2.1 Japanese government

The Constitution of Japan, created in 1946 and implemented in 1947, laid the foundation for Japan’s parliamentary system of government. This system is divided into three branches: the legislative branch, the executive branch, and the judicial branch. Power is separate and checks and balances exist between the three branches.

The Legislative Branch

The legislative branch is comprised of the country’s sole law-making body, the National Diet. The Diet has two Houses, the House of Representatives and the House of Councilors, both comprised of members elected by the public. Members of each House are required to serve on at least one standing committee during ordinary sessions, which begin in January and last 150 days, with one extension possible.

The Executive Branch

The executive branch is comprised of the Cabinet Office, endowed with administrative authority, and led by the Prime Minister. The House of Representatives nominates the Prime Minister, who is then officially appointed by the Emperor and designates the ministers of state who comprise the Cabinet. The constitution stipulates that the majority of ministers of state be selected from the Diet.[1] The Cabinet Secretariat provides support to the Cabinet and the Prime Minister.

State Ministers remain in office until they are dismissed by the Prime Minister or the Lower House passes a no-confidence resolution (or rejects a confidence resolution). Within 10 days of the passing of a no-confidence resolution (or a rejection of a confidence resolution) either the House of Representatives is dissolved or the members of the Cabinet collectively resign. The Cabinet includes the Cabinet Office, Cabinet Agencies, and 11 Ministries, including the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare, and the Ministry of Finance. These central government offices carry out various policies and draft cabinet bills.[2]

The Judicial Branch

The judicial branch is comprised of the Supreme Court and four types of lower courts. The Supreme Court is endowed with the power of judicial review and ensures that legislation and actions taken by the Cabinet and the Diet are constitutional. The Supreme Court’s chief justice is appointed by Cabinet nomination and official appointment by the Emperor. The other 14 justices are appointed by the Cabinet. Justice appointments to the Supreme Court are periodically reviewed in intervals of 10 years, starting with the first general election of House of Representatives following their appointment until the judge reaches the mandatory retirement age of 70. Appointments may be terminated through a majority vote, although this has yet to happen. Below the Supreme Court are high courts, district courts, family courts, and summary courts. Most trials involve one to three judges. In 2009, criminal trials began to include the general public through the use of lay judges.[3]

< Column> Frequent national elections

Japan has frequent national elections. Including Parliamentary (Diet) elections, there were 7 elections between 2005 and 2015 – that’s one election every 1.5 years. Lower House elections are held so frequently (once every 2.5 years over the past 10 years) that it is not uncommon for Members of the Lower House to leave office without completing a full four-year term. In addition, every three years, an election is held for half of the Upper House. This election has significant impact as it serves as a mid-term evaluation of the administration. Add to this the local elections held nation-wide every four years, and the municipal elections which, in a real sense, are actual contests between the ruling and opposition parties, and the number of elections further increases. As a result, the government, the ruling party, and each political party must pay critical attention to elections, which leads to a certain level of instability in politics and, what some consider, an easy avenue for the influential voices of older persons to affect policy (for this reason, Japan is sometimes called a “Silver Democracy”).


[1] Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications. Types of Elections. (Accessed 30 January 2018) Retrieved from  http://www.soumu.go.jp/senkyo/senkyo_s/naruhodo/naruhodo03.html#chapter1

[2] Cabinet Office. Pamphlet on the organization and functions of the Cabinet. (Accessed 30 January 2018) Retrieved from http://www.cao.go.jp/about/pmf_index.html

[3] Court of Justice. Lay judge system. (Accessed 30 January 2018) Retrieved from http://www.saibanin.courts.go.jp/topics/saibanin_jissi_jyoukyou.html