Useful Notes / Japanese Political System

How Japan is run in real life. This isn't too relevant to Anime- there appears not to be a Japanese Government Procedural or even much reference to the system itself, although a Japanese version of The West Wing (or perhaps Yes, Minister, considering that the politician/bureaucrat dynamic in Japan is pretty much the same as in Britain, turned Up to Eleven) done anime style would probably be Made of Win (there actually is at least one manga - Kaji Ryuusuke no Gi (Ryuusuke Kaji's Agenda) - that deals with one young politician's journey to power, though it'll probably never be released outside Japan).

Though the government of Japan is large and powerful, and plays a substantial role in the lives of many Japanese, Japan is overall a far less political society than most western nations, and interest in things like partisan commentary and political satire is generally much lower. This is not to say such things don't exist, of course, but overall, Japanese culture is (traditionally, at least) far more deferential to authority, and thus inclined to just assume the government is doing what it should do. This partially explains why when political scandals hit Japan, they hit hard.

No longer Semi-Divine- The Emperor

The monarch of Japan is the Emperor, called in Japanese tennō ("heavenly ruler"). When discussing him in Japanese, you call him Tennō Heika (His Majesty the Emperor) or "The Reigning Emperor". The Japanese monarchy is the longest continuous hereditary monarchy in history.note  In fact, the supremacy and sacredness of the Emperor is so ingrained in the Japanese national psyche that a rebellion against the Emperor and seizing the throne was unthinkable; instead, ambitious nobles fight over the right to have their daughters marry the Emperor and gaining power that way.

Some famous eras and emperors are:
  • Jimmu (711?-585? BCE)- the legendary first Emperor of Japan as recounted in the 712 AD work known as the Kojiki. If he did exist (debatable, considering the document's ulterior motive of legitimizing the Emperor's rule), it would have been much later, as the leader of his local clan (the Yamato) rather than all of Japan, and under a different title than the Chinese-style name above. (Cf. King Arthur)
  • Meiji ("enlightened rule") era (1868 to 1912)- see the Meiji Restoration, as this and the Edo era were the start of Japan's rise to world power status.
  • Taisho ("great righteousness") era (1912 to 1926)- Not terribly important in itself, but important for bridging the Meiji and Showa eras. It was also the time of Japan's first real experiment with democracy. Ironically, universal male suffrage occurred in the last year of this era, 1926.

To this day, Japanese people are expected to know their birth year in term of what year of what Emperor's reign they were born under. Formal dates are still recorded in the "Emperor-Year" fashion, as in "Showa-36" for 1962.

Many have argued "Emperor" is probably not the best translation for Tenno. Even before the Tokugawa shogunate (basically a military rule by the highest general in the land, the shogun) began, the land was ruled more by clans and families close to the Emperor. Thus it would probably be better to think of the 'tenno' as more of a spiritual leader. European explorers likened him to the Pope and the Shogun to a King. Under the current constitution promulgated after the War, the Emperor of Japan has no power whatsoever and is merely a figurehead, equivalent to a European "constitutional monarch."

The semi-divine bit? The Emperor acts a high priest in Shinto and used to claim to be a living god/demigod by virtue of descent from Amaterasu, the sun goddess in that religion. The Emperor had to renounce the bit about being a living divinity after World War II, but Emperor Hirohito still sneakily managed to maintain the claim of descent from the divine by sacrificing to Ameterasu when the occupation authorities told him he could sacrifice "to his ancestors."

Though the Imperial Household is no longer as revered as it was during the war, the monarchy remains a somewhat taboo subject in Japan, and many Japanese people remain uncomfortable discussing it. Japan's royals are not seen as "fair game" public figures in the way the paparazzi-hounded British princes are, nor is the subject of getting rid of them altogether an idea even intellectually broached by any political figure, save perhaps the occasional Communist. As mentioned above, many Japanese people simply do not think of the Emperor as a monarch in the western sense, but rather a uniquely Japanese figure who exists only within the particular context of traditional Japanese society.

The current Emperor is Akihito and has been since 1989, but you never call him by his given name in Japanese. Each Emperor's rule is given an era title, the current one being the Heisei ("Peace Everywhere" is a good translation) era. Before that was the Shōwa era, which means "Enlightened Peace". Yeah, right, considering it covered 1926 to 1989 - this Emperor, whose reign was the longest in Japanese history, is known elsewhere by his given name, Hirohito.

Funnily enough, the majority of Japanese emperors in history ended their rule not with their death, but by resigning. However this was not for any scandalous reason. Pre-Meiji Japanese emperors were required to perform such tedious and repetitive rituals, and so many of them, that even the Japanese thought a human being shouldn't be forced to do them for long. Therefore most emperors reigned only 10 or so years before retiring in comfort, leaving the throne for their brother or son. This short duration of office meant that most of these emperors would be crowned while still very young, a few as young as 6-years-old. It was said that only a youth can withstand the endless tedium of the rituals (not to mention the fact that these boy-emperors would also be very pliable to the Shoguns). Most emperors would have abdicated and retired to a life of pleasure (or ruling from behind the scenes) by the time they hit adulthood.

