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31 1 The Anti-Westminsterian Roots of Japan’s Parliamentary Cabinet System, 1868–1946 The cabinet, in a word, is a board of control chosen by the legislature, out of persons it trusts and knows, to rule the nation. —Walter Bagehot, The English Constitution ([1867] 1925), 14 In England a party cabinet is headed by the leader of the party commanding the majority in the House of Commons; but not so under the imperial constitution of Japan. To insist on such a principle is to encroach on the sovereign power of the emperor. —Prime Minister Terauchi Masatake, quoted in T. Iyenaga, “Parties and the Cabinet System in Japan” (1917), 382 Inhospitable Roots 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 century and was resurrected as part of the Meiji Restoration, an institutional reconfiguration initiated in 1868. The Chinese characters that combine to form the Japanese term for “cabinet”—nai and kaku—translate to mean “inner palace.”1 From 1868 until 1898, Japan’s central state executive was dominated by a cabal composed of leaders from Satsuma and Chōshū, two feudal domains that played the protagonist’s role in bringing about the Restoration. When a schism in the Meiji government gave impetus to 32   Growing Democracy in Japan a “freedom and popular rights movement,” the Sat-Chō cabal responded by granting a constitution that vested sovereignty in a divine-right monarch and erected steep barriers to prevent popularly elected representatives from having meaningful influence on national policy. Although the Sat-Chō cabal went to great lengths to control all of the major executive organs, including the military branches, the “people’s parties” and elected members of Parliament managed to claw their way into the inner sanctum of policy-making. So it was that the era of “cabal cabinets” gave way to a brief period in which “party cabinets” wielded influence. When party government became synonymous with political corruption and pusillanimous diplomacy, technocratic government bureaucrats and military officers joined forces with the leaders of fascist-inspired groups in establishing a “new structure” of domestic institutions and a “new order” in East Asia. This ushered in an era of “techno-fascist cabinets.” Japan’s current parliamentary cabinet system inherited important legacies from the authoritarian prewar order. In fact, the organizational genealogy of many of today’s cabinet-related agencies can be traced to organs established in prewar times. Just as prewar cabinets never played more than a subordinate executive role, postwar cabinets have not played the expected role of imparting strategic direction to government policy. For instance, the decision made by American occupation authorities to indirectly govern a defeated Japan through the existing civil bureaucracy perpetuated a state of affairs in which the primary purpose of cabinet meetings was to ratify decisions made by elite career civil servants. Likewise, the absence of a robust collective solidarity norm that undermines contemporary cabinets is the offspring of a system in which prewar ministers were individually responsible to a divine-right sovereign and were in no way responsible to Parliament. Then there is the human bridge embodied in the twenty-six prewar cabinet ministers—including five prime ministers—who held portfolios in postwar cabinets.2 To understand these legacies, it is necessary to examine the historical process through which an anti-Westminsterian prewar cabinet system evolved. The Meiji Restoration On July 8, 1853, Commodore Matthew C. Perry led a squadron of “black ships” (kurobune)—so known because two of the four American vessels were smoke-belching steam frigates—into Edo Bay. He brushed off The Anti-Westminsterian Roots of Japan’s Parliamentary Cabinet  33 attempts to get him to make his appeal at Deshima in faraway Kyūshū, as was required of foreign emissaries. Instead, Perry demanded to present a letter from President Millard Fillmore to the Japanese emperor proposing to open bilateral trade. Perry’s request was denied, and he departed peacefully and vowed to return the following year. Despite the small size of Perry’s squadron, Japanese officials recognized that it packed sufficient firepower to outgun Edo’s meager shore defenses (Ravina 2004, 55). This created a quandary for Japan’s supreme political leader, the shōgun, who ruled the country from Edo Castle. In fact, well before Perry’s uninvited visit, nationalist thinkers had begun questioning the legitimacy...


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