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Japan's candidates set out to win the `floating vote'. The rootless people of Japan's new housing complexes present a special challenge to politicians. Their votes cannot be delivered. They must be wooed, and vigorously -- through handshakes, rallies, and personal visits to homes.

Scene 1: In search of the ``floating vote.'' ``Izumi Park Town,'' the huge signboard announces at the roadway entering the seemingly endless tract of single family homes, a Japanese version of Levittown, N.J., complete with shopping mall and golf course.

The typical resident of this suburban complex is a young, white-collar worker and his family, from another part of Japan. He has been sent by his company or government agency to work in nearby Sendai, the capital of Miyagi prefecture and unofficial center for Tohoku, the largely rice-growing northern part of the main island of Honshu.

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The candidate's four-car caravan has spent more than half an hour this Sunday morning slowly cruising every street of Izumi Park Town. He stands in the sunroof of a Toyota, neatly dressed in a regulation blue suit adorned with a campaign ribbon displaying his name, waving white-gloved hands at curious onlookers. Behind him follows a van, loudspeakers on the roof, filled with pretty young women outfitted in bright red jogging jackets who take turns broadcasting his name along with brief slogans.

``This is Kazuo Aiichi of the Liberal Democratic Party,'' they cheerfully announce.

Mr. Aiichi has come here in search of the ``floating vote,'' the label Japanese political organizers have attached to the rootless denizens of Japan's urban and suburban concentrations. They live in newly created developments like this or in huge apartment blocks, no longer tightly bound by the close personal relations and social obligations of rural and semi-rural Japan. Their votes cannot simply be delivered -- they must be wooed and won.

Kazuo Aiichi is not worried, though. This is his country. Since his first election campaign 10 years ago at the tender age of 38, he has rolled up votes in the urban areas of Miyagi election district No. 1. Those votes have made him the leading vote-getter among the five members of the Diet (parliament) elected in this district.

The loudspeaker announces he is a ``man of the new era,'' a leader of the era of ``internationalization.'' His campaign emphasizes his background as a steel executive who lived for several years in New York City. Aiichi, his flyer says, will ``make use of my rich international experience'' to bring ``Tohoku into the period of internationalization.''

Scene 2: The machine and the ``hard vote.''

Campaign Manager Yukio Nakazawa is screaming into the phone. It is half past noon at the Izumi election headquarters and the candidate's caravan is overdue. An afternoon of parading in Sendai awaits.

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Aifu Saito, peering over his glasses, his gray hair matching his weather-beaten skin, calmly sips his green tea. He has been through this too many times. With 20 years behind him as a Miyagi prefectural assemblyman, he proudly proclaims: ``I am the boss'' of Izumi.

Men like Mr. Saito and Mr. Nakazawa don't deal much with ideas to catch the fleeting attention of young suburbanites. Tokyo is 200 miles away, but it might as well be 2,000. They know what elects Aiichi -- it is their political machine, the network of koenkai (literally ``supporters' association''). What counts in the koenkai is people, the personal links of family, of loyalty, of obligation, and of service.

The koenkai can be found in every election district in Japan, especially in small and medium-sized cities and rural areas. The machine guarantees the votes and in turn it must deliver results -- paved roads, jobs, traffic lights. The more powerful their man in Tokyo, the more he can do for his people.

Kazuo Aiichi's koenkai existed before he ran his first campaign. Saito and Nakazawa built the machine first for Kiichi Aiichi, Miyagi's most famous politician, who died suddenly while serving as finance minister after 24 years in the Diet. Kazuo had married his only child and, as is a custom since feudal times, had been officially adopted as his son.

Scene 3: The candidate's wife and the koenkai.

Hisame Kadowaki's farm sits on the outskirts of Sendai, now surrounded by houses. He heads the local Aiichi koenkai, consisting of 150 families.

Today some 30 people, mostly women and a few old men, fill his home, sitting on the tatami (straw mat) floor, chatting and drinking tea. They await the arrival of the candidate's wife, Ayako.

Ayako Aiichi, dressed demurely in a white skirt and blouse and blue blazer, her hair wound up in a tight bun on her head, enters. She kneels on the floor before the farmer and his wife, touching her head on the mat respectfully in greeting.

Ayako Aiichi's speech is not about politics. Speaking in what seems to be a breathless whisper, the polite tones of humility for a woman, she apologizes for calling the people to the meeting. ``I feel bad,'' she says. ``I should go to visit you individually but it is impossible. I have asked you to come here to help me. My husband needs your help.'' As she finishes, she goes to each person in the room, bowing and shaking her hand, murmuring words of thanks.

For Mrs. Aiichi, there is no mystery why these people support her husband. ``Very simply speaking, they are just fond of my husband. Apparently in the US, people want something. But here, it's not like that.''

Scene 4: The candidate's appeal.

By nightfall it is raining. Nonetheless, more than 100 people have arrived for a koenkai meeting on the third floor above a Sendai sushi bar.

After warm-up speeches by the local city councilman and assemblyman, Kazuo Aiichi arrives. He works the room first, shaking each person's hand as they sit on the floor. Then he speaks, taking a familiar, almost conversational tone: ``In 10 years I have learned a lot. I have developed confidence as a politician.... I think we can do well.''

``Soon,'' he tells his people, ``I will become a Cabinet minister. Half the politicians quit at becoming minister. For me, I'll still be young. If I become a minister, it's not the end, it's a start.''

Aiichi mentions the name of Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone for the first and only time that night. ``Nakasone is 68, which is 20 years older than me. In 20 years I hope to be sitting in his place.''

The crowd erupts into applause. Their man, a man of Miyagi, becoming prime minister. But it can't happen, of course, without their support, without their votes.

``I'd love to come talk to everyone of you,'' the candidate says, ``but I must hurry to the next meeting.''

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