For a new job I need to learn a considerable amount about political systems in Taiwan, Korea, Japan and Norway. Reading about the National Diet of Japan I notice that it holds of a lot of similarities with the system in the UK. Actually also the entire system of symbolic head of state (monarchy).

Two parliamentary houses in which debates are staged, a lower one comprising of elected regional representatives and an upper with promoted ones. A single representative nominated from the majority party that is tasked with economic development of the country. Similar political parties, Liberal, Socialist, Democratic and something akin to OMRLP the Happiness Realization Party. The power of the emperor to veto any decision made by the Diet. The necessity for him to appoint the new prime minister. They even use the 'first-past-the-post' system which I thought was relatively unused outside of the UK.

I know that Japan has never been a British colony so am I right to assume that it has modeled its political system on that of the UK? What are the reasons that they would chose to copy this method and is there some historical reason?

  • 5
    First-past-the-post is also used in the US and Canada, among other countries: it's not particularly unique to the UK. Reading through their constitution, it seems that in Japan (unlike in the UK) the Emperor doesn't even theoretically have a choice for PM - he must appoint the person designated by the Diet. The upper house definitely seems elected (for instance, there was an election for it in 2013). Not sure where you're getting all the other info.
    – cpast
    Commented Oct 14, 2014 at 17:59
  • Thanks for pointing out my mistakes. Any idea on the answer?
    – Adam Brown
    Commented Oct 14, 2014 at 21:32
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    The question assumes that they are more similar than any other bicameral parliaments with constitutional monarchy. Whilst it may seem odd that Japan's democracy is modeled off Prussian Parliament instead of US Presidency; Japanese democracy originated from the Meiji Restoration, not the post-WWII period. Commented Oct 15, 2014 at 1:45
  • Hey @LateralFractal maybe you could put that into an answer, all those systems and historical facts you mention I was not aware of, hence the question.
    – Adam Brown
    Commented Oct 15, 2014 at 8:12

1 Answer 1


Thanks to some pointers from @LateralFractal I was able to find the answer to my question.

The role of japans emperor as a symbolic head of state is one that dates back to around the 10thC. Since the 6th century the political system had imitated a Chinese system in which power was designated to the emperor according to the meritocratic model. However in practice this this model had become defunct and the powers of the emperor had been slowly devolved to parliament members.

This casual agreement was later revoked in 1868 with the Meiji Constitution. According to Wikipedia this was defined in an effort to socially reform Japan and strengthen it to the level of other western nations.

After the Meiji Restoration, which restored direct political power to the emperor for the first time in over a millennium, Japan underwent a period of sweeping political and social reform and westernization aimed at strengthening Japan to the level of the nations of the Western world. The immediate consequence of the Constitution was the opening of the first Parliamentary government in Asia.

The Meiji Constitution established clear limits on the power of the executive branch and the Emperor. It also created an independent judiciary. Civil rights and civil liberties were guaranteed, though in many cases they were subject to limitation by law. However, it was ambiguous in wording, and in many places self-contradictory. The leaders of the government and the political parties were left with the task of interpretation as to whether the Meiji Constitution could be used to justify authoritarian or liberal-democratic rule. It was the struggle between these tendencies that dominated the government of the Empire of Japan.

However the Meiji Constitution was suspended by allied forces when Japan surrendered in World War 2, they deprived Japan of sovereignty, the power of an authoritarian monarch. I can only assume this was under the impression that by reducing powers of the monarchy they would avoid further conflict in the future. This was drafted into the constitution of Japan

The constitution provides for a parliamentary system of government and guarantees certain fundamental rights. Under its terms the Emperor of Japan is "the symbol of the State and of the unity of the people" and exercises a purely ceremonial role without the possession of sovereignty.

The constitution, also known as the "Postwar Constitution" ( 戦後憲法 Sengo-Kenpō?) or the "Peace Constitution" ( 平和憲法 Heiwa-Kenpō?), is most characteristic and famous for the renunciation of the right to wage war contained in Article 9 and to a lesser extent, the provision for de jure popular sovereignty in conjunction with the monarchy.

The constitution was drawn up under the Allied occupation that followed World War II and was intended to replace Japan's previous militaristic and absolute monarchy system with a form of liberal democracy. Currently, it is a rigid document and no subsequent amendment has been made to it since its adoption.

Ergo, the current system is one devised by an international coalition and, although related to an original model, not one that was defined by the Japanese. Very interesting!

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    Initially democracy, modernisation and nationalism were in alignment with the restoration of the emperor, as the Tokugawa bureaucracy and class system had become increasingly unworkable. But the nationalist aspect spun out of control especially after Japan's success in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904; the Emperor of the time was not detached from this. So once the US rolled up Japan's imperial adventure, the Emperor was stripped of any executive power and made a more symbolic figurehead. Commented Oct 15, 2014 at 11:52

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