms in joy.
It’s not clear whether such tactics will actually work.
“I don’t know if young people even know about these kinds of things,” Aina Koyama, 19, told the Wall Street Journal. “I think it’s better to advertise the 18-year-old voting age in commercials or magazines or on [campus] bulletin boards.”
The effectiveness of these campaigns will be known after Sunday’s election. But if Komesuke’s meager Instagram following is any gauge of success, then Japanese politicians may have their work cut out for them.
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