Prospects for Democracy in Japan

By David Wurfel. In University of Missouri Business and Government Review VII: 2 (March-April 1966)

In February 1961, the Shimanaka Incident, perhaps not so widely reported in the U.S., shocked Japanese intellectuals. The house of the editor of Chuo Koron, one of Japan’s leading journals, was attacked by rightists because that magazine had published a fiction item which they considered disrespectful to the Emperor. For a time, many intellectuals were frightened into silence.

Perhaps more widely reported in this country was the coup d’etat plot discovered in the fall of 1962, causing people to reminisce about the February 1936 attempt. But this one was a pitiful farce, so inadequate were the preparations, given the efficiency and strength of the Japanese police. In July 1963, rightists were successful in burning the home of Ichiro Kono, then Minister of Construction and Liberal-Democratic Party faction leader.

Japanese democracy is not as strong as is suggested by the optimists, nor as fragile as is contended by the pessimists. But whatever its prospects Americans have good reason to be interested, for it is at once a product of American policy and a major element determining the future effectiveness of that policy in Asia. It could also be undermined by serious errors in U.S. diplomacy.

There have been several incidents in recent years which might well cause both Japanese and Americans concern about the future of democracy in Japan. Most familiar are the demonstrations and riots of May and June 1960 following passage of the Japan-U.S. Security Pact by the Japanese Diet. This finally led to the cancellation of President Eisenhower’s visit. It also revealed a shocking disregard by both ruling and opposition parties for the parliamentary process.

In the fall of 1960, an even more spectacular and disconcerting event occurred before the TV cameras — the assassination of Socialist Party leader Asanuma by a rightist fanatic. This assassination, the first since the 1930’s, focused attention on the extreme right, a clearly anti-democratic force.

We should hasten to add that, despite all this publicity for rightist fanaticism, and its obvious nuisance value, the extreme right in Japan today is not a powerful force. Says I. I. Morris, “It suffers from numerous fundamental weaknesses which prevent it from … expanding its influence.”1 Still these events clearly require a careful qualification of any great optimism about the prospects of democracy in Japan. We need to delve into recent Japanese history for a fuller explanation.


Japanese social, economic and political change has been the most rapid in Asia. Though there was no significant western impact in Japan until the 1850’s, later than for most of the rest of Asia, today Japan is Asia’s most modern industrialized nation. It is the world’s third largest steel producer, while being first in shipbuilding, and fourth in automobiles.

But modernization, of either the economic or political system, is not equivalent to democratization. Despite some democratic experimentation during the Meiji Era, and a period of flowering shortly after the First World War, the military tradition and the close cooperation between big business, political leadership, and entrenched bureaucracy remained dominant. Entrepreneurs as a political force did not, as in the West, demand greater freedom for the individual.2 Thus, the political role of small farmers and workers, and of intellectuals, was sharply restricted and freedom of expression severely limited.

The world-wide depression of the 1930’s brought economic crisis to Japan. This did not cause big business to become an active apostle of foreign aggression — as the Marxist explanation goes — but economic frustration did stimulate the growth of military fascism, which pushed for expansion overseas. The simultaneous restriction of Japanese export markets caused big business to acquiesce in these military adventures. As we now know, however, military success in the 1930’s eventually led to disaster in 1945.

Thus Japan, which today is sometimes suggested as a model for economic and political development in non-Communist Asia, was in 1945 the prime example of the pattern which Asian nations should avoid. It is, in fact, really questionable to what extent the Japanese pattern can be held up as a model, for one of the strongest stimuli to democratic growth in the postwar period came from U.S. military occupation, which is certainly not appropriate for repetition.


Japan, in fact, might be thought of as the most successful postwar example of U.S. tutelage for democracy overseas, despite the obvious contradiction of a military regime as an agent of democracy. Beginning under U.S. guidance, the first postwar decade in Japan was a major social and political revolution, second only to the Chinese Communist revolution for its pace and the magnitude of change. The American Occupation, the major factor in bringing about this change, had attempted to demilitarize and democratize Japan. More than 12 years after the end of that Occupation, how should Japanese democracy be evaluated?

