Now a third-year law student at the prestigious University of Tokyo, Kensuke Harada, 23, was once on the road to becoming just another politician. In 2006, he scored an internship with a DPJ legislator who hailed from the same southwestern Japanese city, Okayama. But one year into the internship, Harada realized he wasn't cut out for the baby steps of reform that count as radical change in the gray halls of the Diet. He wanted a more immediate impact. In April 2008, he founded ivote, which encourages young Japanese to pledge online that they will participate in the coming elections. (In recent elections, about 30% of 20-somethings turned out to vote, compared with 60% for the overall electorate.)
Using a Tokyo McDonald's as their makeshift headquarters, Harada and his team of 10 university students have organized get-out-the-vote rallies that encourage youngsters to don their summer kimonos and, in the spirit of traditional festivals, party for politics. He has also planned a series of meet and greets at local pubs that allow politicians to do something unexpected in Japan's tightly choreographed and cloistered electoral season: meet actual young people and trade ideas. Such exchanges have electrified youth participants too. After one such event, young attendees who said they planned to vote nearly tripled. "More than any other reason," Harada says of ivote's participants, "they say they are voting for their future."
with reporting by Yuki Oda / Tokyo
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