Politics, Culture, and Democratic Reform in Japan

  • John P. Horgan


Certain indices serve as benchmarks for democracy. All but a tiny fringe of the Japanese people embrace the ideal of democracy and feel that they have a working democracy. Under universal suffrage of those over 20, elections are held by secret ballot to choose and change governments. Participation has been high until recently. Balloting is fair, however much the electoral system itself has needed revision. Governments reflect the nation’s priorities.1 They have brought freedom, peace, prosperity and prestige to the people. The Japanese have created a high level of resource distribution, which has fostered an open society where “If we work hard, our lives will improve accordingly.”2 The Constitution protects civil rights including free speech and assembly, enforced by a legal system, that has its singular accents. For instance, there are no political prisoners, however legal maneuvering allows for “unconvicted detention,” which keeps extremists out of society long enough to dilute their effectiveness.3 There is no official censorship. Mass media includes television critique, public debate, and one of the world’s most prolific publication industries.4 The nation has a highly trained, professional, and apolitical civil service, obedient to the nation’s economic and political welfare, although it embodies the contradiction of a free economy managed by Mandarin bureaucrats. Interest groups have wide interaction in the policy process including public-private deliberation councils called shingikai.


Prime Minister York Time Electoral System Liberal Democratic Party Political Reform 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 1.
    T. J. Pempel, Policy and Politics in Japan: Creative Conservatism (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1982), p. 255–271;Google Scholar
  2. T. J. Pempel ed., Uncommon Democracies: The One-Party-Dominant Regimes (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1990), p. 3–4.Google Scholar
  3. 2.
    Takeshi Inagami, “The Japanese Will to Work,” in The Wheel Extended, vol. 10, n.3 (January–March 1981): p. 21–29.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    For a dissenting voice see Harold R. Kerbo & John A. McKinstry, Who Rules Japan? (Westport, CT: Praeger, 1995), p. 88–89, 104, 159–160.Google Scholar
  5. 6.
    Edward Beauchamp, “Education,” in Ishida & Krauss, eds., in Democracy in Japan, p. 225–251. Also see Thomas P. Rohlen, “Education in Japanese Society,” in Daniel I. Okimoto & Thomas P. Rohlen, eds., Inside the Japanese System: Readings on Contemporary Society and Political Economy (Stanford University Press, 1988). For a dissenting voice see Kerbo & McKinstry Who Rules Japan? p. 161–162.Google Scholar
  6. 7.
    Kenneth Pyle, “The Future of Japanese Nationality: Essay in Contemporary History,” in Journal of Japanese Studies, vol. 8, n. 2 (summer 1982): p. 242–263; Kerbo & McKinstry, Who Rules Japan?, p. 174–176.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. 8.
    Ichiro Ozawa, Blueprint for a New Japan: The Rethinking of a Nation, (Tokyo: Kodansha, 1994), p. 203–204;Google Scholar
  8. Miyamoto Masao, The Straightjacket Society (Tokyo: Kodansha International, 1994).Google Scholar
  9. 10.
    Those who find further undemocratic aspects are known as “revisionists,” and include Chalmers Johnson, James Fallows, Clyde Prestowitz, and Karel van Wolferen. See James Fallows, More Like Us (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1989).Google Scholar
  10. 12.
    Chie Nakane, Japanese Society (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1970), p. 2–99;Google Scholar
  11. Takeo Doi, The Anatomy of Dependence (Tokyo: Kodansha International, 1973);Google Scholar
  12. Michio Morishima, “The Power of Confucian Capitalism,” in The Observer (London, June 1978).Google Scholar
  13. 15.
    Chalmers Johnson, MITI and the Japanese Miracle: The Growth of Industrial Policy, 1925–1975 (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1982);Google Scholar
  14. Christopher Howe, The Origins of Japanese Trade Supremacy: Development and Technology in Asia from 1540 to the Pacific War (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996).Google Scholar
  15. 16.
    William Theodore de Bary, ed., Sources of the Japanese Tradition (New York: Columbia University Press, 1958), p. 662.Google Scholar
  16. 17.