Democracy will be here defined as a political system-not simply an ideology in which decision making is widely shared and is limited by law, in which the rights of individuals and groups freely to associate and express themselves are respected, and in which the state does not define ultimate good.

Certainly the problem of democracy is more than political; it is also social, economic and ideological. Thus the Occupation, after disarming the defeated enemy, set out to: eliminate from the political scene anti-democratic individuals and groups establish a constitutional and legal framework in which democracy could prosper stimulate the formation and strengthening of groups which would protect these new institutions and provide political competition for the traditionally established interests support economic recovery and growth foster the growth of values conducive to democratic practices.

Demilitarization was quickly accomplished, and was then confirmed by Article IX of the new Constitution:

The Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as a means of settling international disputes … Land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained.

However, after the Korean War the Occupation actually promoted the re-establishment of armed forces, despite the Constitution. A National Police Reserve of 75,000 men was established. The size and prestige of the armed forces in Japan has gradually grown since 1950 until there are now more than 220,000 men in the Self-Defense Forces — about 80 per cent of these in the Ground Self-Defense Force, a euphemism for “Army.”

Though anti-military sentiment has been strong enough to prevent conscription, this is not pure pacifism; 64 per cent of persons polled in 1957 believed it was necessary for Japan to have a military force.3 It is significant, however, that only 31 per cent in the same poll wanted an expansion of existing forces. Expansion has been slight since 1957, nor is conscription likely in the foreseeable future.

The “purge”

The military were eliminated from politics by the “purge” in 1947: 167,035 military officers and veterans were prohibited from engaging in any political activity.4 And even after the end of the Occupation, very few have made a political comeback. Military officers on active duty are excluded from the cabinet by the Constitution. Any efforts by the military to re-establish ties with the Imperial institution are closely watched by the Imperial household Agency. The fact that the present Emperor is now widely known to hold pacifist views helps to make his utilization by the military practically impossible.

Other groups considered anti-democratic were wartime politicians, landlords, and zaibatsu, or financial cliques. Wartime politicians, not all of whom had actually supported the war effort with enthusiasm, were eliminated by the 1947 purge; 434 out of 466 members of the 1945 Diet were banned from office. Many later returned to prominence, for instance, former Prime Ministers Hatoyama and Kishi. Only time is truly efficient. Today death and retirement have eliminated all but a few of the prewar or wartime politicians from the political elite.

Landlords, who often served as local bosses for the conservative parties, controlled votes through their status and economic power in the village. They were eliminated economically, and to a large extent politically, by the land reform. But this did not produce a countryside which was very much less conservative. In the early postwar years, before land reform was implemented, tenants’ unions were a powerful political force in rural areas, but land reform transformed these tenants into conservative owner-peasants who are still the firmest political base for the ruling party.5

Monopoly control of industry had facilitated its cooperation with the military. The zaibatsu were broken up, on paper, by stringent anti-trust laws as a part of the Occupation reforms. But recombination quickly took place by many ingenious subterfuges, and with tacit American approval from 1948. American policy makers had become more concerned with economic recovery than with democratization, and it became apparent that a shake-up of the ownership structure would reduce productivity. In the last few years, recombination has been formalized by many corporate mergers. Thus big business today has a dominant influence over the governing party, at least as great a political role as it had 40 years ago. But the political competition it does face is now from labor and intellectuals, not from the military.

The bureaucracy, little affected by the purge — only 2-3 per cent of those purged were bureaucrats — has remained strong. The Occupation was forced to rely heavily on this very bureaucracy to carry out its reforms. The bureaucracy’s relative position may even have been strengthened in the postwar period, with the decline of the military and the political old guard. Unfortunately, the bureaucracy is not a group with a very strong democratic orientation.

