Japanese Politics in Comparative Perspective

From the East to the West, and Then Whither?

by Takashi Inoguchi (Author)
©2021 Monographs XVI, 286 Pages


Japan lives twice. Japan belonged to the East before 1962, when The Economist’s editorialized, "Consider Japan". It gave the world a warning-cum-welcoming signal to Japan about joining the West. Thereafter Japan belonged to the West in science, industry and international law, whereas Japan was regarded psychologically in the West as belonging to the East in sakura, sushi, and snow country. After 1992, the morning after the bubble collapse, Japan belonged to the new West, not bereft of mishaps and mistakes and embedded with stall and stagnation as the rest of the old West. Yet Japan has been going through the "lost three decades" of muddling through recession and deflation, as if Japan had trod the Dengist path to "hide your strength and bide your time" without loud fanfare. By 2022 Japan will come up quietly as the oasis of stability when the world is struggling with climate change and infectious disease diffusion in addition to its decline from the overconfidence of its own capabilities. Japan has emerged, combining its aggregate niches of technology of its own erstwhile dominant manufacturing, further enhanced by technological prowess obtained by massive foreign direct investment due to sluggish domestic market demand. In examining Japanese politics in comparative angle, this book starts by asking: from the East to the West, and then whither?

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • List of Figure
  • List of Tables
  • Acknowledgements
  • Introduction
  • Part I Japanese Politics
  • 1 The Pragmatic Evolution of Japanese Democratic Politics
  • 2 1945: Post–World War II Japan
  • 3 Globalization and Cultural Nationalism
  • 4 Clash of Values across Civilizations
  • Part II Comparative Politics
  • 5 The Emergence of Comparative Politics in Japan
  • 6 Comparisons with Asian and Non-Asian Societies: The United States, Australia, Japan, Russia, China, and India
  • 7 An Evidence-Based Typology of Asian Societies: What Do Asian Societies Look Like from the Bottom Up instead of Top Down?
  • Part III Political Science as a Discipline
  • 8 Political Theory: Conversations between the Normative and the Empirical
  • 9 Democracy and the Development of Political Science in Japan
  • 10 Political Science in Three Democracies: Disaffected (Japan), Third-Wave (South Korea), and Possibly Fledgling (China)
  • 11 Social Science Infrastructure: East Asia and the Pacific (Research and Teaching)
  • 12 Foreseeing Perspective (Voir pour Prévoir)
  • Index

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I would like to express my gratitude to the persons and institutions that have contributed to the production of this book. Irrespective of the subject covered by this book, above all, I owe it to Kuniko Inoguchi, who has been hospitable at home and in a positive spirit in conversations with me while she has been kept busy with her own professional tasks. I am eternally thankful to her.

Most directly to the book publication, I owe thanks to Farideh Koohi-Kamali of Peter Lang, for encouraging me to produce a book on Japanese politics. It was in the mid-2010s at an academic association meeting in the United States. I am immensely grateful to her for her decision and patience. At Peter Lang, Suma George and Na Li handled their work with efficiency and grace.

At J.F. Oberlin University, Tokyo, I owe an enormous debt to the late Toyoshi Sato, its Chancellor, who accommodated me with ideal settings since 2017 but who passed away suddenly in 2020. Masae Toyoizumi and Yi Cai helped me to carry out various aspects of production process like two angels.

I gratefully acknowledge the following publishers and journals for graciously granting permission:

←xiii | xiv→

Chapter 1: “The pragmatic evolution of Japanese democratic politics,” in Michele Schmiegelow (ed.), Democracy in Asia, Campus Verlag, 1997, pp. 217–231.

Chapter 2: “1945: Post-Second World War Japan,” in Benjamin Isakhan and Stephen Stockwell (eds.), The Edinburgh Companion to the History of Democracy, Edinburgh: University of Edinburgh Press, 2012, pp. 304–311. Reproduced with permission of Edinburgh University Press Limited through PLSclear.

