Hinomaru flag
The Japanese government is a parliamentary democracy (similar to that in Britain) called the Diet with two houses: 1) a lower house called the House of Representatives (like Britain's parliament); and 2) an upper house called the House of Counselors (sort of like the U.S. Senate but weaker). The prime minister is the leader of Japan. He is the leader of party with the most seats in Parliament. Major elections have to be held at least every four years. Often they are called earlier. (See Elections)

The Constitution of Japan, which came into effect in 1947, is based on the principles of popular sovereignty, respect for fundamental human rights, and the advocacy of peace. Japan’s political system is one of constitutional democracy. In accordance with the principle of “separation of powers,” the activities of the national government are formally divided into legislative, judicial, and executive organs. [Source: Web-Japan, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Japan]

“The emperor is “the symbol of the State and unity of the people.” The emperor appoints the prime minister and chief judge of the Supreme Court as designated by the Diet, and performs “only such acts in matters of state” as provided for in the constitution along with the advice and approval of the cabinet, such as promulgation of amendments of the constitution, laws, cabinet orders and treaties, convocation of the Diet, dissolution of the House of Representatives, and so forth. The Constitution of Japan proclaims a system of representative democracy in which the Diet is “the highest organ of state power.”

The government has traditionally been controlled by the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). The Japanese proceed very cautiously and change has traditionally occurred very slowly in Japan. The LDP was defeated in elections in 2009 and now the Minshuto (Democracy) Party is in power.

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.

Websites and Resources


Good Websites and Sources: Wikipedia article on the Government of Japan Wikipedia ; Wikipedia article on the Japanese Flag Wikipedia ; Government Organization Chart and ; Statistical Handbook of Japan Government Chapter ; 2010 Edition ; News Governments on the WWW — Japan ; Japan Echo, a Journal on Japanese Politics and Society ; Electronic Journal of Japanese Studies

Prime Minister, Legislature and Leaders: CIA List of Current World Leaders / ; Kantei, Office of the Prime Minister ; Cabinet Office ; House of Representatives (Shugiin) ; House of Councillors (Sangiin) ; National Diet Library National Diet Building in Tokyo Photos of National Diet Building at Japan-Photo Archive ; Wikipedia Wikipedia ; Japan Visitor Japan Visitor ; Japanese Lifestyle Constitution Constitution of Japan ; Birth of the Constitution of Japan ; Research Commission on the Constitution ;

Japanese Political Divisions and the Capital

Japanese Diet building,
the seat of the Japanese government in Tokyo
There are nine political regions in Japan (from north to south): 1) Hokkaido, 2) Tohuku (northern Honshu), 3) Shinetsu, (central Honshu on the Japan Sea), 4) Kanto (Tokyo area), 5) Tokai (Nagoya and Mt. Fuji area), 6) Kinki (Osaka and Kyoto area), 7) Chugoku (western Honshu), 8) Shikoku and 9) Kyushu (including Okinawa). Chubu refers to Shinetsu and Tokai.

There are 47 state-like prefectures (ken) that include Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto, Kagoshima, Hokkaido, Chiba, Gifu and Okinawa. These are further divided into districts (“do”), metropolises (“to”) and urban prefectures (“fu”). Rural areas are then divided county-like guns and villages (“mura”). Large cities have wards (“ku”), which are further divided into “cho” or “machi” and then “chome”.

Tokyo is the capital of Japan. In the late 1990s, there was some discussion of spending $140 billion to relocate the capital around they year 2010. The cost of moving the capital out of Tokyo would be $11.9 billion for buildings alone. No one took the plan seriously.

Reasons for moving the capital included Tokyo's vulnerability to earthquakes, the high price of land in Tokyo and the generation of jobs from public works projects as a result of the move. Three possible sites were mentioned: 1) the Tochigi/Fukushima area (about 250 miles north of Tokyo); 2) the Nara/Kyoto/Shiga area; 3) Gifu/Aichi area (about 100 miles northeast of Osaka). In 2002, plans for moving the capital were shelved on the grounds of expense.