The Constitution of 1947, replacing the Meiji Constitution promulgated by the Emperor in 1889, was written by MacArthur’s staff and then translated into Japanese, a procedure which now strengthens the hand of those who criticize it and call for its revision. The new Constitution set up a British-style parliamentary system in which the Emperor has been demoted from demigod to “symbol of the state.” Opinion polls reveal that this status is approved by more than three fourths of the Japanese people. The Constitution also provides elaborate protection for civil liberties, even for some not found in the U.S. Constitution, such as academic freedom (Article 23).

The principle of local autonomy has been written into the Constitution, as well as being implemented by law. But in this area there has been much backsliding. For instance, both police and educational administration, once decentralized and partly controlled by local governments, has been centralized again. Nor have local governments been given an adequate tax base.


Changing attitudes and ideology is always the most difficult aspect of political tutelage, and especially so for a foreign military occupation. Occupation reforms designed to affect values were attempted mainly through the educational system, particularly through revision of curriculum, such as elimination of “moral education” and nationalistic treatment of history. Basic values were also influenced by remolding the family system through a revision of the civil code strengthening the position before the law of women and children vis-a-vis fathers, for example.

Democratic values assume a religious or philosophical base which stresses the worth of the individual. Democratic political principles without this base are vulnerable. And in Japan there is little basis for democracy in traditional thought which, on the contrary, places great emphasis on maintenance of group cohesion.

The late Tadao Yanaibara, former President of Tokyo University, answered “no” when asked by Swiss theologian Emil Brunner, then professor at International Christian University in Tokyo, whether there were any signs of democracy in Japanese tradition. Said Yanaibara:

Democracy is an ideology entirely alien to Japanese history. To the extent that Japanese are unwilling to break away from a traditional way of thinking … to accept an ideological revolution, democracy can never take root in Japanese life, much less in Japanese politics … Unless Japanese learn to assimilate fully the idea of the inviolable right of each individual to enjoy freedom and equality, they will never be able to accomplish the task of building a new democratic Japan.7

It may be asked whether democracy can mature in a society where the individual can appeal to no value or moral authority higher than the state as the basis for limiting state action, even if taken by majority decision.

One stage of the ideological revolution has taken place. Japanese traditional values have been largely rejected by the younger generation. The trauma of defeat largely accomplished this.8 Christianity-which despite the fewness of the faithful had made a significant contribution to the democratic movement in the past — seemed in the late 1940’s to be filling the vacuum, but by 1950 it also appeared to be losing out among the youth to Marxism.

Marxism provided not only a philosophy, but, within an integrated system, a historical analysis and a political program as well. But in the last few years, Marxism itself has been in decline. Amidst unprecedented prosperity, it is losing out in turn to existentialist materialism, which — partly because it fosters withdrawal from politics — is no improvement as an ideological basis for democracy.

Nor does Buddhism, the most important religion in Japan — although its active adherents are a minority-make any significant contributions to the cause of political democracy. Zen is, in a sense, “individualistic,” but does not justify individual political action. Soka Gakkai, politically the most active segment of Japanese Buddhism, is considered by many Japanese observers as a lively threat to democratic processes. The more syncretic “new religions” reveal the deep search for meaning in Japan today, but certainly do not assist the growth of democratic ideology.

A traditional value which seems to many Westerners to be a particular handicap to the parliamentary system,9 based as it is on majority rule in decision making, is the strong Japanese desire for unanimity in all group decisions, including those of the national government. Japanese stress on unanimity is, however, very different from that in the Quaker tradition, which is built on initial respect for the individual. This helps to explain the crisis of 1960, which stemmed from the Diet’s ratification of the U.S.-Japan Security Pact without the presence of the opposition.10

Nor did the Socialists quickly give up their demand for unanimity. In 1961, then Socialist Party Chairman Kawakami criticized government passage of the Fundamental Law of Agriculture despite a Socialist boycott of the session and demanded adoption of a bill “made up of the good points” from both government and opposition drafts.11 Fortunately for political stability, Prime Minister Ikeda seemed to be sensitive to the problem created by this incongruity of traditional practice and the parliamentary system.

