Politics of Japan

Politics of Japan

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The politics of Japan is conducted in a framework of a parliamentary representative democratic monarchy, where Prime Minister of Japan is the head of government. Japanese politics uses a multi-party system. Executive power exercised by the government. Legislative power is vested in the Diet, with the House of Representatives and the House of Councillors. The Judiciary system of Japan is an independent entity. In academic studies, Japan is generally considered a constitutional monarchy with a system of civil law.

The Imperial Palace in Tokyo is the primary residence of the emperor

The Imperial Household of Japan is headed by the Emperor of Japan.[1] The Constitution of Japan defines the emperor to be "the symbol of the state and of the unity of the people." He performs ceremonial duties and holds no real power, not even emergency reserve powers. Political power is held mainly by the Prime Minister and other elected members of the Diet. Sovereignty is vested in the Japanese people by the constitution. Though his official status is disputed, on diplomatic occasions the emperor tends to behave as the head of state (with widespread public support).

The executive branch reports to the Diet. The chief of the executive branch, the Prime Minister, is appointed by the Emperor as directed by the Diet. He must be a member of either house of the Diet and a civilian. The Cabinet members are nominated by the Prime Minister, and must also be civilian. Since the Liberal Democratic Party (the LDP) was in power, it has been convention that the President of the party serves as prime minister. The Cabinet is composed of a Prime Minister and ministers of state, and is responsible to the Diet. The Prime Minister has the power to appoint and remove ministers, a majority of whom must be Diet members. The liberal conservative LDP was in power from 1955 to 2009, except for a very short-lived coalition government formed from its opposition parties in 1993; the largest opposition party was the social liberal Democratic Party of Japan in the late 1990s and late 2000s.


Legislative Branch

By the Constitution, the Diet is the most powerful from the three branches and consists of two houses; the House of Representatives and the House of Councillors. The Diet may direct the Emperor in the appointment and removal of the chiefs of the executives and judicial members.

e • d Summary of the 30 August 2009 Japanese House of Representatives election results[2][3][4][5]
Alliances and parties Local constituency vote PR block vote Total seats +/−
Votes[6]  % Seats Votes  % Seats (pre-election) (last gen. election)
   Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) 33,475,335 47.43% 221 29,844,799 42.41% 87 308 increase193 increase195
Social Democratic Party (SDP) 1,376,739 1.95% 3 3,006,160 4.27% 4 7 steady0 steady0
People's New Party (PNP) 730,570 1.04% 3 1,219,767 1.73% 0 3 decrease1 decrease1
New Party Nippon 220,223 0.31% 1 528,171 0.75% 0 1 increase1 steady0
New Party Daichi no district candidates 433,122 0.62% 1 1 steady0 steady0
Center-left opposition
(resulting DPJ–SDP–PNP coalition & parliamentary allies)
35,802,866 50.73% 228 35,032,019 49.78% 92 320 increase193 increase194
   Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) 27,301,982 38.68% 64 18,810,217 26.73% 55 119 decrease181 decrease177
New Komeito Party (NKP) 782,984 1.11% 0 8,054,007 11.45% 21 21 decrease10 decrease10
Japan Renaissance Party 36,650 0.05% 0 58,141 0.08% 0 0 decrease1 steady0
Ruling LDP–NKP coalition & parliamentary allies 28,121,613 39.84% 64 26,922,365 38.26% 76 140 decrease192 decrease187
   Japanese Communist Party (JCP) 2,978,354 4.22% 0 4,943,886 7.03% 9 9 steady0 steady0
Your Party (YP) 615,244 0.87% 2 3,005,199 4.27% 3 5 increase1 increase5
Others 1,077,543 1.53% 0 466,786[7] 0.66% 0 0 steady0 steady0
Independents[8] 1,986,056 2.81% 6 6 steady0 decrease12
Totals 70,581,680 100.00% 300 70,370,255 100.00% 180 480 increase2
(vacant seats)
Turnout 69.28% 69.27%
e • d Summary of the 11 July 2010 Japanese House of Councillors election results[9]
Alliances and parties Prefectural
+/−[10] Proportional
+/−[10] Prefectural
 % Proportional
 % +/−[10] Elected in 2010 Seats
not up
Total seats
   Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) Minshutō – 民主党 28 decrease8 16 decrease2 22,756,000.342 38.97% 18,450,139.059 31.56% decrease10 44 62 106
People's New Party (PNP) Kokuminshintō – 国民新党 0 decrease2 0 decrease1 167,555.000 0.29% 1,000,036.492 1.71% decrease3 0 3 3
New Party Nippon (NPN) Shintō Nippon – 新党日本 0 steady0 0 steady0 no candidate steady0 0 1 1[11]
DPJ–PNP Coalition 28 decrease10 16 decrease3 22,923,555.342 39.25% 19,450,175.551 33.27% decrease13 44 65 110
   Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) Jimintō – 自民党 39 increase14 12 decrease1 19,496,083.000 33.38% 14,071,671.422 24.07% increase13 51 33 84
New Komeito Party (NKP) Kōmeitō – 公明党 3 steady0 6 decrease2 2,265,818.000 3.88% 7,639,432.739 13.07% decrease2 9 10 19
New Renaissance Party (NRP) Shintō Kaikaku – 新党改革 0 decrease3 1 decrease1 625,431.000 1.07% 1,172,395.190 2.01% decrease4 1 1 2
former LDP–NKP—NRP Coalition 42 increase11 19 decrease4 22,387,332.000 38.33% 22,883,529.351 39.15% increase7 61 44 105
Your Party (YP) Minna no Tō – みんなの党 3 increase3 7 increase7 5,977,391.485 10.24% 7,943,649.369 13.59% increase10 10 1 11
Japanese Communist Party (JCP) Kyōsantō – 共産党 0 steady0 3 decrease1 4,256,400.000 7.29% 3,563,556.590 6.10% decrease1 3 3 6
Social Democratic Party (SDP) Shamintō – 社民党 0 steady0 2 steady0 602,684.000 1.03% 2,242,735.155 3.84% steady0 2 2 4
Sunrise Party of Japan (SPJ) Tachini – たち日 0 decrease1 1 increase1 328,475.000 0.56% 1,232,207.336 2.11% steady0 1 2 3
Happiness Realization Party (HRP) Kōfuku – 幸福 0 steady0 0 steady0 291,810.000 0.50% 229,026.162 0.39% steady0 0 1 1
Independents[12] 0 decrease2 0 steady0 1,314,313.027 2.25% decrease2 0 2 2
Other parties 0 steady0 0 steady0 318,847.000 0.55% 908,582.924 1.55% steady0 0 0 0
Total (turnout 57.92%) 73 increase1 48 steady0 58,400,807.899 100.0% 58,453,432.438 100.0% increase1 121 121 242

