Edited by Brian Bridges and Lok Sang Ho
Chapter 5: Japan: Political Longevity and Troubled Governance
Brian Bridges Japan has become in many ways a paradox. One of the world’s most important economic powers, Japan has frequently been a ‘hesitant superpower’ in terms of being a force in global political and security affairs. It has a vibrant and pluralistic political party system, yet for most of the past five decades it has been dominated by one political party, the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). Geographically and culturally in Asia, its post-war history has made it economically and politically part of the ‘West’; at times it finds it difficult to shake off this dichotomy. Home to concepts of business management and logistical production widely admired globally, Japan nonetheless seems curiously inefficient and resistant to change at times. Despite starting from a justifiable claim to be the first democracy in East Asia, with democratic reforms dating back to the Meiji era, Japan has been subject to critical comment as not living up to ‘Western’ democratic standards in practice. After more than two centuries of relative seclusion, Japan found itself in the mid-nineteenth century forced to open up to Western pressure, but unlike China, which proved weak and unable to resist being ‘carved up’ by the Western powers, Japan determined to avoid the same fate by learning from the West. The new Japanese leaders who took power after the Meiji Restoration of 1868 assiduously travelled the world, bringing back ideas, technology and institutional practices. Within a few decades rapid social and economic transformation had catapulted Japan into a modern nation-state...