Saturday, February 05, 2011

Japan, a Democracy?

This message gives a short but accurate presentation of the problem generally viewed and simply asked with this question:
Is Japan a Democracy? Question often misused for malicious purposes.

This is why I found these answers from people I know quite interesting, I post it here for the record and the activation of the never ending debate since Ruth Benedict tentatively explored the archipelago psyche.

Benedict, an anthropologist and cultural relativist "is known not only for her earlier Patterns of Culture but also for her later book The Chrysanthemum and the Sword, the study of the society and culture of Japan that she published in 1946, incorporating results of her war-time research."

In other words, after the war, the occupant forces, mainly the US, tried to understand the islands they controlled as the cold war started... or should I say, had started at the bombing of Hiroshima when a devastated Japan was a prey to be submitted to Allied forces and dominated as in any colonial war registry. Japan today is still a base for tens of thousands of American troops and equipments to deter China and Russia and to act as a base for the 7th fleet. The western view of an acting gendarme of Asia. Some politicians wanted to review such thing, they basically ended into corruption scandals or tricky plots. Prime minister Hatoyama was the last one of these victims.

The thing is going on and on, asked by armies of scholars and propagandists, Japan is not a democracy similar to the west. Not it's not. It's different indeed. It integrated portions of our western parliamentary systems after the war. I do not know any one in Japan who could tell me eyes in eyes that it did not approve of this changes from a military dictatorship in 1945 to a more "normal" middle class society of salary-men, happy with theories born in the western world.

Theories from Ricardo and Adam Smith, following Condorcet, Marmontel, Malesherbes, d'Alembert --"Preliminary Discourse of l'Encyclopédie" a history of the Enlightenment -- and the work of the French Academies *** of the century of the Enlightenment in the 17th and 18th century--Montesquieu, Buffon (1 generation before Charles Darwin), Jean-Jacques Rousseau le Genevois, Diderot, Jean-François de Galaup, comte de Lapérouse, etc. --

Theories adopted in Japan later for a development of the economy proper to avoid further political claims on international affairs and led mainly by civil servants and scholars.

The "chat" was posted on the NBR forum, a forum for Japan watchers.


'Can Japan truly be understood as a democracy' -
compared to which democracy? Is there a benchmark out

Schumpeter's famous definition is that 'the democratic
method is that institutional arrangement for arriving
at political decisions in which individuals acquire
the power to decide by means of a competitive struggle
for the people's vote'. To this more procedural
definition, we may also add normative factors, in that
a democratic system promotes equality, fairness, and

Japan's system of governance does fall short of these
benchmarks: the fact that 40% of Diet members are
second-generation children may be an indication that
the pathways to political power are more open to some
than others - they say to get yourself voted you need
jiban (support base usually daddy's), kanban (name
value again, daddy's fame helps), kaban (money!).
Furthermore, the rural votes carry greater weight than
urban votes; and so on.

Yet, many countries equally fall short: in the UK, the
political elite have become increasingly dominated by
a small handfull of rich, private school-educated
elites (just look at Blair, Cameron, Clegg, or
Osbourne); the first-past-the post system leads to
tactical voting, rather than a genuine expression of
political will; it (again) leads to differences in the
weight certain votes carry. Furthermore,
parliamentary sovereignty means that judicial checks
on the legislative are much weaker compared to, say,
the US. Meanwhile in the US, the enormous costs of
running for public office also limits citizens' access
to political power, as well as giving political donors
a lot of power in influencing the political agenda in
comparison to others. Do all these systems give
citizens political equality? Are they inclusive? I
think not?

So, I would be inclined to say that Japan is a
democracy, albeit a flawed one, just like any other
country that we would conventionally understand to be
a 'liberal democracy' today. It's not perfect, but
the democratic theoretical ideal has been extremely
difficult to implement in practice throughout the
world, and the existence of powerful vested interests
have meant that reforming these problems has, and will
remain, difficult. Japan is no exception to this, and
neither is the US, the UK, or any other democracy. I
would also add that 'the Japanese' do not 'tolerate'
or 'perpetuate' a 'premodern' political system: a
quick look at the lively political debates that take
place in Japanese civil society would suggest quite
the opposite from this.

Perhaps the fundamental point here is that 'the
Japanese' are no more uniquely undemocratic that the
rest, and neither is 'the West' (US/Europe)
exceptionally 'more democratic' than the rest. Shogo
Suzuki University of Manchester"

And the 2nd comment of author and essayist Gregory


No one who lives in Japan and understands Japanese can
fail to be impressed by not just the liveliness but
also the sincerity, civility and relative lack of
point scoring in the almost daily policy debates in
the media, mainly TV, here between top politicians and
the commentators.

In some respects Japan's democracy IS 'pre-modern' -
based on the communality of the village society. And
while that allows distortions that our Western
democracies would not tolerate - feudalistic power-
brokers able to buy or corral voters, for example - it
should also make Western democracies consider whether
the point-scoring antagonism, lobby-fueled attack ads
etc, of their own systems represent true democracy.
Gregory Clark.

The discussion on the forum started after a chilly
comment of Bob Neff:


"Two recent high court rulings in Japan make me wonder
whether this is a true democracy. Both courts ruled
that recent elections unconstitutional because of
disproportionate electoral districts. This is a
ritual that has been going on for decades and has been
virtually ignored by the government. When the U.S.
supreme court ruled in the 1960s fir "one man, one
vote," it took Congress very little time to prescribe
major redistricting. I would invite informed analysis
on how and why supreme court decisions in Japan can be
so regularly ignored. "

End of Nbr quotes

*** The history of Academies in France during the Enlightenment begins with the Academy of Science, founded in 1635 in Paris. From the beginning, the Academy was closely tied to the French state, acting as an extension of a government seriously lacking in scientists. Beyond serving the monarchy, the Academy had two primary purposes: it helped promote and organize new disciplines, and it trained new scientists. It also contributed to the enhancement of scientists’ social status, considered them to be the “most useful of all citizens".

A national and regional institution, example, the Academy of Caen, Normandy. Established in 1652. Caen, the "Norman Athens, with a long literary cultural tradition, was enthusiastically created the first Academy in the provinces after the fondation of the Paris Academie Française. Furthermore came the establishment in Caen of the first Academy of Physics in France (1662) which, although short- lived, preceded by four years the foundation of the Académie des Sciences in Paris."

Reporter's notes
NBR forum

No comments:

Post a Comment

Be nice and informative when you post or comment.
Thank you to visit Asian Gazette Blog of Joel Legendre-Koizumi.