Democracy in Japan

Nassrine Azimi wrote in the New York Times, “Because it is such an ancient civilization, and still the world’s third largest economy, people tend to forget just how young a democracy Japan is, having adopted this form of self-rule for only 60-odd years — and practically all of that as quasi-one-party rule — of its 2,000-year history. It is only since the mid-1990s, when the ruling Liberal Democratic Party briefly lost power, that democracy in the real sense has taken root in Japan. [Source: Nassrine Azimi, New York Times, June 7, 2010]

In recent years this situation has resulted in weak leaders and inexperienced prime minister unable to 1) inspire the Japanese people to face and tackle the nation’s problems, 2) resolve complex, thorny issues or 3) adequately communicate to their allies, the world community or their fellow citizens, and 4) produced strings of political gaffes and scandals and politicians brought down by minor things,

But at the same time, especially when compared to China, it can not be emphasized what a free society Japan is. It is hard to think of country that best fits the description of a place where people can do what they want’stage protests, criticize the government , access any information on the Internet, and express a wide range of unpopular views — as long as it doesn’t hurt other people. The people of Okinawa, for example, were able to rally, almost daily, freely expressing their discontent with the government over the presence of an American base. There was no violence, and no one was arrested or silenced. The usually tepid Japanese media covered it all thoroughly. There was a good amount of national debate.

Leaders also don’t cling to power but step down when public sentiments turn against them. Azimi wrote, “A transparent transition has ensured his replacement practically within 48 hours — and it has all been done with due process, peacefully. Surely such an orderly exercise of democracy is itself reason for optimism.”

Politics under the Constitution of Japan

Japanese Government Budget

The budget reached a record high of over $100 billion in 2009, compared to $75 billion in 2008 and $55 billion in 2004. In November 2009, government debt reached ¥864 trillion (about $9.5 trillion).

In November 2011, a ¥92.41 trillion (about $1.15 trillion) budget was enacted for fiscal year 2011-2012.

The total budget for fiscal 2011-2012 was ¥220.28 trillion, a ¥5.2 trillion increase from the previous year, with much of the increase coming from increased social security payments and interest and servicing on bonds.

Breakdown of fiscal 2011-2012 budget (¥220.28 trillion total): 1) government bond servicing ¥82.2 trillion; 2) social security, ¥75 trillion; 3) tax grants to local governments, ¥18.9 trillion; 4) public works, ¥5.9 trillion; 5) education, culture, science, ¥5.5 trillion; 6) defense, ¥4.8 trillion; 7) Other, ¥28 trillion.

In July 2011 Kyodo reported the government's surplus fund under its budget for the year ending in March came to 1.47 trillion yen. Together with some 545 billion yen in grants to be allocated to local governments, Japan will spend some 2 trillion yen under the envisaged second extra budget for fiscal 2011 to finance reconstruction work following the massive earthquake and tsunami in March. On expenditures in fiscal 2010, the government was left with 2.14 trillion yen unspent due mainly to reduced interest payments on its debt amid the recent trend of lower long-term interest rates. It issued a total of 42.30 trillion yen worth of new government bonds, cut by 2 trillion yen from its initial plan. [Source: Kyodo, July 2, 2011]

See Taxes

Fiscal 2012 Budget Record-high $1.2 Trillion

In April 2012, the fiscal 2012 budget was enacted by the House of Representatives totaled 90.33 trillion yen ($1.11 trillion). The budget for the year represents a fall of 2.2 percent from last year's initial budget, the first decline in six years. But effective total outlays for fiscal 2012 will reach a record-high 96 trillion yen ($1.18 trillion) if special-account spending on post-disaster projects and public pension expenses to be covered by special bonds are included. [Source: Jiji Press, April 6, 2012]

Earlier the opposition-controlled House of Councillors rejected the budget by a majority vote led by the Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito, although approval had already been given by the lower house in March. The two houses held negotiations to see whether they could reach an agreement, but talks were unsuccessful. Later, the budget was enacted at a lower house plenary session in line with the lower house's decision as stipulated by a provision in Article 60 of the Constitution. For the second consecutive year, the initial budget was passed after consultations between the two chambers.