In addition to Occupation reforms, the defeat itself and the rapid growth of urbanization and industrialization in the postwar period have also been important influences in the Japanese Revolution. (For this reason, the “reverse course,” the jettisoning of Occupation reforms, has not been as strong as many people had feared.) Urbanization and industrialization have been so rapid, in fact, that social change has been uneven. It has been much more rapid in urban than rural areas, though Japanese rural areas are not backward by Asian standards-most Japanese farmers have TV sets.

Furthermore, youth has adopted new ideas and new behavior much more readily than the older generation. Thus, generational conflict and the urban-rural gap are greater in Japan than in any Western democracy today. While the mass communications and educational systems are dominated by the younger urbanized elements, the political system is dominated by the older group oriented to rural values. This produces stresses which may lead to violence in a crisis.


In most respects, the Japanese political system should now be characterized as democratic. Free elections within a constitutional framework allow for a wide sharing of certain types of decision making; there is freedom of speech, and association. Moreover, the government serves the people in many ways, operating, for example, the most extensive social security system in non-Communist Asia, comparable with those in Europe. Nevertheless, the foundations of this democracy in the structure and values of the society are weak.

There would appear to be three conditions for further growth to mature, stable democracy in Japan: economic progress, international stability, and a compatible value system. Being as yet without a compatible value system, Japanese democracy relies heavily upon the present precarious balance of economic and international factors for continuing existence. What are the chances for the upsetting of that balance and the re-occurrence of crises, such as the one in 1960, which could undermine and perhaps even destroy this frail democratic system?

Since democracy in Japan today is protected by phenomenal economic prosperity, if the economy falters, it is in danger. Economic growth was 14 per cent in 1961 and the increase in per capita income was almost as high-much more appropriately a “great leap forward” than China’s misnamed economic debacle. A drop of the growth rate in 1962 to about 8 per cent still did not make then Prime Minister Ikeda’s plan to double the GNP in a decade an impossible task. By fiscal year 1964 (which ran until March 31, 1965), the “real rate” of growth was back up to 11.2 per cent. But the most serious postwar depression yet has pushed growth down to less than 3 per cent for fiscal 1965, a much more “normal” rate by world standards. More rapid growth is expected again in late 1966.

If Japanese prosperity is to be sustained, it must depend heavily — though much less than before World War II — on the ability to export, and the U.S. is her biggest market, taking 28 per cent of all exported goods.12 Thus, either world-wide depression or even substantial restriction of American markets would have serious, perhaps disastrous, repercussions in Japan. If combined with a crisis in foreign relations, this could wreck democracy.

Nuclear policy

Were the U.S. to exert pressure for the introduction of nuclear weapons into its Japanese bases, a political crisis would most certainly result. Opposition to nuclear weapons is emotionally still the most potent slogan in Japan, probably stronger there than in any other country. Even the threat of the visit of nuclear missile-armed submarines in 1963 sparked massive demonstrations. Present government policy is officially opposed to the introduction of any nuclear weapons on Japanese soil.

A trial balloon raised by ex-Premier Yoshida in July 1962 favoring nuclear weapons was very critically received, so that Mr. Ikeda denied any intention to change policy. If U.S. insistence should cause a change in this policy, anti-nuclear sentiment would probably combine with still powerful nationalism to produce an explosive resistance to the change. Should such an explosion occur in the midst of widespread economic unrest, it would make the events of 1960 look like a fizzled firecracker in comparison.

In early December 1965, Premier Sato seemed to be attempting to revise the Japanese position by intimating agreement with the statement:

If science and technology make advances to develop nuclear weapons which can be restricted to self-defense, possession of these devices will not necessarily violate the constitution.

The impact of the Chinese bomb, already so great in India, was also being felt in Japan. Still the Japanese are much farther than the Indians from willingness to manufacture or use any kind of nuclear weapons. But in any case, one must remember that while introduction of nuclear weapons by the U.S. could be resisted on nationalist grounds, Japanese production of the very same weapon might satisfy national pride.

