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Government of Japan

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Government of Japan

Government of Japan
This article is part of a series on the
politics and government of
Government of Japan
Japanese name
Kanji 日本国政府
Kana にっぽんこくせいふ(formal)

The government of Japan is a constitutional monarchy whereby the power of the Emperor is limited and is relegated primarily to ceremonial duties. The Government, like in most other States, is composed primarily of three branches: the Executive branch, the Legislative branch and the Judicial branch, as defined by the post-war Constitution of Japan.

Under the Constitution, the powers of the Separation of Powers.

The Emperor is unique among constitutional monarchies in that, the Emperor is not even the nominal Chief Executive. He exercises certain executive powers and mainly ceremonial powers on behalf of the people. The Emperor's role is defined by the Constitution to be as "the symbol of the State and of the unity of the people". The title of Chief Executive is held by the Prime Minister and he is the head of government. The Emperor is, however, known to be and acts effectively as the de facto head of state in diplomatic occasions.


  • The Emperor 1
  • Executive 2
    • Prime Minister 2.1
    • The Cabinet 2.2
    • Ministries 2.3
  • Legislative 3
    • House of Representatives 3.1
    • House of Councillors 3.2
  • Judicial 4
    • Supreme Court 4.1
    • High Courts 4.2
    • Penal system 4.3
  • Local Government 5
    • Local Authorities 5.1
    • Structure of Local Government 5.2
  • See also 6
  • External links 7
  • References 8

The Emperor

Imperial Standard

The Emperor of Japan (天皇) is the head of the Imperial Family and the de facto symbolic head of state. Even though he is known to be the ceremonial head of state, the Emperor is not even the nominal Chief Executive, and he has no real powers related to the Government. This is clearly stated in article 4 of the Constitution.

Article 6 of the Constitution of Japan gives the Emperor the following ceremonial roles:

  1. Appointment of the Prime Minister as designated by the Diet.
  2. Appointment of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court as designated by the Cabinet.

While the Cabinet is the source of executive power and its power are mostly exercised directly, several of its powers are exercised via the Emperor. The powers exercised by the Emperor, as stipulated by Article 7 of the Constitution, are:

  1. Promulgation of amendments of the constitution, laws, cabinet orders and treaties.
  2. Convocation of the Diet.
  3. Dissolution of the House of Representatives.
  4. Proclamation of general election of members of the Diet.
  5. Attestation of the appointment and dismissal of Ministers of State and other officials as provided for by law, and of full powers and credentials of Ambassadors and Ministers.
  6. Attestation of general and special amnesty, commutation of punishment, reprieve, and restoration of rights.
  7. Awarding of honors.
  8. Attestation of instruments of ratification and other diplomatic documents as provided for by law.
  9. Receiving foreign ambassadors and ministers.
  10. Performance of ceremonial functions.
Fukiage Garden, Tokyo Imperial Palace

It is to be noted that the powers exercised in the advice of the Cabinet, can only be done by the Emperor. This is prominently seen in the 2009 Dissolution of the House of Representatives; the House is temporarily unable to be dissolved for the next general election, as the Emperor and Empress are both visiting Canada.[1][2]

The Emperor also performs constitutional ceremonies such as the Speech from the Throne ceremony in the National Diet Building. This ceremony opens ordinary and extra sessions of the Diet. Ordinary sessions are opened each January and after each new elections of the House of Representatives, while extra sessions are usually convened around in the autumn.[3] The 120th anniversary of the Diet was commemorated with the Empress, the Prince and Princess Akishino present.[4] Article 5 of the Constitution, in accordance with the Imperial Household Law, allows a Regency to be established in the Emperor's name, when the Emperor is unable to perform his duties.

The Current Emperor of Japan (今上天皇) is Akihito, he is officially enthroned on November 12, 1990.[5] He is styled as His Imperial Majesty (天皇陛下), and his reign bears the era name of Heisei (平成). Naruhito, the Crown Prince of Japan, is the heir apparent to the Chrysanthemum Throne.


The Executive branch of National Diet. He/She appoints or dismisses other members of the Cabinet. The Cabinet as a whole, is responsible to the Diet, and the Diet may dismiss the Cabinet en masse with a motion of no confidence. While most of the Cabinet's powers are exercised directly, some of its powers are exercised nominally by the Emperor.

