Campaign: Can we learn something from the Japanese?

It has always been known that the Japanese have a work ethic that is far and away superior than most people on the face of this planet.  They do whatever they can to be the best. If they do well, they are rewarded with financial or other success. If they fail, they are punished. No matter how you look at it, they take their work to an entirely new level.

Not only to they do this in their work, but they also do it in their campaigns for public office. I was opened to this fact when I saw a little known documentary in 2008 called Campaign. This movie is about Kazuhiko Yamauchi, a candidate running for City Council in Kawasaki. Within the first few minutes of the movie, Kazuhiko is standing in front of a subway station, with a megaphone, begging people to vote for  him and his reforms. His high energy campaign would continue throughout the movie. I won’t spoil the ending.

At the time I was working with a very lazy candidate. He would show up to events late. He would leave early. When he went to events, he would only talk to people he knew. He would mope around. When we asked him to do something, he wouldn’t do it. He was, honestly, the worst candidate that I worked for in my life. Eventually, after only 2 months, we decided to part ways. Not only was he a habitual liar, but he thought it better for his brother to run his campaign. And guess what, he was killed for State Senate in Orange County in 2008. He didn’t know or learn a thing.

Toward the end of our campaign, I told him he needed to watch Campaign. He said that he actually did watch it on PBS. I told him, while we have different ways of conveying things, we need to have the same energy and motivation to win as Yamauchi. He really didn’t listen.

So why am I going on about this film? There are some really interesting aspects about it that we could learn here in the United States. First, whenever we talk about “grassroots campaigning”, that is basically a short term for knocking on doors, making phone calls and putting up signs. Not much else is involved. In the movie, he actually takes to the neighborhood, talks to people in the shops, gas stations, just walking down the street, and actually connects with the voters. I would like to think that this is something that we did back in the 1930s and 1940s, but we sure don’t do it nowadays. Do we not do it because we are lazy? I don’t know, but it is something that we should look at and try to copy.

But not only was the drive to win an election something that was interesting, but the way that campaigns are organized was also quite different. And just like Japanese cars, I think their campaigning methods are also more productive. One thing that was pointed out is that each candidate and elected official has their own “committee”. While they are all loyal to the party, they form these committees behind the candidates and remain active all year, every year. But here in the United States, we seem to only get behind a candidate and start working hard for them one to two months before the election. What if we had this ‘year round’ commitment to a candidate? We might knock off some Republicans.

One last thing that I observed in this documentary was that the campaign manager was allowed to speak his mind. Here in the U.S., it seems like we always try to kiss up to the candidate. Many candidates rarely want to know the truth about what they need to do and how to do it. But in Japan, the candidates respect their campaign managers. They understand that they are the ones with experience in doing things. Granted, Florida Democrats since 1996 might not be the best people to advise campaigns in this way, but if a candidate is new and the campaign manager is seasoned, his experience should be respected. It shouldn’t be like my situation in 2008, where candidate went “rogue” and made a mess. Here is an example of a stern campaign manager:

This clip brings me to my final point, which is discipline.  Some candidates are good at being on time, attend every event and basically work hard to be the perfect candidate. Some aren’t. Same thing can be said about a campaign manager. But, if either the candidate or campaign manager don’t have discipline, the campaign will fail, pure and simple.

For those of you that are actually involved in campaigns, both as a candidate or staffer, I highly recommend watching Campaign. It is currently online for free at this link. This is only the one hour version, and only available for two more months. You can purchase the 2-hour version (which I have), and it is amazing. But we can learn from this movie. Yes, we might not run things exactly the same, but we can learn a lot and it should be a motivator to win.

2 thoughts on “Campaign: Can we learn something from the Japanese?”

  1. It’s a different culture here. Today it seems candidates are driven more by money than voter outreach.

  2. Yamauchi was an unknown, but willing to do whatever it took in an honorable way to win…..He showed gratitude and respect for the campaign team that provided the commitment necessary for the candidate.

    The Japanese have a different philosophy as a country than the US…..everything is team work and a connection to one another..Early education is working and learning as a group. This works well
    as noted by their test scores.

    After World War 11, William Edwards Deming an American statistician, went to Japan to rebuild the country by getting people back to work and build factories….

    One could say the Japanese were humble and understood that together they could rebuild their country. That philosophy and perseverance made them one of the most successful automobile manufactures in the world…

    Staying grounded, when history lessons are sometimes negated, may have a negative affect as people become overzealous by their wealth and prosperity.

    This is evident by the Japanese economy, which has been flat for sometime. And by the devastation of the Nuclear Power Plant and subsequent Tsunami. However, the courage and actions displayed by the Japanese is an example to be admired.

    The ideal campaign should require respect, commitment and discipline. The same goes for those who are elected to serve.