Is Japan A Democracy?

Japan was classified as a “complete democracy” by the Economist Intelligence Unit in 2020.

Japan’s politics are governed by a multi-party bicameral parliamentary representative democratic constitutional monarchy in which the emperor serves as Head of State and the Prime Minister serves as Head of Government and Head of the Cabinet, which oversees the executive branch.

Japan is classified as a constitutional monarchy with a civil law system. 

When Did Japan Become a Democracy?

As with most sovereign nations, Japan’s democracy was delivered by the creation and implementation of its national constitution.

Following the surrender of the Japanese Empire by the Allies in World War II, Japan’s constitution was promulgated on November 3, 1946, and went into effect on May 3, 1947.

It is possibly one of the most unusual constitutions in the world, at least in terms of its development and ratification.

The document’s development and ratification have been largely perceived as being pushed upon Japan by the United States.

Although this accusation of “imposition” began as a rallying cry by conservative politicians in favor of the constitutional amendment in the 1950s, it has since been backed up by a study from numerous American and Japanese historians of the time.

Regardless of whether either claim is correct, it is undeniable that the Japanese Constitution, which was largely codified by American authors, incorporates many of the values of its former occupiers, as evidenced by its institutions, which bear many similarities to western democracies, and the rights enshrined in it, which reflect concepts of liberty.

The constitution was not created by the people, but that does not mean they did not support it.

Even though it was partly due to relief, a conviction that the United States would rescue the country from economic devastation, and culture of submissiveness to authority, the constitution was a widely popular notion among the post-war Japanese populace.

The Constitution has one of the world’s most comprehensive lists of rights.

Japan’s Governmental Structure

Japan has multiple government bodies – the Monarchy, led by the Emperor, and the Diet, led by the Prime Minister. The Emperor of Japan is defined as “the emblem of the State and of the unification of the people” in the country’s constitutional text.

He is just responsible for ceremonial responsibilities and has no actual authority.

The Prime Minister and other elected members of the Diet wield the majority of political authority in the country.

In accordance with the Imperial Household Law, the Imperial Throne is followed by a member of the Imperial House who has been named by the Emperor.

The Emperor appoints the Prime Minister, who is in turn nominated by the Diet, to serve as the head of the executive branch.

They are a member of either house of the Diet and must be a member of the general public. Ministers in the Cabinet are appointed by the Prime Minister, and they are obliged to come from the civilian population.

As stipulated by Japan’s constitution, the National Diet, which serves as the country’s legislative body, is divided into two houses: the House of Representatives and the House of Councillors.

The House of Representatives is the country’s legislative body. Moreover, the Diet must be the highest instrument of state authority and the only organ of the State responsible for enacting legislation.

Specifically, the Constitution says that both Houses should be composed of elected members who are representative of the whole populace and that the total number of members in each House shall be established by legislation.

In order for legislation to become law, it must be passed by both chambers in the same form.

In the same way that other parliamentary systems work, the government proposes the majority of the legislation that is reviewed by the Diet. The cabinet then enlists the assistance of the bureaucracy in order to develop real legislation.

The lower chamber, the House of Representatives, is the more powerful of the two houses of Congress, and it has the authority to call for the resignation of the administration.

The lower house is also in charge of the passing of the budget, the ratification of international treaties, and the appointment of the Prime Minister, among other things.

Its influence over its sister house is the capacity to overrule the decision of the upper house (the House of Councillors) if a measure is approved by the lower house (the House of Representatives) but rejected by the higher house (the House of Councillors).

Moreover, since the Prime Minister has the authority to dissolve the lower house, members are more likely to serve for periods of fewer than four years.

In addition, the Chamber of Councillors, the upper house, is very weak, and laws are submitted to the House of Councillors just to be authorized, rather than passed.

A six-year tenure for members of the upper chamber is established, with half of the members being chosen every three years.

It is possible for different political parties to have the power of both the lower house and the upper house, a scenario known as a “twisted Diet,” which has been increasingly prevalent since the Japanese Socialist Party (JSP) gained control of the upper house in 1989.

Recent Japanese Political History

Japan has encountered a reasonably tumultuous period in the last decade of politics. On 2 June 2010, one-year President Hatoyama resigned owing to a lack of fulfillment of his goals, both domestically and internationally, and shortly after, on 8 June, Akihito, Emperor of Japan, ceremonially swore in the newly elected DPJ’s president, Naoto Kan, as prime minister.

Kan suffered an early defeat in the 2010 election for the Japanese House of Councillors.

Yoshihiko Noda, the DPJ’s new president and a former finance minister in Naoto Kan’s cabinet, was cleared and elected by the Diet as Japan’s 95th prime minister on August 30, 2011.

Noda dissolved the lower house on November 16, 2012 (after failing to get support outside the Diet on several internal issues including taxation and nuclear energy), and elections were conducted on December 16, 2012.

The results favored the LDP, which obtained an absolute majority under former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s leadership. On December 26, 2012, he was appointed as Japan’s 96th Prime Minister.

With the changed political circumstances, Prime Minister Abe asked for a new mandate for the Lower House earlier in November 2014.

The election took place on December 14, 2014, and the results favored the LDP and its allies. They were able to obtain a massive majority by capturing 325 seats in the Lower House.

With its ideas and plans, the opposition, the DPJ, was unable to give voters alternatives.

“Abenomics,” the current prime minister’s ambitious self-titled fiscal program, succeeded to draw more votes in this election, and many Japanese people backed the measures.

Shinzo Abe was sworn in as Japan’s 97th prime minister on December 24, 2014, and vowed to carry out his program of economic revival and structural changes.

Following the 2017 election, Prime Minister Abe was re-elected for a fourth term. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced a snap election.

With more than two-thirds of the 465 members in the lower chamber of Parliament, Abe’s governing coalition earned a strong majority (House of Representatives). The opposition was in the grip of a major political crisis.

Japan held a general election in July 2019. Prime Minister Abe’s governing Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) secured a majority of seats in the upper chamber of Parliament (House of Councillors).

However, Abe fell short of a two-thirds majority, and the governing coalition was unable to modify the constitution.

Following allegations of ill-health, Abe resigned on August 28, 2020, prompting a leadership contest to succeed him as Prime Minister. Abe held the record for the longest tenure as Prime Minister of Japan.

Yoshihide Suga, a close supporter of his predecessor, was chosen as the country’s next prime minister by Japan’s parliament in September 2020.

Suga’s approach to the new coronavirus epidemic as the creator of the GoTo tourist campaign, which has been chastised for aiding virus transmission, as well as high case counts in April 2021 before the Tokyo Olympics, have harmed public opinions of his government.

Suga declared on September 2, 2021, that he would not seek re-election as LDP President, therefore terminating his time as Prime Minister. Fumio Kishida became the country’s next Prime Minister on October 4, 2021. Kishida was chosen as the head of the governing Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) last week.

Following a legislative vote, he was formally acknowledged as the country’s 100th prime minister.

The incumbent Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) retained its single-party dominance in general elections on October 31, 2021, and continue to govern into 2022.

The Japanese Political System Explained

MT Lee
My fascination with Japan began several years back at a roadside bonsai stand while on vacation. I became more interested in the where and why's more than the trees themselves. My love of Bonsai led me to further research my interest in the gardens where they originated from and the places and people that surrounded those little trees. My curiosity was well rewarded upon visiting Saitama where the National Bonsai Museum was located and Omiya Village the bonsai mecca for lovers of this ancient art form. Exploring many towns and villages and even making my way to Japan's furthest southern prefecture of Okinawa. I hope to share my love of this wonderful and exotic place with all those who want to know more about Japan.