A Journey That Bridges Two Countries

Visiting Japan’s Tsunami Disaster Zone

"A Journsy that Bridges Two Countries"

 (To read the original article in Japanese, 

アート Prologue

On March 11, 2011, a powerful, magnitude 9.0 quake hit northeastern Japan, triggering a tsunami with up to 40-meter-high waves, devastating many communities along the eastern coast of Honshu, Japan’s main island. As of September 2012, 329,000 people are displaced, 15,870 victims died, and 2,814 are still missing (photos below were derived from Google Image).



I was born in Japan, and am now living in central valley of California with my husband and two children. When the tsunami hit my home country, millions watched in horror as live coverage of the disaster saturated the media.  I hurried to call to my parents who live in Kofu, a provincial capital near Tokyo, and confirmed they were okay, shaken, but okay. 

As the world watched the events unfold, sympathetic people everywhere wanted to help.  Emergency rescue response was coordinated between many countries, and monetary donations started pouring in from around the world.

I think it is a very universal, disturbing feeling to see a disaster of this magnitude affect so many, and yet be unable to help.  It was heartbreaking to see my home country undergoing such a catastrophic event. Children, in particular, are at a disadvantage in situations like this because there is little in their power that they can do to effect change.  We desperately wanted to turn these feelings of helplessness into action. 

My children and the other students at Colony Oak, where my children attend elementary school, were deeply moved with compassion, and decided to write sympathy cards to the children in Japan who might be suffering from the tsunami disaster. This quickly grew into a school-wide outreach effort that included some monetary donations and personal hand-written cards with pictures, prayers, and heartfelt words of encouragement to the children affected by the tsunami. Many students even looked on the internet to find pictures of the Japanese characters for faith or hope to copy down in their personal cards (see photo below).


They were eventually delivered, via a friend of mine, to Okirai Elementary School in Iwate Prefecture. Being surprised and also very excited to receive the cards from overseas, the children at Okirai wrote back to Colony Oak, which we received a month later.
This sparked the beginning of a friendship and cultural exchange between us and Okirai Elementary.

The crisis that hit Japan was enormous. So was the suffering of the people. As a native Japanese living overseas, I had always kept thoughts and prayers for them in my heart. But when my American friends asked me how things were going over there, I didn’t know how to answer. Over a year after the disaster, it seems that news coverage of the tsunami had almost completely disappeared from the US media.  My knowledge was limited to what I’ve learned from the Japanese news media and internet. I had not seen the area myself, so I didn’t feel like I knew what was going on there, or what things were really like.  

My desire to go there, to see the place with my own eyes, and to document and share the experience with my friends in the US caught hold of me. I wanted to reconnect with the kids at Okirai Elementary and let them know that we still care.  

So in early summer 2012, I contacted the Okirai Elementary school requesting to visit them during our stay in Japan that June. With their friendly acceptance, my wish was taking shape. My children and I were about to visit the disaster stricken area and meet the children at Okirai Elementary.  

This journal is my personal account of memories, thoughts, and impressions while we visited Japan a year and three months after the disaster of 2011. I hope that by sharing this journal, others can see what it was really like to visit Japan’s disaster-stricken land and perhaps get a glimpse into the lives that were forever changed by the tsunami.

アート Our Journey Began…
The summer had started early in California. We celebrated the end of the school year on May 25, 2012 and my children and I flew to Japan the next day.  We have made this trip to visit my family in Kofu, Japan almost every year.  While there, my children attend the local Japanese elementary school. It is a great opportunity for my children to be immersed in the culture, polish their language skills, and get in touch with their Japanese heritage. 

During our stay in Japan in June, we took three days to visit Ofunato in Iwate Prefecture, the Tsunami Disaster stricken area, and made a visit to the Okirai Elementary school. The experience was extraordinarily heartfelt, something that would be remembered for the rest of our lives.

At 8:00am on Wednesday June 20th, 2012, we set off on an 8-hour trip from the nearest station from my parent’s house in Kofu, to Ofunato (780 Miles round trip). To see our travel destination on the map, click Map of Japan.pdf.

From Kofu, we took a rapid train to Tokyo, then boarded a bullet train from Tokyo to Ichinoseki in Iwate Prefecture. Bullet trains are one of the fastest trains in the world, traveling at speeds of over one hundred and eighty miles per hour! This was the first time for my children to ride on a bullet train. Amazingly, it took only two and a half hours to travel 300 miles between Tokyo and Ichinoseki.

We arrived at the Ichinoseki station at 1:30pm. From this point, all rail road systems in the region had been destroyed by the tsunami. The only way to enter the disaster-area was by car. 