Emperor Akihito is now in his 70s and his heir apparent is Naruhito, who has one child, a daughter. There was a recent political controversy in Japan as his younger brother only had two female children and Japanese law (currently, there have been eight female Emperors) only permits a man to take the Chrysanthemum Throne. A change was recommended, but when number three came along and turned out to be male, it has been shelved for the time being. The current Prime Minister, though, has called the law in question a 'national embarrassment,' and there's a non-binding resolution calling for something to be done about it.

The World's Richest Diet

The Japanese legislature, the Kokkai, is called The Diet of Japan in English. Via the fact that Japan is the second third wealthiest country in raw GDP terms and a bit of word play, we get this title. Rule of Funny means that we can ignore the fact per capita it's 22nd, behind Singapore and two other countries (Germany and Sweden) ruled by "Diets". The odd translation ("National Assembly" would work just as well) is on account of the fact that the Meiji Constitution was based on the Imperial German one, in which the name of the legislature (Reichstag) translates to "Imperial Diet."

It has two chambers:
  • House of Representatives- lower chamber. 480 members, 300 by FPTP (first-past-the-post, the candidate with the most vote wins, a 50% majority is not required), 180 via party list PR (proportional representation, the votes vote for a party, and the seat in the legislature are assigned to each party depending to the percentage of votes it got). Maximum four year terms.
  • House of Councillors- upper chamber. 242 members. 146 elected via 47 prefectures via Single Non Transferable, the others via National List PR. Six year terms.

The lower chamber is the more powerful chamber, controlling the choice of Prime Minister, while the upper chamber can only delay treaties.

The Japanese voting age- indeed the age of majority- is 20, two years higher than the US (this law does not apply to US forces based in Japan).

The Diet sets its own electoral rules and constituencies.

Political Parties

There are two big-name political parties in Japan, though only one has a great deal of clout.
  • The Liberal-Democratic Party (LDP): Actually quite conservativenote . Comparable to the British Tories and American Republicans. Places an emphasis on free market (neoliberal) capitalism and traditional social mores. Most prime ministers after World War II came from the LDP - it led the country from its foundation in 1955 (through the merger of the Liberal and Japan Democratic parties), until it lost its first election in 1993 (but ended up back in power in 1994 after the opposition coalition collapsed, forming a coalition government with their Arch-Nemesis the Socialists). For this reason, some people call Japan a "One-and-a-half Party State". The LDP lost by a spectacular landslide in 2009, but returned by another spectacular landslide in 2012.
  • The Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ): The "one-half" party that is the main opposition to the LDP. Socially progressive, economically moderate, much like the American Democrats and New Labour in the UK. Dates from 1998, when it was created from the union of four independent parties that had beefs with the LDP, plus some disgruntled defectors from the LDP (mostly reformists). Won a majority of seats in the Upper House of the Diet in 2007, ousting the Liberal Democrats from that position for the first time in pretty much ever. Won again in 2009 in a huge landslide. Since then, voters' anger over the poor economy and a perception that the DPJ (which had never really had much experience governing prior to this) wasn't handling issuesnote  has led the party's support collapsing in 2012.
  • There are a few third parties worthy of note, though none of them have the influence of the LDP or DPJ (many thanks to The Other Wiki for the info):
    • New Komeito Party: Socially conservative, economically centrist. Places a big emphasis on traditional Buddhist values, as it is heavily influenced by the Soka Gakkai offshoot of Nichiren Buddhism.
    • Japanese Communist Party: Exactly What It Says on the Tin, though they advocate democratic elections, not violent overthrow like the Soviets. Strongly anti-capitalist and anti-war.
    • Social Democratic Party: The LDP's chief rivals up until the the mid-'90s, though they've dwindled since then. Advocates for social democratic policies, similar to Britain's pre-Blair Labour Party.
    • People's New Party: Defined pretty much solely by its opposition to the LDP, with a rather vague platform. Notable for its association with the infamous ex-president of Peru and human rights abuser, Alberto Fujimori.
    • Japan Restoration Party: Far-right nationalist party that pretty much sprung up on to the national stage overnight in the last election (December 2012) to become the third-largest party in the lower house. The only nationwide party based outside Tokyo (its headquarters is in Osaka). Its two most high-profile figures Shintaro Ishihara (former Governor of Tokyo) and Toru Hashimoto (current Mayor of Osaka) have made several controversial statements both past and present regarding Japan's past (see below).

Prime Minister

The current prime minister is Shinzo Abenote  of the LDP.

