In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Politics of Japan

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Textbooks
  • Journals
  • Money Politics and Corruption
  • The Prime Minister
  • The Policymaking Process
  • Interest Groups
  • Civil Society
  • Gender and Politics

Political Science Politics of Japan
Alisa Gaunder
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 August 2013
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 August 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756223-0140


The study of Japanese politics speaks to several significant questions in comparative politics. How and why did Japan modernize so successfully when so many other countries fell prey to colonialism and authoritarianism? What explains the Japanese economic miracle and its subsequent economic stagnation? What accounts for Japan’s successful democratization? How do capitalism and democracy in Japan compare to those in other countries? What incentives and constraints do Japanese institutions pose for political actors? What is the nature of state–society relationships? What is the future trajectory of Japanese politics given party alternation in 2009? Scholarship on Japanese politics addresses these questions through an exploration of the US occupation, political parties, the electoral system, elections, the prime minister, the bureaucracy, interest groups, policymaking, social welfare, and civil society. Much scholarly attention has been directed at the long dominance of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), a party democratically elected in free, fair, and competitive elections for nearly fifty uninterrupted years. Rapid economic growth occurred under LDP leadership, and many of the power dynamics of its rule became institutionalized in the so-called “1955 system.” The collapse of the Japanese bubble economy in the late 1980s followed by the passage of electoral, administrative, and economic reforms in the 1990s redirected scholars to consider the strengths and weaknesses of the 1955 system and provided a natural experiment to test the effects of reforms. Scholars challenged the dominant statist paradigm of Japanese politics and economic growth prior to these events but became even more concerned with state–society relations at the end of the century. Electoral reform in 1994 and the victory of the Democratic Party of Japan in the 2009 lower house election have sparked increased interest in political parties and elections, while Prime Minister Koizumi’s longevity in office and top-down leadership reinvigorated debates about the power dynamic in Japan. The politics of economic stagnation following the bubble economy have accentuated challenges Japan has faced for some time, including money politics and corruption, an aging and low-fertility society, and gender issues. Scholars approach all these topics from various perspectives, including rational choice, historical institutionalism, agency, feminist theory, and pluralism, to provide intriguing arguments and interpretations of past and ongoing developments in Japanese politics.

General Overviews

General overviews of Japanese politics provide surveys of Japan’s history, political institutions, and policymaking process. These overviews can be divided into three categories: historical, thematic, and pre- or post-reform assessments. Reischauer 1990 provides a historical perspective on Japan’s transition to a modern state through its maturation into an economic superpower, while Gordon 1993 uses the lens of history to examine more specific aspects of postwar Japan. Ishida and Krauss 1989 is an edited survey that assesses Japan as a democracy during the period of one-party dominance. Masumi 1995 is an English translation of a Japanese work that considers postwar politics in Japan with greater attention to the dynamics of Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) rule. Gaunder 2011 is an extensive edited volume with relatively brief chapters covering domestic politics, social policy, political economy, civil society, and international relations. Rosenbluth and Thies 2010 focuses on the dynamics of Japan’s political economy by exploring Japanese politics and economics pre- and post-electoral reform. Finally, Martin and Steel 2008 explicitly extends Ishida and Krauss 1989 by considering the same questions about democracy post-reform.

  • Gaunder, Alisa, ed. The Routledge Handbook of Japanese Politics. London: Routledge, 2011.

    This thirty-two–chapter edited volume includes essays on domestic politics, civil society, social and public policy, political economy, and international relations and security. It targets advanced undergraduates through experts with an eye to providing an advanced introduction to these topics as well as highlighting cutting-edge research.

  • Gordon, Andrew, ed. Postwar Japan as History. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993.

    This edited volume uses the lens of history to explore developments in Japan’s political economy, culture, society, and democracy. These interpretative essays address continuities and changes in Japan from 1945 to 1993. Essays on economic growth, state–society relations, and women provide interdisciplinary richness to topics of interest to political scientists.

  • Ishida, Takeshi, and Ellis S. Krauss, eds. Democracy in Japan. Pitt Series in Policy and Institutional Studies. Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1989.

    This edited volume focuses on the political, social, and economic aspects of democracy from a comparative perspective. It illustrates how Japan meets the standards of democracy while still providing a balanced account of its strengths and weaknesses.

  • Martin, Sherry L., and Gill Steel, eds. Democratic Reform in Japan: Assessing the Impact. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner, 2008.

    The editors establish standards for democracy building on Ishida and Krauss 1989, and the contributors assess Japanese political institutions at the national and local levels based on these standards. Discusses parties, elections, the bureaucracy, women, and civil society.

  • Masumi, Junnosuke. Contemporary Politics in Japan. Translated by Lonny E. Carlile. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995.

    This English translation from Japanese explores the politics of Japan’s rapid economic growth. It provides a detailed account of the major policy initiatives pursued by the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) government from 1950 to 1993. It also considers the role of the bureaucracy and interest groups, especially labor, in Japan’s growth.

  • Reischauer, Edwin O. Japan: The Story of a Nation. 4th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1990.

    Historical account of the creation of modern Japan, covering Japan’s transitions from feudal society to nation-state to military regime to postwar democracy through the 1980s. Provides significant historical context for students of political science, especially newcomers to the field.

  • Rosenbluth, Frances McCall, and Michael F. Thies. Japan Transformed: Political Change and Economic Restructuring. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2010.

    Using electoral reform in 1994 as a critical juncture, this book considers both the “old” politics and economics of the 1955 system of LDP dominance and the “new” politics and economics of post-reform Japan. It is a highly accessible text that provides a historical context for these developments.

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