I rented a car, and started the two and a half hour drive to Ofunato. The scenery from the window changed quickly from a busy downtown metropolis to countryside, with productive rice paddies, flowing rivers, verdant hills, and mountains with dense forests. Everywhere you looked, you were surrounded by abundant nature and its astonishing green. This is the beautiful Japanese countryside that I’ve known and loved from my childhood.



アート Astonishing Rikuzentakada
Route 19 and then Route 343 took us on winding mountainous roads. After enduring many steep grades, twists and turns, we crossed the Kesen River, and finally merged onto Route 340 which led us down to the Sanriku coast on the Pacific Ocean. 

As we drove down the hillside, we saw the disaster zone below us where little remained of civilization, except the tumbled concrete ruins of buildings, and some portions of the main highways.  Everything was flat.  The quite empty-looking urban area swiped mercilessly by the tsunami had been the town of Rikuzentakada.  It had all vanished except debris haphazardly strewn.

We came across a huge abandoned five story apartment building (see photo below). The sight was chilling; all the rooms from the first to fourth floors were empty and dark, their windows and railings were all mangled and missing. It is quite obvious that the tsunami’s wave had reached just below the 5th floor around here. Looking up at that incredible height, I could not help but imagine the tremendously powerful wave. It was unnerving. I felt helpless and stunned. My kids also seemed to be shocked by the sight.

Because the city of Rikuzentakada sits on broad, flat areas of land surrounded by the delta waterways, the tsunami quickly reached up to 4 miles inland. As you can see in the before and after photos below (Rapideye AG Map Produced by JAXA), it completely submersed five square miles (3212 Acres).
map of Rikuzentakada.jpg

One of the things that surprised many when the tsunami hit, is how fast and deep the water came rushing in.  Many people were killed before they were able to evacuate to the safe zones on the surrounding hillsides just a few miles away.  Rikuzentakada earned the infamous distinction of being the city the worst hit by the disaster because it had the highest number of victims per capita: of Rikuzentakada’s population of 23,000, 1,795 were killed.

A year and three months had passed since the tsunami, and although most of the debris was removed from the roads and the towns’ lots, enormous amounts remained in tall piles everywhere. Getting rid of it all poses a big challenge. The permanent disposal rate of the debris is only 11%, as the city is running out of space to put it. Because the piles are a mixed bunch of sediments, mud, wood, metal, plastic, food, and all kinds of stuff that used to be a part of everyday human life, the sorting and disposal process is extremely slow-going and difficult.

アート A miracle pine tree
We spotted a tall pine tree, a lone survivor, standing in the distance. There used to be a park known as “Takada Matsubara (Takada pine forest)” stretched about a mile and a half along the beautiful white beach. It was a historic park with 70,000 Japanese Red and Black Pines planted some 300 years ago. People used to visit the park for vacation or just to hang out.

But the tsunami wave uprooted all seventy thousands trees but one. People started to call it a miracle tree, a symbolic figure of survival and hope for the people in the entire disaster-stricken area.

It turned out, however, that saltwater had seeped into the roots, irrevocably damaging the tree. In spite of the fervent wishes of the people to preserve it, it became apparent that the tree would not survive. In September 2012, the city decided to cut down the tree and started the process of preservation in order to keep it on display.

Crews began the delicate process of cutting the 270-year-old tree into nine different sections, removing large branches by crane. They plan to hollow out the tree trunk now, and insert a carbon spine inside after treating the wood. They will replace the original branches with prastic replicas, before returning the pine to its original place next Febuary, just shy of the second anniversary of the disaster. A Facebook page was launched in July to raise money for the preservation project, which was estimated to cost 150 million yen (about 1.8 Million US dollars).

アート The Process of Rebuilding
The city’s reconstruction plan has just begun.  It aims not just to rebuild, but also to make improvements for a safer, more efficient, and disaster-resistant city in the future. The ambitious plan includes the construction of a tide embankment that is 12.5 meters high, raising the ground level of the entire urban area by 5 meters, development of new residential areas on hillsides, and reconstruction of infrastructures such as roads, railroads, and public facilities. 

Rikuzentakada’s proposal for first phase reconstruction grants* through the central government was 13.8 Billion yen (about 170 Million US dollars), of which 11.5 Billion yen was approved. This includes 8.35 Billion yen for construction of public housing, 1.352 Billion yen for rebuilding facilities for agriculture and fishing industries, 217 Million yen for road reconstruction, 124 Million yen for rebuilding and consolidating public schools. Another 22.4 Billion yen (280 Million US dollars) has been allocated to the city as second phase grants for additional reconstruction projects submitted later.  

