Yale Bulletin and Calendar

November 15, 2002|Volume 31, Number 11














Jun Saito receives the legislator badge that allows him to enter the National Diet, home to the Japanese Parliament's House of Representatives.

Graduate student Jun Saito wins
a seat in Japanese Parliament

On the day before Jun Saito was elected to the Japanese Parliament, he was outside campaigning, in the cold rain in his suit and leather shoes, running up to anyone who was interested in talking to him.

That he would be giving his all -- trying to capture every last vote right down to the wire -- is an image that entirely befits the 33-year-old Saito, according to friends and teachers of the graduate student in political science at Yale, whose grassroots campaign resulted in his winning the Parliamentary seat in a special election on Oct. 27.

For now, Saito has taken a leave of absence from Yale, where he was working on his Ph.D. dissertation on electoral politics in Japan. He is serving as one of 500 members of the House of Representatives, representing his native Yamagata Prefecture, a district in a rural, mountainous region of northern Japan.

Saito decided to run for the political seat last summer after noticing on the Internet a news item from home stating that Japan's main opposition party, the Democratic Party of Japan, was seeking someone to run against a candidate from Japan's ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) in an Oct. 27 by-election. The Parliamentary seat was vacated by Koichi Kato, a member of the LDP who resigned in the spring amidst charges of corruption.

Saito returned to Japan in mid-summer and quickly pulled together a band of supporters to help him launch his campaign, according to Yale faculty member Frances Rosenbluth, director of graduate studies in political science and Saito's thesis adviser.

"The official campaign period was only about 40 days," Rosenbluth says, "and it was not a foregone conclusion that he would win. He knew it would be a tough fight." In fact, she notes, Saito was the only one of seven opposition candidates who won in the special election. The other six seats in Parliament were won by members of the long-governing LDP, which has been in power almost continuously since 1955.

Rosenbluth says that one of Saito's reasons for running in the election was because he was dismayed by the corruption in Japanese politics, particularly with the money required to garner votes.

"He finds the money politics in Japan repugnant," explains Rosenbluth. "His appeal to voters was to say, 'Look, I don't have any money. I'm just a citizen like you and I want to represent the people that I know and love.'" She said her advisee's campaign also emphasized political reform and economic rejuvenation.

On his campaign website, Saito stressed his rural roots as the son of a farmer, showing a picture of himself as a young boy on his father's tractor.

In a Nov. 4 article in The New York Times about his political victory, Saito said of his supporters, "They see me as a human bridge between their world and the outside world."

Rosenbluth had the opportunity to see her student in his home district this summer as they conducted interviews for a research project on the political economy of childcare.

"He was so animated and so confident," she says. "It was clear that he was a comfortable and natural politician with a real ability to connect to people. Political scientists have to be good analysts, but it is rare for them to be as skilled a politician as Jun is. Those two things don't always go together."

Rosenbluth says that she and her colleagues in the political science department are pleased that Saito will have the opportunity "to test his theories" in the real world. Thus far, Saito has kept in touch with his Yale mentor, who is a comparative political economist with a special interest in Japan.

While he adjusts to his new life as a politician, Saito is also getting used to his new role as a father. He and his wife, Naomi, who is also from Japan, had a daughter, Erika, on Oct. 2.

As for his future, Saito has already set his sights on his next campaign: beating his Parliamentary predecessor Koichi Kato, who is expected to run again for his seat in an election in two years.

In The New York Times article, Saito noted that Kato is a graduate of Harvard, and jokingly pointed out that the future election will pit a Yale graduate against a Harvard rival. Saito earned his M.Phil. at Yale last year.

"Jun will have a much more contentious fight in two years when Mr. Kato comes back," says Rosenbluth.

She adds, however, that her former student has an outstanding ability to motivate people, and that quality will be in his favor.

"He's very capable," she says. "Jun is someone I could see having a very illustrious career, as a politician or in whatever he chooses to do."

-- By Susan Gonzalez


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