Japan is a constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary government. There is universal adult suffrage with a secret ballot for all elective offices. The executive branch is responsible to the Diet, and the judicial branch is independent. Sovereignty, previously embodied in the Emperor, is vested in the Japanese people, and the Emperor is defined as the symbol of the state. Japan's Government is a parliamentary democracy, with a House of Representatives and a House of Councillors. Executive power is vested in a cabinet composed of a prime minister and ministers of state, all of whom must be civilians. The prime minister must be a member of the Diet and is designated by his colleagues. The prime minister has the power to appoint and remove ministers, a majority of whom must be Diet members. In cases when the LDP has been in power, it has been convention that the President of the LDP serves as prime minister.
The seven major political parties represented in the National Diet are the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), the New Clean Government Party (Komeito), the Liberal Party (LP), the Japan Communist Party (JCP), the Social Democratic Party (SDP), and the New Conservative party (CP). The LDP has been the dominant party for most of the post-war period, and is composed of a several factions which are oriented along personalistic rather than ideological lines. Komeito is affiliated with the religous movement Soku Gakkai.
Japan's judicial system, drawn from customary law, civil law, and Anglo-American common law, consists of several levels of courts, with the Supreme Court as the final judicial authority. The Japanese constitution includes a bill of rights similar to the U.S. Bill of Rights, and the Supreme Court has the right of judicial review. Japanese courts do not use a jury system, and there are no administrative courts or claims courts. Because of the judicial system's basis, court decisions are made in accordance with legal statutes. Only Supreme Court decisions have any direct effect on later interpretation of the law.
Japan does not have a federal system, and its 47 prefectures are not sovereign entities in the sense that U.S. States are. Most depend on the central government for subsidies. Governors of prefectures, mayors of municipalities, and prefectural and municipal assembly members are popularly elected to 4-year terms.
Recent political developments
The post-World War II years saw tremendous economic growth in Japan, with the political system dominated by the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). That total domination lasted until the Diet Lower House elections on July 18, 1993, in which the LDP, in power since the mid-1950s, failed to win a majority and saw the end of its four-decade rule. A coalition of new parties and existing opposition parties formed a governing majority and elected a new prime minister, Morihiro Hosokawa, in August 1993. His government's major legislative objective was political reform, consisting of a package of new political financing restrictions and major changes in the electoral system. The coalition succeeded in passing landmark political reform legislation in January 1994.
In April 1994, Prime Minister Hosokawa resigned. Prime Minister Tsutomu Hata formed the successor coalition government, Japan's first minority government in almost 40 years. Prime Minister Hata resigned less than 2 months later. Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama formed the next government in June 1994, a coalition of his Japan Socialist Party (JSP), the LDP, and the small Sakigake Party. The advent of a coalition containing the JSP and LDP shocked many observers because of their previously fierce rivalry. Prime Minister Murayama served from June 1994 to January 1996. He was succeeded by Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto, who served from January 1996 to July 1998. Prime Minister Hashimoto headed a loose coalition of three parties until the July 1998 Upper House election, when the two smaller parties cut ties with the LDP. Hashimoto resigned due to a poor electoral showing by the LDP in those Upper House elections. He was succeeded as party president of the LDP and prime minister by Keizo Obuchi, who took office on July 30, 1998.
The LDP formed a governing coalition with the Liberal Party in January 1999, and Keizo Obuchi remained prime minister. The LDP-Liberal coalition expanded to include the New Komeito Party in October 1999. Prime Minister Obuchi suffered a stroke in April 2000 and was replaced by Yoshiro Mori. After the Liberal Party left the coalition in April 2000, Prime Minister Mori welcomed a Liberal Party splinter group, the New Conservative Party, into the ruling coalition. The three-party coalition made up of the LDP, New Komeito, and the Conservative Party maintained its majority in the Diet following the June 2000 Lower House elections. After a turbulent year in office in which he saw his approval ratings plummet to the single digits, Prime Minister Mori agreed to hold early elections for the LDP presidency in order to improve his party's chances in crucial July 2001 Upper House elections. Riding a wave of grassroots desire for change, maverick politician Junichiro Koizumi won an upset victory on April 24, 2001, over former Prime Minister Hashimoto and other party stalwarts on a platform of economic and political reform. Koizumi was elected as Japan's 87th Prime Minister on April 26, 2001.
