In Japan, 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. Among all parties, there are only two major political parties (LDP and DPJ) with several others playing largely supporting roles.
Traditionally the Japanese political system has been dominated by one party, which is Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). Since its founding in 1955, it has been in power at all times, except for a short-lived coalition government formed from opposition parties for 11 months in 1993 and for the three-year period during August 2009-December 2012. In the election of December 2012, it stormed back to power with 294 seats in the House of Representatives.
The other main party is the social liberal Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ). It was formed in 1998 from a merger of four previously independent parties that were opposed to the ruling LDP. In the general election of August 2009, it won a convincing victory, taking 308 of the 480 seats. In the election of December 2012, the party’s support collapsed to only 57 seats. However, at the time, it remained the largest party in the House of Councillors. This situation, whereby different parties control the two houses, is known in Japan as a “twisted Diet”. In the elections to the House of Councillors in July 2013, the LDP regained a majority in this chamber.
After a reforms of the 1990s, the majority rule government based on a two-party system is a is a political mechanism in which the most powerful groups alternately take the reins of government.
The Kokkai or Diet has little real authority; the factions within the Liberal Democratic Party have been more important than the other political parties; Cabinet meetings are brief and largely ceremonial; and the Prime Minister is weaker than his counterpart in other democracies and usually has a relatively brief tenure in office. Power in Japanese society is wielded less by politicians and more by civil servants and industrialists. This triumvirate of politicians, bureaucrats and big business is known in Japan as “the Iron Triangle”.
The Prime Minister choses his Cabinet which is limited by a constitutional amendment of 2001 to an additional 14 regular members with the possibility of three special members. At least half of the Cabinet must be members of the Diet.
Public funding of political parties was introduced in 1994.
Japan’s Major Political Parties
Liberal Democratic Party (LDP)
Japan’s dominant political party for more than 40 years. Despite its name, the party’s base has long been conservative, ranging from pro-Imperial rightists to big business groups.
Founded in 1996 from members of the Social Democratic Party and Shin-to Sakigake. In 1997, after the dissolution of the New Frontier Party (Shinshin-to), the Democratic Party became the largest opposition group in the Diet, Japan’s bicameral legislature.
Social Democratic Party (formerly the Socialist Party)
Japan’s main opposition party to the LDP for several decades. The Socialists took advantage of voter dissatisfaction with the Liberal Democrats in the early 1990s, forming part of the coalition government that took power from the LDP in 1993.
A splinter party founded after the breakup of the New Frontier Party (Shinshin-to) in December 1997. Led by the outspoken Ichiro Ozawa, the Liberal Party took over the Shinshin-to’s basic philosophies and policies.
One of the oldest political parties in Japan, it was founded in 1922 as an underground group. Until recently the party had been somewhat marginalized in Japanese politics, taking unpopular stances on a number of issues – such as its opposition to the U.S.–Japan security alliance.
Heiwa Kaikaku (literally “Peace Reform”)
A party formed out of the breakup of the New Frontier Party (Shinshin-to) in December 1997. Most members are former Komei-to (Clean Government Party) members, getting their support from the enigmatic, but huge religious group, Soka-Gakkai.
The old Komei-to was formed in 1964 as the political arm of the Soka-Gakkai, a large religious organization affiliated with the Nichren Shoshu sect of Buddhism.
Formed in 1993 by 10 breakaway LDP lower house members. That year, Sakigake joined the coalition government led by Morihiro Hosokawa’s New Party – one that that replaced the LDP in power.
Roger Darlington, A Short Guide to the Japanese Political System, last modified on September 16, 2016, http://www.rogerdarlington.me.uk/Japanesepoliticalsystem.html#Parties.
Masanobu Ido, Is a Two-Party System in Japan Only a Dream? The 2012 General Election and the Political Challenges Facing Japan, The Japan News, 2012, http://www.yomiuri.co.jp/adv/wol/dy/opinion/gover-eco_130115.html.
Japanese Political Party, Japan Zone, http://www.japan-zone.com/omnibus/political_party.shtml.
Alex Martin, New Party Nippon pledges ‘basic income’ for all, The Japan Times, August 8, 2009, http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2009/08/08/national/new-party-nippon-pledges-basic-income-for-all/#.VeVQG_mqqko.
Link : Political Parties – This website contains political parties’ contact details and official websites.
Link : Major Political Parties in Japan (Washington Post: Updated 1998)
Link : Political Parties in Japan: 1874-1998 (Kenzaki)
Link : Liberal Democratic Party of Japan (official website)
Link : The Democratic Party of Japan (official website)
Link : New Komeito (official website)
Link : Japanese Communist Party (official website)
Link : Social Democratic Party (SDP) (official website: in Japanese)
Link : Your Party (official website: in Japanese)
Link : New Party Nippon (official website: in Japanese)
Link : New Renaissance Party (official website: in Japanese)
Link : Japan Restoration Party (official website: in Japanese)
Link : Seikatsunoto (official website: in Japanese)
Link : Green Wind (official website: in Japanese)
Link : Winning the young vote a new challenge for political parties (Japan Times: 2015)
PDF : Japanese Political Parties: Ideals and Reality* (Gerald Curtis, Columbia University and RIETI )
PDF : The Rise and Fall of the Democratic Party of Japan: Kenji E. Kushida and Phillip Y. Lipscy