Gerald L. Curtis. The Logic of Japanese Politics: Leaders, Institutions and the Limits of Change. New York: Columbia University Press, 1999. 308 pp. $27.95 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-231-10842-3.
Reviewed by Declan Hayes (Department of Comparative Culture, Sophia University, Tokyo )
Published on H-US-Japan (December, 2000)
Excellent Overview of Japanese Politics
Excellent overview of Japanese Politics
The Logic of Japanese Politics offers the reader a hugely fascinating and very topical tour through Japanese politics during the 1990s, an era that is pivotal in understanding modern Japanese politics. Gerald Curtis has produced a clearly written and well-argued tome explaining the institutional, and human factors that shape policy in Japan. Curtis makes the mysterious understandable while throwing new lights on what we may have hitherto taken for granted. This book will prove very beneficial not only to students approaching Japanese politics for the first time but to those scholars who have spent much of their academic careers studying its complexities and apparent contradictions. Curtis, in detailing the nuances of the interactions between Japanese leaders and Japanese institutions, makes the formerly opaque study of Japanese politics much more open than it has been in the past. Because Curtis concentrates his analysis on the dynamic decade of the 1990s, The Logic of Japanese Politics covers such important political developments as the Liberal Democratic Party's unprecedented loss of power in 1993, after reigning unchallenged for almost forty years; their humiliating defeat in the 1998 upper-house election; the formation of the 1993 seven party coalition government led by prime minister Morihiro Hosokawa and its collapse eight months later; the historic electoral reform of 1994 which replaced the electoral system operative since the adoption of universal manhood suffrage in 1925; and the decline of machine politics and the rise of the floating, non-party voter.
At one level, therefore, the book gives the reader a solid understanding of how Japanese party politics were transformed during the 1990s. And, at that level, the book is extremely easy to follow. Perhaps more importantly, so too is the author's thesis that Japanese politics are a mixture of the old and of the novel. He details both of these sources of the forces acting upon Japan's political canvass. By drawing a fascinating picture of Japanese politics and politicians during the 1990s, he gives us a very useful framework for understanding how Japan is attempting to surmount its present problems, and to tackle the many problems that lie ahead. He claim, for example, that the corruption, which has been endemic to post-war Japanese politics, will become less pronounced as current reforms work their way through the system.
His method, as he freely admits, is to mix rigorous analysis with a more anecdotal approach when that is warranted. Although this might seem, at first glance, rather brash, in his case it is fully justified. Because Gerald Curtis has been analysing Japanese politics for a long time now, he has a close working relationship with many of Japan's key political players. In the book, he recounts conversations and insights gleaned from many of these politicians. This anecdotal evidence not only rounds out the chronological approach but also gives the book a more dynamic momentum. In describing the attempts of the various factions to come to power and later to solidify that power, he gives the reader a sense of the tensions, which lie just beneath the surface of Japan's Liberal Democratic Party. These tensions have most recently manifested themselves in the aborted November 2000 attempt to oust Prime Minister Mori. This book helps the reader understand the dynamics driving the various factions and personalities that were pivotal to that attempted coup within the ruling LDP.
Although the LDP remains pivotal to understanding Japanese politics, Curtis casts a wider intellectual net. He sums up the political strategies of such diverse groups as the Japanese Communist Party and Soka Gakkai, the religious group, whose affiliated party is well represented in the Japanese Diet. His analysis of these and other groups unique to the Japanese political canvass shows how the Japanese political framework differs in key respects from its American and European counterparts.
His approach is particularly useful as the LDP continues to face an uncertain future. Whether, as many commentators believe, the LDP eventually disintegrates or whether the factions can continue to paper over the multitudinous cracks that divide them, we can be certain that this book will continue to be a source of light to understanding the underlying logic which underwrites Japanese politics.
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Declan Hayes. Review of Curtis, Gerald L., The Logic of Japanese Politics: Leaders, Institutions and the Limits of Change.
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