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The Electoral System

The Japanese political system has three types of elections: general elections to the House of Representatives held every four years (unless the lower house is dissolved earlier), elections to the House of Councillors held every three years to choose one-half of its members, and local elections held every four years for offices in prefectures, cities, and villages. Elections are supervised by election committees at each administrative level under the general direction of the Central Election Administration Committee. The minimum voting age for persons of both sexes is twenty years; voters must satisfy a three-month residency requirement before being allowed to cast a ballot. For those seeking office, there are two sets of age requirements: twenty-five years of age for admission to the House of Representatives and most local offices, and thirty years of age for admission to the House of Councillors and the prefectural governorship.

In the general election of February 18, 1990, the thirty-ninth held since the first parliamentary election in July 1890, the 130 multiple-seat election districts of the House of Representatives returned two to five representatives, depending on their population. There were two exceptions: the district encompassing the Amami Islands, south of Kyushu, elected only one representative to the lower house, while the first district of Hokkaido elected six. Successful candidates were those who won at least the fifth largest aggregation of votes in a five-person district, the fourth largest in a four-person district, and so on. Voters cast their ballots for only one candidate. Competition for lower house seats in the February 1990 general election varied from district to district. Tokyo's fourth district had seventeen candidates running for five seats, while the second district in Ibaraki Prefecture had only four persons running for three seats. In Okinawa Prefecture's single five-seat district, there were only six candidates.

In House of Councillors elections, the prefectural constituencies elect from two to eight councillors, depending on their population. Each voter casts one ballot for a prefectural candidate and a second one for a party in the national constituency system.

Percentages of eligible voters casting ballots in postwar elections for the House of Representatives had varied within a rather narrow range, from 76.9 percent in May 1958 to 67.9 percent in December 1983, but the 67.3 percent turnout in the July 1993 lower house election set a new low. The figure for the February 18, 1990, general election was 72.4 percent. Although interest in politics is greater in urban areas than in rural areas, voter turnout in the latter is generally higher, probably because constituents have a greater personal stake in such elections.

Data as of January 1994