The island nation of Japan, if nothing else, is a fascinating study in change, resilience and growth. From its ancient days as a major imperial force to the deprivations and destruction of World War II to its present role as a key player in world politics, Japan has truly come quite a long way. It is the government of Japan which is the focus of this paper; through the discussion of several key subtopics surrounding the Japanese government, ultimately, a much better understanding of Japanese politics will have been gained. Historical Background/Development of Japanese Government
Japan’s government is as closely linked to its history and culture as it is to anything else-a tradition which goes back thousands of years. According to ancient legend, Japan was first created by the sun goddesses in about 660 BC, who not only blessed the land on which Japan sits, but also created the first shoguns, or rulers of Japan; a traditional belief which was held right up to the conclusion of World War II in 1945 (Kumagai, et al,1996), which as will be seen later, was a key pivotal point in Japan’s history and governmental direction.
From the first written histories of the nation, Japan was ruled by a series of warlords, a tradition which continued until approcximately 1542 AD, which is approximately when the fits contact with the west began, as a Portuguese ship, in falling off its intended course, first splashed up on the shores of Japan, and “discovered” a “new land”. From that time, Japan was visited in rapid succession by the Spanish, Dutch and English.
From the 1600s until the mid 1800s, in response to fear on the part of the shoguns that Japan would be overtaken by those who were coming to Japan from all over the known world, foreign trade was all but banned by the Japanese rulers. It would not be until 1853 that Commodore Matthew Perry sailed an American fleet into Tokyo Bay, essentially destroying the ban on foreign trade that held firm for over two centuries (Roskin, 2001). From the time that Japan resumed international trade in the 1850s, the nation took the fast track to imperialism; in 1889, a parliamentary government was formed and a massive army was formed through conscription.
This army was quickly used to defeat Russia in the 1904-1905 Russo-Japanese War and to take possession of several Pacific islands, which were officially annexed to Japan with the signing of the Treaty of Versailles, which officially ended World War I in 1918 (Roskin, 2001). The 1930s saw yet more expansion of the military might of Japan, as its government decided to take on China through the invasion of Manchuria in 1931, in direct opposition to the promises the Japanese government made to respect and recognize Chinese sovereignty during the Washington Conference of 1921-1922.
By the late 1930s, Japan took an even bolder step in regard to China through the invasion of China and the joining of the Axis powers. Thrhoughout the 1930s, Japan fought vicisoulsy to prevent occupation of the many islands of the Pacific by other nations, most notably the United States, culminating with the attack of American forces stationed at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii by Japanese forces on December 7, 1941- an action which threw the US headlong into World War II, and gave Japan a powerful enemy (Vestal, 1993).
In 1945, the dropping of atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki not only led to Japan’s defeat in World War II, but also opened up a new chapter in Japanese government history. By 1947, Japan adopted a new constitution, making the previsouly powerful emperor essentially a figurehead, and giving US troops permission to set up bases in Japan (Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces, 1949).
From the 1950s to the 1990s, the Japanese government enjoyed a high level of prosperity due to the unprecedented economic growth that Japan enjoyed in the years following World War II, as the nation rebuilt from the rubble of war. The 1990s saw Japan’s government rocked by charges of corruption by Japanese officials. In the 21st century, the Japanese government is moving toward an embracing of more traditional democratic values and a less aggressive military stance than the decades of the past.
It can more fairly be seen today as a government moving more toward economic than military power (Hrebenar, et al, 2000). Key Institutions of Japanese Government As was alluded to earlier, the modern Japanese government has certainly changed its tone and direction from the days of the past. One of the key insititutions of the modern Japanese government is the industrial capitalism that Japan has embraced at the urging of the United States in the years after World War II (Vestal, 1993). Thus, Japan has strove to become more of an industrial and financial power than ever before.
Yet another one of Japan’s closest held governmental insititutions is the banking system; going along with its goals to build up a dynasty of money and modernization, the Japanese government has wisely realized that in fostering a strong financial system, the nation is giving itself more protection and security than any bullet or soldier could ever provide. Political Attitudes & Formations The political attitudes in modern Japan are as much influenced by the goals of the future as the problems of the past.
While the majority of the Japanese people have been declared to support the direction of prospertity that is being pursued by the government, they also seem to indicate a great deal of apprehension and suspicion given the corruption of the government which has been seen in the past. This, however, is not necessarily a negative situation, for it is healthy skepticism and an observant constituency that keeps governments moving forward in a positive manner. Points of Debate within Japanese Government
Even though the Japanese government is clearly moving toward more of an economic and industrial than military power base as the 21st century moves forward, that is not to say that this direction is universally embraced by everyone within the Japanese government. Much like the American, and indeed other world governments, the Japanese government of today finds itself divided by interpretations of the laws of modern Japan, clashes between the various branches of the government, and the like.
Modern Japanese government is headed by the Prime Minister, representing what would be called the executive branch in the American government. Much like the American government as well, the Japanese government is guided by a Japanese constitution, laws and regulations as well as a legislature, parliament, and political parties. As with so many of the other governments of the world, the Japanese government frequently finds itself enmeshed in clashes between the conservative and liberal factions of the government (Hrebenar, 2000).
Essentially, what is seen in regard to the points of debate within the Japanese government is the point where political ideology, constitutional interpretation, the past, present and future of a nation meet. In light of the current economic downturns that are rocking all of the industrialized nations of the world, Japan, like its global counterparts, is forced to decide exactly what its priorities are, where it will go in the future, and what is most important to pursue. In all of this will lie the direction that Japan will take. Conclusion
As has been shown in this research, Japan has certainly come a long way, and regardless of what one may think of their actions of the past, has paid a dear price for its progress. The challenge for Japan’s future lies not in where the island nation has been, but where it will eventually go. Indeed, it will be highly interesting to see what the future holds for Japan. Given its colorful past, the future should be highly complex as well. References Hrebenar, R. J. , Berton, P. , Nakamura, A. , & Stockwin, J. A. (2000). Japan’s New Party System. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.
Kumagai, F. , & Keyser, D. J. (1996). Unmasking Japan Today: The Impact of Traditional Values on Modern Japanese Society. Westport, CT: Praeger. Roskin, M. (2001). Countries and Concepts, Geography, Culture, 10th Ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ:Prentice-Hall. Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers. Government Section. (1949). Political Reorientation of Japan, September 1945 to September 1948; Report. Washington, DC: U. S. Govt. Print. Off. Vestal, J. E. (1993). Planning for Change: Industrial Policy and Japanese Economic Development, 1945-1990. Oxford: Clarendon Press.