Like Italy, the average term of a prime minister is about two years. From 2006 until 2012, Japan changed prime ministers every single year.note  There are a number of opinions as to what the cause of the instability was. Even though the LDP have nearly always been in power, the government has often struggled to get things done. This is partly due to the two chambers of the Diet often being in conflict with each other, and also and the "keiretsu" culture (see below) which makes it hard for the government to implement economic reforms. The media, electorate and backbenchers are generally unforgiving towards prime ministers who make mistakes or break campaign promises.

Major Japanese Political Issues

Yasukuni Shrine, "Comfort Women" and the legacy of the Second World War

There are not many places where the very act of their own country's leader visiting them causes a diplomatic protest. Yasukuni Shrine is one of them.

Dedicated to Japan's war dead, it contains a list of over 2.4 million men and women (not all Japanese) who died in the wars of the Meiji Restoration and Imperial Japan. This wouldn't be too much of a problem, except the list contains over 1,000 war criminals (not all of whom are Japanese either). 14 of the people enshrined there are Class A war criminals, including Hideki Tojo, the Japanese Prime Minister for much of the Second World War, considered responsible for the deaths of 8 million civilians.

The Yushukan, a privately-maintained war museum on the grounds of the shrine, also presents a highly controversial revisionist interpretation of Japan's role in World War II, claiming that (among other things) Japan was merely "defending Asia" against the Western powers' influence, and that since Japan hadn't signed the Geneva Conventions at the time, the war criminals were convicted illegally.

This highly annoys the two Koreas, China, Taiwan and the Japanese left. The official website is under a constant denial of service attack from China.

Junichiro Koizumi visited five times during his premiership, and Abe once, during his present premiership.

There have been calls to move the war criminals or take them off the list. The right cite Shinto religious teaching in response and little progress has been made, bar some minor museum changes.

"Comfort Women" is the euphemism for the practice during the years before and during World War II of the Japanese military kidnapping and enslaving thousands of women, forcing them to be sexual slaves to Japanese soldiers. Japan insists that it didn't happen, or just a very few bad people did this to a very few women. Specifically, Prime Minister Abe denies that this happened. Previous prime ministers have acknowledged that it did, and have apologized, but Abe isn't budging. Naturally, other nations, especially North Korea, South Korea, and China, the three nations most of these women came from, aren't very pleased with this.

This is just the tip of the iceberg regarding the Second World War. For more on the specifics of what actually went on see Imperial Japan.

Bakayaro! Keizai ga mondai de.

Since the economy is hardly the sexiest issue in the world, we'll be brief.note 

Back in The '80s, Japan's economy was the most dynamic in the world. Companies were making money, high-quality Japanese products flooded the world (and humiliated the Big Three), Japanese investors were buying up gigantic swaths of real estate in Japan and pretty much everywhere else. It was a great time for Japan; their influence was booming; every high-flying business student took Japanese (the stereotype of Japanese as the language of choice for adolescent Japanophiles didn't come until much later); the Japanese Tourist became a Stock Character; and dystopias (Blade Runner and Neuromancer are classic examples) typically presented a thoroughly Japonized future. There was serious talk about breaking away from the US and the West and Japan leading the world anew. The entire world was open for Japan. And then...

It all ended very, very badly.

The bubble burst around 1990, and thanks to incompetent management (on account of the LDP being so buddy-buddy with business), all attempts at economic rescue turned out to be too little, too late. The '90s were Japan's "Lost Decade," with unemployment hitting the roof, industrial expansion sluggish, and the government seemingly incapable of doing anything about it. Some suggested privatization of things like the Post Office (it had worked for Germany); this was fought tooth and nail by the entrenched Post Office bureaucracy. Reform of the banking system was similarly stymied.note  Koizumi managed to get some stuff going to help the country along, but by that point (2001) the country was already recovering.

The problem is, even in The Noughties the economy was still sluggish and faces even bigger problems, as Japan faces the looming approach of retirement age for a large portion of its population on top of decades of declining birthrates, meaning an ever-smaller group of people have to take care of a large elderly population. Additionally the Japanese government is dealing with a debt that makes the American one look minuscule in comparison in order to pay for social services along with taxes that can't pay back the costs. Combine this with an increasingly disenfranchised youth generation whose ennui is fed partially by a feeling that they can't get ahead in life due to the mistakes of their progenitors and that there's no real hope for themselves or others, and you have not only continued economic stagnation but a recipe for an economic apocalypse of a kind not seen since the Great Depression.

Others however posit that the mere fact that Japan hasn't imploded yet, despite having had many potential opportunities to in the past decade alone, suggest that the country may actually be running on its own pace and not exactly along conventional socio-economic thinking. Those who subscribe to this view tend to see the aforementioned debt as an asset and that the country is a preview of what a developed country would be like in a "low/zero-growth" system, which some see as preferable. Likewise, the disenfranchised youth are seen as symptomatic of a population decline that at least some Japanese deem necessary (as discussed below).

