The train arrived at Kokkaigijido-Mae station, and I made my way through a maze of tunnels to reach the exit. As I reached the top of the final staircase a crashing boom stopped me in my tracks. What was that? I crept up the stairs and peered outside.
A storm had manifested. The base of the thunder shook through the underground as rain pelted the pavement outside. I looked at my watch to see how long was left before my tour of the National Diet building started. It was soon.
The rain calmed down and there was no longer any traces of lightning in the sky. I darted across Tokyo’s political district. Since it was a public holiday the whole area was deserted. No cars rolled down the streets, and there was no activity in the adjourning buildings. It was as though I had stumbled into the world of 28 Days Later.
Fortunately, there were a couple of armed guards at the gates ahead.
I handed one of them my reservation paper and he ushered me through a side entrance that led to an office. A middle aged, well-dressed woman with the biggest smile, shuffled towards me. In fluent English, she asked me for my papers and passport. In return, she handed me an information pamphlet and asked me to take a seat in the waiting area.
It was time for the tour, yet I was the only one there. Had I missed it?
A few minutes later the woman reappeared with an older lady wearing a similar attire and also accompanied by a security guard. I got up from my seat and the three surrounded me in a semi-circle.
“Ok, so now we begin the tour.”
It turns out due to the terrible weather I was only one who was committed enough to attend the English-only tour. There are two English tours that run a week and can be booked here.
“I am so lucky,” I said delighted.
The three women laughed.
They took me all around the House of Representatives on my own personal tour. As it was the first major political building I had been inside, I was as happy as a child in a toy store. I soaked up as much information as I could.
The most impressive part was the chamber of representatives. The guide would never cease in explaining every aspect of how their government worked. An interesting fact is that the youngest members always sit at the front of the chamber.
The system strikingly has many similarities with the American political system. It is broken into three branches; the Legislature, the Judiciary and the Executive. The legislative branch, aka the National Diet, is broken into the House of Representatives and the House of Councillors.
The House of Councillors is like the Senate with longer term times, a higher age requirement and fewer seats. Yet both houses have elements of proportional representations among its members. Something desperately needed in British politics.
The tour continued. The guide explained how the house worked and I added my opinion at certain points, which was always met with approval from her and her observing senior.
The guide proudly stated facts such as the whole building was built with only Japanese materials. There were a couple of exceptions, some American locks and some British made stained glass and the materials for the chamber’s ceiling also hailed from the United Kingdom. Knowing I was a British citizen, she made a kind remark that it was a great occasion when the Diet received Princess Diana and Prince Charles all those years ago.
The fact I enjoyed the most was the four pillars that contained statues of political figures. They had been honoured due to their distinguished service in Japan’s parliamentary government. These were Hirobumi Ito, Taisuke Itagaki and Shigenobu Okuma.
The fourth pillar still remains empty. It is being saved for the individual who achieves perfection in Japanese politics. A reminder to the house of the standard to aspire to.
The storm had passed and there was a stillness outside when we emerged from the Diet Building. The final stop was a walk through the front gardens that had trees and plants from every region of Japan.
I thanked the two guides and the security guard for looking after me. I also mentioned this was at the top of list of places to visit in Tokyo and loved the tour.
The three women laughed again and said they were so happy that I said so.
The tour was one of the highlights of my trip and I would recommend it to anyone travelling to Japan. I felt like a foreign delegate who was being showed around the premises.
What will stay with me was the story the tour guide told me. When Taisuke Itagaki was almost assassinated by a right-wing militant for his beliefs some bystanders heard him call out. In the face of death Taisuke shouted, “Itagaki may die, but liberty never!”