- Popular Democracy in Japan: How Gender and Community Are Changing Modern Electoral Politics
Sherry Martin’s book sets out to explain a paradox: how is it that people who have long expressed anger, distrust, and estrangement from politics still think participation is worthwhile? And why in particular would Japanese women—who are typically unaffiliated with any political party, underrepresented in legislatures, and badly paid in the labor market—feel enough attachment to and interest in politics to turn out in greater numbers than men to vote? Martin’s explanation takes us through recent electoral reforms and changes in political leadership at the national level, results of the 2000 Japanese Election and Democracy Survey (JEDS), findings from focus groups she conducted in 2001, a discussion of trends in local politics and elections, and a brief consideration of lifelong learning programs facilitated by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology. [End Page 464]
Martin generates several interesting insights about voter discontent from her analysis of the composite responses to open-ended questions in the JEDS: voters want political leaders to be less parochial, to think in big-picture terms about the public good rather than focusing so narrowly on self-advancement and acquiring public works projects for their districts. They see politicians as old and as reinforcing norms of seniority that give power to those who have served the longest, thus shutting bright, young leaders out of the action. They worry about widening class disparities and increased decentralization, which puts more of the responsibility for providing social welfare on local governments instead of the national government at the very moment when the aging population is making this more burdensome. They fear that linkage structures have broken down, making them feel more distant from national politics and less able to voice their interests, and they feel more attached to local than national politics. They hanker for a new style of politics that is more responsive to the voices of ordinary citizens. Noting that the problems and disaffection identified by the JEDS respondents are being voiced more broadly, Martin then moves her argument along three different trajectories, discussing national elections and politics, local and prefectural elections, and participation in communities of practice as a way women especially are learning to be active citizens.
Martin offers a pithy analysis of Japanese electoral behavior and political leadership since 1993, when the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) lost its absolute majority in the Diet and was forced to form coalition governments. She notes that many Japanese express a desire for direct election of prime ministers and like the idea of a more “presidential” form of independent, strong leadership, in part because so many prime ministers have been short-lived and unpopular. Koizumi Jun’ichirō, the most successful prime minister since 1993, ran against the old-line traditional LDP, representing a new maverick approach. He communicated well with the public, using “wide shows” to appeal to largely female audiences and language that people could easily understand. Koizumi often went over the heads of political opponents to appeal directly to the public to support his positions (what Samuel Kernell calls “going public,” a leadership style common in the United States1). Martin also describes the more typical pattern where prime ministers start with tepid approval ratings which then fall precipitously, making them ineffective leaders who are unable to enact their campaign promises, and she offers insight into the reasons why the first Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) prime minister, Hatoyama Yukio, fell from grace in 2010. She views the strong surge of support for the DPJ in the 2009 House of Representatives election as an example of the power of political mobilization [End Page 465] by ordinary citizens who are skeptical of traditional elite parties and politics as usual but who are willing to back outsiders and mavericks and are willing to organize at the grass-roots level to support a vision of political leadership that is more open and populist.
To help us understand Koizumi’s...