Japan Government and Politics
State and politics
According to AllCityCodes.com, Japan is a constitutional monarchy, a democracy with a people-elected parliament and a government led by a prime minister. The emperor is now merely a symbol of the state. In 2019, Akihito abdicated in favor of his son Naruhito.
The Japanese had little experience of democratic processes before the war, although a parliament with limited powers existed since 1890. The current system is based on the constitution adopted under strong American pressure in 1946-47. Most debated in this is the famous ∫ 9, where Japan waives the right to resolve international conflicts by force and to hold military forces. Also see AbbreviationFinder for abbreviation of JA and its meanings of Japan.
The right to vote is general for citizens over the age of 18. Power is three-fold; Parliament, Diet/ Kokkai, has the legislature, the government the executive and the Supreme Court the judiciary.
Parliament has two chambers. After the 2017 election, the lower house had 465 members, who are elected according to two systems. Of these, 289 are elected by means of individual elections in one-man constituencies and the rest are elected by a party in which the country is divided into eleven constituencies. Thus, in the elections, each voter has two votes. The term of office is four years, but few sit for so long – the government can announce new elections when it thinks it is appropriate. The 248 members of the upper house are also elected according to two different systems. 100 are elected nationally and by party. The others are elected through personal elections in 47 constituencies. Each voter then casts two votes.
The term of office of the upper house is six years. Half of the members are elected every three years. The lower house is the strongest of the two chambers. It establishes a budget and approves treaties with foreign powers, but a change in the constitution requires a 2/3 majority in both the upper and lower house. The Prime Minister is appointed by Parliament. The Prime Minister appoints other members of the government.
A number of new political parties have been formed since the early 1990s, but the electoral reforms implemented in 1994 favor a two-party system or two blocks in politics.
Since World War II, conservative parties have dominated Japanese politics. Jiyuminshuto (Liberal Democratic Party, LDP), formed in 1955 through a coalition of the Liberal and Democratic Party, is a conservative party characterized by extensive factional formation. It has long had strong support among the elderly and in the countryside but nowadays also among the middle class in the cities. Economic growth has been one of the party’s core issues, the security agreement with the US as well. The LDP resumed its position as a state-carrying party in 1996 and then sat in office until 2009 when the Democratic Party took power. Since 2012, LDP has once again ruled the country with Shinzo Abe as prime minister.
Japan’s Socialist Party (Shakaito) was the largest opposition party for a long time. To facilitate the coalition government that started after the 1993 House elections, when the LDP lost power, the party renounced many of its heart issues and changed its name to the Social Democratic Party (Shakaiminshuto). The party now plays a marginal role.
The only party from the time before the Second World War that still exists is Japan’s Communist Party (Nippon Kyosanto), founded in 1922. It has stood independently from foreign Communist parties and during the 2000s has commuted between just under ten and just over 20 seats in the House of Representatives.
Members of the Social Democrats and people from the new parties, many of whom were former LDP supporters, formed the Democratic Party (Minshuto) in the late 1990s. It was clearer liberal and was somewhat closer to the center than LDP. Prior to the 2017 election, the Democratic Party imploded and two new parties were formed.
In the Hope Party (Kibo no To), the right wing positioned itself within the Democratic Party. The party is characterized as a reformist conservative. The party stands close to the LDP government party but wants to attract votes from voters who are seeking an alternative to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s hard-line policy at times. Kibo no To was founded by former Defense Minister Yuriko Koike (born 1952), who in 2016 became Tokyo’s first female governor.
The other party Japan’s constitutional Democratic Party (Rikken Minshuto) is led by Yukio Edano (born 1964) and is a center-left split from the Democratic Party and brings together more liberal forces.
Liberal conservative Komeito supports the LDP and was previously the country’s third party. It is supported by the Buddhist Soka gakkai movement.
The Democratic Party went to elections in 2009 with the promise of striving to increase political power in Japan at the expense of the strong bureaucracy. However, the party’s government holdings were dominated by internal turbulence, scandals and political failures. Three prime ministers – Ichiro Ozawa (born 1942), Yukio Hatoyama (born 1947) and Naoto Kan (born 1946) – were forced to leave their posts prematurely.
The focus of politics shifted drastically following the severe disaster that hit the country in March 2011, when an earthquake caused a severe tsunami that swept across the country’s northeastern coast, causing major devastation. The government and Prime Minister Naoto Kan were accused of lacking leadership in connection with the nuclear accident caused by the tsunami (see the Fukushima accident). Voters quickly lost confidence in the government, and in the 2012 election, LDP regained government power. LDP’s Shinzo Abe re-became prime minister.
In September 2014, Abe carried out his first government transformation since the election victory in December 2012. Abe appointed five new female ministers as a step towards his stated goal of more women in leadership positions. However, of the total seven female ministers, two resigned in October.
In November, Abe disbanded Parliament’s House of Commons and announced new elections for the following month, two years in advance. The prime minister justified his decision by saying he wanted to confirm that he supported his policies among voters. LDP lost marginally and again became by far the largest party with 291 of 475 seats in the lower house. LDP’s coalition partner Komeito got 35 seats. The Democratic party was second largest with 73 seats, ten more than in the last election. The turnout was low, only 52 percent.
