Collected Writings of J.A.A. Stockwin: The Politics and Political Environment of Japan

By J. A. A. Stockwin | Go to book overview

English version of a lecture delivered at Doshisha University, Tokyo, as part of the 1998 Neesima Lectures Series (Joseph Hardy Neesima, 1843-90, was Doshisha's founder)


35

Converging or Diverging? The Politics of Japan and Britain

THE POLITICS and structures of government in Japan and Britain have often been compared, while each has on occasion been put forward as a model for the other. For Japan, the government and politics of Britain has been regarded as the key model of parliamentary democracy, and as such, an object of emulation by those in Japan who think seriously about politics. For Britain, although the idea that positive political lessons may be learned from Japan is perhaps less common than the other way round, there has been a great deal of interest from the 1960s onwards in the ability of Japan to produce rapid economic growth.

A comparison between the political systems of Japan and Britain makes a good deal of sense because both are, in form at least, parliamentary systems. Given the density of contact between Japan and the United States, we most often encounter political comparisons between the political systems of those two states, but the American system is very different from either the British or the Japanese. The essential philosophy of the American system of government is the doctrine of separation of powers, whereby the three branches of government are supposed to check excessive use of power by each other. Whether and to what extent this actually happens in practice is a complex matter for analysis. The point about the American system, however, is that fundamental to that system is the idea if you allow the executive (President) in particular to become too powerful, you risk having the practice of government slide into dictatorship., and therefore the other branches should watch what the President does and act as a potent check on his power. It is for this reason that presidential and congressional elections are quite separate from each other, and that the outcome of a congressional election does not determine the choice of chief executive, as it does in both Japan and Britain. It is, I think, also the doctrine of the separation of powers that has led to the extraordinary spectacle of the Starr enquiry into the private life of President Clinton-to such devastating effect for the Clinton presidency-using procedures that are difficult to imagine in either Britain or Japan.

At least in formal, structural terms, the British and Japanese systems of

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