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Deutsches Institut für Japanstudien

Changing Patterns of Political Participation and Values in Japan

April 22 - April 22, 1998 / 6.30 P.M.

Wilhelm Vosse, University of Hannover, Germany

One of the most striking phenomena of Japan’s postwar political history is the fact that it was governed by one dominant political party for almost four decades, from 1955 until 1993. In general, such a long governing period in a democratic political system could be explained by a high rate of satisfaction with the policies or policy outcome of the government, a lack of political alternatives, a high percentage of habitual voters, or by a general disinterest in or disengagement towards political affairs.

Therefore, the change of government after 38 years in power could suggest that the Japanese electorate was either no longer satisfied with the LDP’s political performance and voted in favor of alternative parties and politicians,or – more fundamentally – the political culture might have changed gradually over the last two or three decades, and citizens in general might have become increasingly critical. Some analysts have portrayed the fall from government as a sign for a renewed increase in political awareness and political participation in general, particularly in various citizens’ movements.
However, if we assume that the political culture has to some extend changed and Japanese people finally demand more say and participation in political affairs, how can we then explain the LDP’s return to government after only one year in opposition, and its unchanged high support rate according to opinion polls? How can we explain why the widespread protest movements of the 1960s and 1970s (AMPO protest, students’ movement, Anti-Vietnamwar movement, or environmental movement), although forcing to resign certain cabinets, were not strong enough to force the LDP into opposition?

This presentation tries to tackle these questions by offering some explanations, which are based on empirical studies (NHK surveys, PMO’s surveys, ISSPsurveys, etc.) and political culture studies from the 1960s until today concerning the change and stability of certain patterns of political participation and political values.

Wilhelm VOSSE is a Ph.D. candidate at University of Hannover, Germany. He is currently conducting research for his dissertation on political activities of environmental movements in Japan.