JAPANESE PRIME MINISTER, CABINET AND PARLIAMENT (THE DIET)

JAPANESE PARLIAMENTARY SYSTEM

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Japanese Diet building
Japan, like most democracies in the world, has a parliamentary system with two “chambers” or “houses” that is based at least in part on the British parliamentary system. The lower house is the most powerful of the two houses, with the upper house traditionally being a rubber stamp body with the power to reject or amend legislation. The Prime Minister is the leader of the party that holds a majority of the seats in the lower house. If there is no majority a coalition government is formed, which is usually headed by the leader of the largest party in the coalition.

Within the parliamentary system the executive and the legislature are bound together through elections, procedure and law. This is different than the “federal” system in the United States in which the president and the legislature are elected separately and there are defined separation of powers between the president and the legislature. The word parliament is derived from the French word “parliament,” meaning debate. Parliament-like forms of government existed in ancient Greece and Rome and other ancient civilizations. Some historians say the first real parliament was in Iceland. The word parliament was first used in England in 1275 to describe a council of nobles, bishops and abbots at Westminster.

In Japan, it is formally specified that the Diet, as the core of Japan’s system of governance, takes precedence over the government’s executive branch. The designation of the prime minister, who heads the executive branch, is done by resolution of the Diet. Japan practices a system of parliamentary cabinet by which the prime minister appoints the majority of the cabinet members from among members of the Diet. The cabinet thus works in solidarity with the Diet and is responsible to it. In this respect, the system is similar to that of Great Britain, but different from that of the United States, where the three branches of government are theoretically on a level of perfect equality. [Source: Web-Japan, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Japan]

“The Diet is divided into two chambers: the lower chamber, or the House of Representatives, and the upper chamber, or the House of Councillors. The House of Representatives may introduce “noconfidence motions” with respect to the cabinet. The cabinet, on the other hand, is able to dissolve the House of Representatives. It also has the authority to designate the chief judge and appoint the other judges of the Supreme Court. It is the Supreme Court that determines the constitutionality of any law or official act. The constitution authorizes the Diet to “set up an impeachment court from among the members of both houses in order to try any judges against whom removal proceedings have been instituted.” Japan’s Diet is designated in the constitution as “the highest organ of state power.” [Ibid]

Websites and Resources

Links in this Website: GOVERNMENT AND SYMBOLS IN JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; JAPANESE PRIME MINISTER AND PARLIAMENT Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; POLITICS AND ELECTIONS IN JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; POLITICIANS IN JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; BUREAUCRACY IN JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; CORRUPTION AND GOVERNMENT SCANDALS IN JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; TAXES, WELFARE AND SOCIAL SECURITY IN JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ;

Good Websites and Sources: Wikipedia article on the Government of Japan Wikipedia ; Wikipedia article on the Japanese Flag Wikipedia ; Government Organization Chart kantei.go.jp and kantei.go.jp/foreign/link/chart ; Statistical Handbook of Japan Government Chapter stat.go.jp/english/data/handbook ; 2010 Edition stat.go.jp/english/data/nenkan ; News stat.go.jp Governments on the WWW--- Japan Linksgksoft.com ; Japan Echo, a Journal on Japanese Politics and Society japanecho.com ; Electronic Journal of Japanese Studies japanesestudies.org

Prime Minister, Legislature and Leaders: CIA List of Current World Leaders /www.cia.gov/library ; Kantei, Office of the Prime Minister kantei.go.jp ; Cabinet Office cao.go.jp ; House of Representatives (Shugiin) shugiin.go.jp ; House of Councillors (Sangiin) sangiin.go.jp/ ; National Diet Library ndl.go.jp/en National Diet Building in Tokyo Photos of National Diet Building at Japan-Photo Archive japan-photo.de ; Wikipedia Wikipedia ; Japan Visitor Japan Visitor ; Japanese Lifestyle japaneselifestyle.com.au Constitution Constitution of Japan solon.org/Constitutions/Japan ; Birth of the Constitution of Japan ndl.go.jp/constitution ; Research Commission on the Constitution shugiin.go.jp ;


Government of Japan


Japanese Prime Minister

Technically, the Emperor is the head of state and the Prime Minister is the head of the government: As is the case in Britain, the prime Minister is selected from the dominant party or coalition of parties in the legislature (the Diet). Executive power is vested in the cabinet (made up of around 20 ministers), which is selected by the prime minister and collectively responsible to the Diet.

