The democratization of Japan is one of the most significant historical facts in the world. In just a short time beginning in the Meiji era, Japan embarked on a journey to change its systems. The success of postwar democratization is still visible in the present day Japan. There are several virtues and flaws that apply to Japan’s democratic system but the main issue in this democratization is the elements that made democracy fully acceptable in Japan. The building of a post-war democracy in Japan was widely a successful endeavor and various nation builders have attempted to replicate this success. Nevertheless, the enduring question when it comes to democratization of post-war Japan is who can be credited with the successful execution of this post-war process. This essay argues that the Japanese people are the main agents in the successful democratization of post-war Japan due to their support of the new constitution and their spirit of cooperation.
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It is often argued that by the year 1945, democracy was not an alien concept in Japan, but a failed one. The country had various elements of democracy at the time including universal male suffrage, plural political parties, and other aspects of civil rights. Consequently, the Japanese people were familiar with democratic systems and that is the reason American powers pushed for a parliamentary democracy. The Americans’ only contribution in this regard was in realizing that Japan was more receptive towards a parliamentary system as opposed to a ‘balance of powers system’.
Another credit of the Japanese people was that they had initiated various social movements even before the occupation. These movements sought to fight for greater political inclusion, social justice, and labor rights. The presence of activism within the Japanese population can be credited with nudging the advent of the parliamentary form of government. This is a clear indicator that the Japanese were not forced into participation through the influence of Allied Forces and the occupation. The population already had some ‘heat’ even before 1945. The argument that the force of the Americans that brought change to Japan fails on account that there was a history of resistance in the country. Therefore, if the Japanese did not want the democratic institutions they could have easily mounted a resistance.
The cooperation of the Japanese people is the ultimate contribution of democratization in post-war Japan. In support of this argument, scholars point out the fact that “Colonel Charles Kades insisted that no restrictions (could) be placed on amendment of the constitution…and his faith in the Japanese acceptance of democracy was well founded” (Moore and Robinson 26). Furthermore, the new constitution received support from all quarters of population mostly because it promised a reprieve against oppression and suffering. Although the Americans facilitated this process, the real credit should be given to the Japanese people. Overall, the Americans only gave Japanese what they required but it was the people who modeled it to their own specifications.
Moore, Ray, and Donald Robinson. Partners for democracy: Crafting the new Japanese state under Macarthur. Oxford University Press, 2004.