It should be remembered that in whatever crisis might occur, the most significant threat to democracy would probably not be in Communist or Socialist demonstrations and/or rioting, but in the re-assertion of a political role by the military to suppress the rioting. In June 1960, Prime Minister Kishi almost called out the Japanese army for this purpose. Since then, military plans for another such contingency have been exposed. In Japan the forces of order, both actually and potentially, are still stronger than the forces of disorder.


Thus if Japanese democracy is to be preserved, this precarious balance of economic progress and international quiet must be maintained for another generation, at least. Only such favorable conditions will permit the gradual development of a democratic value system. Those conditions exist presently; but what steps, if any, are being taken to use this time well for the advancement of democratic values? There are, of course, many writers and scholars in Japan today who unfailingly espouse truly democratic principles. The miserable showing of the middle-of-the-road Democratic Socialist Party in the 1962 elections is one index of the rather limited acceptance these values have, however; even though it is probably less limited than the support for that party.13

The running battle between the Ministry of Education, dominated by conservative bureaucratic thinking, and the left-leaning Japan Teachers Union has so far prevented the public schools from being very effective as an instrument for positive inculcation of democracy. Although potentially “moral education” classes could teach the principles of human relations which are a foundation for democratic institutions, teachers have feared that they might be used as before the war to indoctrinate students with more traditional values. Only recently reinstituted, it is too early to evaluate the impact which the new version of “moral education” has had.

The requirement of “general education” for all under-graduates in the postwar university system does at least give the technically trained a more humanistic view of life. It seems unlikely, nevertheless, that the value system of late 20th century Japan will be a product of calculated indoctrination, as it was as of August 1945.

The greater hope would seem to lie in attitude, and ultimately value, changes arising because human relationships, both political and nonpolitical, are in practice increasingly democratic-though, as indicated, change is faster in urban areas. There is some evidence that this is happening. Experience, not philosophic discourse, is transforming values. Thus the task of the philosopher and of intellectuals generally becomes the articulation of the changes taking place. To complete this task, however, Japanese intellectuals will have to spend more time on the observation of society than on the all too common textual exegesis of foreign writers ignorant of Japanese experience. Democratic principles rephrased in terms of Japanese experience could probably find widening acceptance.

Problem of consensus

A compatible value system for a democratic Japan must include not only high regard for behavior which permits the democratic operation of political institutions, but must also be associated with a general consensus on the major goals of society. Such a consensus is often lacking. It is probably greater on such domestic issues as economic policy than on foreign policy goals, and is probably as limited among the middle class as among the entire electorate. Intellectuals and petty bourgeoisie are at opposite ends of the political spectrum.

In any case, Japan has moved from a frightening unanimity on “service to the Emperor” to dangerous cleavages: the gaps between city and country, between young and old, between tradition and modernity -often in ideological garb. These gaps must be narrowed if democratic processes are not to be strained beyond the breaking point. Fortunately there is some indication that they are narrowing.

Paradoxically, however, one sentiment which at other times has fostered consensus is today actually a roadblock to stable democracy.14 Nationalism finds violent expression on the extremes of right and left, combined with traditionalist or Marxist philosophies. In fact, a dilution of ultra-nationalism would be counted as a gain for democracy. Insofar as a sense of national inferiority, particularly in front of the Western world, is one of its main causes, there is good reason to believe that ultra-nationalism will decline.

Japan’s achievements in production, in science, in literature and the arts are gaining increasing recognition in the world. As real national status rises, we might then expect that intense nationalism, an instrument of self-delusion and a substitute for externally recognized status, would lose its function. The reservoir of extreme nationalists capable of being stirred to undemocratic political action in time of crisis still exists in Japan—as violence cited earlier reminds us. But a continued rise in Japan’s international prestige would gradually dry it up. A decline in ultra-nationalism, however, might parallel an increasing desire on the part of Japanese leaders to see augmentation of their nation’s power and political influence consonant with its prestige. But an assertiveness in foreign policy can in part be understood as a satisfaction of national ambition, a means of avoiding ultra-nationalist frustration.