The prime minister is the chief executive of the country; and the person in control of the legislature and fiscal policy. He (or she) and his cabinet manage all the government departments. He remains in power as long as his party remains in power or as long as he is supported by his party. A prime minister can be replaced if he or she resigns or is voted out by his or her party.

The Prime Minister officially becomes the Prime Minister when he is elected by a majority of the representatives in the lower house and is sworn in an attestation ceremony before the Emperor at the Imperial Palace. In most cases a Prime Minister becomes Prime Minister after his party wins an election or is chosen as a new leader of a party already in power.

A prime minister is required to appear in weekly debates with opposition members in the lower house and answer question from other legislators. He is not hindered by checks and balances like those in the United States government. Typically a prime minister typically has two meetings with the press a day.

The prime minister takes office when he is handed his commission by the Emperor. After taking office a new prime minister often makes a visit to the important Shinto shrines in Ise to signify the sanctity of the government. The Prime Minister lives in a house in house known as the “Official Residence” and flies around in a big 747 with a big red sun on the tail. His monthly salary is ¥2,304,000 a month (about $343,000 a year).

Former Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone said there were three qualities necessary for being a good prime minister: sizing up situations, being a unifying force and persuading others.

The election within the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) for the LDP leader is effectively the election for the Prime Minister. Of the 528 votes cast for LDP leader, 304 were from lower house members, 83 were from upper house members, and 141 from prefectural chapters---three from each of the 47 chapters.

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Prime Minister's office
As of 2011 there had been 33 prime ministers since the end of World War II. Most were forced to quit to take responsibility for an election defeat, scandal or because of illness. There have been a sizable number of cases in which scandals forced prime ministers to step down. Some prime ministers have resigned soon after achieving major goals. Those cases are divided into two types--leaving with a real sense of achievement and doing so to give the impression of a smooth transfer of power in the midst of political deadlock. There have been a sizable number of cases in which scandals forced prime ministers to step down. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun]

Among the most important speeches given by the Japanese prime minister is the shoshin hyomei enzetsu policy speech. “Shoshin hyomei enzetsu” means to present (hyomei) ideas you believe in (shoshin), and the prime minister addresses the Diet on his or her ideals for running the government. Prime ministers make policy speeches at the beginning of extraordinary Diet sessions, which are convened whenever necessary, and when a prime minister is replaced in the middle of a Diet session.Prime ministers also make policy speeches at the beginning of ordinary Diet sessions, which are convened every January. But they are different from shoshin hyomei enzetsu. Called "shisei hoshin enzetsu," they are about the prime minister's administrative policies. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, October 4, 2011]

See the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP)

Nakasone on What It Takes to Be Prime Minister

Former prime minister Yasuhiro Nakasone wrote in the Yomiuri Shimbun: Requirements to be prime minister include a strong belief to develop the country and a sense of responsibility for the country's history and its future citizens. I always told new prime ministers who visited me to keep two things in mind: One is to find, as soon as possible, people who are on the same side and are willing to die with you. In other words, find people who share a common destiny. In my case, those people were then Chief Cabinet Secretary Masaharu Gotoda and then Liberal Democratic Party Secretary General Shin Kanemaru. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, February 18, 2012]

The other thing is to find leaders who will cooperate in summits and other international meetings to realize mutual cooperation, for example, by engaging in correspondence. Diplomacy is like waging a war without weapons and concluding in peace. At that time, I attended international meetings with the same sense of urgency as if I were a soldier sent overseas.

The prime minister, in reality, is engaged in a war of politics, not administrative politics. Therefore, choosing allies within a cabinet is the most important thing.

Since the late 1950s, I wrote down the things I would do if I became prime minister in notebooks. I had 30 such notebooks just before I became prime minister. A day before I assumed the post, I chose about 10 things from those notebooks.

