Japanese Political Parties
People used to the stable and long-established political parties of the UK or USA may be surprised at the regular shifting of Japanese party politics. Political parties only emerged after the Meiji Restoration of 1868. In the following century or so, there were dozens of new parties born, dissolved and merged. There are really only two major political parties (LDP and DPJ) with several other playing largely supporting roles, as described below. Instability and change is the name of the game with Japan's parties, but we try to keep this page up to date. The LDP, more recently in coalition with New Komeito, have held the reins of power for most of the postwar era, apart from the occasional DPJ-led coalition.
The LDP was born when the Liberal Party merged with the newly-created Japan Democratic Party in 1955 and, under Yoshida Shigeru, became the dominant political force in postwar Japan. Retaining control of the Japanese government almost continuously, the LDP supported Japan's alliance with the U.S. and fostered close links between Japanese business and government. Popular Prime Ministers Tanaka Kakuei and Nakasone Yasuhiro were just two of many leading LDP politicians involved in major scandals: the former was prosecuted as a result of the Lockheed scandal in 1976 while the latter was implicated in the Recruit scandal in 1988. The LDP lost its parliamentary majority in the 1993 elections, but continued to exert influence and soon returned to power in a coalition. The years since have seen a string of weak Prime Ministers chosen more to maintain harmony in the party's faction system than for their ability or charisma. But the eminently charismatic Koizumi Junichiro, a former Health Minister, broke that mould when he became leader in early 2001, setting new records for popularity. Koizumi promised to reform the government and bureaucracy, despite conservative opposition within his own party. He said he would carry out his reforms or destroy the party if they tried to stop him. With the resurgence in popularity brought by Koizumi and its continuing influence in the business and agricultural sectors and the lack of a unified and strong opposition, the LDP seemed set for many more years in power. Chinks in the armor began apearing as a successsion of weak and ineffective leaders followed in Koizumi's wake. Aso Taro, prime minister for a year in 2008-09, is typical of the incestuous nature of political power in Japan. He is related to the Imperial family, is the grandson of a former prime minister, and the son-in-law of another. His image as being out of touch with the people was a factor in the LDP finally being ousted, albeit briefly, from power.
The original Minshuto was formed in 1947 and formed part of the ruling coalition with the JSP and the People's Cooperative Party later that year. Party leader and Prime Minister Ashida Hitoshi resigned after he was implicated in a bribery scandal which brought down the government. The party was dissolved in 1950. The current version was formed as a reform party by Kan Naoto, Hatoyama Yukio and his brother Kunio (who later moved to the LDP) in 1996. Ozawa Ichiro resigned as party leader in the spring of 2009 following a financial scandal involving a private secretary and Hatoyama was elected as his successor. He led the party to a resounding victory in a national election held in early September 2009. This victory marked the first real shift in power in Japanese politics in more than 50 years. But it was short-lived and the LDP returned to government in 2011.
Symbol of the LDP
Komeito was formed in 1964 as the political wing of Soka Gakkai, an organization affiliated with Nichiren Buddhism. The party lacked support due to its strong connection with religion until it officially severed the link in the 1970's. Komeito went on to become a mainstay of centrist politics. The party merged with the New Peace Party in 1998. While established to promote international peace, support social welfare and eliminate political corruption, recent years have seen the party move closer to the more conservative policies of the LDP. This helped the party enter government in a coalition with the LDP.
Formed in 1922, the JCP was mostly a secretive and underground movement until it was legalized after the Second World War. Some successes in the immediate postwar period were undone soon after the outbreak of the Korean War in 1950. The Red Purge drove JCP members to acts of terrorism which led to a loss of public support. Under the leadership of Nosaka Sanzo and Miyamoto Kenji, the party moderated its policies and began to regain support. With a basic policy of a peaceful transition to Socialism, it has adopted an independent and nationalist position. It calls for the return of the Russian-held Northern Territories but has eased its opposition to the Self Defense Forces and the US.
Although the first Japan Socialist Party was formed in 1906, it soon broke into factions. It wasn't until 1945 that the current party was formed and it was the main oppostion force of the postwar period. The party had a brief 15 months in power in 1947-8 and had to wait almost 50 years for its next chance. The early 1950's saw the JSP reach its peak of power but increasingly left-wing elements caused internal feuding that continued for almost 30 years. A right-wing faction broke away to form the Democratic Socialist Party in 1960. The DSP and Komeito drained much of the JSP's support. Under the leadership of the charismatic former Speaker of the House Doi Takako, the party had some short-lived success in the late 80's and early 90's. The party changed its name to the SDPJ in 1991. The party enjoyed a short period of government participation in 1993-4 and formed a coalition government in 1994-6. But after the electoral defeat of 1996 it lost many of its members to the DPJ. Doi handed over the chairmanship to another woman, Fukushima Mizuho, in 2003.
The other "third" parties are People's New Party (Kokumin Shinto - PNP) and Your Party (Minna no To - YP)