In July 2014 elections were held for Parliament’s upper house. The election was the first held since changes in the electoral law lowered the voting age from 20 to 18 years. The election meant a success for LDP, which together Komeito gained its own majority.
In 2016, the former TV profile and MP Renho Murata (born 1967) became the first woman chair of the Democratic Party; two years later the party dissolved.
Shinzo Abe announced new elections to the lower house in the fall of 2017. LDP chose to invest in, among other things, education which will be financed through a VAT increase. The LDP’s political program ahead of the 2017 election also found a harsh sanctions policy against North Korea as a result of the country’s continued development of nuclear weapons and an amendment to the constitution to allow for further strengthening of Japan’s military power. The proposal is supported by Kibo no To but not by Rikken Minshuto.
Voter turnout in 2017 was low; only just over 50 percent of the country’s voters voted. The result meant continued support for LDP, which together with the support party Komeito retained the qualified majority in the Japanese lower house. The electoral victory is considered to have contributed to Abe being re-elected in September 2018 for a third term as party leader. LDP and Komeito also won again in the elections to the upper house in July 2019 but failed to get a qualified majority. This means that the changes in the constitution that Abe seeks can be more difficult to get through.
In the 1950s, politics was characterized by the Cold War with very great contradictions between the Conservative government and the opposition. Perhaps the greatest political turmoil arose when the 1951 security treaty with the United States was revised in 1960.
In 1972, diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China were normalized. The Soviet Union was seen as a threat during the Cold War. Japan has not yet signed a peace treaty with the Russian Federation. You first want to have four northern islands occupied by the Soviet Union at the end of the Second World War (see also the Kurils).
In 1992, a law was enacted that allowed Japan to participate in UN peacekeeping operations overseas. In 1997, new guidelines for security cooperation between the US and Japan were signed. This brought the two countries closer together.
Following the September 11 attacks in the United States in 2001, Japan has given its support to the US-led war on terror. The same year, a special legislation was passed that allowed Japan to send warships to assist US vessels with maintenance and supplies during operations in Afghanistan. Japan also declared its support for US attacks on Iraq.
During the 2000s, there has been a shift in power in northeast Asia. Japan has been politically and economically in the shadow of China. Primarily, it is the great economic growth in China that has changed the balance of power but also the fact that China has become more politically active.
Japan and China have a territorial dispute regarding the Diaoyu Islands/Senkaku Islands, which Taiwan also claims. A number of incidents have occurred around these. In 2010, a Chinese fishing boat crashed with the Japanese coastguard. The captain was arrested and this led to a number of anti-Japanese demonstrations at various locations in China. The Chinese demanded an official Japanese apology, which led to anti-Chinese demonstrations in Japan. In 2012, the Japanese state bought the islands, which are under Japanese control, by the private individual who owned them. This triggered further protests from China and the Japanese-Chinese relations were at a bottom level when the heads of state did not meet for several years. Since then, relations have improved somewhat.
Following Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s entry into power at the end of 2012, there has been a continuous upgrading of the Japanese defense. In 2013, Japan established a national security council, and the same year, the country also adopted for the first time a national security strategy. According to this, Japan should proactively contribute to peace. In 2014, the Japanese Constitution was reinterpreted to give Japanese troops the right to defend themselves if they were under attack abroad. Nowadays, they are also allowed to defend allied foreign troops in battle if vital Japanese interests are at stake.
Understanding the transnational nature of security threats has made Japan increasingly closer to the United States. In 2015, new guidelines for defense cooperation between Japan and the United States were adopted. The situation on the Korean peninsula has further increased the tension in the area. This is especially true of North Korea’s efforts to acquire nuclear weapons. The North Korean nuclear threat is taken very seriously in Japan, which has been the strongest advocate for tougher sanctions on North Korea. The threat is also one of the reasons why Abe wants to increase investments in the Japanese defense.
Until the revolution of 1868, Japan lacked a developed legal system, at least in the field of private law. This was largely due to the prevailing Confucianism, with its reluctance to resolve legal conflicts and a preference for settlements and compromises based on moral rules.
At the end of the 19th century, Japanese law underwent a modernization in the western direction. Both the Civil Code of 1898 and the Trade Act of 1899 had German law as a model, and the Japanese legal system stood until 1945 under a very strong influence of German jurisprudence and doctrine, which, however, was later partially replaced by American legal ideas. The above two major laws are still in force, let alone numerous changes. Other important legislation is the Criminal Code, the Criminal Procedure Act and the Civil Procedure Act.
The judicial organization consists of a supreme court, appellate courts, district courts and small court courts. Special courts are available for eg. family law cases. In everyday life, however, legal rules play a secondary role, as the population prefers more informal ways of resolving conflicts over a court process. The death penalty is punished for some serious crimes.
Prime Ministers since 1885
|1945||Prince Naruhiko Higashikuni|
Emperor after 1867
In parentheses, the posthumous names added to the emperors after the names of their reign.