If we are going to survive as a nation, we need to start making babies!

There's also one issue that doesn't get discussed much... in public. In private it induces attacks of stark, apoplectic terror in politicians, business leaders, and anyone interested in seeing Japan continue as anything like a world power. Simply put, the Japanese seem to have forgotten how to make babies.

Ever since the post-World War II baby boom, the birthrate in Japan has fallen like a stone. It now hovers at around 7 per 1000 - the lowest birthrate of a full nation in the entire world. Meanwhile, the death rate has steadily crept up as those baby boomers age and die - several years ago, the death rate officially outnumbered the birth rate, and Japan's population began to contract. As the Japanese allow very, very few people to immigrate permanently, this essentially means that birth is the only way they have of growing or even sustaining their population - and that isn't happening.

The causes are widely debated - independent women not wanting the burden of a family, Japanese men being overworked and not very attractive mates, social pressures to not have many children, some combination thereof, something else, note  there's no obvious answer. But the result is clear: deaths outnumber births, and even with a larger overall population compared to several decades ago, there are fewer and fewer children in Japan. The current median age of the Japanese population is *45*.

Relevant to TV Tropes, this answers a question or two a reader may have had - "Hey, why do so many entertainment companies in Japan these days focus so much on "kiddie" entertainment that works for adults, too? Or why is so much anime made for otaku in the style of the cartoons they used to like, when a fair amount of anime was made for kids back then?" Well, the answer is simple: there are practically more otaku than kids nowadays. Anime has taken different bents in the past decade or so because the kids who grew up have a lot more buying power, and because the number of new kids to sell products to has been going down constantly. Many companies are abandoning children's programming altogether or "diversifying" their products (see: Nintendo's "for everyone" approach with the DS and Wii) simply because the money isn't there in the kid market anymore, and it doesn't look like it will be there any time soon. This isn't to say that everyone has abandoned the market - Shonen Jump and whatnot still exist, after all - but the kids market is getting ever-smaller and the entertainment products of Japan have been changing to reflect that. (And even SJ, for example, has seen a readership decline over the past two decades simply due to, well, a lack of available shonen.)

This obviously has reach far beyond just entertainment, however - Japan is littered with closed elementary schools that were shuttered simply because there weren't enough pupils to justify keeping the school open. It's become harder and harder to run places like a dedicated "baby supply" store, as well, since so few people need such supplies. The effects of constantly declining birthrate are felt in every part of Japanese life.

This isn't necessarily treated as absolute doom-and-gloom - Japan is already a famously crowded country, and many people are of the opinion that an overall population reduction would have many beneficial effects - but the immediate consequences are potentially quite dire and often drive debate despite the fact that the actual topic doesn't come up much. The whole thing is seen as deeply embarrassing and generally not something a public figure should talk about - which simply makes it harder to deal with the core problem and at least stabilize the birthrate. This is probably going to come to a head in coming years, however, as more and more baby boomers retire and/or die, and the nation is forced to confront its lack of children.

This is also why there's so many stories about using robots as caregivers coming out of Japan - the number of people in need of caregivers will soon far outnumber the willing providers. Unfortunately, perhaps since they have Astro Boy rather than Rosie the Robot in mind, many tend to run into Uncanny Valley issues.

Hai, Daijin-kakka

You can't mention Japanese politics without mentioning the Japanese Civil Service. Details (again) would be indescribably boring, but let's just say this: the LDP, bureaucracy, and the Japanese Mega Corps called keiretsunote  were very tight. As a result, the Japanese civil service—being both public-sector and permanent—got its hands on a great deal of power. How much power, you ask? Well, think of how much power Yes, Minister claimed the British Civil Service had, then double it. That is how powerful the Japanese Civil Service actually is. As a result, the previous DPJ government tried to put the bureaucrats in their place. It's debatable as to whether they were more successful than Jim Hacker.

Meanwhile, the current overall power in Japan is also an issue. In America, for instance, most of the actual power is in Congress. Japan, on the other hand, has something referred to as the "Iron Triangle", which is apparently hollow. The triangle represents the three great powers in Japan (Business, the Diet, and the Civil Service) which have to work against each other to get anything done. The politicians want good press and re-election; the businesses want subsidies, breaks, and general government goodies; and the bureaucrats want, well, more bureaucracy (those sick bastards). It is called "hollow" because the three-way struggle leaves a situation where no one can be held accountable for almost anything. Any attempt at pinning anyone down for something will result in an endless game of finger pointing.

Then pile onto that the fact that even though it's a democracy, most of the citizens are voting blind. In Japan there is no freedom of information or "right to know". The government decides what the people NEED to know, and (this might come as a shock) so far the consensus is that the public probably knows too much as it is.