Government and Bureaucracy

A Brief history:

The imperial throne, throughout history has sometimes held power, been an authority figure

only, or been a pawn for those who held power. Having said that, each era in history is named after the reigning emperor, as is still the case today( Heisei ).Military rule lasted for hundreds of years, from the Kamakura period to the end of the Tokugawa shogunate, when a coup d'etat by low ranking samurai, led to the Meiji restoration (1868). This coup attempt was justified as an attempt to restore the emperor's power. The emperor's position and power is rooted in the ancient past, where the roots of the throne are said to have started as a Shinto priest performing religious rites, to ensure a good harvest. Even today, the present Emperor can be seen on TV planting rice in the Spring and harvesting it in the Autumn (a symbolic gesture). The Emperor is the symbolic head of Shintoism.

The bureaucracy in Japan has over 1.000 years of history behind it. The Yamato court modeled rules of government on the Chinese pattern. Bureaucracy expanded to maintain these rules. During the Edo period the bureaucracy took in many Samurai warriors as peace had prevailed for around 250 years.

In the 19th century as Japan opened its doors to the West, the power was still retained by these warrior-bureaucrats. They built upon their power by using Western administration ideas and founding national universities such as the famous Tokyo University, which was set

up to train future bureaucrats. This practice still remains in place today.

The  bureaucracy in Japan used to enjoy a powerful and respected position in Japan. 

Unfortunately the many, many scandals have led to a loss of trust by the people of Japan, for this once trusted powerhouse.

The Constitution:

Nowadays the Emperors position is similar to that of my countries Queen, holding only symbolic power.

The modern constitution in Japan was set up after the end of the Second World War, by the victorious allied powers. The constitution was enacted on May 3, 1947, which is a National holiday in Japan.

Article one of the constitution states that 'the Emperor derives his position from the will of the people', but as with so much else, that the allies tried to impose, it was left largely unclear, such points as, deposition.

Article nine states, 'the the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the Nation and the threat or use of force as a means of settling international disputes.

The constitution as it stands, poses many problems for Japan. One example is the fact that Japan cannot send Self Defense Force (Japanese military) members, with weapons on any UN sponsored  missions. This as I remember was a sore point with some nations, during the war with Iraq. The government often tries to get around this problem, but is always met with fierce opposition, from opponents against the sending of the Japanese military to any other country.

The Diet:

As in the British system the Japanese parliament is made up of two bodies, the Upper and Lower houses. The Diet selects the new Prime Minister, the Liberal Democratic Party has been in power, nearly constantly since 1955, despite various scandals surrounding its former Prime Ministers and other party officials. Diet members approve or disapprove of Supreme Court Judges, elect local officials and decide referendums on amendments to the constitution, which requires a two thirds majority.

Prime Ministers as a rule do not last more than one or two years. There are many reasons for this. One example, 'reforming the bureaucracy', is not a good pledge for a Prime Minister to make, 'rocking the boat' in any form, tends to see the quick demise of a Prime Minister.

Japanese democracy:

Democracy in Japan is not like the American or British version, where ordinary people, freely

discuss the latest 'goings on' of a particular politician or party. The Japanese are very hesitant to talk about politics, it is nearly a taboo subject. One reason I believe, is the comparative newness of democracy in Japan. a little over 50 year has passed, before freedom of speech and basic human rights were unheard of. Laws were severely upheld by military rulers, such as the Shoguns.

Murky Politics:

Politics in Japan could best be described as murky, with distinctions between business, bureaucracy and politicians, vague. It is a matter treated as normal, for a bureaucrat, upon retirement, to find himself in the private sector, with a nicely positioned 'job'. Many bureaucrats have come under suspicion for accepting bribes. Many politicians have been cornered, because of 'shady goings on'. Business executives seem to take it as a 'matter of course' to have secret dealings with politicians and bureaucrats, still believing they live in a long gone world !

Ordinary people find it difficult to understand the world of politics, with many confusing alliances between parties, parties changing names as quickly as Prime Ministers.

Politicians are generally not trusted, which has reflected in the recent poor turnouts during elections. As I have mentioned in another section, some companies actively support one candidate during an election. This sometimes entails, pushing their employees to vote for

"their candidate", and even bussing them to the polling station.

I personally detest election times in Japan, because the candidate go around the streets in minivans, with enormous sound systems, sometimes early in the morning, "especially at the weekend) blasting their message across to everyone in a radius of 1 km from the van. The day before an election can be the worst. A local election was held recently, one candidate seemed to be, nearly in tears, pleading with people to vote. Needless too say I breathed a sigh of relief the next day, as all campaigning ends on the eve of polling day.