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Prime Minister's plane

Apologizing and Leaving Office in Japan

Nassrine Azimi, senior adviser at the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (Unitar), wrote in the New York Times in June 2010,”Watching Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama’s teary-eyed apology to fellow Democratic Party of Japan members... I was not thinking of the usual commentaries offered in the days before his resignation---squandering of the public mandate, indecisiveness, aloofness, political paralysis. Rather, watching Hatoyama, I kept thinking that a politician taking responsibility for his failings and stepping down is truly a sight to behold. In light of rising public pressure and criticism within his own party ahead of a major election, Hatoyama may have had little choice. Still, that he did so in a timely manner and with dignity is to his credit.”[Source: Nassrine Azimi, New York Times, June 7, 2010]

“This is not to suggest that leaders in Japan or elsewhere should throw down the gauntlet at the first sign of confrontation or public disapproval. But to know that sometimes one’s best contribution is to leave is surely a virtue. It is also an extremely rare one, as citizens of too many countries with leaders averse to accepting blame or stepping down can testify...Try to imagine Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, or North Korea’s Kim Jong-il, or Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe expressing remorse and resigning. Or imagine George W. Bush or senior members of his administration apologizing for leading their country into an ill-conceived and disastrous war in Iraq.” [Ibid]

“The Japanese propensity for taking personal responsibility for failure, frequently misunderstood by Westerners as contrived or insincere, is in fact deeply embedded in their psyche. Fosco Maraini, the intrepid Italian anthropologist, wrote in his memoir “Meeting with Japan” that even if the term Bushido---translated as “the Way of the Samurai”---is no longer practiced in daily life, the nucleus of traditional ideas such as honor and self-sacrifice continue to influence Japanese politics, business and family life.”

“When in February of this year Akio Toyoda, the president of Toyota, testified before the U.S. Congress and took personal responsibility for the failures of his company, it was seen as a matter of course. But can one even imagine an American executive from Wall Street apologizing in the parliament of another country? Since moving to Japan, I have watched with amazement as public and private-sector officials have voluntarily stepped down to atone for the errors of their subordinates. When I was heading an office here, invariably it was the Japanese staff in my team who were quickest to accept blame for real or imagined failings.”

Cabinet in Japan

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Cabinet meeting
The prime minister delegates much of his authority to his Cabinet which is usually made of 17 or so members of his party or coalition parties. The prime minister and the Cabinet are called “the government.” Some ministers serve as heads of departments. Others fulfill special duties earmarked by the prime minister. Cabinet minsters are responsible for determining policy. Each fulfills duties as both the head of a department and a member of parliament.

The chief party secretary is largely regarded as the No. 2 position. The foreign minister is a position that is regarded as a stepping stone to the premiership. There used to be a deputy prime minister that was the equivalent to the vice president but that position no longer exists.

The prime minister selects the cabinet. Prime minsters without a clear majority frequently reshuffle their cabinets to keep every body in line. This generally translates to weak ministers, which have little control over the bureaucrats.

Cabinet changes are routine in Japan, where 34 prime ministers have served since the end of World War II. The last four prime ministers---Shinzo Abe, Yasuo Fukuda, Taro Aso and Yukio Hatoyama, each resigned after barely a year in office, For what its worth each had also been the son or grandson of a prime minister.

Cabinet’s Role in Governing and Controlling the Bureaucracy

The cabinet, the majority of whose members must come from the Diet, is the supreme decision-making organ of the executive branch of government. The prime minister, who heads the cabinet, has the right to appoint and dismiss ministers of state (kokumu daijin) who make up the cabinet. He or she presides over cabinet meetings and may exercise his or her right to control and guide the various sectors of the state administrative apparatus. So-called cabinet resolutions are reached on the basis of a unanimity of views. The prime minister and all members of the cabinet must be, according to the constitution, civilians. The constitution also states, “executive power shall be vested in the Cabinet.” [Source: Web-Japan, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Japan]