    Ito said: “The trends in our country today erroneously lead to a belief in works of the extreme liberals and radicals of England, America and France and to considering their theories the supreme norm. In having found principles and means of reversing these trends, I believe I have rendered an important service to my country, and I feel I can die a happy man.” Quoted by Jon Halliday, A Political History of Japanese Capitalism (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1975), p. 38–39.Google Scholar
  17. 19.
    For a discussion of earlier pre-democratic traits in the Tokugawa Era, see Nakane, Japanese Society; Junichi Kyogoku, The Political Dynamics of Japan (Tokyo: University of Tokyo Press, 1987);Google Scholar
  18. Kazuo Kawai, Japan’s American Interlude (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1960).Google Scholar
  19. 22.
    Kazuo Ogura, Chief, Cultural Exchange Department, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, “The Crevice between the Empire of Ideas and the Lost People,” in Gaiko Forum (June 1991): p. 4–11.Google Scholar
  20. 23.
    Lawrence Olson, Dimensions of Japan (New York: American University Field Staff, 1963), p 130.Google Scholar
  21. 24.
    James Sterngold, New York Times (25 July 1993): p. 8;Google Scholar
  22. Peter Calvocoressi, World Politics Since 1945 (London: Longman, 1991), p. 71–82;Google Scholar
  23. Eisuke Sakakibara & Yukio Noguchi, “Dissecting the Finance Ministry—Bank of Japan Dynasty,” in Japan Echo, vol. 4, no. 4 (1977): p. 88–124.Google Scholar
  24. 25.
    Peter F. Drucker, “Economic Realities and Enterprise Strategies,” in Ezra Vogel, ed., Modern Japanese Organizations and Decision Making (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1975), p. 228–244.Google Scholar
  25. 26.
    Akio Mikuni, “Behind Japan’s Economic Crisis,” in New York Times (1 February 1993);Google Scholar
  26. Karel van Wolferen, The Enigma of Japanese Power, People and Politics in a stateless Nation (New York: Random House, Vintage Books, 1990), p. 375–395.Google Scholar
  27. 29.
    “But these nervous predictions were never borne out. Some observers have concluded that ideological conflict was a face-saving front to maintain organizational cohesion and to conceal backroom compromises not known to the public.” Quote: Hans H. Baerwald, Japan’s Parliament: An Introduction (London: Cambridge University Press, 1974), p. 103–120. Also Hideo Otake, “Defense Controversies and One-Party Dominance: The Opposition in Japan and West Germany,” in Pempel, ed., Uncommon Democracies, p. 128–161; George R. Packard III, Protest in Tokyo (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1966);Google Scholar
  28. Robert A. Scalapino & Junnosuke Masumi, Parties and Politics in Contemporary Japan (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1962), Ch. 5.Google Scholar
  29. 33.
    Gavan McCormack, The Emptiness of Japanese Affluence (Armonk, NY: Sharpe, 1996), p. 25–77.Google Scholar
  30. 34.
    Ishizaka Taizo, Chief of Keidanren, declared, “We cannot give the position to a man who is an ignorant laborer,” quoted in Van Wolferen, The Enigma of Japanese Power, p. 111, 127–139. Also Chalmers Johnson, Japan: Who Governs: The Rise of the Developmental state (New York: Norton, 1995), p. 77–79.Google Scholar
  31. 35.
    Nathaniel B. Thayer, How the Conservatives Rule Japan (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1969);Google Scholar
  32. Gerald L. Curtis, Election Campaigning, Japanese Style (New York: Columbia University Press, 1971).Google Scholar
  33. 36.
    Steven R. Weisman, “Moves by Kaifu’s Foes Leave Political Reform in Tatters,” in New York Times (2 October, 1991); Johnson, Japan: Who Governs? p. 15.Google Scholar
  34. 41.
    Joseph Campbell, The Masks of God: Oriental Mythology (New York: Penguin Books, 1976), p. 477.Google Scholar
  35. 45.
    Yasusuke Murakami, “The Age of New Middle Mass Politics: The Case of Japan,” in Journal of Japanese Studies, vol. 8, no. 1 (winter 1982): p. 59–72.Google Scholar
  36. 50.
    James Sterngold, “Japanese Election: Unconstitutional but Valid,” in New York Times (26 July 1993).Google Scholar
  37. 51.
    Barbara Rudolph, “Pop! Goes the Bubble,” in Time Magazine (2 April 1990): p. 50.Google Scholar
  38. 53.
    Quote: Michio Watanabe, Steven R. Weisman, New York Times, (29 December 1990): p. 3.Google Scholar
  39. 54.
    James Sterngold, “Beneath the Rocks on Japan Inc.’s Playing Field,” in New York Times (28 July 1991).Google Scholar
  40. 55.
    George J. Church, “Japan: Good-bye to the Godzilla Myth,” in Time (19 April 1993), p. 42; Japan Economic Institute, Report No. 5A.Google Scholar
  41. 56.
    Quote: Steven R. Weisman, “Blunt Strongman deals behind Scenes in Japan,” in New York Times (29 March 1992).Google Scholar
  42. 57.
    Quote: Seiroku Kajiyama in David E.Sanger, “In Tokyo Hotel Room, Political Swords Were Drawn,” in New York Times (25 June 1993).Google Scholar