Prime Minister

Crest of the Prime Minister of Japan

The Prime Minister of Japan (内閣総理大臣) is designated by the National Diet and serves a term of four years or less; with no limits imposed on the number of terms the Prime Minister may hold. The Prime Minister exercises "control and supervision" of the executive branch and is the head of government and commander-in-chief of the Japan Self-Defense Forces. He is vested with the power to present bills to the Diet, to sign laws, to declare a state of emergency and may also dissolve the Diet's House of Representatives at will. He presides over the Cabinet of Japan and appoints, or dismisses, the other Cabinet ministers. As the Prime Minister is designated by the Diet before being formally appointed by the Emperor, he is required to report to the Diet when demanded. The Prime Minister must be both a civilian and a member of either house of the National Diet.

No. Name (English) Name (Japanese) Gender Took Office Left Office Term Alma Mater
1 Junichiro Koizumi 小泉 純一郎 Male April 26, 2001 September 26, 2006 5 Years Keio University
University College London
2 Shinzō Abe 安倍 晋三 Male September 26, 2006 September 26, 2007 1 Year Seikei University
3 Yasuo Fukuda 福田 康夫 Male September 26, 2007 September 24, 2008 1 Year Waseda University
4 Taro Aso 麻生 太郎 Male September 24, 2008 September 16, 2009 1 Year Gakushuin University
Stanford University
London School of Economics
5 Yukio Hatoyama 鳩山 由紀夫 Male September 16, 2009 June 2, 2010 1 Year University of Tokyo
Stanford University
6 Naoto Kan 菅 直人 Male June 8, 2010 September 2, 2011 1 Year Tokyo Institute of Technology
7 Yoshihiko Noda 野田 佳彦 Male September 2, 2011 December 26, 2012 1 Year Waseda University
8 Shinzō Abe 安倍 晋三 Male December 26, 2012 Present Unknown Seikei University

※ As of September 7, 2014

The Cabinet

Cabinet Office Building
2nd Building of the Central Common Government Office
Ministry of Finance Building
2nd Building of the Central Common Government Office
The Ministry of Justice Building
Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Building

The Cabinet of Japan (内閣) consists of the Ministers of State and the Prime Minister. The members of the Cabinet are appointed by the Prime Minister and under the Cabinet Law, the number of members of the Cabinet appointed, excluding the Prime Minister himself, must be fourteen or less, but may only be increased to seventeen should a special need arises. Article 68 of the Constitution states that all members of the Cabinet must be civilians and the majority of them must be chosen from among the members of either house of the National Diet. The precise wording leaves an opportunity for the Prime Minister to appoint some non-elected Diet officials. The Cabinet is required to resign en masse while still continuing its functions, till the appointment of a new Prime Minister, when the following situation arises:

  1. The Diet's House of Representatives passes a non-confidence resolution, or rejects a confidence resolution, unless the House of Representatives is dissolved within the next ten (10) days.
  2. When there is a vacancy in the post of the Prime Minister, or upon the first convocation of the Diet after a general election of the members of the House of Representatives.

The executive power vested within the Cabinet is practiced mainly by the Prime Minister, while some are nominally exercised by the Emperor. Under the Constitution, no Law or Cabinet orders may be enforced without the countersignature of the Prime Minister, and the Emperor exercises some of its powers under the "advice and approval" of the Cabinet.