Political Parties and Elections

House of Representatives Election in 2005
House of Councilors Election in 2007

The LDP has been the dominant party for most of the post-war period since 1955, and is composed of several factions.

Judicial Branch

The judiciary is independent in Japan. The higher judicial members are appointed by the Emperor with the consensus of prime minister and cabinet. Japan's judicial system - drawn from customary law, civil law, and Anglo-American common law - consists of several levels of courts, with the Supreme Court as the final judicial authority. The Japanese constitution, which went into effect on 3 May 1947 includes a bill of rights similar to the United States Bill of Rights, and the Supreme Court has the right of judicial review. Japanese courts use a modified jury system, and there are no administrative courts or claims courts. Because of the judicial system's basis, court decisions are made in accordance with legal statutes. Only Supreme Court decisions have any direct effect on later interpretation of the law. In Japan, the five types of Courts are present–Supreme Court, High Court, District Court, Family Court and Summary Court. See also: Japanese law, Judicial system of Japan

Policy Making

Despite an increasingly unpredictable domestic and international environment, policy making conforms to well established postwar patterns. The close collaboration of the ruling party, the elite bureaucracy and important interest groups often make it difficult to tell who exactly is responsible for specific policy decisions.

Policy development

After a largely informal process within elite circles in which ideas were discussed and developed, steps might be taken to institute more formal policy development. This process often took place in deliberation councils (shingikai). There were about 200 shingikai, each attached to a ministry; their members were both officials and prominent private individuals in business, education, and other fields. The shingikai played a large role in facilitating communication among those who ordinarily might not meet. Given the tendency for real negotiations in Japan to be conducted privately (in the nemawashi, or root binding, process of consensus building), the shingikai often represented a fairly advanced stage in policy formulation in which relatively minor differences could be thrashed out and the resulting decisions couched in language acceptable to all. These bodies were legally established but had no authority to oblige governments to adopt their recommendations.

