Country Listing

Japan Table of Contents




Grass-roots politics, a candidate's parade in Iwate Prefecture
Courtesy Eliot Frankeberger

Japanese politics are generally described as pragmatic, limited by particularistic loyalties, and based on human relations rather than on ideology or principles. The quintessential Japanese leader is a network builder rather than the embodiment of charisma or ideals; more like the crafty and resourceful founder of the Tokugawa bakufu, Tokugawa Ieyasu, than the ruthless but heroic Oda Nobunaga (see Reunification, 1573-1600; Tokugawa Period, 1600-1867 , ch. 1). Such political dynamics are evident, for example, in the workings of the LDP, which has remained the strongest party since 1955 despite their loss of majority control in the early 1990s.

Yet the pragmatic, personalistic view of politics cannot explain Japan's militaristic past, the political crises of the 1960s, the controversies surrounding the emperor, Article 9, or the unwillingness of many in the Socialist Democratic Party of Japan, despite a huge political cost, to abandon their antiwar and revolutionary commitment in the early 1990s. It also fails to account for the apparently sincerely held ideological beliefs of the wartime period. The "New Order in Greater East Asia" was legitimized on the basis of universal principles, such as "panAsianism ," "international justice," and "permanent peace," even if the results were quite the opposite (see The Rise of the Militarists , ch. 1). The nonideological nature of mainstream Japanese politics in the postwar period reflects defeat in war, the failure after 1945 to find a national ideological consensus to replace discredited wartime beliefs, and the commitment of both elite and ordinary Japanese to expanding the economy and raising living standards. As these goals were attained, a complacent, largely apolitical "middle mass society" (a term coined by economist Murakami Yasusuke) emerged, in which 90 percent of the people in opinion polls consistently classified themselves as "middle class."

Data as of January 1994