A major Japanese ramen chain is offering free noodles to young people ahead of Sunday’s upper house elections, amid widespread concern that the nation’s disaffected youth will not bother turning out to vote.

Ippudo, which operates 50 ramen shops across the country, is offering endless free noodle refills for a fortnight from election day on Sunday until 24 June, the Mainichi Shimbun said, provided they can show proof that they have voted.

Younger Japanese routinely complain that politicians are more interested in appealing to the country’s huge bloc of older voters, and point to the low number of younger MPs in both houses of parliament.

“Politicians view elderly people, whose turnout is high, like important customers from whom they can win votes,” said Hiroshi Yoshida, a professor of the economics of ageing at Tohoku University. “On the other hand, young people are like occasional customers, so are less important …. so policies favoured by the elderly inevitably get prioritised.”

An Ippudo spokesperson told the Mainichi Shimbun newspaper said it hoped their offer would “create an opportunity for people to cast their vote, even if voting hasn’t become a habit for them”.

Turnout among younger voters is consistently low, and few believe this weekend’s election will be an exception.

In last October’s elections for the more powerful lower house, just 36% of those in their 20s voted in single-seat constituencies – making them the least politically engaged group – according to the internal affairs ministry.

Those aged 18 and 19, who were given the vote in 2016, were slightly more active, with 43.2% turning out to vote. The turnout among people in their 20s has remained below 50% for the past three decades, the ministry said.

With the current election campaign dominated by the cost of living crisis, disengaged young voters are harming their own financial futures, according to a new study.

They lose about ¥78,000 ($575) a year for every 1% drop in youth voter turnout, according to Hiroshi Yoshida, a professor of the economics of ageing at Tohoku University.

After analysing 40 years of election data, Yoshida concluded that the government is more likely to raise taxes and issue bonds, increasing the future debt burden on younger people, every time turnout among the latter group falls by 1%. In addition, pensions increase by more than benefits for younger people, such as childcare allowance, under the same circumstances, he said.

Source: The Guardian