The best measures of the trends in Japanese political behavior, as in any democracy, are the election returns, reflecting the strength of various forces. In the last decade, Japan has developed a party system dominated by the governing Liberal Democrats and the opposition Socialists. Yet it has aptly been described as a “one and-a-half-party system,” since Socialist seats are only about one half Liberal Democratic strength.15 Labor organizations, whose growth was stimulated and protected by Occupation policy, have become the main source of Socialist support. The ruling party gets the backing of most farmers and of big business. The two major parties compete with the minor ones —_Komeito_, Democratic Socialists, and Communists-for the growing urban middle class.

Despite the fact that Liberal-Democrats have enjoyed uninterrupted rule for more than a decade, their electoral base is being steadily eroded, as Tables 1 and 2 clearly indicate. From 1955 to 1963, their popular vote for the house of Representatives declined nearly 9 per cent.


1955* 1958*

Valid Votes (000) % of Votes Seats # Seats % Valid Votes (000) % of Votes Seats # Seats%
Liberal Dem. Party 23,381 63.2 297 63.6 22,977 57.8 287 61.5
“Progressives“2 11,904 32.2 162 34.7 14,106 35.5 167 35.7
Minor Parties 497 1.3 2 0.4 288 0.7 1 0.2
Independents 1,229 3 6 1.3 2,381 6.0 12 2.6

1960* 1963**
Liberal-Dem. Party 22,740 57.6 296 63.” 21,729 55.0 283 60.5
“Progressives” 15,508 39.2 165 35.3 15,855 40.1 172 36.8
Minor Parties 142 0.4 1 0.2 50 0.1 0 0
lndependents 1,119 2.8 5 1.1 1,909 4.8 12 2.7
1467 seats in all years.
2 includes Socialist, Democratic Socialist, and Communist Parties.

*Source: R. E. Ward and R. C. Macridis (eds.), Modern Political Systems Asia (Englewood Cliffs, N. J.: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1963), pp. 68-69. **Source: Documentary News of the Month, No. 202 (Tokyo: Nov. 1963), p. 42, 50.


(Average of National & Local Constituencies)

1955* 1958*

Valid Votes (000) % of Votes Seats # Seats % Valid Votes (000) % of Votes Seats # Seats%
Liberal-Dem. Party 17,901 46.8 69 54.3 17,113 45.7 71 55.9
“Progressives“2 14,838 38.7 40 31.4 14,926 39.7 42 33.0
Komeito 2,700 7.1 9 7.2 3,494 9.4 11 8.7
Minor Parties 1,168 3.0 4 3.2   24 2 0.7
Independents 1,685 4.4 5 3.9 1,682 4.5 3 2.4
1 250 seats, half of which are chosen in each election. Total of candidates elected includes filling of vacancies.
2 Includes Socialist, Democratic Socialist, and Communist Parties.

Source: Documentary News of the Month, No. 222 (Tokyo: Aug. 1965), pp. 36-37.

In the 1965 house of Councillors poll — not so important since a government is formed on the basis of Lower house strength — it dropped to 45.7 per cent. In the coming Lower house election it could be below 50 per cent for the first time. Putting the trend another way, we can say that between 1953 and 1960 the “progressive parties,” including the Socialists, the non-Marxist Democratic Socialists, and the Communists, increased their popular vote an average of 3.2 per cent at every election. A projection of that trend would have given them a majority by 1968. But in 1963 their rate of growth dropped sharply to 1 per cent, making such projections risky indeed.

There are many factors, however, which could either accelerate or delay this trend. Whereas a major economic crisis, or U.S. attempts to introduce nuclear weapons might bring on the collapse of present political institutions, minor stimuli in both these fields could redound to the Socialists’ benefit. A mild economic crisis in one industry, particularly if stimulated by U.S. policy, such as imposition of a cotton equalization fee, would probably increase both the intensity and the breadth of support for the Left.

In the field of nuclear policy, if the Japanese Government, rather than the U.S., were to take the initiative in acquiring atomic weapons, the impetus to the Opposition would probably not be great enough to endanger constitutional government, but would increase the protest vote at the polls.

