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Political Leadership in Japan and its Future Trajectory

2012–2016

Democratic leaders around the globe are finding it increasingly difficult to exercise strong leadership and maintain public support. Nowhere has this proven to be as challenging as in Japan, which has seen its head of government change more in the past 25 years than any other advanced democracy—between 1990 and 2014, a total of 16 prime ministers cycled through office. This political instability has been reflected in Japan's policymaking, and is made all the more worrying by the immense domestic and international challenges that Japan is facing. At home, skillful leadership is required to deal with the an increasingly dangerous regional neighborhood, the world's most rapidly aging population, the largest debt overhang of any major economy, and the greatest natural disaster to strike an advanced country.

The election of Shinzo Abe in 2012 and his subsequent successes have offered a respite for Japanese voters who had grown weary of rapid prime ministerial turnover. However, the question remains whether his ability to exercise strong leadership and stay in office for a sustained period signifies that Japan has broken out of the patterns of the recent past? Or is he an anomaly, and will Japan return to the trend of weak political leadership?

In order to better understand this phenomenon, JCIE convened a team of emerging leaders—individuals with a scholarly grounding but also real world experience in national politics and policymaking—to explore the future trajectory of political leadership and its implications for foreign policy, especially US–Japan relations. This team of politicians, policy advisors, and up-and-coming scholars, has carried out a multi-year exploration of why Japanese prime ministers have found it so difficult to project strong leadership and what this means for foreign policy thinkers around the world.


Read: “Japan’s Way Forward: The Prospects for Political Leadership and the International Implications”
   -Concluding chapter from the project report Looking for Leadership: the Dilemma of Political Leadership in Japan

Learn more about the project report: Looking for Leadership: The Dilemma of Political Leadership in Japan




Study team exchanging views in
February 2012 workshop



Sheila Smith moderates CFR joint
roundtable in September 2012

US Politics briefing by Dr. Thomas
Mann at the Brookings Institution in
September 2012

Study Team

James Gannon, Executive Director, JCIE/USA
Yuichi Hosoya, Professor, Keio University
Satoru Mori, Professor, Hosei University
Takao Ochi, Member, House of Representatives
Ryo Sahashi, Research Fellow, JCIE; Associate Professor, Kanagawa University
Jun Saito, CEO, Logos Education; former Member, House of Representatives
Harukata Takenaka, Professor, National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies
Yuka Uchida, former political secretary to the Foreign Minister of Japan; Senior Policy Advisor, Fleishman Hillard Japan

Project Activities:

May 2, 2013 JCIE/Council on Foreign Relations joint seminar on "Japan's Political Change and the US-Japan Alliance"
April 30–May 3, 2013 Washington DC study trip
April 29–April 30, 2013 New York City study trip
February 7, 2013 Paperwriters Workshop
November 22, 2012 Roundtable with Satoshi Machidori (Professor, Kyoto University)
September 26, 2012 JCIE/Council on Foreign Relations joint roundtable
September 25, 2012 JCIE/US Association of Former Members of Congress joint seminar for congressional staff
September 25–27, 2012 Washington DC study trip
August 30, 2012 Paperwriters Workshop
August 30, 2012 Roundtable with Hitoshi Tanaka (Senior Fellow, JCIE; Chairman, Japan Research Institute; former Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs)
July 27, 2012 Seminar with Katsuyuki Yakushiji (Professor, Toyo University; former chief political news editor, Asahi Shimbun)
June 14, 2012 Study team workshop on domestic politics
May 21, 2012 Seminar with Shinichi Kitaoka (Professor, National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies; former Deputy Permanent Representative of Japan to the United Nations)
April 25, 2012 Seminar with Gerald Curtis (Burgess Professor of Political Science, Columbia University
February 29, 2012 Study team workshop