Historical background on Japanese Politics: Why no democracy?
Emperor Jimmu 700s BC Ancient divine right of the Emperor since 700 BC. Descended from Sun Goddess The details of running the country, or even making policy, were considered beneath the emperor’s dignity. Since WWII, the emperor only has symbolic power much like the Queen of England.
Modern Emperors of Japan Emperor Hirohito 1926-1989 Emperor Akihito 1989-present
The Shogun Shogun from the Kamakura Shogunate 1192-1333 Ministers or other representatives appointed by the emperor wielded real political and military power. Eventually the ministers, regents, or shoguns developed their own power bases leading to extended battles between rivals
Tokugawa Yoshinobu, Last Shogun 1867-1868 Tokugawa (Edo) Shogunate 1603-1868 From 1603 to 1868 – Japan was ruled by the powerful Tokugawa shogunate. The spiritual capital of Japan at the time was in Kyoto but the Tokugawas made their political capital in Edo – modern day Tokyo.
Samurai, 1867 photograph The Tokugawa regime remained in power by dispersing authority among the various feudal clans (daimyos) and with the support of the samurais.
Visit by U.S. Naval Commander Matthew C. Perry exposes Japans technological weakness. The United States wanted to open up trade with Japan and supported opponents of the Tokugawa shogunate, which preferred to keep Japan isolated. US backs military rebellion against the Tokugawa Commander Matthew C. Perry American Intervention in 1860s
Meiji Restoration of 1868 Emperor Meiji 1867-1912 Meiji Restoration of 1868 brought an end to centuries of rule by feudal warlords and began the transition to modernity. It is called a restoration because it brought back centralized power under the Emperor.
Modernization The Meiji government removed many of the Tokugawa-era controls over the lives of ordinary people – the Meiji government abolished the daimyos and the samurai. The economy was liberalized allowing merchants, industrial entrepreneurs to grow. To hasten economic modernization, the Meiji government helped develop large-scale businesses referred to as the “zaibatsu” (property) and headed by prominent families. The zaibatsu leaders coalesced around the Emperor and the state provided private enterprise with economic support including restricting labor rights.
Modern Companies derived from former Zaibatsu Mitsui Group From Nakajima Aircraft Co.
Unlike economic reform, the pace of democratization moved slowly. Most Meiji officials never envisioned mass-public participation in politics. Japan’s first constitution was established in 1889 and a moderate reformer Hirobumi Ito became Japan’s first prime minister. However, electoral and political participation remained elitist. Hirobumi Ito Japan’s first PM 1885-1888
Structure of Japanese Parliament (Diet) The House of Peers (the upper house) members were appointed by the emperor from his family and the nobility. The lower House of Representatives was not designed around political party affiliation, but clan-based loyalties. The parliament was primarily an advisory body to the Emperor with little decision-making authority of its own. Like Germany, Japan at the turn of the century was ruled by an emperor who transferred most governing power to an autocratic prime minister.
Emperor Taisho 1912-1926 The Taisho Era The Taisho era – named for Emperor Taisho who ruled from 1912 to 1926 An era of increasing economic modernization, military/political power, and social conflict in Japan. Era of Popular Awakening. Agitation for greater political rights and labor/peasant rights was common. Mass political participation began to take shape. This lead to reactionary measures on the part of political conservatives, especially in the military.
Civilian/Military Conflicts Even at the time of the Meiji Restoration, Japanese leadership sought to modernize and expand Japan’s military. Universal military service was instituted in 1872. Copying the West, Japan sought to expand its power by colonizing and exploiting weaker neighbors. Captured Okinawa in 1879, Taiwan in 1895, Sakhalin Island from Russia in 1905, Korea in 1906, Manchuria in 1919, deeper into Manchuria in 1933, invasion of China in 1937. While the constitution ensured parliamentary weakness, the military was entrusted with a great deal of independent, self- regulating power.
In 1936, the military seized control over government in a coup. Replaced most of the civilian leadership with hard-line military enforcers, eliminating political parties and establishing a one-party rule under the Imperial Rule Assistance Association (IRAA). On the eve of WWII, Japan was a powerful, heavily militarized, nationalistic, and authoritarian state, headed by military general/prime minister Hideki Tojo. Gen. Hideki Tojo PM 1941-1944 Imperial Japan
Imperial Japan was ultimately brought down by the threat of total nuclear annihilation following the August 1945 bombings in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Japan was forced to an unconditional surrender to the United States and military occupation.
Building Japanese Democracy The occupation begins. MacArthur purges Japanese government of war-time political and military leaders, dismantles and transforms Japanese political institutions, including scraping the 1889 Meiji constitution and replacing it with a new constitution in 1947 modeled after the British and US system. Emperor remains as symbolic head of state, but with virtually no political power. Douglas MacArthur Oversaw Occupation of Japan 1945-1951
Although US occupation officially ended in 1952, the United States still maintains military forces in Japan (33,000 troops) and is bound by treaty to defend Japan from foreign invasion. Japanese armed forces are banned under the Constitution but Japan was later permitted a “Japanese Defense Force”.
Constitution of Japan 1947 The 1947 Japanese constitution replaces the Meiji constitution of 1889. Included provisions for civil rights/civil liberties, private property, Article 9 “forever renounce war”. Established a Parliamentary system with bicameral legislature called the Diet lower House of Representatives and upper House of Councilors – both elected. The lower house selects the prime minister who chooses the cabinet from members of the Diet (who retain their seats while in government). House of Rep. terms are 4 years and House of Councilors are six- year terms.
National Diet of Japan - Kokkai House of Councilors House of Representatives Parliamentary System
Liberal Democratic Party Political Parties in Japan Japanese Social Democratic Party New Komeito Party Democratic Party of Japan Japanese Communist Party People’s New Party
LDP dominance LDP traces routes back to Public Party of Patriots established in 1874 during the Meiji restoration. Mainly a pro-business, private enterprise party that seeks close government ties. Given the parties size and years of dominance, it is somewhat plagued by intra-party divisions/factions called hibatsu. Years of one-party rule under the LDP has resulted in a dense network of big business, political elites, and the bureaucracy (Japan’s Iron Triangle).
Main historical rival of the LDP has historically been the Japanese Socialist Party – now called the Japanese Social Democratic Party Since the 2000 election, the main opposition has come from the centrist Democratic Party of Japan, DPJ. In the 1960s a Buddhist backed party called Komeito (Clean government party) formed in opposition to LDP corruption. NKP is considered a religious conservative party.
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