“However, the cabinet has under its control and coordination a number of ministries and other central administrative organs to which it delegates the exercise and control of many routine tasks of Japan’s central government. As part of reform efforts that were aimed at increasing the efficiency and effectiveness of government operations, in January 2001 the executive branch of the government underwent an extensive reorganization in which the number of existing ministries and ministry-level commissions and agencies, 22 at that time, was cut almost in half. In addition to the newly created Cabinet Office, the cabinet includes 11 ministries, the 11th being created in January 2007 when the DefenseAgency became the Ministry of Defense. As of 2011, each ministry is headed by a minister of state appointed by the prime minister. Each minister is assisted by one or two senior viceministers and up to three parliamentary secretaries. These officials are usually members of the Diet. [Ibid]

“The Cabinet Office was created by the 2001 reorganization in order to strengthen cabinet functions and the prime minister’s overall policy leadership capability. Headed by the prime minister, the Cabinet Office drafts plans and provides comprehensive coordination from a level one step above other government ministries and agencies. The Cabinet Office oversees the Imperial Household Agency and three external bureaus: Fair Trade Commission, National Public Safety Commission, and Financial Services Agency. In addition to the ministers of state for special missions, the Cabinet Office also includes the following three important policy councils: Council for Science and Technology Policy, Central Disaster Management Council, and Council for Gender Equality. Taken together, the Cabinet Office, the ministries, and the various agencies and commissions are known as the central government offices (chuo shocho). [Ibid]

The cabinet has under its control and coordination a number of ministries and other central administrative organs to which it delegates the exercise and control of many routine tasks of Japan’s central government. As part of reform efforts that were aimed at increasing the efficiency and effectiveness of government operations, in January 2001 the executive branch of the government underwent an extensive reorganization in which the number of existing ministries and ministry-level commissions and agencies, 22 at that time, was cut almost in half. In addition to the newly created Cabinet Office, the cabinet includes 11 ministries, the 11th being created in January 2007 when the DefenseAgency became the Ministry of Defense. As of 2011, each ministry is headed by a minister of state appointed by the prime minister. Each minister is assisted by one or two senior viceministers and up to three parliamentary secretaries. These officials are usually members of the Diet. [Ibid]

Japanese Legislature

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The Japanese legislature (Diet) is a parliamentary body with two houses with 727 seats: the lower House of Representatives (480 seats) and upper House of Councillors (242 seats). In the lower house 241 seats is a majority and 252 seats is regarded as a stable majority. Of the 480 seats in the lower house, there are 300 seats in single seat constituencies and 180 proportional representation seats.

The Diet is officially the sole law-making body. The House of Representatives has more power and preeminence over the House of Counselors, which has traditionally been a rubber stamp body. Upper house lawmakers serve six year terms. Unlike the lower house, the upper house cannot be dissolved for snap elections (See Elections).The House of Representatives is governed by a tradition that requires major legislation to be passed unanimous consent.

The word Diet is used both to describe only the House of Representatives and the House of Representatives and the House of Counselors. Even though the word Diet is largely used in the West to describe the Japanese legislature many Japanese aren’t familiar with the word.

The victory of the opposition Democratic Party in July 2007 elections effectively gave Japan a two-house legislature. Before that the upper house was never taken seriously and was largely under the thumb of the LDP. After falling under the control of the Democratic party the upper house and the Democratic Party has suddenly emerged as major political forces and changed the way politics as usual operates in Japan by giving the Democratic Party the power to block LDP legislation.

The National Diet Building in Tokyo is an imposing three story white stone structure with a massive 200-foot-high dome. The right half of the building contains the House of Councilors and the left side contains House of Representatives. Television coverage of parliament debates was introduced in January, 1998.

Official diet sessions usually begin in mid January.

In Japan it is possible to ram a bill through the lower house and make it law without approval of the upper house. The Constitution stipulates that the budget will be enacted within 30 days of being sent to the upper house after being approved by the lower house. If the budget passes the lower house it is virtually assured of being passed even if it s voted down by the upper house.

Often before decisions are made there are endless committee meetings and media leaks that characterize the country’s consensus-driven decision-making process.

