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Japan's politicians campaign with sound trucks and deep bows

On a winter morning the candidate is out early greeting bleary-eyed commuters rushing into Kamakura railway station for the hour-long train ride to Tokyo. Wearing a white sash emblazoned with his name and that of his party, along with white gloves to signify political purity, he is conducting what Japanese call ''ojiji senjutsu'' (bowing strategy). His wife stands demurely at his side adding her deep, respectful bow.

Throughout Kanagawa Prefecture's No. 2 electoral district, and much of Japan, this is how campaigning proceeds for the Dec. 18 general election.

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There are few public speeches and door-to-door canvassing is illegal, so rituals such as greetings at railway stations are an important part of a campaign. This is reinforced by loudspeaker vans and cars bellowing the names of candidates.

The district is divided between the industrial city of Kawasaki and the lush Miura Peninsula, which contains the culturally important ancient city of Kamakura, with its beaches and yacht harbors that are the main playground for Tokyo's 11 million people, and the American naval base of Yokosuka.

Kanagawa traditionally has leaned to the left (it was a major base of the anti-Vietnam war movement) and District 2 is no exception. Only 1 of 5 Diet (parliament) seats is held by the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). All five incumbents are campaigning for reelection, and they have three challengers.

With the centralization of television and the press in Japan, party leaders spell out the major political issues, while local candidates are left with street activities.

Although at national level the opposition parties say the main election issue is ''political ethics'' (namely, former Prime Minister Kakuei Tanaka's refusal to quit the Diet after his October conviction in the Lockheed bribes case), this is far less apparent in Kanagawa's District 2.

It can't be entirely ignored. One of the sitting members is Seichi Tagawa, chairman of the New Liberal Club (NLC), formed when he and five other LDP Dietmen quit in 1976 to protest corruption exposed by the Lockheed scandal.

The main planks of Tagawa's campaign platform are clean politics, smaller, cheaper government, reducing the number of Dietmen, and stripping them of their special privileges like free travel on the national railways. Dietmen, he argues , have to become more humble and closer to the people they represent.

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Communist Party Dietman Masahiro Nakaji is pressing a similar campaign. He wants to see an ombudsman system developed to open up Diet proceedings more to the public. He and several other candidates are campaigning strongly against Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone's bid to increase defense spending. But only Mr. Nakaji demands closure of the Yokosuka naval base, home of United States Seventh Fleet.

Both he and Socialist Dietman Tsukio Iwatare have taken up the local issue of a plan to build 1,000 homes for US military families on the site of a former American ammunition depot closed in 1978.

Although the housing plan involves only about 10 percent of a 290-hectare site - considered to be the finest wildlife sanctuary in the prefecture - local residents and environmentalists insist the development will destroy the delicate ecology of the entire area.

Education and social issues also dominate the campaign, but it is difficult to develop an issues-based campaign in the two weeks legally allowed. In the final analysis, standing in front of Kamakura station at dawn endlessly repeating your name is probably what counts more at the ballot box.

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