The most important deliberation council during the 1980s was the Provisional Commission for Administrative Reform, established in March 1981 by Prime Minister Suzuki Zenko. The commission had nine members, assisted in their deliberations by six advisers, twenty-one "expert members," and around fifty "councillors" representing a wide range of groups. Its head, Keidanren president Doko Toshio, insisted that government agree to take its recommendations seriously and commit itself to reforming the administrative structure and the tax system. In 1982 the commission had arrived at several recommendations that by the end of the decade had been actualized. These implementations included tax reform; a policy to limit government growth; the establishment, in 1984, of the Management and Coordination Agency to replace the Administrative Management Agency in the Office of the Prime Minister; and privatization of the state-owned railroad and telephone systems. In April 1990, another deliberation council, the Election Systems Research Council, submitted proposals that included the establishment of single-seat constituencies in place of the multiple-seat system.

Another significant policy-making institution in the early 1990s were the LDP's Policy Research Council. It consisted of a number of committees, composed of LDP Diet members, with the committees corresponding to the different executive agencies. Committee members worked closely with their official counterparts, advancing the requests of their constituents, in one of the most effective means through which interest groups could state their case to the bureaucracy through the channel of the ruling party.

See also: Industrial policy of Japan; Monetary and fiscal policy of Japan; Mass media and politics in Japan

Post-war Political Development

Political parties had begun to revive almost immediately after the occupation began. Left-wing organizations, such as the Japan Socialist Party and the Japanese Communist Party, quickly reestablished themselves, as did various conservative parties. The old Rikken Seiyūkai and Rikken Minseito came back as, respectively, the Liberal Party (Nihon Jiyuto) and the Japan Progressive Party (Nihon Shimpoto). The first postwar elections were held in 1948 (women were given the franchise for the first time in 1947), and the Liberal Party's vice president, Yoshida Shigeru (1878–1967), became prime minister. For the 1947 elections, anti-Yoshida forces left the Liberal Party and joined forces with the Progressive Party to establish the new Democratic Party (Minshuto). This divisiveness in conservative ranks gave a plurality to the Japan Socialist Party, which was allowed to form a cabinet, which lasted less than a year. Thereafter, the socialist party steadily declined in its electoral successes. After a short period of Democratic Party administration, Yoshida returned in late 1948 and continued to serve as prime minister until 1954.

Even before Japan regained full sovereignty, the government had rehabilitated nearly 80,000 people who had been purged, many of whom returned to their former political and government positions. A debate over limitations on military spending and the sovereignty of the emperor ensued, contributing to the great reduction in the Liberal Party's majority in the first post-occupation elections (October 1952). After several reorganizations of the armed forces, in 1954 the Japan Self-Defense Forces were established under a civilian director. Cold War realities and the hot war in nearby Korea also contributed significantly to the United States-influenced economic redevelopment, the suppression of communism, and the discouragement of organized labor in Japan during this period.

Continual fragmentation of parties and a succession of minority governments led conservative forces to merge the Liberal Party (Jiyuto) with the Japan Democratic Party (Nihon Minshuto), an offshoot of the earlier Democratic Party, to form the Liberal Democratic Party (Jiyu-Minshuto; LDP) in November 1955. This party continuously held power from 1955 through 1993, when it was replaced by a new minority government. LDP leadership was drawn from the elite who had seen Japan through the defeat and occupation; it attracted former bureaucrats, local politicians, businessmen, journalists, other professionals, farmers, and university graduates. In October 1955, socialist groups reunited under the Japan Socialist Party, which emerged as the second most powerful political force. It was followed closely in popularity by the Komeito (Clean Government Party), founded in 1964 as the political arm of the Soka Gakkai (Value Creation Society), until 1991 a lay organization affiliated with the Nichiren Shoshu Buddhist sect. The Komeito emphasized traditional Japanese beliefs and attracted urban laborers, former rural residents, and many women. Like the Japan Socialist Party, it favored the gradual modification and dissolution of the Japan-United States Mutual Security Assistance Pact.

Political developments since 1990

LDP domination lasted until the Diet Lower House elections on 18 July 1993, in which the LDP failed to win a majority. A coalition of new parties and existing opposition parties formed a governing majority and elected a new prime minister, Morihiro Hosokawa, in August 1993. His government's major legislative objective was political reform, consisting of a package of new political financing restrictions and major changes in the electoral system. The coalition succeeded in passing landmark political reform legislation in January 1994.

In April 1994, Prime Minister Hosokawa resigned. Prime Minister Tsutomu Hata formed the successor coalition government, Japan's first minority government in almost 40 years. Prime Minister Hata resigned less than two months later. Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama formed the next government in June 1994 with the coalition of Japan Socialist Party (JSP), the LDP, and the small New Party Sakigake. The advent of a coalition containing the JSP and LDP shocked many observers because of their previously fierce rivalry.