Dissolution of Parliament

The Constitution of Japan states that newly elected or reelected lower house members serve four-year terms. However, the lower house has normally been dissolved by a process known as "kaisan," or dissolution, while chamber members are in office. This would mean that all members of the lower house would have to give up their seats in the event of dissolution. The right to dissolve the lower house belongs to the cabinet. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, November 15, 2012]

Under the current Constitution, 23 lower house elections have been conducted as of January 2013. Of them, the December 1976 election was the only one to be held after lower house members' terms had expired. In many cases, successive prime ministers have dissolved the lower house in a way that best suited them. For instance, some prime ministers opted for "Shugi-in kaisan" as they faced difficulties steering their administrations. Other prime minister did so after no-confidence motions were adopted against their cabinets. [Ibid]

The passage of such a resolution means a cabinet has been branded as untrustworthy by the lower chamber. Dissolving the lower house for a general election means voters will be allowed to pass judgment on the government led by a prime minister against whose cabinet no-confidence motion has been adopted. [Ibid]

Dissolution is possible in Britain and Germany, both of which have a parliamentary system of government. The system requires a political party that has a majority of seats in the legislature to form a cabinet. Britain's House of Commons and Germany's Bundestag, both equivalents to Japan's "Shugi-in," can be dissolved under this system. [Ibid]

Dissolution of Parliament and the 'Purple Fukusa' Imperial Rescript

In line with Article 7 of the Constitution, the Cabinet approves the dissolution of parliament at its regular meeting, where the prime minister seeks the endorsement of the dissolution from his Cabinet ministers, who sign relevant paperwork. The Emperor then signs an Imperial rescript dissolving the chamber, which the lower house speaker reads to a plenary session. An Imperial rescript proclaiming the dissolution of the lower house is an official document bearing the Imperial seal and the Emperor's signature. The dissolution of the lower house is defined as "one of the Emperor's acts in matters of the state on behalf of the people with the advice and approval of the cabinet" under Article 7 of the Constitution. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, November 18, 2012]

The prime minister must obtain cabinet approval for a lower house dissolution in advance and collect the signatures of all cabinet members on a cabinet document to obtain the Imperial rescript. After getting the cabinet's approval, the director general of the Cabinet Affairs Office visits the Imperial Palace and returns with the Imperial rescript with the Emperor's seal and signature. The prime minister then signs it. [Ibid]

The Imperial rescript itself is kept as a public document and an official copy of the text is delivered to the lower house speaker as a document giving notification of the dissolution via the chief cabinet secretary. The lower house is dissolved after the speaker reads out the document. As the rescript is carried in a purple furoshiki cloth, also called "fukusa," the term "purple fukusa" is often used as a synonym for dissolution of the lower house. [Ibid]

Reforms of the Legislature

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prime minister debate
The Japanese bureaucracy has traditionally taken the lead in drafting new budget and writing legislation with legislature doing little more than rubber stamping the bureaucrats proposals. The power of bureaucrats was so so strong that politician were unable to cut spending and pass sweeping new laws.

After the August 2009 elections threw out the old the party, the new leaders vowed to take power out of the hands of the bureaucrats and put it the hands of the politicians.

One of the first things Hatoyama did was set up the Government Revitalization Unit that was in charge of identifying and cutting wasteful spending in the government. Resembling a cross between a Congressional budget hearing and a Spanish Inquisition interrogation, the hearings werw conducted by the units panels and were often short and harsh. Bureaucrats and supporters of projects deemed wasteful by the panel were given about 30 minutes to an hour to justify their programs and asked questions by a panel that often had little knowledge of the programs.

The hearings were conducted by 13-member panels and were shown on television. One of the reasons for having them was to make government more transparent. In one widely shown exchange the head of a project to build an advanced supercomputer was asked to offer some good reason why the government should fund the project. The project head said to advance science and compete with the United States. The head of the panel responded by saying, “Does it matter if the United States is No.1" and refused a request to increase funding. Scientists, including some Nobel laureates condemned the cuts, arguing the money was vital for Japan to remain competitive in technology fields.

See history, Hatoyama government

Elections in Japan

General elections are national election in which every seat in the House of Commons is contested. They are held under two conditions: 1) if there is a no confidence vote by Parliament or 2) the Prime Minister dissolves Parliament and calls an election. The Prime Minister can call the election at any time within a five year period after the previous election.

