First published in Asian Affairs, Vol. XIV, Part III, October 1983
THE EMERGENCE late in 1982 of a new Japanese prime minister, makes this an opportune time to assess the long term development and direction of the politics of Japan. People in this country are well aware that Japan since the war has become an economic superpower, thus confounding the sceptics who believed in the late 1940s and early 1950s that the prospects for economic recovery were remote. About the politics of Japan the general level of awareness in Britain and Europe is relatively low. This is not so surprising because most people are understandably little concerned about political details of countries remote from the part of the world they happen to inhabit, but in the case of Japan it is not simply a problem of unconcern about detail, but rather of a general absence of 'focus'. What interests people, but what they often find hard to grasp, is not so much who holds what portfolio in the Nakasone cabinet, or which political parties stand for what set of policies, but more general questions such as how Japanese politics actually works, what is its driving force, is it 'democratic' in a recognisable sense, does the electorate have the same sort of political role enjoyed by, say, the British electorate, who really exercises power and makes basic decisions, how far is the government involved in the running of the economy, is there a 'hands-off' laissez faire attitude to the economy by government, or should we speak, as some observers have done, of 'Japan Incorporated'?
There is another set of questions about the politics of Japan which I frequently find myself being asked, which relates to the role which an economically vigorous and effective Japan might play in the complex and mysterious world of the late 1980s and 1990s. Concern with this question seems to me to relate to two sorts of perception which people commonly have. The first is a feeling-if I can put it as vaguely as that-that a nation which possesses virtually the second largest economy in the world would be unusual if it did not match its economic strength with corresponding levels of military capacity. Is
* Lecture given to the Royal Society for Asian Affairs, London 23 February 1983.