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Growing Democracy in Japan: The Parliamentary Cabinet System since 1868

by Brian Woodall

Availablecloth$60.00x 978-0-8131-4501-3
Asia in the New Millennium
300 pages  Pubdate: 06/17/2014  6 x 9  5 figures, 12 tables

The world’s third largest economy and a stable democracy, Japan remains a significant world power; but its economy has become stagnant, and its responses to the earthquake and tsunami of March 11, 2011 and the nuclear crisis that followed have raised international concerns. Despite being constitutionally modeled on Great Britain’s “Westminster”-style parliamentary democracy, Japan has failed to fully institute a cabinet-style government, and its executive branch is not empowered to successfully respond to the myriad challenges confronted by an advanced postindustrial society.

In Growing Democracy in Japan, Brian Woodall compares the Japanese cabinet system to its counterparts in other capitalist parliamentary democracies, particularly in Great Britain. Woodall demonstrates how the nation’s long history of dominant bureaucracies has led to weakness at the top levels of government, while mid-level officials exercise much greater power than in the British system. The post–1947 cabinet system, begun under the Allied occupation, was fashioned from imposed and indigenous institutions which coexisted uneasily. Woodall explains how an activist economic bureaucracy, self-governing “policy tribes” (zoku) composed of members of parliament, and the uncertainties of coalition governments have prevented the cabinet from assuming its prescribed role as primary executive body.

Woodall’s meticulous examination of the Japanese case offers lessons for reformers as well as for those working to establish democratic institutions in places such as Iraq, Afghanistan, China, and the new regimes born during the Arab Spring. At the very least, he argues, Japan’s struggles with this fundamental component of parliamentary governance should serve as a cautionary tale for those who believe that growing democracy is easy.

Brian Woodall is associate professor at the Sam Nunn School of International Affairs, Georgia Institute of Technology.

Growing Democracy in Japan is a scholarly contribution to the understanding of an important—indeed central—aspect of Japanese government and politics. -- J. A .A. Stockwin, author of Governing Japan: Divided Politics in a Resurgent Economy

Growing Democracy in Japan is the only book in English that explicates the development of the cabinet system, the key institution in Japanese government. Woodall strikes the right level of detail, and his writing is lively. -- John Creighton Campbell, emeritus, University of Michgan

"Woodall addresses an important question in the field of Japanese politics: Why hasn't the cabinet wielded more authority in the Japanese version of parliamentary government? To unravel this puzzle, Woodall carefully situates the Japanese case in a cross-national comparative perspective, and then delves into the history in its full complexity. He applies a keen analytical lens, demonstrating how crafty bureaucrats and wily backbenchers have resisted cabinet control."--Steven K. Vogel, University of California, Berkeley

"Matching in analytical depth what it attains in historical breadth, this book raises a question often posed but never satisfactorily answered until now:"why has Japan failed to evolve into a fully-functioning Westminster-style cabinet system?”--Aurelia George Mulgan, University of New South Wales -- Pacific Affairs

In this book Woodall makes a valuable contribution to the study of Japanese politics by carefully examining the historical development of the cabinet system, literally the centre of the Japanese government.

[. . .] Utilizing a wealth of both Japanese and English documents, Woodall chronologically traces the evolution of Japan’s cabinet system by focusing on major political actors, their interactions, and political structures at different times, or “critical junctures.”

[. . .] [T]his book is a welcome addition to the literature on Japanese politics.

[. . .] [T]he multidisciplinary approach he uses is very effective in understanding the complexity of the question of democracy in Japan.

[. . .] [T]here are crucial lessons to learn from Japan and this can assist other countries in understanding the challenges they will face in turning to a democratic cabinet system of governing. -- Journal of Japanese Studies