Office Incumbent
Prime Minister Shinzō Abe
Deputy Prime Minister
Minister for Finance
Minister of State for Financial Services
Minister of State for Overcoming Deflation
Tarō Asō
Minister for Internal Affairs and Communications Sanae Takaichi
Minister for Justice Yōko Kamikawa
Minister for Foreign Affairs Fumio Kishida
Minister for Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology
Minister of State for Education Rebuilding
Minister of State for the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games
Hakubun Shimomura
Minister for Health, Labour and Welfare Yasuhisa Shiozaki
Minister for Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Koya Nishikawa
Minister for Economy, Trade and Industry
Minister of State for Industrial Competitiveness
Minister of State for the Response to the Economic Impact caused by the Nuclear Accident
Minister of State for the Nuclear Damage Compensation and Decommissioning Facilitation Corporation
Yoichi Miyazawa
Minister for Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism
Minister of State for Water Cycle Policy
Akihiro Ota
Minister for the Environment
Minister of State for Nuclear Emergency Preparedness
Yoshio Mochizuki
Minister for Defence
Minister of State for Security Legislation
Akinori Eto
Chief Cabinet Secretary
Minister of State for Alleviating the Burden of the Bases in Okinawa
Yoshihide Suga
Minister of State for Reconstruction
Minister of State for Comprehensive Policy Coordination for Revival from the Nuclear Accident at Fukushima
Wataru Takeshita
Chairperson of the National Public Safety Commission
Minister of State for the Abduction Issue
Minister of State for Ocean Policy and Territorial Issues
Minister of State for Building National Resilience
Minister of State for Disaster Management
Eriko Yamatani
Minister of State for Okinawa and Northern Territories Affairs
Minister of State for Science and Technology Policy
Minister of State for Space Policy
Minister of State for Information Technology Policy
Minister of State for the Challenge Again Initiative
Minister of State for the Cool Japan Strategy
Shunichi Yamaguchi
Minister of State for Promoting Women's Active Participation
Minister of State for Administrative Reform
Minister of State for Civil Service Reform
Minister of State for Consumer Affairs and Food Safety
Minister of State for Regulatory Reform
Minister of State for Measures for Declining Birthrate
Minister of State for Gender Equality
Haruko Arimura
Minister of State for Economic Revitalisation
Minister of State for Total Reform of Social Security and Tax
Minister of State for Economic and Fiscal Policy
Akira Amari
Minister of State for Overcoming Population Decline and Vitalising Local Economy
Minister of State for National Strategic Special Zones
Shigeru Ishiba

※ As of October 21, 2014


PSIA Building
3rd Central Government Building: MLIT Headquarters
Agency for Cultural Affairs Office Building
Politics of the Constitution of Japan

The Ministries of Japan (行政機関) consist of eleven ministries and the Cabinet Office. The ministers of each ministry are appointed from among the members of the Cabinet. The Cabinet Office, formally headed by the Prime Minister, is an agency that handles the day-to-day affairs of the Cabinet. The ministries are the most influential part of the daily-exercised executive power, and are mainly made out of senior legislators.

※Manages the Imperial Household.
※Promotes Arts and Culture, manages copyrights, as well as funding for cultural events in music, theater, dance, art exhibitions, and film-making, and making improvements to the national language.
※Administers the laws relating to patents, utility models, designs, and trademarks.

※ As of September 7, 2014

The Board of Audit (会計検査院) is the only unique body of the Government; in which, the Board is totally independent from the Diet and the Cabinet. It reviews government expenditures and submits an annual report to the Diet. Article 90 of the Constitution of Japan and the Board of Audit Act of 1947 gives this body substantial independence from both controls.


The Legislative branch organ of parallel voting system and is ensured by the Constitution to have no discrimination on the qualifications of each members. The elected members of the Diet are to represent the sovereignty of the people, and this in turn, derives the position of the Emperor; written in Article 43 and Article 1 of the Constitution respectively.

The Diet is charged with the making of laws, the approval of the annual national budget, the approval of the conclusion of treaties and the selection of the Prime Minister. It is also empowered to initiate draft constitutional amendments, of which, if approved, are to be presented to the people for ratification in a referendum before being promulgated by the Emperor in the name of the people, and it may also conduct "investigations in relation to the government". Members of the Cabinet are also required to appear before investigative committees and to answer inquiries. The Diet is also able to impeach Court judges convicted of criminal or irregular conduct. For bills to become Law, they are to be first passed by both houses of the National Diet and then promulgated by the Emperor; without specifically giving the Emperor the power to veto.

The lower house, the House of Representatives, is the more powerful chamber of the Diet. Compared to the House of Representatives, the House of Councillors can only delay the adoption of a budget or a treaty and has limited power in preventing the lower house from selecting any Prime Minister it wishes. Under the Constitution, at least one session of the Diet must be convened each year. The Cabinet can also, at will, convoke extraordinary sessions of the Diet and is required to, when a quarter or more of the total members of either house demands it. During an election, only the House of Representatives is dissolved. The House of Councillors is however, not dissolved but only closed, and may, in times of national emergency, be convoked for an emergency session. The Emperor both convokes the Diet and dissolves the House of Representatives, but only does so on the advice of the Cabinet.

House of Representatives

Chamber of the House of Representatives

The House of Representatives of Japan (衆議院) is the Lower house, with each member of the house being elected for a four-year term. As of September 7, 2014, it has 480 members. Of these, 180 members are elected from 11 multi-member constituencies by a party-list system of proportional representation, and 300 are elected from single-member constituencies. 241 seats are required for majority. The House of Representatives is the more powerful house out of the two, it is able to override vetoes on bills imposed by the House of Councillors with a two-thirds majority. It can, however, be dissolved by the Prime Minister at will. Members of the house must be of Japanese nationality; those aged 20 years and older may vote, while those aged 25 years and older may run for office in the lower house.