Country name: conventional long form: none conventional short form: Japan
Data code: JA
Government type: constitutional monarchy (see also: JapanConstitution)
Administrative divisions: 47 prefectures; Aichi, Akita, Aomori, Chiba, Ehime, Fukui, Fukuoka, Fukushima, Gifu, Gumma, Hiroshima, Hokkaido, Hyogo, Ibaraki, Ishikawa, Iwate, Kagawa, Kagoshima, Kanagawa, Kochi, Kumamoto, Kyoto, Mie, Miyagi, Miyazaki, Nagano, Nagasaki, Nara, Niigata, Oita, Okayama, Okinawa, Osaka, Saga, Saitama, Shiga, Shimane, Shizuoka, Tochigi, Tokushima, Tokyo, Tottori, Toyama, Wakayama, Yamagata, Yamaguchi, Yamanashi
Independence: 660 BC (traditional founding by Emperor Jimmu)
National holiday: Birthday of the Emperor, 23 December (1933)
Legal system: modeled after European civil law system with English-American influence; judicial review of legislative acts in the Supreme Court; accepts compulsory ICJ jurisdiction, with reservations
Suffrage: 20 years of age; universal
Executive branch: chief of state: Emperor AKIHITO (since 7 January 1989) head of government: Prime Minister Yoshiro MORI (since 5 April 2000) cabinet: Cabinet appointed by the prime minister elections: none; the monarch is hereditary; the Diet designates the prime minister; the constitution requires that the prime minister must command a parliamentary majority, therefore, following legislative elections, the leader of the majority party or leader of a majority coalition in the House of Representatives usually becomes prime minister note: on 3 April 2000, Prime Minister Keizo OBUCHI suffered a stroke and was relieved of his duties; Chief Cabinet Secretary Mikio AOKI became acting prime minister; on 5 April 2000, Yoshiro MORI was elected prime minister by a vote in both houses of the Diet, receiving 137 out of 244 votes cast in the House of Councillors ans 335 out of 488 votes cast in the House of Representatives
Legislative branch: bicameral Diet or Kokkai consists of the House of Councillors or Sangi-in (252 seats; one-half of the members elected every three years - 76 seats of which are elected from the 47 multi-seat prefectural districts and 50 of which are elected from a single nationwide list with voters casting ballots by party; members elected by popular vote to serve six-year terms) and the House of Representatives or Shugi-in (500 seats - 200 of which are elected from 11 regional blocks on a proportional representation basis and 300 of which are elected from 300 single-seat districts; members elected by popular vote to serve four-year terms) elections: House of Councillors - last held 12 July 1998 (next to be held NA July 2001); House of Representatives - last held 20 October 1996 (next to be held by October 2000) election results: House of Councillors - percent of vote by party - NA; seats by party - LDP 102, DPJ 47, JCP 23, Komeito 22, SDP 13, Liberal Party 12, independents 26, others 7; note - the distribution of seats as of December 1999 is as follows - LDP 105, DPJ 57, Komeito 24, JCP 23, SDP 13, Liberal Party 12, independents 6, others 12; House of Representatives - percent of vote by party - NA; seats by party - LDP 240, NFP 142, DPJ 52, JCP 26, SDP 15, Sun Party 10, others 15; note - the distribution of seats as of December 1999 is as follows - LDP 267, DPJ 93, Komeito/Reform Club 48, Liberal Party 39, JCP 26, SDP 14, independents 9, others 4
Judicial branch: Supreme Court, chief justice is appointed by the monarch after designation by the cabinet, all other justices are appointed by the cabinet
Political parties and leaders: Democratic Party of Japan or DPJ [Yukio HATOYAMA, leader, Tsutomu HATA, secretary general]; Japan Communist Party or JCP [Tetsuzo FUWA, chairman, Kazuo SHII, secretary general]; Komeito [Takenori KANZAKI, president, Tetsuzo FUYUSHIBA, secretary general]; Liberal Democratic Party or LDP [Yoshiro MORI, president, Hiromu NONAKA, secretary general]; Liberal Party [Ichiro OZAWA, president, Hirohisa FUJII, secretary general]; Reform Club [Tatsuo OZAWA, leader, Katsuyuki ISHIDA, secretary general]; Social Democratic Party or SDP [Takako DOI, chairperson, Sadao FUCHIGAMI, secretary general] note: subsequent to the last legislative elections, the New Frontier Party or NFP and the Sun Party disbanded; in late 1997, the LP was formed by former NFP members; the DPJ was formed by former members of the SDP and Sakigake and, in April 1998, was joined by three additional parties which had formed after the NFP disbanded; New Peace Party and Komei merged to form Komeito in November 1998
International organization participation: AfDB, APEC, AsDB, Australia Group, BIS, CCC, CE (observer), CERN (observer), CP, EBRD, ESCAP, FAO, G- 5, G- 7, G-10, IADB, IAEA, IBRD, ICAO, ICC, ICFTU, ICRM, IDA, IEA, IFAD, IFC, IFRCS, IHO, ILO, IMF, IMO, Inmarsat, Intelsat, Interpol, IOC, IOM, ISO, ITU, NAM (guest), NEA, NSG, OAS (observer), OECD, OPCW, OSCE (partner), PCA, UN, UNCTAD, UNDOF, UNESCO, UNHCR, UNIDO, UNITAR, UNRWA, UNU, UPU, WFTU, WHO, WIPO, WMO, WToO, WTrO, ZC
Diplomatic representation in the US: chief of mission: Ambassador Shunji YANAI chancery: 2520 Massachusetts Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20008 telephone:  (202) 238-6700 FAX:  (202) 328-2187 consulate(s) general: Hagatna (Guam), Anchorage, Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Denver, Detroit, Honolulu, Houston, Kansas City (Missouri), Los Angeles, Miami, New Orleans, New York, Portland (Oregon), San Francisco, and Seattle consulate(s): Saipan (Northern Mariana Islands)
Diplomatic representation from the US: chief of mission: Ambassador Thomas S. FOLEY embassy: 10-5, Akasaka 1-chome, Minato-ku, Tokyo 107-8420 mailing address: Unit 45004, Box 205, APO AP 96337-5004 telephone:  (3) 3224-5000 FAX:  (3) 3224-5856 consulate(s) general: Naha (Okinawa), Osaka-Kobe, Sapporo consulate(s): Fukuoka, Nagoya
Flag description: white with a large red disk (representing the sun without rays) in the centre
See also: Rulers of Japan