Conversely, other developments would certainly hurt the Socialists. If the Liberal Democrats could agree among themselves to revise the election law and establish single-member districts for the Diet, the Socialists’ parliamentary representation would be sharply reduced, even if they did continue to increase their popular vote. Conservative unity on this point does not seem likely, however, until the effective dissolution of strong factional organizations. The Socialist vote itself might fall if there were clear evidence of a growing threat from Red China; Japan might well exhibit a reaction similar to India’s. Though open threats from Peking are improbable, a repetition of the brazen interference already exercised by the Chinese in the Socialists’ intra-party squabbles would also redound to the detriment of all the Marxists.

It has been suggested by one very astute observer of Japanese politics16 that the most serious challenge to the rising trend in the “progressive” vote is the remarkable climb in the living standards of the laborer and middle class and their increasing involvement in the apolitical pursuits of a mass consumption society, thus producing apathy. Though this was not yet apparent in the 1960 election, the decline in the rate of left wing advance in 1963 may be considered a partial vindication of this analysis. There does seem to be evidence that political apathy is increasing in the steady drop since 1958 of the percentage of the electorate actually voting. If nonvoting within the urban middle and lower classes, which might otherwise be expected to vote Socialist, should become even more prevalent, that Party’s support would be undermined.

On the other hand, there are many voters in Japan, particularly in predominantly rural constituencies, who identify ideologically with the progressives, but vote conservative. Their usual explanation is that the Socialists “have no chance,” that a vote for them is wasted. As the Socialist vote comes nearer to the 50 per cent mark, this psychology will undoubtedly change. Certainly some of the younger Socialist Party leaders of the last few years have attempted to aid this shift by trying to create an image of responsibility—handicapped, of course, by the ideological rigidity of party chairman Sasaki.

In any case, the bulk of the younger urbanized elements who constitute a major part of Socialist support is probably voting as much, or more, against tradition, against symbols of the old order, against those who would attempt to turn the clock back as for a predominantly Marxist Socialist program. A disenchantment with Marxism on the part of the middle class voter would not necessarily be expressed by a withdrawal of support from the Socialist Party. In sum, the factors which might retard that Party’s rise to power must be considered alongside those which could accelerate it.

Minor party growth

But the most spectacular growth in the last 4 years has come in the minor parties.

In the 1965 house of Councillors election, the Communists gained over 25 per cent more votes than they had 3 years beforebut still leaving them under 6 per cent of the total. In the same period, the Komeito, or Clean Government Party—the political arm of the militant Buddhist sect, Soka Gakkaiincreased _ its vote by nearly 30 per cent! Since 1962 _Soka Gakkai, formally organized into a political party only in 1964, has jumped from complete lack of representation in the Diet to the position of third largest party. Clearly the greatest beneficiary of the conservatives’ decline has been this aggressive group which stands for peace and honest government-but what else no one is quite sure.

Thus while the erosion of Liberal-Democratic strength will undoubtedly continue, it seems more likely that the present era will be succeeded by some kind of coalition than by a Socialist Party regime.17 Conceivably an LDP coalition with Komeito could exclude “the progressives” from government for some time to come. At least as likely would be a grouping of Komeito with the Socialists and the fourth ranking Democratic-Socialists. The uncertainty about the direction which Japanese politics will take centers around the impenetrable fog which has so far surrounded most of Komeito‘s platform. Some people fear this platform could develop an undemocratic thrust. But there is one certainty, that the governmental stability of the last decade is not to be duplicated in the next.


If Japan moves from a one-and-one-half to a multiparty system, the development of compatible values, and the preservation of economic conditions and international environment which make democracy possible today becomes more important than ever. For a multiparty system can produce responsible, effective government only if there is broad consensus on defense of the parliamentary process.

