To the public: can a good poster ensure election success in Japan?

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This partially modified image by Studio Diva shows photographer Naoya Yamaguchi during a photo shoot to take portraits for election posters.

NIIGATA – With the dissolution of the Japanese House of Representatives and the upcoming general election, candidates have prepared campaign posters that will play an important role in addressing voters and sometimes even determine the outcome of election campaigns. The Mainichi Shimbun reached out to the candidates working with the candidates to find out how these posters are made.

“There are a surprising number of people who say that because of their election posters, they chose who to vote for. 31.

Despite being elected more than once, lawmakers said the task of making posters was a headache every election and that from August onwards she held meetings continuously while she worked out a picture and took photos in the studio. She said she tried to put on a natural expression to make a positive impression on everyone who saw him, old to young, as if she were choosing “the greatest common denominator”.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, there have been fewer opportunities for candidates and voters to meet in person at large gatherings and other occasions, and election posters are predicted to play an increasingly prominent role now more than ever.

Election posters also have the aspect of projecting the essence of society at that time. For example, Naoya Yamaguchi of Studio Diva in Tokyo, who was commissioned to take photos for election posters, immediately after the Great Earthquake in Eastern Japan in March 2011, recalled having received numerous orders, photos “with a serious expression” like a smile to make it appear “careless”.



Yutaka Matsuo, the director in charge of election posters, gives instructions to a designer in the Konan district of Niigata City on October 6, 2021. (Mainichi / Honoka Uchida)

Yamaguchi has recently received requests to create a “strong look” and image that suggests good communication skills, as poor communication skills were one reason for the decline in support rates for former Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga.

Trends towards a photogenic look were also observed on election posters, in line with the latest trends in achieving “Insta-bae” or Instagram-compatible photos.

“About 80% of male candidates tend to want photos like Shinjiro Koizumi (member of the House of Commons),” said Jun Takumi, 56, of Takumi Jun Make-up Salon, a photography studio based in Tokyo. While eccentric poses have declined in recent years, he said the higher the number of candidates in an election, the higher the tendency to “take an all-or-nothing approach with bizarre ideas.”

Candidates are aware of taking photogenic images in order to make a good impression on voters. Digital image processing has been used in the past to remove wrinkles and adjust the complexion of the face and the color of the teeth. According to related parties, photos are also being processed to increase the number of hairs near the hairline and sharpen the jaw, as candidates claim that if they give blunt speeches, they will lose weight during the election campaign.

However, there was also a view that over-processing in young people who are well versed in Photoshop does the opposite, and recently a return to natural, unaltered photos has been employed. The MP, who wants to run in the upcoming general election, also said: “I want voters to see my appearance for what it really is, even if my hair is sticking out a bit.”

Agency directors, who are involved in the overall design of the election posters, also play an important role by including images and messages that the candidates want to send to the voters.

“A director’s job is done when the client’s name is on the ballot,” said Yutaka Matsuo, 64, of Dola Inc., an advertising agency based in Niigata City. Matsuo has been responsible for posters, including national elections, for around 30 years.

According to Matsuo, the “image color” of the candidate is taken into account when creating posters, but also the time of the election and the balance between the poster and the actual backdrop. In winter, for example, cold colors that exude an icy air are avoided. When designing the names of the candidates, either the first name or the surname is emphasized more strongly, depending on what acoustically leaves a lasting impression on the voters.

Election strategist Hiroshi Miura, 70, who was responsible for campaigning Niigata’s governor Hideyo Hanazumi three years ago, cites Mehrabian’s rule, saying that the atmosphere in portraits is important. This rule assumes that visual information makes up 55% of the impression someone has on another. With election posters, too, it is crucial to hide the candidate’s weaknesses and highlight his or her good qualities. Miura shared his strategy that “even if it’s not good to lie, there is no need to expose your weaknesses.”



Professor Masahiko Asano can be seen in this image provided.

Masahiko Asano, professor of comparative political science in the Faculty of Political Science and Economics at Takushoku University, does research related to predicting that candidates’ looks affect voters.

Asano used the facial photos of 494 candidates who ran in the House of Councils elections in 2013 and 2016 to examine the relationship between visual appearance and the percentage of votes cast for each candidate with a higher percentage of votes.

In March 2020, the professor conducted a survey among around 3,000 randomly selected voters. He had subjects view a photo of the face of a candidate who was known to be “handsome” and a photo of another who was not, both of whom had competed in the 2016 House of Lords, and asked them which of the two they would like better to get to know. It turned out that the voters wanted to find out more about the “beautiful” candidate.

Asano explained: “Instead of impressions related to the characteristics and skills of the politician, such as:

Regarding the election posters, which were created by candidates who pay special attention to their facial expressions, Asano said, “I suppose the reality is that the posters are made according to rules of thumb and absolute profit based on scientific evidence.”

(Japanese original by Honoka Uchida, Niigata Bureau)


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