The legislative powers of the House of Representatives, as stated by the Constitution is considered to be more powerful than those of the House of Councillors. While the House of Councillors has the ability to veto most decisions made by the House of Representatives, some however, can only be delayed. This includes the legislation of treaties, the budget, and the selection of the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister, and collectively his Cabinet, can in turn, however, dissolve the House of Representatives whenever intended. The dissolution of the House of Representatives, by the advice of the Prime Minister and his Cabinet, is to be done only by the Emperor. The House of Representatives is formally dissolved upon the preparation of the document containing the order of the dissolution. The document is wrapped in a purple silk cloth; an indication of a document of State act, done by the Emperor, on behalf of the people. The ceremonial declaration of the dissolution requires the document to be first passed on to the Chief Cabinet Secretary at the House of Representatives President's reception room, before being taken to the Chamber for preparation by the General-Secretary. The General-Secretary then prepares the document for reading by the Speaker. Once the State order is received, the Speaker of the House of Representatives promptly declares the dissolution of the House. It is customary that, upon the dissolution of the House, members will shout the Three Cheers of Banzai (萬歲).[6]

House of Councillors

Chamber of the House of Councillors

The House of Councillors of Japan (参議院) is the Upper house, with each member of the house being elected for a six-year term. As of September 7, 2014, it has 242 members. Only half of its members are elected each time at each election. Of these, 73 are elected from the 47 prefectural districts, by single non-transferable votes, and 48 are elected from a nationwide list by proportional representation with open lists. The House of Councillors cannot be dissolved by the Prime Minister. Members of the house must be of Japanese nationality; its members must be aged 30 years and older.

As the House of Councillors can veto a decision made by the House of Representatives, the House of Councillors can cause the House of Representatives to reconsider its decision. The House of Representatives however, can still insist on its decision by overwriting the veto by the House of Councillors with a two-thirds majority of its members present. Each year, and when required, the National Diet is convoked at the House of Councillors, for an extra or an ordinary session, by the Emperor. Before each convocation, a speech about the Diet's convocation is first made by the Speaker of the House of Representatives. The Emperor then proceeds and convokes the Diet with his Speech from the throne.[3]


Tokyo High Court Building

The Judicial branch of Supreme Court judge may be dismissed by a majority in a referendum; of which, must occur during the first general election of the National Diet's House of Representatives following the judge's appointment, and also the first general election for every ten years lapse thereafter. Court judges are appointed by the Cabinet, in attestation of the Emperor. While the Chief Justice is appointed by the Emperor, as designated by the Cabinet.

The Legal system in Japan has been historically influenced by Chinese law; developing independently during the Edo period through texts such as Kujikata Osadamegaki. It has, however, changed during the Meiji Restoration, and is now largely based on the European civil law. The civil code based on the German model has been in use ever since.[8] A jury system has recently came into use, and the legal system also includes a bill of rights since May 3, 1947.[9] The collection of Six Codes makes up the main body of the Japanese statutory law.[8]

All Statutory Laws in Japan are required to be rubber stamped by the Emperor with the Privy Seal of Japan (天皇御璽), and no Law can take effect without the Cabinet's signature, the Prime Minister's countersignature and the Emperor's approval; however, without specifically giving the Emperor the power to oppose legislation.

Supreme Court

The Supreme Court of Japan (最高裁判所) is the court of last resort and has the power of Judicial review; the power to determine the constitutionality of any law, order, regulation or official acts. The Supreme Court is also responsible for nominating judges to lower courts and determining judicial procedures. It also oversees the judicial system, overseeing activities of public prosecutors, and disciplining judges and other judicial personnel.

High Courts

The High Courts of Japan (高等裁判所) has the jurisdiction to hear appeals to judgments rendered by District Courts and Family Courts, excluding cases under the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court. Criminal appeals are directly handled by the High Courts, but Civil cases are first handled by District Courts. There are eight High Courts in Japan: the Tokyo, Osaka, Nagoya, Hiroshima, Fukuoka, Sendai, Sapporo, and Takamatsu High Courts.

