20100501-26kaiken1_1  kantei.jpg
In August 2009, the Democratic Part of Japan (DPJ) won a landslide victory in lower house general elections against the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). It was a historic event in that the LDP had held power for all but 11 months since it was created in 1955 and had defined Japanese politics and governance in that time. No other party had held a majority in the past-war era. What was particularly humiliating for the LDP was that it was thrown out in such an overwhelming way.

The relatively liberal DPJ took 308 of 480 seats in the lower house and the conservative LDP took 112 seats. Before the election the DPJ had only 112 seats and the LDP had 303. Other parties held 53 after the election compared to 63 before. The New York Times reported: "The Liberal Democrats had governed Japan for most of its postwar history, but in recent times the party appeared unable to adapt to a changing era. Disgruntled voters increasingly blamed them for failing to outgrow traditional pork-barrel politics and find an end to the nation's seemingly intractable political paralysis and its economic decline in the current recession."

On election night roses were placed in the boxes of winning candidates in DPJ headquarters in Tokyo. When the counting was down the wall with boxes was filled with roses. Among the LDP candidates that lost were ex-Prime-Minister Toshiki Kaifu, who lead Japan from 1989 to 1991 and served in the lower house for 49 years and was re-elected 16 times.

After the victory DPJ leader Yukio Hatoyama said, the election represented “the first-ever proper change in government in the history of our constitutional politics...It has taken a long time, but we have at last reached the starting line...This is by no means the destination...We were given an incredible number of seats, but this doesn’t mean we feel mandated to deal with things forcefully and hastily. We should cast away any sense of arrogance from the size of our victory.”

The DPJ victory meant that a two party system in Japan was for real. The feeling was that at last Japan would become a full-functioning democracy rather than a de-facto one-party state run by bureaucrats. Plans to expand the welfare state ran head in into a stagnant economy and gigantic debt.A New York Times editorial read: “It took Japan decades, but voters finally got fed up with the entrenched ruling clique and threw it out office, The landslide victory for the Democratic Party of Japan was the first defeat for the Liberal Democratic Party in more than 50 years. We hope this stunning rout presages the end of economic decline and political stagnation, but that will take real leadership, not just trading one group of politicians for another.”

Taro Aso took responsibility for the LDP loss and quit as LDP president. With many family ties to the party---including his father founding it---Hatoyama said that he hoped the LDP would resurrects itself. If it dies then Japan would no longer have a strong two-party system.

Good Websites and Sources: Japanese Government Articles ; Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; New York Times articles ; Hatoyama Speech ; CIA List of Current World Leaders / ; Japan Politics Central List and Links to Government Agencies on Adminet ; Nakasone on Hatoyama New York Times ;

Details of the 2009 Election

20100501-02boyscouts1  kantei.jpg
with Boy Scouts
The lower house was dissolved on July 21, 2009. The campaign officially kicked off on August 18. The election was held on August 30. A total of 1,374 candidates ran for 480 seats---300 seats in single-seat constituencies and 180 seats chosen by proportional representation. It was the 45th general election since World War II and the first since 2005.

During the campaign Aso and Hatoyama both took to the streets with clusters of microphones in their hands, addressing supporters. In its manifesto the DPJ promised all kinds of things to all kinds of people and promised to deliver them soon. It also linked itself with Obama optimism and tied the LDP to Bush’s aggressive international programs and failed economic ones. Aso attacked Hatoyama by asking him how he expected to pay for all the generous policies he was proposing. Hatoyama responded by cutting wasteful LDP programs.

Forty-six percent of the DPJ diet members who were elected in 2009 were first time members of parliament. Many had little political experience. Some didn’t even know much about the structure of the diet or how bills were passed.

A record 54 female candidates won seats. Of these 40 were from the DPJ. The total is up from 43 successful candidates in the general election of 2005. In the 2009 election the DPJ chose female candidates to run against LDP heavyweights. Among those who were victorious were Ai Aoki, who defeated the leader of the New Komeito Party and Eriko Fukuda who beat former defense minister Akio Kyuma. Before the election the DPJ had only 10 female lower house members.

Voters voted the way they did not so much because they embraced and had great affection for the DPJ but rather because they disliked the LDP and had had enough of they way it ran Japan. A survey by the Yomiuri Shimbun taken immediately after the election found that 48 percent of those who voted for the DPJ said they did so because of discontent with Prime Minister Taro Aso and the LDP. Thirty-seven percent said they voted for the DPJ because they wanted change. Only 10 percent said they voted for the DPJ because of its policy stances. In addition 44 percent said they didn’t think the DPJ would achieve its promises. Only 25 percent said they thought the DPJ would head Japan in the right direction.