Chapter 3: “Globalisation and cultural nationalism,” in Yoshio Sugimoto (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Modern Japanese Culture, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009, pp. 336–351. Reproduced with permission of Cambridge University Press through PLSclear.

Chapter 4: “Clash of values across civilizations,” in Russell Dalton and Hans-Dieter Klingemann (eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Political Behavior, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007, pp. 240–258. Reproduced with permission of Oxford Publishing Limited through PLSclear.

Chapter 5: “The emergence of comparative politics in Japan,” Asian Journal of Comparative Politics, 1(1), 2016, pp. 77–87. Reproduced with permission of Sage Publishing.

Chapter 6: Reprinted by permission from Springer: “Comparisons with Asian and Non-Asian Societies: The United States, Australia, Japan, Russia, China, and India,” in Takashi Inoguchi (ed.), Exit, voice, and loyalty in Asia: Individual choice under 32 societal umbrellas, Dordrecht: Springer, 2017, pp. 201–234.Chapter 7: “An Evidence-based typology of Asian societies: What do Asian societies look like from the bottom up instead of top down?” in Takashi Inoguchi (ed.), The Sage handbook of Asian foreign policy, 2 vols., London: Sage Publications, 2019, Vol. 1, pp. 443–461. Reproduced with permission of Sage Publishing.

Chapter 8: “Political theory: Conversations between the normative and the empirical,” in Bertrand Badie, Dirk Berg-Schlosser, and Leonard Morlino (eds.), International Encyclopedia of Political Science, Vol. 1, London: Sage Publications, 2011, pp. 2050–2063. Reproduced with permission of Sage Publishing.

Chapter 9: Republished with permission of University of Michigan Press: “Democracy and the development of political science in Japan,” in David Easton, John Gunnel and Michael Stein (eds.), Regime and discipline: Democracy and the discipline of political science, Ann Arbor: University ←xiv | xv→of Michigan Press, 1995, pp. 265–293; permission conveyed through Copyright Clearance Center.

Chapter 10: “Political science in three democracies: Disaffected (Japan), third-wave (South Korea) and possibly fledgling (China),” in John Trent and Michael Stein (eds.), The world of political science: A critical overview of the development of political science around the globe, Barbara Budrich Publishers, 2012, pp. 11–39.

Chapter 11: “Social science infrastructure: East Asia and the Pacific (research and teaching),” in James Wright (ed.), International Encyclopedia of Social and Behavioral Sciences, New York: Elsevier, 2015, pp. 631–636. Reproduced with permission of Elsevier.

Chapter 12: “Foreseeing perspective (Voir pour Prévoir),” in Takashi Inoguchi (ed.), The Sage handbook of Asian foreign policy, 2 vols., London: Sage Publications, 2019, Vol. 1, pp. 75–98. Reproduced with permission of Sage Publishing.

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This book’s aim is to be a pioneer in Japanese politics from a comparative perspective. The subtitle suggests that Japan’s position in the world shifted from the East to the West in the 19th and the 20th centuries, and that since the dawn of the 21st century it is not entirely clear whether Japan will maintain its position in the West, or shift back to the East, or transition to a new unknown mix of East and West.