The Diet failed to enact the budget before fiscal 2011 ended Saturday, making it necessary to compile a provisional budget for the first time in 14 years. A 3.6-trillion yen stopgap budget was enacted on Friday. With the fiscal 2012 budget out of the way, the focus now shifts to a bill to allow the government to issue deficit-covering bonds. The government and the ruling Democratic Party of Japan decided to treat the bill separately from the budget due to LDP and New Komeito opposition. As the bill is unlikely to be enacted soon, the budget will remain without full financing. The fiscal 2012 budget was enacted Thursday, in line with a constitutional provision that gives priority to the House of Representatives, which is controlled by the ruling coalition.

Government Salaries Reduced to Free Funds for Tsunami Reconstruction

In February 2012, the House of Councillors passed a bill into law to cut national government employees' salaries by an average of 7.8 percent over two years from fiscal 2012 with the government using about 580 billion yen in savings from the cuts for financing reconstruction programs in areas devastated by the Great East Japan Earthquake. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, March 1, 2012]

The bill on a special exemption law on state employees' salaries was opposed by the Japanese Communist Party and Social Democratic Party, but passed the upper house with a majority of votes from ruling and opposition parties at a plenary session Wednesday morning. The bill was sponsored by lawmakers based on an agreement among the ruling Democratic Party of Japan, the LDP and New Komeito.

The first cut will be an average of 0.23 percent of state employees' salaries, which was recommended by the National Personnel Authority. This cut, for fiscal 2011, will be carried out retrospectively to April last year. From fiscal 2012, an average 7.8 percent cut, which includes the 2011 reduction, will be rolled out over two years.

The prime minister's salary will be slashed by 30 percent, while other Cabinet members and senior vice ministers will see their wages reduced by 20 percent. Parliamentary secretaries will have a 10 percent pay cut. The reduction of salaries for Self-Defense Forces members will be deferred for up to six months due to their contributions to the reconstruction efforts and other work related to the Great East Japan Earthquake. The upper house also passed bills at the plenary session to revise laws governing the salaries of public prosecutors and judges so wage cuts can be made in this area as well.

The law's supplementary clauses include a provision that it is up to the discretion of local governments as to whether their employees will also have salary reductions. Cutting the salaries of national government employees, who include politicians in state posts, is considered a "reform in which both the government and diet members share the pain." It is meant to help win understanding from the general public for the consumption tax rate hikes Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda is aiming for.

Now that the bill to cut the salaries of national government employees has been passed, the DPJ will start full-fledged discussions on cutting salaries for lawmakers, who receive about 1.3 million yen a month, officials said. The move backs up comments made by Deputy Prime Minister Katsuya Okada, who said it would be important for Diet members to undergo salary cuts because of the financial burden on the general public when the consumption tax rate is increased. However, the DPJ discontinued discussions because Secretary General Azuma Koshiishi urged priority be placed on eliminating 80 House of Representatives seats contested under the proportional representation system. That issue has reached deadlock because many parties oppose cutting seat numbers and the council of political parties on lower house electoral reform has been unable to reach an agreement. The DPJ believes Diet members' salaries must be cut by at least 7.8 percent — the amount for national government employees stated in the bill passed Wednesday.

Japanese Government’s Murky, Complex Organization

Ian Buruma wrote in Project Syndicate: “Japanese government was always paternalistic, and the chain of command complex and vague. During the war, the emperor was omnipotent in theory, but relatively powerless in fact. But there was never a dictator, either. Decisions emerged from murky negotiations and hidden rivalries between bureaucrats, imperial courtiers, politicians, and military officials, often pushed this way or that by various domestic and foreign pressures, some of them violent.”[Source: Ian Buruma, Project Syndicate , April 2011]

“The post-war political order, though no longer belligerent, was just as murky, with bureaucrats acting as the puppeteers of underfunded and ill-informed politicians, who operated regional pork-barrel operations together with big business, which in turn worked in cahoots with the bureaucrats. So long as Japan was playing catch-up with the West, and government and industrial resources were concentrated on economic growth, the system worked quite well. Indeed, it was the envy of many Westerners, who were fed up with self-interested lobbying, pesky labor unions, and meddling politicians. Such Westerners are now often just as enamored of China's paternalistic and equally opaque and impenetrable political system.”

Women in Government in Japan

Takado Doi
Japan has the lowest level of female participation in politics of any developed country. In 2006 Japan ranked 11th among 12 industrialized nation in the proportion of women among all national assembly members, at 9.4 percent. In 2005, it ranked 10th out of 10 in the proportion of women civil servants, at 20 percent. Even the Philippines and Malaysia ranked higher than Japan.

In June 2011, The Yomiuri Shimbun reported: Japan ranks 121st among 186 countries in terms of the ratio of female legislators, according to a 2011 government white paper on gender equality. The rate in Japan, which stood at 7.3 percent in 2000, rose to 9 percent in 2005 and to 11.3 percent after the latest House of Representatives election in 2009, the report says. But the rate of 11.3 percent is far lower than 45 percent recorded in Sweden, 39.6 percent in Norway and 32.8 percent in Germany. The Japanese figure even lags behind the 21.3 percent in China, 16.8 percent in the United States and 14.7 percent in South Korea, according to the report. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, June 22, 2010]

Many countries with higher rates than Japan's adopt a quota system to allocate certain numbers or rates for female members of society. The Gender Gap Index, which rates gender equality in terms of the opportunities and resources available to women, ranked Japan 94th out of 134 countries in 2010. The white paper for 2011 sets the goal of raising the ratio of women taking leading positions in all aspects of society to at least 30 percent by 2020.

Women in Japan didn't receive the right to vote until 1945. Just 4 percent of representatives in the Diet are women. A few women have served as cabinet ministers but not many. For a long time there were no female cabinet members and no top female officials and the person in charge of women issues was a man in his 60s or 70s.

A record 54 female candidates won seats in the 2009 elections. 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.

The Japanese Parliament (Diet) has been described as a gentleman's club. In the 1990s countries with the fewest female representatives included Kuwait (0); Mauritania (0); United Arab Emirates (0); Jordan (0); South Korea (1 percent); Pakistan (1 percent); Japan (2 percent); Turkey (2 percent); Nigeria (2 percent).

Women have a bit more success in politicians than business because more women (65 percent of them) vote than men. Among the political issues that interest woman are job discrimination laws and national labor laws that identify them as the "weaker" sex.

The power of women in government is growing. In a national election in 1996, about 10 percent of the 153 candidates were women. Koizumi encouraged more women to get involved in politics. Some saw the politicians he supported, including a former Miss Tokyo University and food author, as props and window dressing for the party.

A record number of women (190) won seas in elections for prefectural assemblies in April 2007. This is up from 164 in 2003, 136 in 1999, 52 in 1987 and 28 in 1979. A total of 367 ran in 2,544 contested seats, 2007. Two women were named to the new 17-member cabinet in August 2008.

The number of Japanese women in leadership positions is small. Women only account for 10.1 percent of parent teacher association leaders; 0.9 percent of mayors and other municipality heads; 10.5 percent of local assembly members; 3.8 percent of resident association chiefs.

Women Politicians, See Doi,, Tanaka Below

Image Sources: 1) 2) 3) 4) 5) Wikipedia, 6), 7) Shugin House of Representatives site , 8) Japan Zone, 9) Ray Kinnane, local government, Aomori Prefecture . Tokyo offices,

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.

Last updated August 2016

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