Penal system

Human Rights Watch has described the prison system as violating fundamental human rights. Cells are unheated, with temperatures sometimes below zero celsius, and rules are obsessively restrictive and strict.[10]

Local Government

Administrative divisions of Japan
Administrative divisions
of Japan

Japan has a unitary system of government, in which local jurisdictions largely depend on national government financially. The Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications intervenes significantly in local government, as do other ministries. This is done chiefly financially because many local government jobs need funding initiated by national ministries. This is dubbed as the "thirty-percent autonomy".[11]

The result of this power is a high level of organizational and policy standardization among the different local jurisdictions allowing them to preserve the uniqueness of their prefecture, city, or town. Some of the more collectivist jurisdictions, such as Tokyo and Kyoto, have experimented with policies in such areas as social welfare that later were adopted by the national government.

Local Authorities

Japan is divided into forty-seven administrative divisions, the prefectures: one metropolitan district (Tokyo), two urban prefectures (Kyoto and Osaka), forty-three rural prefectures, and one "district", Hokkaidō. Large cities are subdivided into wards, and further split into towns, or precincts, or subprefectures and counties.

Cities are self-governing units administered independently of the larger jurisdictions within which they are located. In order to attain city status, a jurisdiction must have at least 30,000 inhabitants, 60 percent of whom are engaged in urban occupations. There are self-governing towns outside the cities as well as precincts of urban wards. Like the cities, each has its own elected mayor and assembly. Villages are the smallest self-governing entities in rural areas. They often consist of a number of rural hamlets containing several thousand people connected to one another through the formally imposed framework of village administration. Villages have mayors and councils elected to four-year terms.

Structure of Local Government

All prefectural and municipal governments in Japan are organized following the Local Autonomy Law, a statute applied nationwide since 1947.

Each jurisdiction has a chief executive, called a governor (知事 chiji) in prefectures and a mayor (市町村長 shichōsonchō) in municipalities. Most jurisdictions also have a unicameral assembly (議会 gikai), although towns and villages may opt for direct governance by citizens in a general assembly (総会 sōkai). Both the executive and assembly are elected by popular vote every four years.

Local governments follow a modified version of the separation of powers used in the national government. An assembly may pass a vote of no confidence in the executive, in which case the executive must either dissolve the assembly within ten days or automatically lose their office. Following the next election, however, the executive remains in office unless the new assembly again passes a no confidence resolution.

The primary methods of local lawmaking are local ordinance (条例 jōrei) and local regulations (規則 kisoku). Ordinances, similar to statutes in the national system, are passed by the assembly and may impose limited criminal penalties for violations (up to 2 years in prison and/or 1 million yen in fines). Regulations, similar to cabinet orders in the national system, are passed by the executive unilaterally, are superseded by any conflicting ordinances, and may only impose a fine of up to 50,000 yen.

Local governments also generally have multiple committees such as school boards, public safety committees (responsible for overseeing the police), personnel committees, election committees and auditing committees. These may be directly elected or chosen by the assembly, executive or both.

All prefectures are required to maintain departments of general affairs, finance, welfare, health, and labor. Departments of agriculture, fisheries, forestry, commerce, and industry are optional, depending on local needs. The Governor is responsible for all activities supported through local taxation or the national government.

See also

External links

  • Background notes of the US Department of State, Japan's Government
  • Search official Japanese Government documents and sites


  1. ^ "Did the Emperor of Japan really fall from being a ruler to a symbol" (PDF). Tsuneyasu Takeda. Instructor, Keio University. Retrieved 7 September 2014. 
  2. ^ "2009 Japanese Emperor and Empress Visited in Vancouver". Retrieved 18 October 2014. 
  3. ^ a b "《臨時国会》第187回国会 開会式 平成26年9月29日参議院議場". Retrieved 18 October 2014. 
  4. ^ "日本国 議会開設百二十年 記念式典". Retrieved 18 October 2014. 
  5. ^ "天皇陛下御即位【完全版5/9】". Retrieved 21 October 2014. 
  6. ^ "衆議院解散2012". Retrieved 18 October 2014. 
  7. ^ "Overview of the Judicial System in Japan". Supreme Court of Japan. Retrieved 7 September 2014. 
  8. ^ a b "Japanese Civil Code". Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 7 September 2014. 
  9. ^ "MacArthur and the American Occupation of Japan". Retrieved 7 September 2014. 
  10. ^ "Japanese Penal System". Prisoners Abroad. Retrieved 11 November 2014. 
  11. ^ 三割自治 "Local Government". Retrieved 7 September 2014. 
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