Japan had its first general elections for members of the House of Representatives of the Diet in 1890. It was the first example of a popularly elected national assembly in Asia. This time, the elections was limited to only male citizens who were 25 years old and over, had paid 15 Japanese Yen or more in national taxes and had been resident in their prefecture for at least one year. Women in Japan did not have the right to vote until 1945.
In 1996, Japan adopted a new electoral system for the Lower House that combines single-seat districts with proportional representation (PR). Out of 480 seats, 300 are contested in single-seat constituencies. The other 180 members are elected through allocations to an electoral list submitted by each party. Having a strong electoral support base, which can be earned either through inheritance or diligent canvassing, is essential for competing in a single-seat race. Therefore, candidates who lack such a support base are listed on the party’s PR section. In the 2009 election, only two of eight female LDP members were elected from a single-seat district, indicating that few female candidates have enough political capital to win a single-seat election.
A 2014 report on the gender gap by the World Economic Forum said Japan has one of the worst levels of gender equality in the developed world, ranking it 104th of 142 countries assessed. The report, released in October, said the low percentage of female lawmakers in Japan remains one of the worst of any nation.
Inter-Parliamentary Union’s rank of women in national parliament in 2015, the average percentage of women in national parliaments worldwide is 22.6%. Japan ranks 116 among 190 countries, with a rate of female representatives at 9.5 percent in the Lower House (45 women out of 475 members) and 15.7 percent (38 women out of 242 members) in the Upper House.
In the past elections to the lower house held in 2012, 7.9% of elected candidates were women, while in the previous legislature the percentage was 11.3%. Japan’s Government set out the goal to have women account for 30% of all parliamentary seats. In 2013 Parliamentary Elections, 24% of the candidates for the House of Councilors (upper house) are women.
In 2014 Elections, only 15 percent of candidates running in this election from mainstream parties are female (only 169 of the 1,093 candidates) from eight major parties were women — far short of the administration’s stated goal of having 30 percent of public- and private-sector leadership positions filled with women by 2020.
The party fielded fewer female candidates this time around: 37 compared to 46 in 2009. Only three of the party’s 24 female incumbents will be returning to parliament. No first-time candidates won.
The Japanese Communist party has the highest ratio of female candidates, with 79 out of 315, followed by the main opposition Democratic party of Japan, with 29 among 189 people running for lower-house seats.
Male candidates tend to have prior experience in politics by having served in a municipal assembly or an elected official’s office as a kaban–mochi (bag carrier). On the other hand, many of the female candidates are “accidental” politicians who haven’t sought a political career previously. They often enter politics from a gaishi (foreign company), academia, or the media, but some are already recognized nationally, an advantage for candidates who lack experience in politics.
Japanese general elections, 1890, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Japanese_general_election,_1890.
Parliamentary Elections in Japan, iKnow Politics, July 21, 2013, http://iknowpolitics.org/en/news-events/calendar/parliamentary-elections-japan.
Justin McCurry, Abe’s vow to close gender gap forgotten as only 169 women stand in Japan polls, The Guardian, December 11, 2014, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/dec/11/japan-women-standing-election-abe-gender-gap.
Yuko Nakano, Japan Chair Platform: Among Equals? Women in Japanese Politics, Center for Strategic & International Studies, July 11, 2013, http://csis.org/publication/japan-chair-platform-among-equals-women-japanese-politics.
Yoko Masuda, Japan’s Growing Political Gender Gap, The Wall Street Journal, December 20, 2012, http://blogs.wsj.com/japanrealtime/2012/12/20/japans-growing-political-gender-gap/.
Mizuho Aoki, Another low for Japan’s gender gap, as only 15% of election candidates are female, The Japan Times, December 2, 2014, http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2014/12/02/national/politics-diplomacy/another-low-japans-gender-gap-15-election-candidates-female/#.VneDePl97Z5.
Women in national parliaments, Inter-Parliament Union, http://www.ipu.org/wmn-e/classif.htm.
PDF : Gender and Political Behavior in Japan- Social Science Japan Journal (Social Science Japan Journal: 2004)
JPG : Picture of women voting in Japan (Wikipedia)
Link : Women and Activists Lament Japan’s Election Outcome (Global Issues: 2012)
Link : Another low for Japan’s gender gap, as only 15% of election candidates are female (The Japan Times: 2014)
Link : Japan’s Growing Political Gender Gap (The Wall Street Journal: 2012)