Government of Japan

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The government of Japan is a constitutional monarchy where the power of the Emperor is limited, relegated primarily to ceremonial duties. His role is defined by the 1947 constitution as "the symbol of the state and of the unity of the people".

Power is held chiefly by the Prime Minister of Japan and other elected members of the Diet, while sovereignty is vested in the Japanese people.[1] The Emperor effectively acts as the head of state on diplomatic occasions. Akihito is the current Emperor of Japan. Naruhito, Crown Prince of Japan, stands as next in line to the Chrysanthemum Throne .

Japan's legislative organ is the National Diet, a bicameral parliament. The Diet consists of a House of Representatives, containing 480 seats, elected by popular vote every four years or when dissolved and a House of Councillors of 242 seats, whose popularly elected members serve six-year terms. There is universal suffrage for adults over 20 years of age,[2] with a secret ballot for all elective offices.[1] In 2009, the social liberal Democratic Party of Japan took power after 54 years of the liberal conservative Liberal Democratic Party's rule.

The Prime Minister of Japan is the head of government. The position is appointed by the Emperor of Japan after being designated by the Diet from among its members and must enjoy the confidence of the House of Representatives to remain in office. The Prime Minister is the head of the Cabinet (the literal translation of his Japanese title is "Prime Minister of the Cabinet") and appoints and dismisses the Ministers of State, a majority of whom must be Diet members. Shinzo Abe currently serves as the Prime Minister of Japan.[3]

Politics under the Postwar Constitution

Historically influenced by Chinese law, the Japanese legal system developed independently during the Edo period through texts such as Kujikata Osadamegaki. However, since the late 19th century, the judicial system has been largely based on the civil law of Europe, notably France and Germany. For example, in 1896, the Japanese government established a civil code based on the German model. With post–World War II modifications, the code remains in effect in present-day Japan.[4] Statutory law originates in Japan's legislature, the National Diet of Japan, with the rubber stamp approval of the Emperor. The current constitution requires that the Emperor promulgates legislation passed by the Diet, without specifically giving him the power to oppose the passing of the legislation.[1] Japan's court system is divided into four basic tiers: the Supreme Court and three levels of lower courts.[5] The main body of Japanese statutory law is a collection called the Six Codes.[4]

National government[edit]


Executive power is vested in the Cabinet, which is led by the Prime Minister. Japan's legislature, the Diet, designates the Prime Minister, who then appoints the other members of the Cabinet. The Cabinet as a whole is responsible to the Diet, and the Diet may dismiss the entire Cabinet with a non-confidence resolution.

Prime Minister[edit]

Shinzō Abe, Prime Minister of Japan (2006-2007 and 2012-present)

The Prime Minister exercises "control and supervision" of the executive branch and is the commander-in-chief of the Japan Self-Defense Forces. He has the power to present bills to the Diet and to sign laws, and he may dissolve the Diet's House of Representatives at will. He presides over the Cabinet and appoints the other Cabinet ministers, called Ministers of State. The Prime Minister is designated by the Diet before being formally appointed by the Emperor; he reports to the Diet; and he may be dismissed along with his Cabinet by the Diet via a non-confidence resolution. The Prime Minister and his Cabinet must be civilians.

Name Term of office
Junichiro Koizumi 2001–2006
Shinzō Abe 2006–2007
Yasuo Fukuda 2007–2008
Taro Aso 2008–2009
Yukio Hatoyama 2009–2010
Naoto Kan 2010–2011
Yoshihiko Noda 2011–2012
Shinzō Abe 2012-Present

The Cabinet[edit]

Main article: Cabinet of Japan

The Cabinet consists of the Prime Minister and up to fourteen other members appointed by the Prime Minister, called Ministers of State. All Cabinet members must be civilians, and the Constitution states that the majority of the Cabinet must be elected members of either house of the Diet, with the precise wording leaving an opportunity to appoint non-elected officials[citation needed].

Office Incumbent
Deputy Prime Minister
Minister for Administrative Reform
Minister for Total Reform of Social Security and Tax
Minister for Civil Service Reform
Minister of State for Government Revitalisation
Katsuya Okada
Minister for Internal Affairs and Communications
Minister of State for Okinawa and Northern Territories Affairs
Minister of State for Promotion of Local Sovereignty
Minister of State for Regional Revitalisation
Tatsuo Kawabata
Minister for Justice Makoto Taki
Minister for Foreign Affairs Kōichirō Gemba
Minister for Finance Jun Azumi
Minister for Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Hirofumi Hirano
Minister for Health, Labour and Welfare Yoko Komiyama
Minister for Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Akira Gunji
Minister for Economy, Trade and Industry
Minister of State for the Corporation in Support of Compensation for Nuclear Damage
Minister of State for Nuclear Incident Economic Countermeasures
Yukio Edano
Minister for Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism
Minister of State for Ocean Policy
Yuichiro Hata
Minister for the Environment
Minister of State for the Restoration from and Prevention of Nuclear Accident
Minister of State for the Nuclear Power Policy and Administration
Hiroyuki Nagahama
Minister for Defense Satoshi Morimoto
Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura
Minister of State for Reconstruction
Minister of State for Comprehensive Review of Measures in Response to the Great East Japan Earthquake
Tatsuo Hirano
Chairperson of the National Public Safety Commission
Minister of State for Consumer Affairs and Food Safety
Minister of State for the Abduction Issue
Jin Matsubara
Minister of State for Postal Reform
Minister of State for Financial Services
Tadahiro Matsushita
Minister of State for National Policy
Minister of State for Economic and Fiscal Policy
Minister of State for Science and Technology Policy
Minister of State for Space Policy
Motohisa Furukawa
Minister of State for Disaster Management
Minister of State for the New Public Commons
Minister of State for Measures for the Declining Birthrate and Gender Equality
Masaharu Nakagawa


Main article: Ministries of Japan


Main article: National Diet

The bicameral National Diet is Japan's legislature, described in the Constitution as "the highest organ of state power". It is composed of a lower house, the House of Representatives, and an upper house, the House of Councillors. The Diet's responsibilities include the making of law and the approval of the annual national budget. It is also responsible for selecting the Prime Minister.