Why have I come to approach Japanese politics from a comparative perspective? Why is it important to adopt this approach, especially in the study of Japanese politics after the dawn of the new millennium? This Introduction traces how I became interested in Japanese politics from a comparative perspective while keeping in mind three levels of analysis: national, individual and systemic (cf. Singer, 1961; Putnam, 2000; Inoguchi/Le, 2019 and 2021). Let’s begin when I was a young university student in the early 1960s. I detested the use of the East in one of Yasunari Kawabata’s novels Snow Country (2008). In fact, I was born in a “snow country.” Kawabata’s book has a famous line: “The train came out of the long tunnel into the snow country. The earth lay white under the night sky” (p. 3). I detested the tone and direction of his conception of a snow country. It was out of date. If I were writing the novel, it would be: Once the trains passed the tunnel, a blue-sky country enveloped my eyes. His snow country was Niigata, ←1 | 2→whereas my blue-sky country was Tokyo on the Kanto plain. Kawabata, a Nobel Prize winner, was looking at l’ancien Japon. The Nobel Prize committee liked the image of a Japan that was culturally eternal, a Japan that steadfastly belonged to the East, even if industrially and technologically Japan belonged to the West. Only since the mid-1960s has Japan belonged to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s (OECD) rich men’s club. An article in The Economist magazine’s “Consider Japan” (1962) was one of the first to recognize that, in terms of industrial and technological development, Japan was on par with the West. Yet the West’s conception of the East was akin to the orientalism of Edward Said (1979): characterized as backward economically, peculiar in cultural manners, and out of sync with the West. As of 2020, in the United Nations, the developed North contains 44 member states whereas the developing South contains as many as 149 member states. And, more importantly, of the developing South, such high-income states as China, South Korea, and Singapore are not categorized as part of the developed North. Likewise, the 44 states belonging to the developed North contain several member states that appear more like they belong to the stalled and stagnant South.

By the beginning of the new millennium, the world had started to change dramatically. A quick glance at the evolution of comparative politics as an academic discipline reveals that as this research field developed in the North Atlantic community, that is, roughly the combination of the European Common Market plus the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, constituted the developed North, it connected through slogans of freedom, democracy, rule of law, free market capitalism, and shared security community. The volume edited by Seymore Martin Lipset and Stein Rokkan (1967) compares political parties functioning in these countries in a number of criteria. Their aim was to elaborate and enrich democracies as practiced in the North Atlantic region, which seemed to them to be the only viable democracies in the world at that time. Despite the shared democratic capitalist settings, the diversity among the countries was startling. The evolution of political parties in the region was eye-opening to them. To compare political institutions more generally, they were determined. That was how comparative politics of the West began. In other words, comparative politics used to be the monopoly of the West. Comparative politics used to be a comparison among its members of the West. The East was left alone in political science as if the unknown East was dogmatically and yet vaguely categorized as authoritarian or autocratic and/or stalled and stagnant with hopes that they might too make transitions to prosperous democracy in the nebulous future. Meanwhile, the West began to take shape with the birth and development of the new subdiscipline, ←2 | 3→comparative politics in tandem with the institutionalization of universal voting rights (albeit initially restricted to male adults), political parties, bureaucracy, parliament, and the court. In due course, a number of academic journals specializing in political institutions and actors, such as government, parliament, bureaucracy, political party, non-governmental institutions, election, legislation, policy implementation, judiciary institution kept appearing as titles of such journals. Within these journals, the only geo-cultural sphere dealt with in the form of articles was the West in the North Atlantic region.

What about the East? The East used to be mostly colonized countries before World War II. With the birth of the United Nations, they were called newly independent developing countries. Of this new group, the only founding member of the United Nations in 1945 was the Philippines, albeit its formal independence took place in 1946. But since 1945, the number of states belonging to the East has been increasing steadily. Although the developed North has stalled in number, around 44 as of 2020, the developing South has grown to 149 as of 2020. What about the location of the developing South in comparative politics? It used to be captured by the category of the East as distinguished from the West. Just like the West needed to be further conceptually articulated, the East received a new conceptual umbrella, that is, area studies. It is an assembly of newly independent states-societies that required deeper study. However, most of these states did not appear to be happy about being governed by democracy as defined by the West. Their main concern was independence, and once it was achieved, wealth took their primary attention. Thus, the key concept used to deal with the newly independent states was modernization. The game started between the West and the East in terms of wealth accumulation. Then comes the 1962 article in The Economist magazine “Consider Japan.” Japan gained its quasi-Western position for two major reasons. First, wealth accumulation reached a point that was on par with the OECD’s rich men club in the mid-1960s. Second, ever since the mid-1850s, Japan’s focus, according to Kaoru Inoue, “We must make our empire a European-style empire, make our people a European-style people, create a new, European-style empire in the Orient. Only by doing so can our empire climb to an equal position in terms of treaties with the Occidental states” (quoted by Suzuki, 2009, p. 114). By the mid-1960s, a century later, via the disastrous defeat in World War II, the Japanese spirit was in harmony with freedom, democracy, market capitalism, rule of law, shared security community, grosso modo. In 1856, the Tokugawa government of Japan sent a delegation to the West to learn from the West. For a while, it looked as if this game would continue to produce states-societies that could join the developed North. The four flying tigers of ←3 | 4→South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Singapore caught up with Japan in the 1960s and through the 1980s, giving the needed evidence that such academic speculation was correct. In fact, some academic books included Japanese and some others in their study of comparison with Western democracies. Uncommon Democracies, edited by T. J. Pempel (1990), was one of them. Those non-Western, uncommon democracies examined in the volume were Japan and Israel.