In most case, if the ruling party's poll numbers are high, and its been a while since the last election, the Prime Minister will call an election. The poll ratings of the ruling party are low they will usually hold on to power as long as they can and call an election as late as possible.

A no confidence vote is brought by the opposition party. It occurs when the ruling party is unable to get a bill passed and thus is viewed as unable to govern. It then resigns and a new election is called.

See Separate Article on Elections

Duties of the Legislature in Japan

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legislators voting
The Diet has additional important functions, such as approving the national budget, ratifying international treaties, and setting in motion any formal proposals for amending the constitution. Three categories of Diet sessions are held: ordinary, extraordinary, and special. The ordinary session, which is convened once a year during January with a term of 150 days, plays the central role because that is where Diet members deliberate on the next year’s budget and the laws necessary to implement that budget. Although the House of Councillors and the House of Representatives share power, the latter predominates in decisions on legislation, designation of the prime minister, budgetary matters, and international treaties. For example, if a bill is passed by the House of Representatives but the House of Councillors deliberates otherwise (rejecting the bill or insisting on alterations), the bill will nevertheless become law if resubmitted to the House of Representatives and approved by two thirds of the members present. [Source: Web-Japan, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Japan]

The main role of the legislature is making laws, all of which begin as bills. Each bill is drafted and debated and sent to a standing committee made up of members of both the ruling and opposition parties. After discussion and changes the bill is sent back to the diet, where changes are debated clause by clause. If the bill is approved, usually by a majority vote in the lower house, it becomes law. Most bills entail the appropriation of money. The “power of the purse” is a term used to describe the power of the parliament to determine how much money is spent on designated programs and institutions.

Bills are voted on by the lower house. The are then voted on by the upper house. If the bill is rejected by the upper house it can be approved by the lower house with two thirds or more vote. A bill approved by the lower house can also be approved if the upper house fails to vote on it within 60 days.

Major dates on the Diet calender include 1) the start of ordinary session in mid January; 2) submission of fiscal year budget in late January; 3) enactment of fiscal year budget in March. Sometimes an a 70-day extraordinary Diet session is held from September to November.

Seat Numbers and Diet Politics

The number of seats won by each party in the December 2012 House of Representatives election will set the course for postelection politics, as explained by the Yomiuri Shimbun in these figures: 241: Majority to pass bills. In the lower house, the ruling party cannot pass bills, including budget-related items, without a 241-seat majority. The Liberal Democratic Party won a majority in the 2005 and 2102 polls and the Democratic Party of Japan won a majority in the 2009 poll. The LDP won 294 seats in the December 2012 election. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, December 17, 2012]

320: Two-thirds majority. A more important figure for the ruling party is 320, the number corresponding to two-thirds of the total seats in the lower house. Article 59 of the Constitution stipulates, "A bill that is passed by the House of Representatives, and upon which the House of Councillors makes a decision different from that of the House of Representatives, becomes a law when passed a second time by the House of Representatives by a majority of two-thirds or more of the members present." The LDP and New Komeito together won 325 seats in the December 2012 election. [Ibid]

Currently no party holds a majority in the House of Councillors. No matter how the lower house election turns out, it is possible the current state of a divided Diet, in which the ruling bloc controls the lower house while the opposition holds a collective upper house majority, will continue. Given the circumstances, if the ruling party gains a two-thirds majority in the lower house, government administration will become easier. In the 2005 lower house election, the LDP and New Komeito won a total of 327 seats. The two parties lost the majority in the 2007 upper house election and the Diet became divided. However, the ruling bloc was able to enact laws, including the revised Antiterrorism Law, from 2007 to 2009 through second voting in the lower house. [Ibid]

51: Third force exerts influence. The Diet Law and the lower house rules stipulate that a Diet member can only submit bills related to no-confidence motions and budgets with the support of at least 50 other lawmakers. To submit a bill unrelated to the budget, a member must obtain support from a minimum of 20 other members. In other words, to submit these two types of bills, each party must secure 51 seats and 21 seats, respectively. For party leaders to take part in interpellations with the prime minister, a party must hold at least 10 seats in either the lower or upper house. The Restoration Party won 54 seats in the December 2012 election. [Ibid]

