Japan Transformed: Political Change and Economic Restructuring

Japan Transformed: Political Change and Economic Restructuring

Japan Transformed: Political Change and Economic Restructuring

Japan Transformed: Political Change and Economic Restructuring


With little domestic fanfare and even less attention internationally, Japan has been reinventing itself since the 1990s, dramatically changing its political economy, from one managed by regulations to one with a neoliberal orientation. Rebuilding from the economic misfortunes of its recent past, the country retains a formidable economy and its political system is healthier than at any time in its history. Japan Transformed explores the historical, political, and economic forces that led to the country's recent evolution, and looks at the consequences for Japan's citizens and global neighbors.

The book examines Japanese history, illustrating the country's multiple transformations over the centuries, and then focuses on the critical and inexorable advance of economic globalization. It describes how global economic integration and urbanization destabilized Japan's postwar policy coalition, undercut the ruling Liberal Democratic Party's ability to buy votes, and paved the way for new electoral rules that emphasized competing visions of the public good. In contrast to the previous system that pitted candidates from the same party against each other, the new rules tether policymaking to the vast swath of voters in the middle of the political spectrum. Regardless of ruling party, Japan's politics, economics, and foreign policy are on a neoliberal path.

Japan Transformed combines broad context and comparative analysis to provide an accurate understanding of Japan's past, present, and future.


The midst of the most severe global financial crisis since the Great Depression might seem an odd time to be writing a book about Japan's new political economy. So much is up in the air in Japan and in the world economy that a book aiming at enduring explanation might appear foolhardy. In the most stable of times, unforeseen contingencies can have dramatic effects on the flow of events, and such uncertainty is even greater when the global financial system is shaken to its core. Like other countries, Japan will be forced to adjust to skittish international investors and lackluster consumer markets at home and abroad, and it will employ a wide array of policy measures to do so. Add to this the fact that the Liberal Democratic Party that has ruled Japan for so much of the postwar period faced its greatest electoral challenge ever in 2009, and the present surely seems like a less than propitious moment to launch a book about Japan's political system. But this book is about deeper structural changes that shape the ways in which political parties compete with each other, how they fashion their party platforms, and who will be the winners and losers in the Japanese political economy in today's “hard times,” and in years to come.

The pivot of our analysis is a momentous change in electoral rules in 1994, when Japan abandoned its personalistic Single Nontransferable Vote system in favor of new rules with a more partisan and more majoritarian cast. Under the old system, three to five candidates were elected from each district. Multimember districts sound innocuous enough, as long as voters vote for parties, and each party receives its “fair share” of legislative seats. But in the old Japanese system, voters could cast only a single vote for an individual candidate, and since any party seeking to win a legislative majority had to field multiple candidates in most districts, electoral competition was dominated by “blood feuds” between members of the same parties.

The Liberal Democratic Party formed a legislative majority in 1955 when two smaller parties merged. Gaining control of the budget and policy making gave the majority party a huge advantage, but it now had to mitigate the potentially fratricidal combat among party members who were running against one another in each district. Following the path of least resistance, the party sought to distribute votes across multiple . . .

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