First published in Toward Reform and Transparency in Japanese Policymaking Processes, Pacific Economic Papers No. 301, March 2000, Australia-Japan Research Centre
A CARTOON in the Asahi Shinbun dated 11 August 1993 shows the leaders of the seven political parties participating in the Hosokawa coalition government formed two days before. They are wielding samurai swords and standing triumphant on the inert body of a dinosaur labelled 'single party control'. One of the leaders is holding a banner that reads: 'Next is political reform', and the caption to the cartoon expresses the following sentiment: 'By launching [the new Cabinet], 'One Great Task' has been completed' (Asahi Shinbun, 11 August 1993).
At the time it was easy to regard the formation of the first non-Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) Cabinet for nearly 38 years as a heroic event. A party mired in corruption, preferring backstage deals to open government and massively influenced by irresponsible bureaucrats and self-serving interest groups had been vanquished by a coalition of far-sighted reformers. These reformers were proposing a coherent programme to democratize and modernize the political, economic and social systems and practices of Japan. As happens following most revolutions, however, what ensued was far more messy and confusing, the politics more murky and the achievements more ambiguous than the initial mood of euphoria would have predicted. Indeed, within a mere nine months of losing office, the LDP dinosaur had revived, and though much less powerful than before, was taking its first steps on the road to regaining its dominant political position.
The Hosokawa Cabinet adumbrated a reform agenda whose principal elements were deregulation, decentralisation, economic reforms and a radical change to the electoral system for the House of Representatives. In the event, partly because the tenure of office of his government was so brief, Hosokawa's only solid achievement in the area of political reform was a wholesale rewriting of the electoral law for the Lower House. 1 Although, however, this was arguably the one really major political change that took place in the 1990s, to gauge its effects is far more problematic. Indeed, it is a central argument of this