*In March 2012, the Reconstruction Agency of the central government approved 251 Billion yen (about 3 Billion US dollars) as a first phase grant for the reconstruction projects in 59 cities and towns in seven of the affected prefectures. Another 261 Billion yen was approved in May as second phase grants for 71 cities and towns, and included construction of 2,036 new housing units. Now they are accepting the proposals for third phase grants for more projects.

But this is just a small fraction of the total cost that Japan will be spending on the recovery efforts from this disaster. The central government estimated that the total cost for redevelopment will be 23 trillion yen (288 Billion US dollars), which will be dispersed during the next ten years (this does not include the cost of damages or compensation owed by a nuclear power company).

In Rikuzentakada, after nearly a year of planning, public hearings, and budget approval, its revitalization projects had begun in March 2012. Then the long and involved reconstruction will take up the next 8 years, as they essentially are rebuilding from the ground-up. Until then, people will have to make difficult decisions… some may continue to live in temporary housing, while others may rebuild their homes on their own.  Some may reopen their businesses with the help of government aid, or an entire community may decide to relocate to safer areas on higher lands.

I can only hope the recovery efforts of the people, local communities, and government will be coordinated to go rather smoothly and painlessly.

アート Ofunato - A Ray of Light for the Recovery
Around 5pm, we were turning the final corner of the mountain road and approaching our destination, the fisherman’s town at Ofunato-bay. Ofunato does not have a big, flat area like Rikuzentakada, but has a fishing port along the coastline, mostly centered around the docks where fishing boats and seafood processing plants once dominated the scene. While driving through this sea-side town, we noticed that out our car’s right-side window along the ocean, all the buildings still bore the telltale signs of the devastating tsunami damage.  However out the left-hand window, the side with the mountains, we could tell absolutely no difference in what it must have looked like before the Tsunami. Everything had remained untouched by the devastation.  It was such a stark contrast.

424 people out of 40,000 were killed in Ofunato. The fishing industry, the city’s primary trade, was demolished by the tsunami. One year later, only 30% of fishing businesses reopened. It should be noted that in all, combining all coastal regions, a total of 300 fishing ports, 19,000 fishing boats, and over 700 seafood processing facilities were severely damaged by the tsunami. It is estimated that 814 Billion yen (about 10 Billion US dollars) was lost in the entire fishing industry.

The hotel that we stayed in didn’t escape the tsunami’s wave that reached the top of the third floor. Yet, the damage had been quickly repaired, remodeled, and readied for their grand re-opening a short while ago. Reception areas in the hotel were very neat and stylish. I heard that there are only a few hotels currently open in Ofunato, and they are all booked up by the workers of businesses related to reconstruction projects. I was lucky to be able to book one room two weeks ago.   

It was past 6pm, and we were all hungry. We decided to go to the “Yatai-mura”, a food stand village that was just a few blocks from the hotel. I had heard of this village on the TV news that it had been built of simple, prefabricated structures lined up side-by-side, and all gathered together in one square. It was getting darker outside. The sign at the front gate, “Welcome to Yatai-mura, Ofunato!”, was ablaze with red Japanese lanterns, beckoning customers with their warm glow.


In this square, some 20 restaurants such as noodle shops, Sushi restaurants, and bars, had reopened their businesses. The light streaming out of each shop had the alluring appeal of an old familiar town. In one shop, we saw a few customers sitting at the counter, enjoying their chilled beer. They were construction workers still in their work clothing, some locals, and perhaps visitors.    


This restaurant-village is run by Yatai-mura Limited Liability Business Partnership, a group of restaurant owners who lost their businesses in the tsunami. Facing difficulties in obtaining single-business loans or financing from banks, they pooled their resources from individual and corporate investors all over Japan, and created a partnership to build the village and start running their businesses. The restaurant square offers a centralized place for the community, and is an essential part of reviving this fishing town’s industry.

We chose the Soba noodle shop for our dinner. The master, or owner, welcomed us with a smile, but I imagine he was probably wondering “who are those strange customers?” Obviously, they don’t have tourists coming back to the area yet, especially ones with children. My kids ordered a cold soba noodle and tofu dish, and I ordered “Tendon”, the tempura over rice.


The master was very quiet, but kept company with us while cooking behind the counter. He told us that his home was safe but he’d lost his restaurant in the tsunami. Now he runs this shop alone. I was curious to learn more about his personal story, but I didn’t want to intrude by asking too many questions.

Filled with delicious, heartfelt food, we left the village. Now the light of village glowed even brighter in contrast to the darkness outside, and was attracting more people to stop by. I hope their businesses become successful with lots of customers as the fishing industry regains its prominence.             

アート Visiting the Okirai Elementary School
On June 21st, our day began at 6am. We packed up, had breakfast at the hotel restaurant, and were ready by 7:30am.On our agenda that day, a crew from TV Asahi, a Japanese nation-wide network TV station, was planning to come and film us while visiting the school. They wanted to cover the story about friendship and cultural exchange, as children from the US visit a Japanese school in the disaster-stricken area. We met the whole TV crew: the director, the reporter, camera man, and sound crew, at the hotel lobby, where we briefly discussed the day’s busy schedule.

At this point, my kids were getting nervous about speaking in front of the news camera, especially because they had to use Japanese. Although they both speak it fluently, they were feeling less confident about public speaking, which I didn’t blame them for at all…it can be intimidating in any language. The cameras started shooting as we got into the car and left the hotel followed by the TV crew’s van.

Okirai Elementary School used to be nestled in a cove along the deeply indented Sanriku coastline. The view from the school’s front yard was breathtaking, with the beach right outside the front door! Behind the school’s building were the steep slopes of woody, forested mountains.  

On March 11th 2011, the dreadful tsunami wave rose up to completely immerse the three-story school building and tore the roof off of the gym. The school was completely destroyed. The school building remains much as it was on this day in June 2012, with mountains of debris piled up in their school yard (see photos below).



Perhaps the most fortunate thing that happened during the tsunami was that all of the students and teachers were able to evacuate, using the emergency exits in the back of the school, to the designated tsunami-safe zone up on the hill. But even the emergency plans could not account for the enormity of this tsunami, and they later had to move even further up the hill to ensure everyone’s safety.  

After the disaster, Okirai students joined the neighboring intact elementary schools for the rest of the year. When the new school year started in April 2012, three schools in the district including Okirai merged into one and 104 students from 1st to 6th grade began to walk the new course of their history as Okirai Elementary.   

アート US-Japan Cultural exchange by children
We were welcomed by the vice principle who had been in contact with me, and by the smiles of many other teachers and students. I could see the excitement and curiosity on the faces of each child toward the visitors from the US. My son and daughter were introduced to each grade’s ( 6th and 4th) classroom where they spent the day.

I went into each classroom to give a power-point presentation titled, “Our Life in the United States,” using lots of pictures and some video clips. As nervous as they were, my son and daughter did a pretty good job during their speaking parts of the presentation. 

I showed them the map of the US and California, introduced our town and it’s famous product, almonds. I used lots of pictures from our daily life that included Colony Oak school’s class rooms, PE classes, school assemblies, field trips, as well as some scenes from afterschool activities such as baseball games, the Boy Scouts activities, music practices, etc.

I got an expected, but huge response from the kids when I told them some interesting differences in school life between the US and Japan, such as “we don’t change to indoor shoes when entering the buildings,” and  “we can eat snacks during recess”. They were taken by surprise, wondered why, and were jealous about the snacks.

The kids started to scream when we told them that the menu of schools’ hot lunches includes hotdogs and pizza! It is so ironic that fast food is extremely attractive to the Japanese children when their school lunches offer such healthy, balanced, and tasty meals every day, as my kids can attest.

In return, we asked them some questions. For example, “what is Iwate known for?”  And here is a summary of their answers.

Iwate’s most famous tourist attraction will be Chusonji, a Buddhist Temple in Hiraizumi that was established in 850 by the Fujiwara clan. The most spectacular part of the Temple is the Konjikido, a hall completely covered with Gold. Chusonji is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, to be protected and preserved. 

Listed next was a Wanko-soba, the unique style of dining on Soba noodles in Morioka-City. Soba is served in tiny portions (about a mouthful) in a small bowl, and as soon as you finish one bowl, the next one is served. You repeat this until you are absolutely full. There is even a Wanko-Soba competition, in which people compete to see who can eat the most bowls of noodles. The winner may eat 100 bowls or more! 

We cannot forget that Iwate’s pacific coast is famous for providing an abundance of sea products such as salmon, abalone, scallops, seaweed, trout, albacore tuna…you name it! The fishing industry is one of the main means of livelihood in the Sanriku coast region.
The rest of the morning, the children had social studies, PE, and Japanese calligraphy classes. The calligraphy class was specially arranged so that my kids could experience traditional Japanese culture.

At lunch time, my son helped to serve hot lunch in the class room, as you can see in the photo below, wearing an apron and hat. The menu was a rice dish with minced meat and vegetables, soup with mushroom and tofu, salad, and milk. It was delicious and my son helped himself to another bowl of the rice!



アート Those who offer help and those who receive it
I had a very nice conference with the principle. He has such an amiable smile that made me feel as if I’d met a friend from a long ago. In our conversation, he particularly emphasized their efforts to bring the school back to normality this year. What does that mean?

Well, after the disaster, the school received an overwhelming amount of donations and assistance from all over Japan and around the world. Besides various donations of money, clothing, stationary, and musical instruments for the school band, lots of different types of recreational assistance/entertainments were offered in the form of sporting events, music concerts, or student exchange programs with schools in different parts of Japan. Such offers were also made by foreign countries like Germany, the US, Switzerland, Cambodia, and more.

The school accepted everything, with appreciation of course, based on the Japanese cultural idea that they have a moral responsibility to graciously accept those offerings during a time of difficulty and national crisis.
Although the school and children needed help and encouragement, they were having a hard time handling all the congenial offers of aid and assistance. The language barrier with many foreign countries also presented a problem; there was certain gap in expectation between recipient and the donor.

Though well-intentioned, accepting so many gifts and donations was time-consuming and quickly caused chaos. The continual disruption of so many unusual events taking place made it impossible to keep a normal school schedule.  As a result, the children were hardly able to concentrate on learning.  Nothing ran smoothly.


The principle continued. This year, they established the goal to “normalize” school life and to provide the children the undisrupted, stable environment that they deserve. They decided to pick and choose from the outside offerings based on educational value and the benefit for the children, rather than simply accepting everything.

There is a lot to be done and enormous responsibilities on the principal’s shoulders. But most importantly, he wants to bring back the normal school life to the children right now. I saw his strong commitment and passion shining in his eyes and through his friendly smile.

アート Slowly, in the life after the catastrophe
Children in Okirai Elementary were so cheerful, curious, and energetic. No different than any other children that I know. But of course, what I saw was just the surface, a tiny glimpse into their daily lives.  I kept quiet about the topics directly related to the tsunami and its negative impact on childrens’ mental health, as it is a very sensitive issue for people who’ve been victimized.  Instead, I stayed focused on developing friendships and the cultural exchange. But one teacher came up to me, as if he noticed my intention of not asking direct questions, and told me something that I will never forget.

The children saw the very moment when the tsunami wave reached over their school building and swallowed it in no time. It happened when everyone was heading for the higher evacuation zone from the first safe zone, since the first safe zone was not safe enough. It would be impossible to know, unless you were there, how horrifying the surge of the tsunami was. I can only imagine how much fear the children experienced and what kind of emotional and psychological pain they still endure.

Some children lost family members, and others lost their homes. Some families stayed in temporary housing, while others moved out of the town, for various reasons. Some moved because parents lost their jobs and livelihood in the tsunami.  Others moved far away because the mother was too scared to live near the ocean.

The teacher continued. When you are suffering from the impact of a devastating event like a tsunami, it is not necessarily a good idea to move away and start living in an environment that has nothing to do with the disaster. Anyone living through a traumatic event would have serious emotional damage. PTSD, or being continually hounded by the recurring, painful memories or emotions from the horrific event, may cause panic, or result in emotional instability. 

He explained that moving away from the area might shut the door that connects ones’ self to the disaster.  Your pain or emotions then are essentially “flash-frozen” and become locked in the depths of your mind. While moving away may seem or feel easier to deal with on the surface, the pain remains inside.  Once one is living a so-called “normal life”, something like a small quake can trigger the memory of disaster, and the buried pain and emotion may come alive. It can cause panic, or emotional instability.    

True healing would happen gradually in each and every step of one’s life in the community where people support each other, and through the collective process of recovery. Although it is tough to see the damage of the disaster every day, things like watching the debris being removed, regaining a normal school life, and the overall daily progress of the recovery efforts all benefit you in your personal healing.

I found a large sized paining hung on the hallway (see photo below). Sunflowers were the subject with vigorous orange in the background. It was entitled “The Life Shines”. It left an indelible image that still remains bright in my memory.  


After lunch, we had to say good-bye to everyone. My son and my daughter received warm and friendly farewells in each classroom. Children expressed their appreciation and hope and said they “want to continue the exchange,” and “Japan and the US are far away, but we wish our best to you”.

Although it was a relatively short visit, somehow the children were able to feel a connection that transcended the barriers of distance between them, and together created a unique harmony. I felt that anyway.  I cannot express enough how thankful I was to the teachers and students at Okirai Elementary who gave us this wonderful opportunity. And I hope that they are able to progress and move forward in peace as they enjoy every precious moment.


アート Epilogue
Our journey to Iwate was approaching the end. I was driving back the same way that we came from Ofunato to Ichinoseki. Instead of using the bullet train this time, we were going to take an overnight express bus, which would bring us back to Tokyo by 6am next morning.

Having done everything we had planned, even managing the shooting and interviewing, my son and daughter were finally relieved and quickly fell asleep in the back of the car.I think seeing the disaster-stricken area was quite shocking to them but at the same time, it was touching and also a joy to see the smile of children who have been through tough times. This whole experience will be imprinted in their memories with bright color.

I hope the children at Okirai had fun spending time with us, discovered similarities or differences between two countries, and felt the US and its people a little closer. I think our trip would be fruitful if I had been able to turn an unfortunate event into an opportunity for the children to broaden their capacities to understand and respect each other. 

And I wish from my heart that the children in Okirai will never give up hope in spite of their lifetime challenges in front of them, and hold on to their dreams. And if the children in Okirai, years down the road, look back and remember the day that kids from the United States visited them as one of their happy childhood memories, I would be just so delighted. 

Myself? I certainly gained experiences that I could share once I got back to the US. Although the subtitle of this article “A Journey that Bridges Two Countries” may sound like an overstatement, I feel a bond to each country, as one is my homeland, and the other is now my home.  So this trip was an expression of my desire to connect the two countries in the hearts of the children.   

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アメリカ大統領選における非民主的システムと不公正さと・・・ そして見えてきた希望の光





1)    二大政党による独占的選挙システムと第三政党
2)    選挙人制度とマジックナンバー270
3)    大統領選テレビ討論会の実態


その(1) 二大政党による独占的選挙システムと第三政党




 Libertarian Party, Green Party, Constitution Party, Justice Party, Party for Socialism and Liberation, American Independent Party, Peace and Freedom Party, Reform Party USA, America’s Party,  Objectivist Party,  Socialist Workers Party, Socialist Party USA, American Third Position Party, Grassroots Party, Socialist Equality Party,  Freedom Socialist Party, Modern Whig Party, Prohibition Party









アメリカの国政選挙において、候補者が立候補の条件を満たし、候補者として正式に認められ、投票用紙に候補者として氏名が記載されることを、「候補者アクセス(Ballot Access)」と呼びます。候補者アクセスを得る要件は各州の法律で定められています。要件の主なものは、一定数の有権者の請願署名や、過去の選挙におけるその党の得票の割合などで、州によりその規定は様々です。候補者たちは、定められた要件を満たし候補者アクセスを得なければ、正式に候補者としては認められず、投票用紙に候補者名が記載されない仕組みになっています。(Wikipedia: Ballot Accessより) 






必要な署名の数は州によって異なり、少ない州ではミネソタ州2千人やケンタッキー州の5千人などから、多い州ではノースカロライナ州4万3600人、メリーランド州6万9500人と大きなばらつきがあります。カリフォルニア州は署名の要求数が最大の州です。(Presidential Ballot Access Requirement for Independent Candidate









このように、州によって有権者に与えられる選択肢の格差は大きく、ジョージア州は、1912年以来、二大政党以外の候補者の名前が投票用紙に載ったことがないという、最も閉ざされた州のひとつです。一方、候補者アクセスの要件が緩和なことで知られるコロラド州では、すでに5つの政党(二大政党と3つの第三政党)の候補者がアクセスを得ていますが、さらに小規模の第三政党の候補者も、出馬の意思表明書を提出し、500ドルを州に支払うことで投票用紙に名を連ねることができます。コロラド州では2008年の選挙に続き、二大政党・第三政党・無党派合わせて計16名(アメリカ選挙史上最多)の候補者名が記載されることになります。(Ballot Access News


このような不平等な状況に対し、かつてリバタリンパーティーから大統領選に出馬したロン・ポール連邦下院議員は、現行の規定が、「候補者たちが様々な政策を自由に有権者に訴える機会を著しく奪っている」とし、候補者アクセスの規定の廃止・改善を訴えました。そして、州ごとに要件が異なり、無党派や第三政党および有権者にとって不平等な規定を廃止し、全国一律な公正な基準を設けることを盛り込んだ法案「Voter Freedom Act」を提出しましたが、法制化には至らず、改善されないまま現在に至っています。


