Campaigning, Japanese-style: white gloves and daruma dolls
''We face a very difficult election,'' the man in the blue pin-stripe suit declaimed. ''Our party members will work together like a ball of fire. Do please give us the victory.''
In Tokyo one day, in Kanagawa the next, and on to whatever district seems the most uncertain the day after that. Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone, the most accomplished speaker in his party and also probably the best dressed, is spending a hectic two weeks from now until election day, Dec. 18.
The outcome is unpredictable. Mr. Nakasone's Liberal-Democratic Party is expected to win, as it has every election since it was formed in 1955. But will the Liberal Democrats win by a comfortable margin, as in June 1980? Or by a whisker, as in 1976 and 1979?
If the former, Nakasone may become the first Japanese prime minister since 1972 to enjoy more than two years in office. If the latter, his year-old Cabinet may not be around much longer.
A chill wind rustled through the crowd of housewives and senior citizens sprinkled with students and office workers listening to Nakasone perform from the party's campaign minivan in front of suburban Asagaya station. Many of the housewives had paper Rising Sun flags provided by the women's department of the Liberal-Democratic Party. In front of the van, campaign workers in red miniskirts stood by multicolored banners featuring a tiger on the telephone.
''Our candidate, Mr. Kasuya, was born in the year of the tiger,'' one of the young women explained as Nakasone declaimed overhead. ''The telephone is meant to show how hard he works on behalf of his constituents.''
Mr. Kasuya, the local candidate, was up on the minivan roof with Nakasone, listening attentively to the prime minister but also waving to familiar faces from time to time.
''In recent weeks, the economy has leaped upwards,'' Nakasone was saying, bringing one white-gloved hand sharply up. The other white-gloved hand held the microphone into which he spoke. ''Next year, things will be even better because we are going to reduce taxes and do other things to stimulate the economy.''
Mindful of the women in his audience, Nakasone recalled how, during President Reagan's visit, he had walked into and out of elevators or up and down stairs ahead of his own wife, as most Japanese males do.
''How embarrassed I was, when I looked around and found Mr. Reagan arm in arm with Mrs. Reagan,'' he said. ''I rushed back to my wife and did the same,'' suiting action to word by grabbing the arm of a startled Mr. Kasuya.
''That doesn't mean I don't love my wife as much as Mr. Reagan loves his,'' he went on, as the ladies laughed, applauded, and rustled their flags. ''It's just that, well, we Japanese males are embarrassed to show our affection publicly in this way. But I do agree that children are taught by example and that it is good for children to see how their fathers take care of their mothers.''
From there Nakasone slipped easily into a reminiscence about his mother, who died when he was a college sophomore and how, when he faces important decisions as prime minister, he still thinks of his mother as his guardian angel.
Mr. Nakasone has a mellifluous baritone and he does not shout into his microphone as so many candidates do. He had a good time attacking opposition Socialist leader Masashi Ishibashi's advocacy of unarmed neutrality.
''Why did the Soviet Union occupy those four northern islands of ours off Hokkaido?'' he asked. ''Because no one was defending them.'' (Japan had surrendered and American occupation troops had not yet arrived.)
''If we were to follow the Socialists' policy of unarmed neutrality, all of Japan would become like those four northern islands.''
Nakasone took up political morality, which the opposition is trying to make the principal issue of the campaign, but he got by without mentioning the opposition's principal target, former Premier Kakuei Tanaka. Mr. Tanaka, nicknamed the ''shadow shogun,'' heads the Liberal-Democrats' largest faction and is Nakasone's main backer, despite his having been sentenced Oct. 12 to four years in prison for bribe-taking during his premiership.
Nakasone did, however, hint at the difficulties his party faces in this campaign because of the morality issue. ''Tokyo is a very unpredictable election battleground,'' he wound up. ''If we lose, the economy will go downhill, and Japan's standing in the world will be affected. We pledge to work with might and main. Do please give us your unstinting support.''
His speech over, Nakasone helped Kasuya paint in one eye of a wooden daruma doll, a gesture signifying the start of an important undertaking. Only when the undertaking succeeds can the other eye be painted in.
''Thank you, thank you,'' Kasuya said to the crowd as Nakasone prepared to speed on to his next rally. ''Do please enable this darumam to have both his eyes painted in come election day.''