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Japan

 
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Japan

INTEREST GROUPS

The emphasis on consensus in Japanese politics is seen in the role of interest groups in policy making. These groups range from those with economic interests, such as occupational and professional associations, to those with strong ideological commitments, such as the right-wing Society to Protect Japan and the left-wing Japan Teachers Union (Nihon Kyoshokuin Kumiai-- Nikkyoso). There are groups representing minorities (the Burakumin Liberation League, the Central Association of Korean Residents in Japan [Chosoren], and Utari Kyokai in Hokkaido, representing the Ainu community); groups representing war veterans and postwar repatriates from Japan's overseas colonies (the Military Pensions Association and the Association of Repatriates); the victims of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki; and women opposed to prostitution and the threat to public morals posed by businesses offering "adult" entertainment (the Japan Mothers League). Mayors' and prefectural governors' associations promote regional development. Residents' movements near United States military installations in Okinawa and elsewhere pressure local authorities to support reductions in base areas and to exert more control over United States military personnel off base. The great majority of Japanese are connected, either directly or indirectly, to one or more of these interest groups.

In the postwar period, extremely close ties emerged among major interest groups, political parties, and the bureaucracy. Many groups identified so closely with the ruling LDP that it was often difficult to discern the boundaries between the party and the various groups. Officers of agricultural, business, and professional groups were elected to the Diet as LDP legislators. Groups of LDP parliamentarians formed zoku (tribes), which represented the interests of occupational constituencies, such as farmers, small businesses, and the construction industry. The zoku, interest groups, and bureaucrats worked together closely in formulating policy in such areas as agriculture (see Bureaucrats and the Policy-Making Process , this ch.).

In the case of the Socialist Democratic Party of Japan (until 1991 known as the Japan Socialist Party), the Democratic Socialist Party, the Japan Communist Party (Nihon Kyosanto), and Komeito (Clean Government Party), the links with interest groups were even more intimate. Before the public-sector unions linked up with the Japanese Trade Union Confederation (Rengo) in 1989, most leaders of the Japan Socialist Party and Democratic Socialist Party and many socialist Diet members had been officers of the confederation's predecessors, the General Council of Trade Unions of Japan (Nihon Rodo Kumiai Sohyogikai, or Sohyo for short), founded in 1950, and the Japan Confederation of Labor (Zen Nihon Rodo Sodomei, or Domei for short), established in 1964. Despite repeated disavowals, the Komeito remains related to its parent body, the Value Creation Society (Soka Gakkai), an organization of lay followers of the Buddhist sect Nichiren Shoshu, founded before World War II and one of Japan's most successful new religions (see Komeito , this ch.; Religious and Philosophical Traditions , ch. 2). The communists had their own unions and small business groups, which competed with conservative small business associations. Japan's relatively few lawyers divided their allegiance among three professional groups separately affiliated with the LDP, the Japan Socialist Party, and the Japan Communist Party.

Both the LDP and the opposition parties, which had weak regional organizations, depended on the interest groups to win elections. The interest groups provided funding, blocks of loyal voters (although these could not be manipulated as easily as in the past), and local organizational networks.

One important question concerning interest groups in any country is how well they represent the diverse concerns of all the citizens. A second is whether government responds evenhandedly to their demands. Japan's postwar record on both counts was generally good. Both major and minor groups in society were well represented. And the government has implemented policies to spread the blessings of economic growth among the population at large. Such arrangements helped to ensure political stability and to explain why, in repeated public opinion polls, 90 percent of respondents viewed themselves as "middle class."

After the war, for example, there were major policy changes on agriculture. Despite prewar nationalistic idealization of the rural village, the government at that time squeezed the farmers for taxes and rice. Political scientist Kent E. Calder observed that "the prewar state took heavily from the countryside, without providing much in return." Historians describe how many farm families starved or were forced to sell their daughters into prostitution. Responding to the threat of vigorous leftist movements in the countryside, conservative governments after 1945 initiated price supports for rice and other measures that brought the farmers not just a decent standard of living but affluence. By the 1970s, it was not uncommon to encounter group tours of farmers who had never visited Tokyo taking holidays in Hawaii or New York City. In Calder's view, conservative governments were stoutly probusiness but were also willing to co-opt other interests such as agriculture at the expense of business to ensure social stability and prevent socialist electoral victories. Sometimes government adopted policies first espoused by the opposition (for example, medical insurance and other social welfare policies).

Data as of January 1994


Japan - TABLE OF CONTENTS

  • Japan - The Political System - Government and Politics

  • Japanese Foreign Relations


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