2009 Election Numbers

Of the 1,374 candidates who ran for office in the 2009 election, 1,139 ran for the 300 single seat constituencies. Of these 653 were “dual candidates” who ran in both the single sea races and the proportional representation system. A total of 235 ran only in the proportional representation system. The DPJ fielded 330 candidates; the DPJ, 328.

The DPJ formed a 319 seat coalition with the Social Democratic Party, which won seven seats, the People’s New Party, which won three seats, and the New People’s Party, which won one seat. A total of 241 seats is needed for majority. Some asked why it was necessary for the DPJ to form such a coalition in that it already had a big, majority and political demands made by the small parties were so divisive. The primary reason was that votes from those parties was necessary to pass legislation through the upper house.

The LDP lost of total of 181 seats from what it held before the election. Its coalition partner, the New Komeito Party, won 21 seats down from the 31 it heldbefore. Together they held 140 seats, down 191 seats from the 331 they held before the election. Other parties that won seats included the Japan Communist Party (JCP, nine seats) and Your Party (five seats). Independents and minor parties won seven seats.

Yasuhiro Nakasone and Joseph Nye on the DPJ Government

On the new DPJ government coming to power former prime minister Yasuhiro Nakasone, arguably Japan’s most revered elder statesman, told the New York Times the end of the Liberal Democrats’ half-century of governing was a national opening on par with the wrenching social and political changes that followed defeat in the war. He praised the appearance of a strong second political party as a step toward true democracy but warned his countrymen to keep a careful eye on a rising China and for the DPJ to not alienate Washington, its protector and proven friend. He also said he wants Japan’s conservatives to pick up the pieces from their defeat. “FoR the development of Japan’s democracy, I did not think it was good for the Liberal Democratic Party to last forever, or for it to be a permanent ruling party. Being knocked out of power is a good chance to study in the cram school of public opinion.” [Source: Martin Fackler, New York Times, January 29, 2010]

Martin Fackler wrote in New York Times that Nakasone said the path to a more equal Japan lies with the United States, not apart from it. He also faulted Mr. Hatoyama for giving Washington the impression that he valued ties with China more than he did those with the United States.”Because of the prime minister’s imprudent remarks, the current situation calls for Japan to make efforts to improve things,” he said. The relationship with the United States is different from that with China, he said, because “it is built on a security alliance, and not just on the alliance, but on the shared values of liberal democracy, and on its shared ideals.” These shared values should be enough to bind the United States and Japan together even in tough times. [Ibid]

Harvard professor Joseph Nye told the Daily Yomiuri, “I think it is healthy for any democracy to have changes of political parties...But it’s also true that if you have a change of parties after such a long period and people have not had experience in government, that is natural that there be a certain amount of learning and a certain amount of turmoil.”

Ichiro Ozawa

Ichiro Ozawa was selected as the head of the DPJ in the Hatoyama government. On Ozawa’s section as party head, Hatoyama said, Ozawa’s ability to devise shrewd election tactics would be indispensable for the DPJ’s attempt to gain a working majority of seats in the upper house in next year’s election.

Ozawa was described as a “Shadow Prime Minister” or “shadow shogun.” His office was put in charge of screening all petitions from industrial associations, local governments and others. Ozawa had a hand in picking the Cabinet and coached first term representatives. Those that were late to his seminars were punished like school children. Many worried that Ozawa would take over the DPJ or divide it. Some of his allies took key positions in the government. A very close ally of Ozawa’s, 77-year-old Hirohisa Fujii, was named Finance Mister but was forced to resign only a few months after taking his post due to poor health.

Hatoyama was advised by his aides to pick cabinet members with a certain amount of distance from Ozawa and not ask permission to enact policies, simply tell him. Ozawa gave high positions in the DPJ to members of the upper house in anticipation of doing well and gaining supporters in the upper house elections.

In December 2009, Ozawa went to China, accompanied by 600 people, including 143 DPJ party members, each of whom had his or her photograph taken shaking hands with Chinese President Hu Jintao. The visit came across as a publicity stunt with no real purpose. Ozawa insisting it was part of the “Great Wall Plan” that he launched when he was a member of the LDP in the 1990s. Around the same time Ozawa drew criticism for putting pressure on the Japanese Emperor to meet the Chinese Vice President in a hastily-prepared meeting and for calling Christianity a “self righteous” religion.

