What are normally translated into English as 'factions' are endemic to most Japanese political parties of any size, and indeed exist in other kinds of organisation as well. The Japanese term is habatsu, which may be abbreviated to ha when referring to a particular faction, as in Tanaka ha (Tanaka faction). The second part of the word, batsu, when used on its own is often translated 'clique'. Other prefixes may be attached to it, making gakubatsu (academic clique, 'professoriate'), zaibatsu (financial clique, conglomerate firm) or hanbatsu (clan clique, in other words Meiji period leaders representing various ban, or clans).
Even though 'factions' may readily be identified in political parties elsewhere, habatsu implies cultural characteristics that, while not necessarily absent outside Japan, are particularly marked within Japan itself. Central to the concept of habatsu is the idea of a leader-follower relationship of a paternalistic kind, whereby followers attach themselves to the leader, who is expected both to give direction to their activities and to provide benefits for them. Discussions of habatsu sometimes link them with OYABUN-KOBUN RELATIONSHIPS, which may roughly be translated as relations between boss and henchman. Today, however, such a comparison is regarded as derogatory. The point is though that the oyabun is a 'quasiparent' to his kobun who are his 'quasi-children'. In other words, the language that is being used is the language of family relationships.
Some analysts maintain that the language of Japanese cultural specificity ought to be avoided in discussions of socio-political phenomena such as habatsu. The point is well taken, because Japanese political factions may be regarded as integral parts of a modern political system that merits comparison with other political systems in many parts of the world. Nevertheless, those who would banish cultural considerations from the understanding of habatsu are faced uncomfortably with the sheer pervasiveness of this phenomenon in political organisations such as parties. The quite reasonable argument that habatsu behave rationally in terms of their perceived interests does not quite meet the objection that they behave in significantly different ways from possibly parallel types of group in other parts of the world. In particular, many Japanese habatsu have long pedigrees, extending over decades. Indeed, sometimes, their histories last longer than those of the parties (or other organisations) of which they are a part. Also, though policy prescription is likely to be an aspect of their purpose, it may well be easily subordinated to the maintenance of the habatsu and of the integrity of its internal relationships.
The best solution to this problem may well be to regard habatsu as culturally conditioned, but politically adaptive. We may illustrate this by consideration of three examples of habatsu, and habatsu-systems, in operation.
The LIBERAL DEMOCRATIC PARTY (LDP) has an entrenched habatsu-system, which has passed through various phases of adaptation. Soon