Prime Minister Murayama served from June 1994 to January 1996. He was succeeded by Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto, who served from January 1996 to July 1998. Prime Minister Hashimoto headed a loose coalition of three parties until the July 1998 Upper House election, when the two smaller parties cut ties with the LDP. Hashimoto resigned due to a poor electoral showing by the LDP in those Upper House elections. He was succeeded as party president of the LDP and prime minister by Keizo Obuchi, who took office on 30 July 1998.

The LDP formed a governing coalition with the Liberal Party in January 1999, and Keizo Obuchi remained prime minister. The LDP-Liberal coalition expanded to include the New Komeito Party in October 1999.

Prime Minister Obuchi suffered a stroke in April 2000 and was replaced by Yoshiro Mori. After the Liberal Party left the coalition in April 2000, Prime Minister Mori welcomed a Liberal Party splinter group, the New Conservative Party, into the ruling coalition. The three-party coalition made up of the LDP, New Komeito, and the New Conservative Party maintained its majority in the Diet following the June 2000 Lower House elections.

After a turbulent year in office in which he saw his approval ratings plummet to the single digits, Prime Minister Mori agreed to hold early elections for the LDP presidency in order to improve his party's chances in crucial July 2001 Upper House elections. On 24 April 2001, riding a wave of grassroots desire for change, maverick politician Junichiro Koizumi defeated former Prime Minister Hashimoto and other party stalwarts on a platform of economic and political reform. Koizumi was elected as Japan's 87th Prime Minister on 26 April 2001.

On 11 October 2003, the Prime Minister Koizumi dissolved the lower house after he was re-elected as the president of the LDP. (See Japan general election, 2003) Likewise, that year, the LDP won the election, even though it suffered setbacks from the new opposition party, the liberal and social-democratic Democratic Party (DPJ). A similar event occurred during the 2004 Upper House Elections.

In a strong move, on 8 August 2005, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi called for a snap election to the lower house, as threatened, after LDP stalwarts and opposition DPJ parliamentarians defeated his proposal for a large-scale reform and privatisation of Japan Post, which besides being Japan's state-owned postal monopoly is arguably the world's largest financial institution, with nearly 331 trillion yen of assets. The election was scheduled for 11 September 2005, LDP managed landslide victory by under the leadership of Junichiro Koizumi's.

The ruling LDP started losing hold since 2006. No prime minister except Koizumi had good public support. On 26 September 2006, new LDP President Shinzo Abe was elected by a special session of the Diet to succeed Junichiro Koizumi as Prime Minister. He was the Japan's youngest post-World War II prime minister and the first born after the war. On 12 September 2007, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe surprised Japan by announcing his resignation from office. He was eventually replaced by Yasuo Fukuda, a veteran of LDP.

On 4 November 2007, leader of the main opposition party, Ichiro Ozawa announced his resignation from the post of party president, after controversy over an offer to the DPJ to join the ruling coalition in a grand coalition.,[13] but has since, with some embarrassment, rescinded his resignation.

On 11 January 2008, Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda forced a bill allowing ships to continue a refueling mission in the Indian Ocean in support of US-led operations in Afghanistan. To do so, PM Fukuda used the LDP's overwhelming majority in the Lower House to ignore a previous 'no-vote' of the opposition-controlled Upper House. This was the first time in 50 years that the Lower House voted to ignore the opinion of the Upper House. Fukuda resigned suddenly on 1 September 2008, just a few weeks after reshuffling his cabinet. And, on 1 September 2008, Fukuda's resignation was designed so that the LDP did not suffer a “power vacuum.” It thus caused a leadership election within the LDP, and the winner, Taro Aso was chosen as the new party President and on 24 September 2008, he was appointed the 92nd Prime Minister after the House of Representatives voted in his favor in the extraordinary session of the Diet.[14] Later, on 21 July 2009, Prime Minister Aso dissolved the House of Representatives and elections were held on 30 August.[15]

