In March 2019 the second edition of my textbook on Japanese politics was published by Polity. This is completely revised version of the original published in 2002 and intended for students of politics or Japanese studies or for the general reader who for some reason needs or wants to know how Japanese politics works.
Japan is one of a small but growing number of non-western countries to have adopted democratic structures of government modelled on western institutions. Following a brief summary of political history from the mid-nineteenth century to the start of the Pacific war, the book looks at the reforms of the immediate post-war period conducted while Japan was occupied by the Allied, mainly US, forces. The following two chapters sketch out how the institutions re-created at that time evolved when Japanese politicians begin to work within them following Japan’s return to independence. This falls uncontroversially into two periods: the first from 1955 until 1993, often referred to as the 1955 System, and the second from the mid 1990s until the present day. During the first period the Liberal Democratic Party was able to dominate using strategies that maximised the impact of its rural support base within the multi-member constituency system. The electoral system was reformed in 1994/5 and this was expected and indeed intended to lead to the formation of a two-party system in which the party of government would be periodically replaced by an opposition party. It appeared to be moving in that direction until the election in 2012 when the LDP won a convincing victory over the Democratic Party (DPJ) that had come into power in 2009. After this crushing defeat the DPJ was unable to regain credibility and collapsed completely in the autumn of 2017. In these circumstances the LDP resumed its position as the party in power and is unlikely to be dislodged for at least 5-10 years.
The second part of the book deals with the institutions within which the LDP has worked: the Diet, bureaucratic structures and local government. Although Japan is a unitary state I argue that local government is more important as an arena of politics and policy-making than many commentators appreciate. Attention then turns to look at non-state actors and the role that they play within politics – business organisations, labour unions, civil society groups and the media. Finally, having provided snapshots of the various parts of the political system, the text turns to consider the dynamics of policy making in five areas: foreign and defence policy, industrial policy, welfare policy, human rights and environment policy. While careful to place each of these policy areas within its historical context the main focus is how these policies have been affected by the current PM, Abe Shinzō.
The book concludes with comments on current trends and suggests how they are likely to pan out over the final years that Abe will spend as prime minister and what will happen after 2021 when he stands down.