そして、「もし、共和党に留まっていたら、いずれかの選挙で当選し、世に言う“成功”をしていたかもしれない。だが、それは、私が自分の信念を捨て去り、不公正な問題に加担することでしかない」「私の活動は、後世に続くものたちのための基盤づくりだ」と語っています。(For third-party candidates, playing field is uneven by state)
その(2) 選挙人制度とマジックナンバー270


・ゲイリー・ジョンソン/リバタリアンパーティー (Libertarian PartyGary Johnson)
・ジル・スタイン/グリーンパーティー (Green PartyJill Stein)
・バージル・グッド/コンスティテューションパーティー (Constitution PartyVirgil Goode 
・ロッキー・アンダーソン/ジャスティスパーティー (Justice PartyRocky Anderson



アメリカの大統領選挙が、「選挙人制度」(Electoral College)と呼ばれる制度で行われることは、ご存知でしょう。一般的には、アメリカ大統領選挙は、有権者が自分の選ぶ候補者に投票する直接選挙だということになっています。しかし、この選挙人制度の下では、一般投票で得票数の多い候補者が大統領に選ばれるとは限りません。一般の得票数で負けても、選挙人の獲得数で勝った候補が大統領に選出される可能性があるのです。









アートPopular Vote(一般得票数) とElectoral Vote(選挙人獲得数)


選挙人制度の下では、一般投票の得票数(Popular Vote)で負けても、選挙人の獲得数(Electoral Vote)で勝って、大統領に当選する可能性があることはすでに述べました。過去には、第6代ジョン・クインシー・アダムズ、第19代ラザフォード・ヘイズ、第23代ベンジャミン・ハリソン大統領の例があり、そして最も最近では2000年のジョージ・・W・ブッシュ大統領がそうでした。なぜこういうことが起きるのでしょうか?

各州の選挙人の数にはばらつきがあり、勝った方がその州の選挙人を一挙に持ち去るわけですが、例えば、たまたま選挙人の多い大票田の州でA候補が僅差で勝ち、選挙人の少ない他の多くの州ではB 候補が大差で勝ち続けた場合、一般得票数の総計ではB候補が勝っても、選挙人の多い州を制したA候補が当選することがあり得るのです。









ここで、候補者アクセス(Ballot Access)の話を思い出してください。各候補は、候補者アクセスを得ている州でのみ投票用紙に名前が記載され得票数がカウントされる決まりでした。もし、第三政党の候補者が州の得票数で一位になった場合、ルールにのっとり第三政党がその州の選挙人を全て獲得します。その可能性は小さいとしても、ゼロではないわけです。仮に、同様のことが複数の州で起こり、獲得した選挙人の数の合計が270を超えれば、その第三政党の候補者が大統領に当選します。



【ゲイリー・ジョンソン/Libertarian Party(49州515人)】 実業家、前ニュー・メキシコ州知事でリバタリアン主義者。財政的保守主義(政府予算を最小限度に抑える)、外交政策は他国への不干渉主義をとり、また政府は個人に対する干渉をすべきでないとする立場を明確にしている。

【ジル・スタイン/Green Party(47州447人)】 マサチューセッツ州出身の内科医で、大統領候補者中で一番リベラル。再生可能エネルギーや環境問題への取り組みによる雇用増進を軸にした、グリーン・ニューディール政策を掲げ、軍事費の30%削減、海外派兵アメリカ軍の撤退、キャピタルゲインや高額不動産への増税、医療を平等に受ける権利などを訴えている。

【バーギル・グッドConstitution Party(42州369人)】 元バージニア州選出連邦下院議員。どちらかというと保守派。アメリカ国民の雇用を第一とし、労働者としての移民の受け入れ反対を明言(ヒスパニック票を失う恐れから、オバマ、ロムニー共に避けている政策)。

【ロッキー・アンダーソンJustice Party(36州271人)】 元ソルトレイク市長。弁護士として、国内外で環境、反戦、人権問題等に取り組んできた。昨年まで民主党員だったが、ドナー企業の圧力に屈して政策を曲げる民主党に失望し、新党からの出馬となった。






ちなみに、ラルフ・ネーダーは(私がもっとも尊敬する人物の一人です)、弁護士、政治活動家であり、70年代からアメリカの環境問題や消費者問題、政治の民主化の先頭に立ち続けてきました。非営利団体のPublic Citizenを設立し、連邦政府や業界に対する批評活動を展開。その活動は、市民の意識改革をもたらし、医療・環境・経済など多分野にわたる市民運動を巻き起こし、アメリカ社会に絶大な影響力をもたらしました。1992年に民主、1996年と2000年には緑の党から、2004年と2008年には無党派で大統領選に立候補しました。