For a bill to become law in Japan, it must first be passed by both houses and then promulgated by the Emperor. However, the role of the Emperor is purely ceremonial and is merely a formality. Under the Constitution, he cannot refuse to promulgate a law unlike the Royal Assent in other nations.


Supreme Court Building, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo

Japan's judiciary consists of several levels of courts, with the highest being the Supreme Court. As drawn up on May 3, 1947, the judicial branch includes a bill of rights[citation needed] similar to that of the United States Bill of Rights, and the Supreme Court has the right of judicial review. However, it does not have an administrative court or claims court, and the jury system has only come into use recently. Because of the judicial system's basis, court decisions are the final judicial authority.

The judicial branch is independent of the other two. Its judges are appointed by the Emperor as directed by the Cabinet.

Local government[edit]

Administrative divisions
of Japan
Administrative divisions of Japan

Japan has a unitary system of government in which local jurisdictions largely depend on national government financially. The Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications intervenes significantly in local government, as do other ministries. This is done chiefly financially because many local government jobs need funding initiated by national ministries. This is dubbed as "thirty-percent autonomy."[6]

The result of this power is a high level of organizational and policy standardization among the different local jurisdictions allowing them to preserve the uniqueness[citation needed] of their prefecture, city, or town. Some of the more collectivist jurisdictions, such as Tokyo and Kyoto, have experimented with policies in such areas as social welfare that later were adopted by the national government.

Local authorities[edit]

Japan is divided into forty-seven administrative divisions, the prefectures: one metropolitan district (Tokyo), two urban prefectures (Kyoto and Osaka), forty-three rural prefectures, and one "district", Hokkaidō. Large cities are subdivided into wards, and further split into towns, or precincts, or subprefecture and counties.

Cities are self-governing units administered independently of the larger jurisdictions within which they are located. In order to attain city status, a jurisdiction must have at least 30,000 inhabitants, 60 percent of whom are engaged in urban occupations. There are self-governing towns outside the cities as well as precincts of urban wards. Like the cities, each has its own elected mayor and assembly. Villages are the smallest self-governing entities in rural areas. They often consist of a number of rural hamlets containing several thousand people connected to one another through the formally imposed framework of village administration. Villages have mayors and councils elected to four-year terms.

Structure of local government[edit]

All prefectural and municipal governments in Japan are organized following the Local Autonomy Law, a statute applied nationwide in 1947.

Each jurisdiction has a chief executive, called a governor (知事 chiji?) in prefectures and a mayor (市町村長 shichōsonchō?) in municipalities. Most jurisdictions also have a unicameral assembly (議会 gikai?), although towns and villages may opt for direct governance by citizens in a general assembly (総会 sōkai?). Both the executive and assembly are elected by popular vote every four years.

Local governments follow a modified version of the separation of powers used in the national government. An assembly may pass a vote of no confidence in the executive, in which case the executive must either dissolve the assembly within ten days or automatically lose their office. Following the next election, however, the executive remains in office unless the new assembly again passes a no confidence resolution.

The primary methods of local lawmaking are local ordinance (条例 jōrei?) and local regulations (規則 kisoku?). Ordinances, similar to statutes in the national system, are passed by the assembly and may impose limited criminal penalties for violations (up to 2 years in prison and/or 1 million yen in fines). Regulations, similar to cabinet orders in the national system, are passed by the executive unilaterally, are superseded by any conflicting ordinances, and may only impose a fine of up to 50,000 yen.

Local governments also generally have multiple committees such as school boards, public safety committees (responsible for overseeing the police), personnel committees, election committees and auditing committees. These may be directly elected or chosen by the assembly, executive or both.

All prefectures are required to maintain departments of general affairs, finance, welfare, health, and labor. Departments of agriculture, fisheries, forestry, commerce, and industry are optional, depending on local needs. The governor is responsible for all activities supported through local taxation or the national government.

See also[edit]

External links[edit]


  1. ^ a b c "The Constitution of Japan". House of Councillors of the National Diet of Japan. 1946-11-03. Retrieved 2007-03-10. 
  2. ^ "World Factbook; Japan". CIA. 2007-03-15. Retrieved 2007-03-27. 
  3. ^ "Prime Minister of Japan and His Cabinet". Office of the Prime Minister of Japan. Retrieved 2008-09-23. 
  4. ^ a b "Japanese Civil Code". Encyclopædia Britannica. 2006. Retrieved 2006-12-28. 
  5. ^ "The Japanese Judicial System". Office of the Prime Minister of Japan. Retrieved 2007-03-27. 
  6. ^ 三割自治 san wari jichi