Placards and Colored Pavement: Retail Democracy and the Power of the Associational Field in Local Politics
September 30, 1998 / 6.30 P.M.
Darryl Flaherty, Institute of Social Science, Tokyo University
As beneficiaries of the establishment of conservative rule in 1955, business associations have long dominated the local politics of retail policy. Although mandated by law to act for the greater public good, these associations often exploited the middle ground on the political landscape in order to protect narrow member interests. In the process, business associations began (and ended) the political careers of prefectural assembly members,decided local political party support for gubernatorial candidates, and even drove a member of the national Diet to change his party affiliation. In retail policy, the Chamber of Commerce and the Organization of Small and Medium Enterprises (Chuokai) in Shizuoka attracted international attention when they defended local retailers from free market competition from 1963 to 1997. Ironically, by fighting for the economic interests of their members, these associations inadvertently struck a blow at economism. The history of retail democracy, Shizuoka-style, began in 1963. In that year, the Nagasakiya Department Store triggered a wave of construction by other quote;big storesquote; that ended a thirty-year hiatus. In response, members of the Chuokai took to the streets to oppose more large stores and the Chamber of Commerce did its part by delaying new construction under the Large Scale Retail Stores Law (LSRL) of 1973. The debate intensified and by the late 1970s, consumer groups had organized to counter the small retailers and their allies. In 1980, they backed the efforts of the large discount chain ItoYokado to open a store in Shizuoka. Following deregulation of the LSRL in 1991, local business associations shifted their focus from marches in the streets to appeals for urban renewal and political decentralization.With deregulation, they had lost their dominant position in the formation of retail policy. Yet, through vigorous and public advocacy, local business associations had opened the political field for other associational actors and transformed local politics.
Darryl FLAHERTY is a Ph.D. candidate in Modern Japanese History at Columbia University, New York and currently affiliated with the Institute of SocialScience, University of Tokyo as a Japan Foundation Research Fellow. There, he is conducting research on the associational field in modern Japanese politics, with particular attention to professional and trade associations.