Members of the Japanese Diet

The Diet is made up of members who are directly elected by citizens of at least 20 years of age. The political parties, to which almost all Diet members belong, are the basic units of political activity. Thus Japan is said to practice party politics. The prime minister is chosen by the Diet from among its members. The prime minister then forms a cabinet, and the cabinet controls the executive branch of government. The Diet is the “sole law-making organ of the State.” All legislations must follow a process leading to final approval in the Diet. [Source: Web-Japan, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Japan]

“One must be at least 25 years old to be eligible for election to the House of Representatives. As of 2011, the number of members of the House of Representatives is 480. Of these, 300 are chosen according to the single-seat constituency system, by which just one person is elected from each district. The other 180 are chosen as per a proportional representation system whereby seats are distributed to preferred party members according to the proportion of the vote received by the party. Members of the House of Representatives are elected for four-year terms, but the cabinet may dissolve the House of Representatives before the end of a full term. One must be at least 30 years old to be elected to the House of Councillors. [Ibid]

“In 2001 the total number of members was reduced from 252 to 247, and in 2004 it was reduced to 242. As of 2011, of the 242 current seats, 146 are filled according to the electoral district system and the remaining 96 are filled based on a proportional representation system. All members are chosen for six-year terms. Half of the total number are chosen every three years. Members of the House of Councillors remain in their positions whether or not there is a dissolution of the House of Representatives. [Ibid]

Japanese Legislators

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legislator's "dormitory" room
Members of the Diet are elected to terms of four year or less if the Diet is dissolved with a no confidence vote. Members of the House of Councilors are elected to six year terms. Japanese citizens 25 year or older are eligible to run for the Diet. Lawmakers are given access to apartments called dormitories near the Diet building in Tokyo and receive reimbursements from the government for general offices expenses such as utilities or postage.

Japan has the world highest paid legislators. According to the Guinness Book of Records, members of House of Representatives and House of Councilors receive $211,000 a year. The monthly salary of the cabinet ministers is ¥1.51 million. The average income of lawmakers in the Japanese Diet is about $269,000, plus winter and summer bonuses with the summer bonus worth between $24,000 and $50,000. Some lawmakers earn considerably amounts of money from the sale of books they wrote, The highest income in 2007 was ¥1.55 billion earned by Yorihisa Matsuno mainly from the sale of real estate inherited from his late father.

Japanese lawmakers earned an average of ¥22.23 million in 2009, down by ¥2.59 million in 2008. Japanese governors earned an average of ¥16.33 million in 2009. The winter bonus for the average central government official was ¥592,000 in 2010, down 8.4 percent from the previous year. The winter bonus for similar local officials was ¥549,500.

Many legislators are considered old and out of touch with ordinary voters. They are often seen napping during Parliament sessions. Sometimes, though, sessions get quite rowdy Legislators raise their first and cheer "ganboro," a vow to fight on. Water has been tossed by one legislator at others, scuffles have broken for control of the microphones and fist fights have occurred. The ox walk is a filibuster technique in which legislators walk extremely slowly to the podium to delay voting.

Most of the work is done in standing committees. According to the so called 1955 system members of the opposing parties have open disputes but takes baths and socialize together and make deals under secret negotiations that are held under tight rules. The reformist politician Ichiro Ozawa wrote. "The parties enjoy casual talk with each other across the room. "They bargain, make deals. the atmosphere is easy, they talk lightheartedly. Somewhere along the way, though, the bathers forgot the fundamental democratic principal that they must at least occasionally change places. Ozawa also said that 'final decisions' are made in advance."

An age limit for legislators in the LDP is 73 years of age. The limit went into affect in 1999. It is not always enforced.

Forty-six percent of DPJ Diet members elected in the 2009 elections were first time members of parliament.

Image Sources: 1) 5) 7) Shugin House of Representatives site 2) 4) 6) Kantei, office of prime minister' site 3) Defence Talk 4) 5) 6) 7)

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p> 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.

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© 2009 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated January 2013

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