July 16, 2013
By Kalai Chik
Despite the damp, rainy day, we successfully made our way to Japan’s Diet. I was super excited because I’m really into world politics and Japanese politics is definitely one of the most interesting areas to study. As we passed the guards and stepped into the entryway, we saw a wall of lights with names within the lights. Like an attendance sheet, the Diet members press the button under their name to tell others that they have arrived. Our tour guide was Derek who has lived in Japan for around 10 years and speaks fluent American English and Japanese.
We quickly walked to the Diet cafeteria, which was beautifully decorated with Western-style drapery and Victorian-style lights. Western architecture populates the entire Diet with banners and carpet completely hand-stitched. Some of our group had Japanese curry, and others had udon noodles. I had the delicious beef curry, and if you ever go to the Diet I recommend that you try the curry. Having Japanese cuisine at Japan’s legislature is very similar to eating at the Library of Congress.
Unfortunately there were certain locations where we couldn’t take pictures. Upon entering the outer glass wall that encapsulates the Emperor’s Resting Room, I was sad to find out that I couldn’t take pictures. The room itself is beautiful, decorated in velvet drapery lined with gold thread. Our tour guide told us that “if [we] study hard, do all [our] homework, and get into a really good school…[we] may possibly never get to sit in the Emperor’s Resting Room.” There are many other spaces allocated to only the Emperor in the Diet. I was amazed that Japan goes to such lengths to protect and preserve the room, even though he only uses it once a year. But this all exemplifies the terms listed in Article 1 in the Constitution of Japan, which states that the Emperor serves as only the symbol of Japan.
Indeed, the presence of the Emperor is everywhere as there is a large space above the Speaker’s podium where the Emperor sits if he were to ever preside over Diet legislation. Indeed, the Emperor’s role is very celebratory and ceremonial as he has no sovereignty, but his presence is celebrated every Gantan (New Year’s Day). The picture above shows the doors that only open whenever the Emperor enters and he usually never presides over the Diet unless there’s a large celebration or a scandal.
On the Diet floor, each party is assigned a certain location, some on the floor and some above the floor. Newscasters and journalists from different news outlets all sit on the seats below the spectator seats, which is where we were sitting. When the Diet is not in session, tour groups are allowed to sit in the spectator seats and hear a tour guide’s recorded voice explaining the entire floor of the Diet. Much like at the U.S. Congress, legislation and bill debates occur here. Like most of the building, the Diet floor is very old. Most of the wood and stone structures of the building were built using materials from around Tokyo.
Even the elevators were very nicely decorated! I hope you can’t see the patches of stains on the carpet. Even though the Diet is regularly cleaned, the carpets, walls, stairs, etc. have been there for a very long time and will last a very long time. The elevators themselves are very decorated. The inside has a gold-painted accented mirror and a telephone, and the walls are made of a gold-painted pattern. It made me feel a little like royalty being surrounded by all that gold!
The stones that cover the walls of the Diet were from various seabeds in locations all over Japan. If you look closely, you can see traces of fossils! They’re the darker circles and shapes on the wall in the picture above. The walls are concrete-reinforced in case of an earthquake, but the stone can also handle very powerful earthquakes as well. The Diet has been relatively unharmed by past earthquakes, so it should definitely outlast any in the future.
What I found really interesting is the fact that the Diet allots rooms to big and small political parties, like the LDP, DPJ, and Communist Party of Japan. The bigger your party, the larger the room you will receive. Since the size of each party changes with time, the room that they are assigned may change; for example, you could be in one room for one year and then another room starting the next year. The wood for the LDP sign shown above is relatively new, but some of the other signs were made of really dark, old wood. Usually the darker wood signifies the long amount of time the party has been in that particular office, but in some cases the party may simply be recycling their sign. The LDP came back into power last year, so this may have previously been the DPJ’s office.
Our tour guide also told us that culturally, Japan believes in having paper copies of everything, which is why many of the offices have piles and piles of paper. While we were passing by one of the party offices, we saw an assembly line of workers and paperwork; each of the workers would pick up papers and create a new pile out of different papers located around a circle.
Since the Diet is so old, some of the signs like this one for the “Mail Chute” are read backwards compared to the way they are read now; this one is read from right to left rather than left to right. The mail chute hole is used to send mail from one end of the Diet to another. Pretty cool! They can pass secret messages to each other pretty easily if they wanted to. I know that in America some businesses still use a similar chute system, such as Costco, but I don’t know of any administrative building that currently uses one. I think Congress usually has someone deliver messages via email or by word of mouth, but I could be wrong.
At last we come to the gift shop! They sell many, many Abe-featured things, like the coffee bags shown in the picture! The gift shop also includes wallets and pins of the gold star seen at the top of Koban, or local police boxes. Surprisingly, this shop did not have a lot of Abe/Diet goodies like I had imagined. In the U.S., every store in Washington D.C. has various kinds of souvenirs for tourists, but the Diet had very little. The gift shop itself made up 1/3 of the shopping room, and was much smaller than the 7-11 directly attached to it. The other shops included a shoe store. Japan’s Diet seems far less materialistic than the U.S. in terms of souvenirs, but I was amused that they still had cartoon versions of Abe on food and other goods. I kind of wanted an Abe bobble-head doll to match my Obama one, but I didn’t see any.
Right outside the Diet was the small garden of trees shown above. Each tree planted represents a Japanese prefecture. There was even a small palm tree that I don’t have a picture of. It reminded me of home in Los Angeles, where we have tall, large palm trees swaying back and forth. The drizzle of raindrops on the soft patches of green leaves on the trees was very ephemeral. The path through the garden would make a great small walk on a normal sunny day.
Perhaps someday my Japanese will improve enough so that I can become a diplomat and understand the legislation that is discussed in the Diet. I would love to sit in on a debate on a bill, but my Japanese is not that advanced yet. I also want to visit the Upper House, which requires a different pass from the one we used to see the Lower House. Apparently, only special individuals get to visit the Upper House. Perhaps they’ll have even more grandiose decorations!