Failed Democractization in Prewar Japan: Breakdown of a Hybrid Regime

Failed Democractization in Prewar Japan: Breakdown of a Hybrid Regime

Failed Democractization in Prewar Japan: Breakdown of a Hybrid Regime

Failed Democractization in Prewar Japan: Breakdown of a Hybrid Regime


Failed Democratization in Prewar Japan presents a compelling case study on change in political regimes through its exploration of Japan's transition to democracy. Within a broad-ranging examination of Japan's "semi-democratic" political system from 1918 to 1932, when political parties tended to dominate the government, the book analyzes in detail why this system collapsed in 1932 and discusses the implications of the failure.

By reference to comparable cases-prewar Argentina, prewar Germany, postwar Brazil, and 1980s Thailand-Harukata Takenaka reveals that the factors responsible for the breakdown of the Taisho democracy in Japan replicated those that precipitated the collapse of democracy in Europe, Latin America, and elsewhere in Asia.

While most literature on these transitions focuses on successful cases, Takenaka explores democratic failure to answer questions about how and why political parties and their leaders can behave in ways that undermine the democratic institutions that serve as the basis for their formal authority.


On May 15, 1932, Prime Minister Inukai Tsuyoshi was assassinated by naval officers in the official residence of the prime minister in Tokyo. On May 26, Admiral Saitō Makoto was appointed prime minister by the emperor, based on the recommendation of Genrō Saionji Kinmochi. Saitō’s appointment put an end to the practice of party government—in which leaders of political parties became prime ministers—and meant that the semi-democratic regime of prewar Japan had broken down. Following the breakdown of the semi-democratic regime, an authoritarian regime in which the military projected strong influence was established. This regime brought Japan to the Second World War.

Objectives and Challenges

How and why does a semi-democratic regime—a regime that developed as a result of a significant degree of democratization—break down without experiencing further democratization? These are the questions I raise in this book. My answer emerges through a case study of changes in political regimes in prewar Japan.

The semi-democratic regime is a subtype of hybrid regimes, which have been increasingly drawing scholarly attention in recent years. Hybrid regimes contain attributes of democratic regimes as well as authoritarian regimes. Examples of hybrid regimes include competitive authoritarianism, electoral authoritarianism, pseudo democracy, and so on.

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