But by the end of the Cold War in Europe and the Tiananmen Square suppression of protests in 1989, the conceptualization of comparative politics had changed. People began to think about the East and the West differentially. While the end of the Cold War was confined to Europe, in Asia authoritarianism returned and communist states not only survived but also started to thrive on a global scale. The most significant example of this success is the rise of China, which at first emphasized the key concept of “socialism with Chinese characteristics,” and has now been re-labeled “political capitalism” by Branko Milanovic (2019). The period between 1989 and 2020 witnessed the meteoric rise of China and more broadly of East, Southeast, and South Asia against the backdrop of two global trends. First, the liberal world order accelerated the speed of globalization after the end of the Cold War. Second, the growth rate of UN multilateral treaties diminished as institutions like the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade became outdated. Furthermore, the inefficacious functioning of the newly constructed World Trade Organization (WTO) reached a point where it was better not to be involved for some countries, because the WTO mechanism of coordination was not effective, especially in instances where a few developing countries of the South tended to prevail in WTO decisions. The consequence of which was countries increasingly resorting to bilateral mechanisms and regionally more confined arrangements. One of the responses to such an increasingly disorganized world in comparative politics was Democracies in Flux, edited by Robert Putnam (2000). Those democracies outside the North Atlantic region included in this volume are Japan and Australia. It is clear that the club of the developed North has not grown very much in membership over these past thirty years, whereas the number states included in the developing South has increased not only in size but also in collective strength. So, what has happened in the East in comparative politics?

A brief glance at journals of comparative politics, such as Comparative Politics, Comparative Political Studies, World Politics, Asian Journal of Comparative Politics shows that there are three angles from which the East are dealt: (1) the comeback of the classical area studies, heavily influenced by ←4 | 5→geo-historico-cultural-anthropological emphasis mostly focused on one country; (2) the comeback of the modern area studies, lamenting on the failure of the modernization theory and metamorphosing itself into constructivist narratives, focusing on national identities, memories, and emotions; and (3) the orthodox Western classical angle of the East backsliding democracy and populist-cum-nationalist authoritarian turn coping with globalization and democratization with an ample dose of the traditional Western conception (typified by Hegel, Marx, Wittfogel, Weber) of the East inadvertently added.


XVI, 286
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2021 (August)
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Oxford, Wien, 2021. XVI, 286 pp., 1 b/w ill., 13 tables.

Biographical notes

Takashi Inoguchi (Author)

Takashi Inoguchi (Ph.D., Massachusetts Institute of Technology) is Eminent Scholar-Professor at J.F. Oberlin University in Tokyo, Emeritus Professor at the University of Tokyo, and former UN Assistant Secretary. He was awarded the endowed chair in ISQOLS and the lifetime achievement award from WAPOR Asia. He has published about 150 books, the latest of which is The Development of Global Legislative Politics.


Title: Japanese Politics in Comparative Perspective
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