Change of Administration

The election results for the House of Representatives were announced on 30 and 31 August 2009. The opposition party DPJ led by Yukio Hatoyama, won a majority by gaining 308 seats (10 seats were won by its allies the Social Democratic Party and the People's New Party). The LDP secured 119 seats (21 seats won by New Komeito) and failed to form a government. This was a big change. In the early 1990s, the opposition united and formed a government but it did not last long. The LDP returned to power from 1994 to 2009. Even though the LDP managed a huge majority in the 2005 elections under Koizumi, the weak performance of later LDP leaders led to its defeat.[16] On 16 September 2009, president of DPJ, Hatoyama was elected by the House of Representatives as the 93rd Prime Minister of Japan. On 2 June 2010, Hatoyama resigned due to lack of fulfillments of his policies, both domestically and internationally[17] and soon after, on 8 June, Akihito, Emperor of Japan ceremonially swore in the newly elected DPJ's president, Naoto Kan as prime minister.[18] Kan suffered an early setback in the Japanese House of Councillors election, 2010. In a routine political change in Japan, DPJ’s new president and former finance minister of Naoto Kan’s cabinet, Yoshihiko Noda was cleared and elected by the Diet as 95th prime minister on 30 August 2011. He was officially appointed as prime minister in the attestation ceremony at imperial palace on 02 September 2011[19].

Foreign Relations

Japan is a member state of the United Nations and pursues a permanent membership of the Security Council; it is currently one of the "G4 nations" seeking permanent membership. Japan plays an important role in East Asia.

Japanese Constitution prohibits the use of military forces to wage war against other countries. However, the government maintains "Self-Defense Forces" which include air, land and sea components. Japan's deployment of non-combat troops to Iraq marked the first overseas use of its military since World War II.

As an economic power, Japan is a member of the G8 and Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), and has developed relations with ASEAN as a member of "ASEAN plus three" and the East Asia Summit. It is a major donor in international aid and development efforts, donating 0.19% of its Gross National Income in 2004.[20]

Japan currently has territorial disputes with Russia over the Kuril Islands (Northern Territories), with South Korea over Liancourt Rocks (known as "Dokdo" in Korea, "Takeshima" in Japan), with China and Taiwan over the Senkaku Islands and with China over the status of Okinotorishima. These disputes are in part about the control of marine and natural resources, such as possible reserves of crude oil and natural gas.

In recent years, Japan has an ongoing dispute with North Korea over its abduction of Japanese citizens and nuclear weapons program.


  1. ^ Professor Yasuhiro Okudaira notes a misnomer in the use of the word "Emperor" to describe the nation's living state symbol. In Okudaira's view, the word "Emperor" ceased to be applicable when Japan ceased to be an empire under the 1947 Constitution. "Thus, for example, Imperial University of Tokyo became merely University of Tokyo" after World War II. He would apparently have the word "tenno" be directly taken for English use (just as there is no common frestanding English word for "sushi". Yasuhiro Okudaira, "Forty Years of the Constitution and its Various Influences: Japanese, American, and European" in Luney and Takahashi, Japanese Constitutional Law (Univ. Tokyo Press, 1993), pp. 1-38, at 4.
  2. ^ General election results final breakdown. Kyodo News. August 31, 2009.
  3. ^ Psephos - Adam Carr. August 31, 2009.
  4. ^ Nihon Keizai Shimbun. August 31, 2009.
  5. ^ Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, Home Office, Election Department (総務省自治行政局選挙部): Results of the 45th House of Representatives election, complete edition (45衆結果調全体版)
  6. ^ Decimals from fractional votes (anbunhyō) rounded to full numbers
  7. ^ Happiness Realization Party (kōfuku-jitsugen-tō) 459,387, Essential Party (shintō honshitsu) 7,399
  8. ^ includes 3 members of the Hiranuma Group; 2 independents joined the DPJ parliamentary group immediately after the election
  9. ^ Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications: Results of the 22nd House of Councillors election
  10. ^ a b c compared to the seats held before the election
  11. ^ independent member of the DPJ parliamentary group, not a member of New Party Nippon by the time he took his seat as replacement for Yasuo Tanaka: [1]
  12. ^ includes one OSMP member (not up), and one independent member of the SDP parliamentary group (seat lost in this election)
  13. ^ DPJ leader Ozawa hands in resignation over grand coalition controversy - Japan News Review
  14. ^ Aso gets quick start, names new Cabinet | The Japan Times Online
  15. ^ Critical election to come | The Japan Times Online
  16. ^ Historic sea change at polls product of frustrated public | The Japan Times Online
  17. ^ [2][dead link]
  18. ^ Japan's new PM Naoto Kan names cabinet - Telegraph
  19. ^ http://search.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/nn20110902x1.html
  20. ^ Net Official Development Assistance In 2004PDF (32.9 KiB), Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, 11 April 2005. Retrieved 14 May 2006.

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