- Japanese Electoral Politics: Creating a New Party System
Steve Reed has a well-deserved reputation for insight and clarity in his writing on Japanese elections, and his most recent work, an edited volume on Japanese elections of the last decade, lives up to these expectations of quality scholarship and an accessible writing style. The book is an excellent resource for those trying to sort out the political upheavals that convulsed Japan in the 1990s, but the book shares a flaw with much of the other work on Japanese elections (including my own) in that the questions addressed in the book are of limited interest to a more general audience. Reed's work is the academic equivalent of a work horse in contrast to a racing thoroughbred. Few readers will be captivated or changed by the message of the book, but many readers will find the book to be a useful reference in understanding recent elections and party politics in Japan.
Reed begins his work with a straightforward introduction and justification for the volume. In addition to the important academic question of understanding the effects of electoral system changes in Japan, he hopes this book will be the first in a series that will regularly cover subsequent Japanese elections. He also correctly identifies a bias in much of the English-language scholarship on Japan that focuses on Japan's economy and pays little attention to Japan's political parties or elections. Reed hopes his book will help to fill this lacuna in our studies of Japan. He assembles an impressive array of the best graduate students studying Japanese politics to write chapters for the book, and unlike the contributions in many edited volumes, these chapters have a strong unity and coherence. This coherence is helped by the fact that [End Page 569] Reed himself writes 60 per cent of the book, with the other four authors writing chapters that illustrate themes Reed develops elsewhere in the book. Ethan Scheiner applies these themes to his analysis of politics in Nagano Prefecture; Karen Cox analyzes Hyogo; Hulda Sveinsdottir and Robert Weiner look at Ibaraki and Kagoshima Prefectures respectively. Though the book is an edited volume, it reads much more like a single-author book.
A great strength of the work is Reed's commitment to uncovering knowledge and his willingness to follow any explanation if it seems to be correct. His approach is in direct contrast to other, more stifling approaches to the analysis of politics that seem to dictate a particular outcome in advance of the actual research. For example, decades of Japanese-language research on politics in Japan has produced a body of scholarship that essentially explains Japanese politics as the outcomes of machinations and intrigues of various well-connected politicians. This approach, however, is ultimately unsatisfying as it does not lend itself easily to prediction and an understanding of politics separated from the idiosyncrasies of specific politicians. At the other end of this spectrum are the various journal articles published on Japanese politics, especially electoral politics, that follow a rational choice perspective, leaving out any room for seeming irrational behavior or the effects of a particularly adept or inept political leader. Reed eschews both extremes and presents the arguments that are the most persuasive, rather than serving some higher authority of predetermined notions of what the best arguments should be. Thus, his book is a refreshing mix of explanations of political intrigue, statistical analyses of election results, and explication of incentives of both groups and individuals with reliance on any one type of explanation being determined only by the accuracy and predictive power of that explanation. I found Reed's book satisfying and refreshing in this regard. Reed is passionate about accurately presenting what happened in Japan and why it occurred, and his arguments are relatively free of the baggage and jargon that so often accompany other explanations that are more subservient to a particular perspective on how politics should be studied.
The most significant flaw of Reed's work is his...