Politics of Japan

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There is still dispute as to whether Japan is a constitutional monarchy or a republic. It has a parliamentary government, which consists of three branches: the executive branch, the legislative branch and the judicial branch. Sovereignty is vested in Japanese nationals by whom officials are elected in all of the branches. There is universal adult suffrage with a fair, reliable, secret ballot. For historical reasons, the system is similar to that in the United Kingdom.


Government Structure

Japan no longer officially has the traditional federal system, and its 47 prefectures depend on the central government for most funding. Governors of prefectures, mayors of municipalities, and prefectural and municipal assembly members are popularly elected for four-year terms.

Sovereignty, which was previously embodied in the Emperor, is now the domain of the people. The Emperor is defined as the symbol of the state.

Missing image
National Diet building in Tokyo


By the Constitution, the Diet is the most powerful of the three branches and consists of two houses, the House of Representatives and the House of Councillors. The Diet directs the Emperor in the appointment and removal of the chiefs of the executive and judicial branches.

At present, the following political parties are represented in the National Diet, along with Non-partisans.

Note: The New Conservative Party (Hoshu Shintō) merged with the Liberal Democrat Party of Japan on November 10, 2003, after its failure to win more than 4 seats in the election that year.

The LDP has been the dominant party for most of the post-war period since 1955, and is composed of a several factions which are oriented along personalistic rather than ideological lines.


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, which he organizes, must also be civilian. The Constitution states that the majority of the Cabinet must be elected members of either house of the Diet, the precise wording leaving an opportunity to appoint non-elected officials too. The Prime Minister has the power to appoint and remove ministers.

In cases when the Liberal Democrat Party (the LDP) has been in power, it has been convention that the President of the LDP serves as prime minister.


The judicial branch is independent of the other two. Its judges are appointed by the Emperor as directed by the Diet.

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, drawn up on May 3, 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 do not use a 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.

See also: Japanese law

Recent political developments

The post-World War II years saw tremendous economic growth in Japan especially with the Korean War in 1950-53, with the political system dominated by the LDP. That total domination lasted until the Diet Lower House elections on July 18, 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 2 months later.

Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama formed the next government in June 1994, a coalition of his 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 July 30, 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 April 24, 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 April 26, 2001.

On October 11, 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 Democrat Party. A similar event occurred during the 2004 Upper House Elections.

Japan's Political Parties

Liberal Democrat Party

The LDP is Japan's largest political party and the senior partner in the current governing coalition. Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi is a member of this political party. It is a conservative party of the right-wing and is made up of various conservative and reformist factions. The LDP has been in power almost continuously since 1955, when it was formed as a merger of early postwar Japan's two conservative parties, the Liberal Party of Japan, Occupation, and the Democrat Party of Japan, Occupation. The party is characterized as being very conservative on social and foreign matters.

Democrat Party

The DPJ is Japan's second largest party and leads the opposition. It is a liberal and almost social-democratic party of the left-wing. It is the largest opposition party, and was formed in the late 1990s as a result of the merger of several anti-LDP parties. Quite liberal and oppositional on key issues, as well as moderately social-democratic. It is against the Iraq war, and is led by Katsuya Okada.

New Clean Government Party

The New Komeito Party (Japanese name for the New Clean Government Party) is Japan's third largest party and the governing party's junior partner. It was formerly known as the Clean Government Political Assembly and the Clean Government Party (Former). The party is a conservative party of the right-wing, but it is also the political wing of Soka Gakkai, an almost militant Buddhist sect of Nichiren Buddhism. Therefore, it is also considered a theocratic Buddhist party. It has moderated its stance however. Because it is partners with the LDP, it is unopposed to the war in Iraq. It is now led by Takenori Kanzaki.

Japanese Communist Party

The Japanese Communist Party is Japan's fourth largest party and the middle partner of the opposition coalition. It is a moderate communist party of the left-wing. Though it is communist, it is a very moderate communist party, and is not against religion and does not want the emperor to step down. It supports multi-party democracy and does not advocate the imposition of radical change on Japanese society. That is why the Communists have more seats than the Social Democrat Party. It is very pacifist and does not support an alliance with the United States.

Social Democratic Party (Japan)

The Social Democrat Party of Japan is Japan's fifth largest party and the junior partner in the opposition coalition. It is a moderate social-democratic party of the left-wing. It is seen more as a moderate social-democratic, and populist party rather than a revolutionary socialist party. It grew out of the Japan Socialist Party and the Democratic Socialist Party (Japan) It is not popular in Japan and the Communists have more votes than the Social Democrats. It is against the war in Iraq.

Minor Political Parties

Liberal League

The Liberal League is a right-wing party in Japan, which, despite its name, is actually conservative. The party is not very popular among the Japanese people, but it has 1 seat so far in the Diet.

Other minor parties

Japan has other minor parties, but these are just about defunct. Most other parties are communist and socialist parties, as well as a few nationalist, reformist, and even racist and far right-wing parties. But these have no power, and some are just about defunct.

Other facts


Traditionally, Japan was founded in 660 BC by Emperor Jinmu. The Meiji Constitution, which established the modern Japanese state, was ratified in 1889. Japan was occupied by the Allies from the end of World War II in 1945 until 1952.

Legal system

The legal system was modeled after European civil law system with English-American influence; judicial review of legislative acts in the Supreme Court; accepts compulsory ICJ jurisdiction, with reservations

See also

es:Poltica en Japn fr:Politique du Japon lt:Japonijos politinė sistema ja:日本の政治


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