Japan’s democratic credentials

Regarding Hugh Cortazzi’s Jan. 25 article, “Playing with fire is dangerous“: With all due respect, Cortazzi seems misinformed about the history of Japan. In the interests of a balanced view, let me point out one crucial misunderstanding that prevails in English-speaking media: that after World War II the Occupation of Japan brought the development of truly democratic institutions in Japan.

It did not. Japan had democracy before the war.

Non-Japanese tend to think that democracy in Japan was created by the United States after the war. In his latest book, “The Irony of Manifest Destiny,” Japan Times contributor William Pfaff describes prewar Japan as follows: “After the Second World War the United States had ‘made’ Germany and Japan into democracies. Both of those nations in the past were constitutional monarchies, with parliaments, sophisticated administrative institutions, advanced legal systems and courts, and national political parties. They had little need of instruction in representative institutions.”

What Pfaff says of Japan’s democracy can be also said of its foundation “rule of law” in Japanese history. If rule of law means that there is a body of law that is superior to that of the current government, we have forged it through centuries of social upheaval — the age of nationwide free competition apart from any social status or dependency on family origin (including the Warring States Period). If we had not, we would have never been able to achieve rapid modernization in the Meiji Era. It fundamentally parallels the history of common law development in Anglo-American civilization since the Magna Carta.

We should never take the great chemistry between Japan and the countries of the so-called Anglosphere for granted. Judgments made based on only a few decades’ perspective are not professional. Despite what some autocratic countries say against the Abe administration in militant voices, at the end of the day the fact remains that Japan has proved itself as a free country in a centuries-long democratic history.

tsugio kano
maebashi, gunma

The opinions expressed in this letter to the editor are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect the policies of The Japan Times.

  • Tando

    The Meiji Constitution emulated the prussian Costituion because it rendered souveranity to the Emperor and NOT to the regular citizenship. Germany and Japan kept very authoritarian structures until their systems succumbed finally in the 2nd WW. Furthermore, do you really imply that regular people during the Edo period had a chance of political participation. The class rankes whithin the “Shinokosho” system had no transparancy whatsoever. The samurai had the right to punish anybody instantly by their “Kirisute Gomen” right. Their seems to be a bit too much wishfull thinking together with a good dose of Nihonjinron. I remember having read about this in “Nihon Bunmei 77 no kagi”

  • Tando

    The Meiji Constitution emulated the prussian Costituion exactly because it
    rendered souveranity to the Emperor and NOT to the regular citizenship.
    Germany and Japan kept very authoritarian structures until their systems
    succumbed finally in the 2nd WW. Furthermore, do you really imply that
    regular people during the Edo period had a chance of political
    participation. The class rankes whithin the “Shinokosho” system had no
    transparancy whatsoever. The samurai had the right to punish anybody
    instantly by their “Kirisute Gomen” right. Their seems to be a bit too
    much wishfull thinking together with a good dose of Nihonjinron. I
    remember having read about this in “Nihon Bunmei 77 no kagi”