2000年の選挙では、全体で288万3105票(2.74%)を獲得しました。目標としていた5%(次回の選挙で公的選挙資金が提供されるレベル)には届きませんでしたが、多くの州において次期選挙におけるグリーンパーティー選出候補者の認定(Ballot Access)を確実のものとしました。アメリカ史上最も偉大な人物のひとりとも評されています。                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       

その(3) 大統領選テレビ討論会の実態







アートテレビ討論会を主催するCPD(Commission on Presidential Debates)

CPDCommission on Presidential Debatesという民間団体が主催し、大統領候補を招待して開催しているイベントなのです。CPD主催によるこの討論会は1988年より4年ごとに開催され、CPDは討論の司会や広報活動を行ってきました。


その後、1976年のジェラルド・フォード対ジミー・カーターの選挙時、League of Women Votersという無党派の非営利団体の主催により、討論会が再開されました。League of Women Votersは、続く80年と84年にも3回連続で主催を行いましたが、1988年の討論会では突然主催を辞退します。

その理由は、当時の大統領候補である共和党のジョージ・ハワード・ブッシュと民主党マイケル・デュカキスの両陣営が、秘密裏に討論会に関する覚書に同意していたことが明らかとなったからでした。覚書には、討論会に参加できる候補者の参加資格、司会や質問をするパネリストの選出、そして演台の高さなど、本来主催者が決定するべき事項が含まれており、それらは決定事項となって主催者側に伝えられたのです。League of Women Votersは「両選挙陣営による要求は、有権者に対する詐欺行為である」として抗議し、討論会の開催を拒否するに至ったのでした。(League refuses to help perpetrate a fraud”


League of Women Votersが主催を拒否した1988年の討論会は、CPDがのっとる形で開催され、それ以来、4年ごとの大統領選討論会はCPDによって開催されてきました。当時、両党の全国委員会は合同会見で、「両党の合同スポンサーにより討論会を開催することは、選挙人によりよい教育と情報機会を提供し、選挙プロセスにおける政党の役割を強化し、そして何よりも討論会をより統一的で恒常的な選挙運動の一部として制度化するという我々政党の責務である」と述べています。(Two Party Debates



この一件で世論の批判を浴びたCPDは、この後の2000年、討論会への参加資格の客観的基準として、「全国世論調査で15%の支持がある」というルールを設定しました。第三政党にとって15%の世論支持を得ることはほぼ不可能であることから、このルールにより、第3政党からの候補者は、討論会から一方的に排除されることになったわけです。(Commission on Presidential Debates





 これに対し、ワシントン巡回裁判所は2005年、連邦議会は連邦選挙委員会(FEC)に相当の裁量権を与えており、裁判所はFECの認識を覆すことはないと最終判断を下し、ネーダーを退けました。FECの認識とは、「第三政党は、CPDが民主党選挙委員会と共和党選挙委員会に監督されている確たる証拠を提示できていない」、また、「CPDは第三政党の候補者が討論会に参加すべきでない理由を提供している」というものです。その理由とは、第三政党の候補者や支持者によるキャンペーンや抗議が過熱し、ライブで行われる討論会を混乱させる恐れがある、というものでした。(United States Court of Appeals For the District of Columbia Circuit Argued May 9, 2005




しかし、テレビ討論会からの締め出しに対する批判は、年々高まっているようです。今回初めて、これまでCPDへの献金を行っていた二つの企業・団体が、スポンサーを撤退するという決断を行いました。第三政党のトップを走るジョンソン支持者や選挙監視市民グループなどからの抗議のメールなどが殺到したためです。これらの抗議行動は、少なくとも二つのスポンサーに影響力を与えることができたのです。(Two Sponsors Pull Out From Debates Over Exclusion Of Gary Johnson



Free and Equal Election Foundation というNPOが主催し、元CNNのキャスターであるラリー・キング氏が司会を務めました。討論会は、CSPAN(主に議会活動や公共関連の報道を行っている民間の非営利テレビ局)によって中継されると同時に、インターネットで配信されました。オバマ対ロムニーの討論会を中継する大手テレビ局はどこも中継しないどころか、ニュースにさえなりませんでした。




・大企業による政治献金で絶大な影響力を振るうPACPolitical Action Committee)の廃止
・市民権の侵害である愛国法(Patriotic Act)の撤廃

など、何れも国家的危機であり、国民の生活が直面する課題でありながら、オバマ・ロムニーが一切触れなかったか、なるたけ避けている政策が、次々に議題にあがりました。この討論会の様子は次のサイトから視聴できます。(→Third Party Presidential Debate










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