  43. 58.
    Barbara Wanner, “Political Reform Passage Sets Stage for Shifting Alliances,” in Japan Economic Institute, Report No. 8A (Washington DC: 25 February 1994).Google Scholar
  44. 59.
    Steven Butler, “Eclipse of the Rising Sun,” in U.S. News and World Report (11 December 1995);Google Scholar
  45. Suzan Dentzer, “Downsizing: Will East Meet West?” in U.S. News and World Report (11 December 1995).Google Scholar
  46. 60.
    Quote: David E. Sanger, “Issue for Japan Voters Today: How Much Change?” in New York Times (18 July 1993): p. 4.Google Scholar
  47. 68.
    Frank McNeil, Japanese Politics: Decay or Reform? (Washington, DC: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 1993), p. 71; J. A. A. Stockton, “Political Parties and Political Opposition,” in Ishida & Krauss, eds., Democracy in Japan, p. 102–103.Google Scholar
  48. 69.
    Local Autonomy College, Election System in Japan (Tokyo: Ministry of Home Affairs, 1995).Google Scholar
  49. 70.
    Quote: David E. Sanger, “Japanese Premier Agrees With Foes on Voting Reform,” in New York Times (29 January 1994): p. 1.Google Scholar
  50. 71.
    Nicholas D. Kristof, “Ex-Ruling Party Scores Comeback in Japanese Vote,” in New York Times (21 October 1996): p. 1.Google Scholar
  51. 74.
    Bill Emmott, The Sun also Sets: The Limits of Japan’s Economic Power (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1991), p. VIII.Google Scholar
  52. 77.
    Eamon Fingleton, Blindside (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1995), p. 5–6, 204–256.Google Scholar
  53. 79.
    James C. Abegglen, “Narrow Self-Interest: Japan’s Ultimate Vulnerability?” in Diane Tasca, ed., United States-Japanese Economic Relations: Cooperation, Competition, and Confrontation (New York: Pergamon Press, 1980), p. 21–31.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. 81.
    Michael H. Armacost, Friends or Rivals? The Insider’s Account of U.S.-Japan Relations (New York: Columbia University Press, 1996);Google Scholar
  55. Merrit Janow, “Trading with an Ally: Progress and Discontent in U.S.-Japan Trade Relations,” in Gerald Curtis, ed., The United States Japan and Asia (New York: Norton, 1994), p. 53–95.Google Scholar
  56. 82.
    David E. Sanger, “Mighty MITI Loses Its Grip,” in New York Times (9 July 1989): p. 1, Section 3. Also “In a certain sense MITI is a classic example of a bureaucracy that has pursued suicidally successful policies. The ministry is like a poverty agency that has succeeded in eliminating poverty.”Google Scholar
  57. Quote from C. Johnson, “MITI and Japanese International Economic Policy” in R. A. Scalapino, ed., The Foreign Policy of Modern Japan (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1977), p. 23–45.Google Scholar
  58. 83.
    Edward A. Feigenbaum & Pamela McCorduck, Fifth Generation: Artificial Intelligence and Japan’s Computer Challenge to the World (Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley, 1983);Google Scholar
  59. Scott Callon, Divided Sun: MITI and the Breakdown of Japanese High-Tech Industrial Policy, 1975–1993 (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1995).Google Scholar
  60. 85.
    Quote: James Sterngold, “In Japan, the Clamor for Change Runs Headlong Into Old Groove,” in New York Times (3 January 1995);Google Scholar
  61. Edmund L. Andrews, “A Blunt Economist in Japan Emerges as Mr. Yen,” in New York Times (16 September 1995). Also “Too much deregulation would create great confusion, you could destroy things that are thousands of years old.” “It’s naked market forces against cultures. It would be the end of Japanese-style capitalism if we pushed this kind of change too far. Japan would be split, as America is split.” “If [advocates of Americanism] believe in the universal value of Americanism, the ‘reform’ they are attempting is nothing but an act of barbarism against our own national cultural values.”Google Scholar
  62. 88.
    George B. Sansom, Japan: A Short Cultural History (New York: Appleton-Cen-tury-Crofts, 1943), p. 14–15.Google Scholar
  63. 90.
    J. L. Talmon, The Origins of Totalitarian Democracy (New York: Prager, 1960).Google Scholar
  64. 92.
    W. T. de Bary, ed., Sources of the Japanese Tradition, p. 580; Van Wolferen, The Enigma of Japanese Power, p. 293; plus footnote on Thomas R. H. Havens, Farm and Nation in Modern Japan (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1974), p. 25–26, 42–45.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Marco Rimanelli 1999

Authors and Affiliations

  • John P. Horgan

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations