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Growing Democracy in Japan

The Parliamentary Cabinet System since 1868

Brian Woodall

Publication Year: 2014

The world's third largest economy and a stable democracy, Japan remains a significant world power; but its economy has become stagnant, and its responses to the earthquake and tsunami of March 11, 2011 and the nuclear crisis that followed have raised international concerns. Despite being constitutionally modeled on Great Britain's "Westminster"-style parliamentary democracy, Japan has failed to fully institute a cabinet-style government, and its executive branch is not empowered to successfully respond to the myriad challenges confronted by an advanced postindustrial society.

In Growing Democracy in Japan, Brian Woodall compares the Japanese cabinet system to its counterparts in other capitalist parliamentary democracies, particularly in Great Britain. Woodall demonstrates how the nation's long history of dominant bureaucracies has led to weakness at the top levels of government, while mid-level officials exercise much greater power than in the British system. The post--1947 cabinet system, begun under the Allied occupation, was fashioned from imposed and indigenous institutions which coexisted uneasily. Woodall explains how an activist economic bureaucracy, self-governing "policy tribes" (zoku) composed of members of parliament, and the uncertainties of coalition governments have prevented the cabinet from assuming its prescribed role as primary executive body.

Woodall's meticulous examination of the Japanese case offers lessons for reformers as well as for those working to establish democratic institutions in places such as Iraq, Afghanistan, China, and the new regimes born during the Arab Spring. At the very least, he argues, Japan's struggles with this fundamental component of parliamentary governance should serve as a cautionary tale for those who believe that growing democracy is easy.

Published by: The University Press of Kentucky

Series: Asia in the New Millennium

Front cover

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Title Page, Copyright Page, Dedication

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Abbreviations and Japanese Terms

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pp. ix-x

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Note on Conventions

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pp. xi-xii

Throughout the text, Japanese personal names are given in the common Japanese manner, with the surname followed by the given name. The main exception to this rule is made in the case of Japanese writers whose works are well known to Western readers. The names of cabinets (for example, the...

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pp. 1-30

On the afternoon of March 11, 2011, an apprehensive nation looked to Prime Minister Kan Naoto and his cabinet for leadership and reassurance in the aftermath of a series of cascading disasters. Unleashed by the most powerful temblor ever to hit the quake-prone country, the catastrophe...

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1. The Anti-Westminsterian Roots of Japan's Parliamentary Cabinet System, 1868-1946

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pp. 31-82

The modern cabinet system that was established in 1885 did not materialize out of thin air. In fact, it inherited organizational structures, institutions, and experienced administrators from the “Grand Council,” an administrative system that was originally imported from China during the eighth...

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2.Comprador Cabinets and Democracy by the Sword, 1946-1955

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pp. 83-114

When the Shidehara cabinet resigned on May 22, 1946, it was expected that Hatoyama Ichirō, leader of the largest party in the House of Representatives, would become prime minister. But as Hatoyama was preparing to make his way to the Imperial Palace to receive his appointment, word...

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3. Corporatist Cabinets and the Emergence of the "1955 System," 1955-1972

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pp. 115-142

On November 15, 1955, the Liberal Democratic Party (Jiyūminshutō, or LDP) was born in a ceremony held on a university campus in Tokyo. Speeches were made, “banzais” were shouted under raised arms, and Ogata Taketora, Hatoyama Ichirō, Ōno Banboku, and Miki Bukichi emerged as...

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4. Confederate Cabinets and the Demise of the "1955 System," 1972-1993

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pp. 143-166

On July 7, 1972, at fifty-four years of age, Tanaka Kakuei became the youngest prime minister in the postwar era. His rise from humble origins to the pinnacle of the political executive conjured up images of a latterday Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1537–1598), the peasant-turned-warlord who...

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5. Disjoined Cabinets--Act I

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pp. 167-188

After enduring a seemingly interminable period of economic malaise, Japanese voters had all but lost hope that their democratically elected leaders could lead the country out of what came to be known as the “lost decade.” Then, after a succession of faction bosses from the perpetually ruling Liberal...

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6. Disjoined Cabinets--Act II

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pp. 189-210

On December 26, 2012, Abe Shinzō became the first former premier to return to form a government since Yoshida Shigeru had done so sixtyfour years earlier. Known as the “prince of the political realm” (seikai no purinsu) because both his father and grandfather had been royalty in parliamentary...

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pp. 211-222

Why has cabinet government failed to develop in Japan? The failure is puzzling because the 1947 Constitution established Westminster-style parliamentary institutions, and more surprising given the fact that the seedlings of parliamentary democracy began to sprout under the anti-Westminsterian...

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pp. 223-224

Epiphanies can strike in the unlikeliest of places. The epiphany that led to this book occurred on a Scandinavian cruise ship flying the Bahamian flag as it sailed the inside passage en route to Alaska. It occurred during a casual chat with a Japanese friend about the effects of the 2001 government...

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Appendix A: Japanese Cabinets and Cabinet Ministers Database

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pp. 225-226

The Japanese Cabinets and Cabinet Ministers (JCCM) Database contains a wide range of data pertaining to the 141 cabinets formations, 1,350 individuals appointed to ministerial posts, and 3,612 portfolios allocated between July 1871 and May 2013. In delineating cabinet formations and dissolutions...

Appendix B: Ministers’ Parliamentary and Social Attributes

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pp. 227-230

Appendix C: Ministerial Hierarchy

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pp. 231-234


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pp. 235-244

Selected References

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pp. 245-268


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pp. 269-284

Series Page

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E-ISBN-13: 9780813145020
E-ISBN-10: 0813145023
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813145013

Page Count: 290
Publication Year: 2014

Series Title: Asia in the New Millennium