Japan's new leader asks voters to fax him their views

May 19, 1994|By Thomas Easton | Thomas Easton,Tokyo Bureau of The Sun

TOKYO -- The technology revolution Japan has done so much to spawn is finally being used to reach the country's leader.

Beginning a week ago, anyone wanting to get through to the new prime minister, Tsutomu Hata, can send a fax to 8133-581-3883.

This may seem a petty move compared to the long-standing use of letters and faxes to reach elected officials in the United States. One can even send an E-Mail message to the President Clinton's computer mail box.

But in Japan, letters to politicians tend to end up in the garbage, while the high-tech communication methods that Japan sells abroad are ignored at home. Contact with politicians is done face to face.

Truly vexed constituents tend to barge into the offices of their representative in parliament.

But Mr. Hata doesn't hang around his old Diet (parliament) office, which he has kept, and is almost unreachable in the new office designated for the prime minister.

When he broke with the long-ruling Liberal Democratic Party to create the Renewal Party last year, he installed fax machines in his headquarters and asked for correspondence from outsiders.

Almost no one responded, said a party adviser, but a symbolic message was made.

A week ago, Mr. Hata brought the fax idea to his new home. About 200 letters have been coming in daily.

What do they say?

Word is beginning to leak out, but the same government that is eager to demonstrate its openness in receiving correspondence not all that open in sharing.

An official in charge says nothing can be said until sorting of the letters is finished, and there is no time frame for that.

After considerable thought, he concedes that most faxes to the nation's chief politician are about politics.

According to published reports, other comments include a child recommending Mr. Hata grow a Lincolnesque beard.

Mr. Hata also has corresponded recently with young soccer fans explaining why the government refused to allow troubled Argentine soccer star Diego Maradona into the country (past drug use).

Others may be tougher to answer.

One staff member noted that among the faxes have been requests for Mr. Hata to resign.

Hurtful?

Maybe, depending on whether Mr. Hata actually reads what comes in.

His staff declined to comment, other than to say a few letters seem to be forwarded to him in the evening.

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