The Judicial System: 

After the end of the last World War, the judicial system was radically changed from the Imperial courts, influenced by German law to a closer tie with British-American law, although there is no jury system in Japan.


The make up of the judicial system in Japan is as follows: 

The Supreme court, high courts, district courts, family courts and summary courts. There are three steps to the appeals process. The 50 district courts have first jurisdiction, the eight high courts are the second step in the process, and the Supreme court is the final court of appeal.

The family courts handle divorces, cases involving minors and such. Summary courts handle only minor cases, such as speeding violations.

The Supreme Court is made up of 15 justices, including a chief justice and is divided into the grand bench, which consists of all the supreme court justices and petty benches of three justices each. Usually cases are heard by the petty bench. The grand bench may hear important cases. The Supreme Court is also responsible for the administration of the legal system, including personnel appointments, training and so on.


Criminal offenses that may entail a prison sentence are first heard by the district court, when the public prosecutor decides to indict the defendant.

Usually the cases in the district and high courts are tried by three judges, one of which presides, with the defense and prosecution attorneys present.

After the evidence has been put before the court, the defense has made the final argument and the prosecution has made the final augment and the prosecution has made its sentencing

recommendations, the three judges will hand down their verdict. If the judges are divided the majority opinion is adopted and the dissenting opinion is not announced.

The high courts try cases that have been appealed either by the defense or prosecution. The procedure is similar to that of the district court, but the record of the previous trial is also

considered. The Supreme Court hears constitutional questions and other serious issues.

The Supreme Court, justices are appointed by the Cabinet, subject to approval in the first general election following the appointment. The Diet Court of Impeachment is empowered to investigate any justices that are accused of mal practice or considered incompetent, and can dismiss the justice in question.

From time to time, I will be updating this section, with interesting stories from the world of Japanese politics. Scandal, new Prime ministers, attempts too clarify politics, reforming the bureaucracy, and so on.

If your have any views, positive or negative, send me an email.

Stories from the world of politics:


Mr. Toshimi Taniuchi, once an inspector at the Ministry of Finance, was found guilty on September 25,1998, of accepting bribes from five banks, in the form of golf and restaurant outings. Sanwa bank paid 1.62 million yen, Tokyo Mitsubishi bank paid  1.39 million yen, Sumitomo bank paid 695.800 yen, Dai-ichi Kangyo Bank paid 329.200 yen and the now bankrupt Hokkaido Takushoku bank paid 426.900 yen, for these excursions.

In exchange Taniuchi leaked information on the Ministry's bank inspection schedules and so on.

Taniuchi pleaded guilty to all charges, his lawyers argued that such wining and dining is normal for ministry officials.

Taniuchi received a 28 month suspended sentence and a fine of 4.47 million yen, the amount of the bribes. He was also fired from his job in February.

Another bank inspector, Koichi Miyagawa was tried on the same charge and received a two and a half  year suspended sentence.


Takashi Sakakibara, ex Finance Ministry Bureaucrat:

Sakakibara was the deputy director of the Securities Bureau's general affairs section until he was fired in July 1998.

He was found guilty on November 13th 1998 of accepting bribes totaling 3. outings, gift coupons, etc. This occurred in Tokyo and Paris.

The companies involved: Nomura Securities spent 1.8 million yen on 28 occasions, Daiwa Securities spent on six occasions, Nikko Securities, 499.000 yen on nine occasions, Sumitomo Bank, 423.000 yen on 14 occasions and the now bankrupt Yamaichi Securities, 368.000 yen on five occasions. In return, Sakakibara leaked information that would benefit these companies. He was arrogant enough to demand entertainment from companies, when on business trips abroad, letting them take his schedule for the trips.

He was fined 3.37 million yen and a two year suspended prison term.

Sakakibara is the last of the four ex-Ministry officials to be sentenced. None of the four were sent to prison.


Mr. Minoru Noda (LDP: House of Representatives member):

The Supreme Court on November 17th 1998, by Noda against a lower court ruling, invalidating his 1996 election win due to his secretary's conviction for buying votes. Noda has been banned from running in an election for five years. This is the second time a Diet member has lost his seat, since a revision of the Public Offices Election Low in 1994.


Perhaps its time for politicians to stop blaming their secretaries every time they are found to have committed an offense!



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