The Unexpected Way A Ramen Chain Is Encouraging People To Vote

If you are eligible to vote in Japan and you are a ramen fan, then the Japan-based international ramen chain Ippudo would like a word. With elections for the country's House of Councillors just around the corner, the company is hoping to entice voters to cast their ballots — in exchange for free noodle refills or a boiled egg topping, per The Mainichi. All voters need to do is show the restaurant some kind of verifiable proof that they voted, and the freebies are theirs from election day July 10, through to July 24 — which is when the limited-time offer comes to an end. Seven other businesses have also said they would offer voters discounts.

While this might sound like a novel way for the private sector to remind citizens of their civic responsibility, this is actually the fifth time since 2016 that Ippudo has launched this promotion to encourage Japanese of all ages to Rock the Vote. As one company spokesman put it, "We hope this will create an opportunity for people to cast their ballots, even if voting has not become customary for them. We want them to view it like an outing, and enjoy ramen after voting." In other words, it would be similar to Olive Garden giving free refills of your favorite pasta dish for doing what you should be doing anyway.  

Japanese stances on political involvement

But companies like Ippudo have a reason to be concerned. Per The Economist, few Japanese seem to want to engage with politics or government in any meaningful way, and a drop in the country's voting age from 20 to 18 in 2016 has done little to transform public opinion.

Part of this has to do with the belief that nothing will change, even after votes are cast. The ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) currently dominates Japanese politics and has done so for most of the time since it was formed in 1955, per Britannica. Campaign periods are very short, and last anywhere from between 12 to 17 days. Many positions seem to be passed on inside family generations, and many are held by social conservatives. As Linda Hasunuma of the University of Bridgeport put it, "It is to do with the gate-keepers, the party elite, who have very old ideas of what leadership looks like and entails." Only 40% of Japanese told the Pew Research Center that they were "happy with their democracy."

Still, the Japanese themselves are aware that things will not get better if people don't vote. Student organizer Kohei Iwabuchi told The Mainichi, "We want the election discounts to become a trigger for people to vote first and get interested in politics. It is us young people who will create the future of Japan." Maybe the Ippudo ramen promotion can help motivate voters.