Ozawa Money Politics

Ozawa was regarded as an “election strategic genius” within the DPJ but also a dictator who had withheld funds from some lawmakers. In December 2010, the Yomiuri Shimbun reported: “A government report on political funds clearly shows that Ozawa's political clout is based on his abundant financial resources and his funds management organization, Rikuzan-kai, still had the highest total revenue of any political organization in 2010. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, December 2, 2011]

According to the Yomiuri Shimbun: “The report highlighted the process by which Ozawa collected a huge amount of campaign funds, distributed them to candidates in the House of Representatives election and formed the largest group of supporters within the DPJ. When the lower house was dissolved on July 2010, heavyweights of both the ruling DPJ and the opposition Liberal Democratic Party scrambled to raise funds to finance the campaigns of candidates close to them. [Ibid]

On day parliament was dissolved, the Yomiuri Shimbun reported “dozens of DPJ incumbent and first-time candidates visited a hotel near JR Tokyo Station in small groups, sources said. All of them had blank receipts from their own political funds management organizations in their pockets. One of Ozawa's secretaries was waiting for them in a room at the hotel.” "If you issue a receipt to Rikuzan-kai, it will eventually become public," the secretary was quoted as saying by several of the candidates. "Is that all right with you?" [Ibid]

Having obtained their agreement, the secretary handed over envelopes containing cash, according to the candidates. After counting through the bundles of bills inside the envelope, each candidate filled out a receipt stating their political funds management organization had received 5 million yen from Rikuzan-kai. "We'll count on you in the future when it comes to a showdown," the secretary was quoted as saying. [Ibid]

On the same day, the DPJ headquarters distributed 5 million yen to each party-endorsed candidate. “I was told the amount of campaign funds the DPJ provided to a candidate on the party ticket was 10 million yen, so I was disappointed to find it was just 5 million yen," a DPJ lower house member told the Yomiuri Shimbun. "But because Mr. Ozawa gave an additional 5 million yen, I was sure I could mount a good campaign." [Ibid]

Rikuzan-kai provided a total of 449 million yen in election campaign funds to 91 candidates, including two who received only 2 million yen each. Of those 91 candidates, 88 won a seat in the lower house election, with 49 being elected for the first time. On July 20, the day before the meetings at the Tokyo hotel, Ozawa lent 370 million yen to Rikuzan-kai. It is highly likely that the campaign funds given to candidates came from this money. [Ibid]

Before the DPJ presidential election in September, The Yomiuri Shimbun interviewed the DPJ lawmakers who had received money from Ozawa. Sixty-six said they would vote for Ozawa in the party election, with six insisting on anonymity. Thirteen---three of whom spoke on condition of anonymity---said they would vote for Prime Minister Naoto Kan. [Ibid]

Ozawa’s Scandal

Ozawa was involved in a scandal in which ¥400 million (about $4.4 million) from his political management fund was used to buy land in October 2004. In January 2010 three of his aides were arrested. Ozawa said the money came from his private funds. Why then was it necessary to buy the land through the political fund? Some of the money is thought to have come from construction firms in return for contracts to build structures for a dam project.

Ozawa refused to step down as DPJ Secretary General. In the end prosecutors didn’t bring charges against due to a lack of evidence. Ozawa’s mentors President Kakui Tanaka and LDP Vice President Shin Kaemrua were both brought down in politics-over-money scandals. Ozawa’s political career began as a member of Tanaka’s LDP faction.

In October 2009, Ozawa’s political fund management admitted that it listed $3.4 million earned from a land made in 2004 in the wrong year (2005), presumably to dodge taxes, and borrowed money to buy the land.

In a poll in February 2010, 74 percent of respondents said Ozawa should resign as the party secretary general and 66 percent said he should resign as a lawmaker.

In April 2010, an independent judicial panel concluded it would be appropriate to indict Ozawa over the false records on political donations by his fund-management organization from 2004 to 2007. Afterwards Ozawa said “I won’t quit.”

In October 2010, Ozawa was indicted on charges on charges in falsifying financial reports in regards to a land purchase by his fund management body. The case hinges in statements to investigators by Ozawa’s chief secretary Tomohiro Ishikawa that he had reported the falsification to Ozawa and got Ozawa’s approval.

In January 2011, Ozawa was indicted over accounting irregularities involving his political fund. The decision was made by three court-appointed lawyers after an independent judicial panel of citizens twice decided not to indict him.

Ozawa and Kan

After Naoto Kan became prime minister Ozawa openly criticized his remarks advocating a consumption tax and revisions of the DPJ manifesto. Ozawa’s political troubles seemed to drag the entire DPJ down. Kan hoped Ozawa would resign and asked him to step down temporarily from the party but Ozawa refused. Kan then took steps to punish him. Ozawa’s allies rebelled against this and refused top back Kan’s budget.

Ozawa and Kan think so little of each other, the Asahi Shimbun reported, they don’t even exchange New Year’s cards---a common courtesy among Japanese and the equivalent of exchanging Christmas cards.

Image Sources: Kantei, Office of Prime Minister of Japan

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Daily Yomiuri, Times of London, Japan National Tourist Organization (JNTO), National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Page Top

© 2009 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated July 2011

This site contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been authorized by the copyright owner. Such material is made available in an effort to advance understanding of country or topic discussed in the article. This constitutes 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. If you are the copyright owner and would like this content removed from, please contact me.