The Political System Of Japan
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The Political System Of Japan

September 24, 2019


Hello everybody. This is the Japan with Enark YouTube Channel, politics section. Japan is often described as a constitutional or parliamentary monarchy like the UK. But is this accurate? It has a monarch, the Tennō, a title that is generally translated as “emperor” in English. For the sake of the general public, although not really welcome in the field of Japanese studies, I’m using this translation in my videos as well. From 1889 to 1947, when the Constitution of the Empire of Japan was in place, Japan was truly a constitutional monarchy, in which the emperor had political power, and was clearly appointed as the head of state, as you can see here in this quote of article 4. By the way, you may notice, that I’m providing a loose translation by myself, although such documents like constitutions of major countries have official English translations. Well, in a scientific piece of work like research articles, I off course work with official translations, but I think, in the context of the videos on this channel, a loose translation is sufficient, if I also provide the original Japanese source, which I’m doing here. The current Constitution of the State of Japan deals with the role of the emperor in its first eight articles. He isn’t clearly appointed as head of state any longer, but as the symbol of the state and the unity of the people instead. Since the current constitution doesn’t appoint any other entity as head of state, Japan legally has no head of state, but the emperor is still the de facto head of state, since he still fulfills certain tasks, like officially appointing and dismissing the prime minister, or meeting with representatives of other countries, or representing Japan on official visits to other nations. In this regard, Japan can be seen as a constitutional monarchy. However, the emperor has currently no political power, is according to article 4 of the current constitution even banned from making any direct political statements, and his position depends on the will of the people, as laid out in article 1. There may be controversy on how to interpret this sentence, but I think, that the people of Japan are constitutionally allowed to kind of impeach the emperor, if an absolute majority wishes to do so. Although there is no law I’m aware of, that would rule such an incident. But regarding this short clause right in article 1 of the constitution, Japan seems more like a parliamentary republic. Let’s take a look at that parliament. The parliament, called kokkai in Japanese and “national diet” in English, is bicameral. The lower house is called shūgiin, which translates into “house of representatives” in English. It currently has 475 members split into eight parliamentary groups. The shūgiin election is regularly held every four years, but since most postwar prime ministers had enough influence to let the members of shūgiin dissolve the house, including incumbent Abe Shinzō, shūgiin elections occur much more frequently than every four years. I’m going to explain the election system itself in another video. After election, the shūgiin elects the prime minister, who as highest cabinet member leads the cabinet, and is the politically most powerful person during his or her term. The upper house is called sangiin, which translates into “house of councillors” in English. It’s currently made up of 242 members split into nine parliamentary groups. Half of the sangiin is elected every three years, that means that one regular term of a councillor is six years. Unlike the shūgiin, the sangiin generally never dissolves itself, which means, that a once elected councillor stays in the house at least six years. The election system of the sangiin will also be a topic of another video, where I’m going to explain the Japanese voting system in detail. Both houses of the national diet form the legislature of Japan. They discuss and approve the national budget of each year from April to March, discuss bills and vote them into law. Beneath both houses, there are several standing committees, that are specialized on certain fields of governance, like finance or education. Those committees do much of the actual debate, before bills are passed forward to the plenum for decision. If both houses, first the shūgiin and then the sangiin, approve a bill with an absolute majority, it becomes a law. If the shūgiin approves and the sangiin rejects a bill, the shūgiin can overrule the rejection of the sangiin with a two-thirds majority. So, the shūgiin, although called the “lower house” for historical reasons, is more powerful than the sangiin. Now on to the cabinet. It’s called naikaku in Japanese, and the highest authority of the executive branch. It’s led by the prime minister, or naikaku sōri daijin in Japanese. The cabinet is currently composed of 24 members, from whom 17 have a rank of minister, which means daijin in Japanese. It’s the government of Japan. The prime minister is elected by the shūgiin and appoints the other members of his cabinet. However, at least half of the other cabinet members have to be approved by the shūgiin. As the politically most powerful person, the prime minister is in charge of the policy of Japan and also determines the relationships with other countries. He represents Japan at international summits, like G7 or G20. His ministers are leading different ministries, like the “Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications”, the “Ministry of Foreign Affairs”, the “Ministry of Justice”, the “Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology” – wow, that was a mouthful –, or the “Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry”. After a bill has been passed by the diet, the minister in charge and the prime minister have to sign it into law. They have to sign it. They have to. Even the prime minister has no veto power, nor does the emperor, who is absolutely banned from interfering in any political process anyway. If a law is thought to be unconstitutional, it’s up to the judiciary to decide it. To summarize: Yes, Japan has got an emperor, but he’s driven out from any political power under the current postwar constitution, and isn’t even appointed as head of state. The two decisive entities in the political system of Japan are the diet and the cabinet. The diet is the bicameral parliament of the country and the top entity of the legislative branch. Its decisions turn into laws. But since it’s bicameral, the two houses can block each-other, if the opposition has the majority in one of the two houses. Since the lower house elects the prime minister, it’s more likely the upper house, where you can find the opposition in the majority. The cabinet comprises of the prime minister and his other ministers, who form the government of Japan, and thus the top of the executive branch. Japan might technically still be a constitutional monarchy, but it functions much more like a parliamentary republic, given that the emperor is strictly banned from politics of all kind, and that the prime minister also fulfills tasks, a monarch or president would do otherwise, like signing bills that passed the diet into laws. Thank you for watching, and if you like my videos, please subscribe.

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  1. Where is the detailed video about the political system? You mentioned it in your video. I can't find it in your youtube page.

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