The Japanese consensus on process is weakest when considering that subject which engenders the least consensus on substance, foreign policy. American observers frequently forget that the parliamentary majority of the Liberal-Democrats is not a mandate for a strongly pro-American position. There is a broad Japanese consensus in opposition to war, so that last year, soon after Foreign Minister Shiina defended U.S. bombing of North Vietnam, an opinion poll revealed that 75 per cent of the electorate were opposed.18 But consensus is lacking on any positive steps for Japan to take. Thus the Socialists again last fall risked opprobrium for violence in the Diet to try, unsuccessfully, to block the Japan-Korean Normalization Treaty.

Only on the need for economic prosperity, and the trade which undergirds it, is their general agreement. Trade with Red China grows, therefore, despite U.S. pressures.

Americans especially need to recognize that as Japan becomes more powerful economically, her people will want to exercise more independence in the making of foreign policy.19 Greater independence for her may mean less support for American positions.

We are thus faced with a dilemma: either we attempt to frustrate the appearance of a foreign policy more responsive, through parliamentary processes, to national values, or we must accept Japanese initiatives which diverge increasingly from U.S. strategy. Yet in the long run it would seem that the preservation of Japanese democracy is the best insurance against the eruption of any fundamental conflict of interests. Essential American interests can hardly be damaged by a truly democratic Japan.


1 Ivan Morris, Nationalism and the Right Wing in Japan (London: Oxford, 1960), p. 402.

2 Robert Scalapino, Democracy and the Party Movement in Pre-War Japan (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1953). For the economic aspect, see William W. Lockwood, The Economic Development of Japan (London: Oxford, 1955).

3 The fullest account of the Occupation is by the late Kazuo Kawai, Japan’s American Interlude (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1960). For excellent interpretive summary, see Edwin O. Reischauer, The United States and Japan (New York: Viking, 1962), part 4.

4 See Douglas Mendel, The Japanese People and Foreign Policy (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1957).

5 See Hans Baerwald, The Purge of Japanese Leaders Under the Occupation (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1959).

6 See R. P. Dore, Land Reform in Japan (London: Oxford, 1959); also Dore, “Beyond the Land Reform: Japan’s Agricultural Prospect,” Pacific Affairs, XXXVI:3 (Fall 1963), pp. 265-76.

7 Chuo Koron (January 1961), translated in Contemporary Japan (March 1962), pp. 127132.

8 See Robert Ward, “The Legacy of the Occupation,” in Herbert Passin, ed., The United States and Japan (Englewood Cliffs: Prentice hall, Inc., 1966).

9 Professor Robert Ward, however, seems to imply in a recent article (“Political Modernization and Political Culture in Japan,” World Politics XV:4 (July 1963), p. 581) that this consensual decision making has “reinforced” political modernization, which in postwar Japan has been a force for democratization.

10 See David Wurfel, “The Violent and the Voiceless in Japanese Politics,” Contemporary Japan (November 1960), pp. 663-694. For an excellent discussion of Japanese decision makIng, see Nobutaka Ike, Japanese Politics (New York: Knopf, 1957), chap. 14.

11 “Basic Objectives in Politics,” Contemporary Japan (May 1961), pp. 14-24.

12 See William W. Lockwood, “Problems of Political Economy,” in Passin, ed., The United States and Japan.

13 That party’s success in 1963 was not in popular votes but in Diet members elected, based on superior electoral strategy. The popular vote actually dropped from 8.8 per cent to 7.2 per cent.

14 For a Japanese critique see Masao Maruyama, Thought and Behavior in Modern Japanese Politics (London: Oxford University Press, 1963).

15 See Robert Scalapino and Junnosuke Masumi, Parties and Politics in Contemporary Japan (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1962).

16 Herbert Passin, “The Sources of Protest in Japan,” American Political Science Review, LVI:2 (June 1962), pp. 391-403.

17 See Herbert Passin, “The Future,” in The U.S. and Japan.

18 See Nobutaka Ike, “Japan, Twenty Years After Surrender,” Asian Survey (Jan. 1966), pp. 18-27.

19 A recognition only inadequately revealed in Philip W. Quigg, “Japan in Neutral,” Foreign Affairs (Jan. 1966), pp. 253-263.

Categories Japan, General politics