Political Culture and Constitutionalism: A Comparative Approach

By Daniel P. Franklin; Michael J. Baun | Go to book overview

5

Political Culture and
Constitutionalism in Japan

John O. Haley

Descriptions of the role of political culture and constitutional governance in contemporary Japan risk either banal repetition or rapid irrelevance. We know too much and too little. The superficial details of Japanese constitutionalism as a static set of institutions, processes, and principles are well known. Nevertheless, we have yet to appreciate fully how they developed and how they work. Both Japanese and outside observers tend explicitly or implicitly to describe Japanese political institutions and processes within a largely American frame of reference, ignoring critical European and even English parliamentary comparisons. Even where narrowly American assumptions are avoided, most analyses proceed from unstated paradigms of law and political behavior derived from Western experience and beliefs. As applied to the historical dimensions of the Japanese experience, these analytical constructs may obscure more than clarify. Fixed, unquestioned premises about the past necessarily influence our perceptions of the present. When wrong, they fatally skew our understanding. To the extent possible, we should let Japan speak without encrypting the message into codes that warp its meaning. This is at least the intent of the interpretation that follows of political culture and constitutionalism in Japan.

No simple statement of Japan's political culture seems adequate. Nevertheless, certain orientations of habit, attitude, and value should be apparent in the political and legal life of any nation. For a country with the ethnic homogeneity and common history of Japan, certain orientations can be identified, several of which seem especially important to Japanese constitutionalism. The first is the remarkable stability of Japan's institutional structures and processes. Another is an acceptance of hierarchical authority and law with, however, an expectation of benevolence by those who receive the benefits of such deference. A third is more

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