Contemporary Japanese Politics and Anxiety Over Governance
December 20, 2022
“Contemporary Japanese Politics and Anxiety Over Governance” by Ken’ichi Ikeda was recently published by Routledge. This is an integrated and empirical survey-based examination of Japanese politics in the first two decades of the 21st century, using the new concept of anxiety over governance. The data used are time-series data on Japanese political behavior over 40 years, data from the Asian Barometer and World Values Surveys, international comparative surveys that include Japan for 20 years, and data from two surveys on evaluations of the Japanese government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic during 2020–2021.
Chapters start by revealing the declining impacts of social capital on politics, the shrinking range of political parties from which to choose, and the mixing of Asian values with liberal democratic values. Then, by conceptualizing and empirically examining anxiety over governance, i.e., the perception of excessive risk for future governance, Ikeda explores the links of anxiety to Japanese political behavior. While the high regard for democratic politics lowers anxiety among the Japanese, the changes in Japanese political behavior/environment and culture contribute to a generally high level of anxiety, which also had a significant negative impact on the evaluation of countermeasures against COVID-19.
Chapter 1 captures the changes in Japanese political behavior in the 21st century by contrasting social capital and political actors as determinants. A gradual decline in social capital and weakening of the ties with political actors occurred. By examining the elections from 1983 to 2019, especially the 2009 election that switched power from the long-dominant Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) to the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), Chapter 1 shows that the transition of power to the DPJ in the 2009 election was not supported by the social capital of civil society, but rather by perceptions regarding the political actors. The DPJ administration ended along with a decline in their reputation, whereas what is visible in the LDP administration after regaining power is a decline in the prospective expectations on the administration.
Chapter 2 examines the changes that have occurred in micro-level vote choice and macro-level meaningfulness since 1996 when voters became entitled to cast two votes in every national election in both Houses. Voting behavior is a choice for a set of alternatives, i.e., a set of political parties, but voters do not vote from the full range of the set as available choices; rather, they vote from a limited set of parties. On the other hand, the set of possible party choices defines the sense of meaningfulness that voting brings, i.e., the subjective empowerment on national politics. In fact, voters’ perceived set of party choices fluctuated in multiple LDP- and DPJ-centered clusters, and vote choices were basically distributed among possible choice sets of parties in each cluster. The LDP-centered clusters were consistently stable in determining vote choice, while the DPJ-centered clusters were less stable, and vote choice for the DPJ was rather heavily dependent on selective cues provided by its political actors. After the collapse of the DPJ administration, the perceived set of possible political parties to choose from has been greatly reduced to for or against LDP-centered clusters, along with the sense of empowerment.
Chapter 3 examines whether the Japanese are unique in Asia and the world (which is often claimed) and whether such uniqueness is linked to the Japanese people’s social capital and their support for democracy, using extensive international comparative data from the Asian Barometer and World Values Surveys over a 20-year period. Although the Japanese are outliers in the Asian value system, which consists of the two dimensions of “vertical emphasis” and “harmony orientation”, in that the Japanese are weak in these characteristics, Japan is not uniquely positioned on the cultural map of the world. Nevertheless, Japanese people’s attitudes and actions are influenced by Asian values in terms of general trust and political participation, which are formed through social interactions with others, whereas this is not the case in terms of support for liberal democracy, which is enculturated by the post-war formal education. Overall, the Japanese may not necessarily be capable of making political and social decisions in a value-consistent manner, which may have a negative impact on the operation of the process of politics.
Chapter 4 examines Japanese idiosyncrasy in their perception of social and national risk. In the World Values Survey, the degree of anxiety about future unemployment, education, and possible involvement in war, terrorism, and civil war perceived by the Japanese is considerably higher than objective indicators, demonstrating excessive risk perception, termed the “anxiety over governance index”. It was presumed that this excessiveness comes from Japanese people’s sense of worry over the future governance of their country. Analyses confirmed the excessive level of risk perception among the Japanese and revealed that this perception was reduced when the country was perceived to be democratically governed, i.e., the index was precisely related to perceptions of governance. Finally, anxiety over governance was more conceptually sophisticated as a pair conception, i.e., political distrust and anxiety over governance expressing diffuse negative evaluations of the past and the future, respectively.
Chapter 5 explores the structure of Japanese anxiety over governance in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite Japan’s relatively good control during its first wave, an international comparative survey demonstrated that not only was there an over perception of risk, but the intensity of fear (risk perception) was positively correlated with a low evaluation of government handling ability, especially among the Japanese, which is consistent with Chapter 4. An Internet survey on the first general election of the Kishida administration in October 2021 revealed that Japanese excessive risk perception corresponded to the newly constructed direct measure of anxiety over governance, indicating that it was indeed anxiety about the future direction of Japanese politics and political dysfunction. Anxiety was reduced by perceptions of Japan’s degree of democracy, while its high level was explained by the cumulative negative effects of factors such as nonfunctioning social capital, reduced party choice, and inconsistent values.
Chapter 6 examines a possible countervailing approach from citizens’ perspectives using an analysis of the 2021 election. While criticizing the government in the face of anxiety over governance, many Japanese are less involved in politics, even when confronted with the pandemic. However, the analyses indicated possible pathways for the Japanese to engage in politics, starting with protecting their everyday lives. The book closes by arguing that such grassroots movements are one way to reduce Japanese people’s anxiety over governance.
Dr. Ken’ichi Ikeda is a professor in the Department of Media Studies at Doshisha University, Kyoto, Japan since April 2013, after 21 years of teaching at the University of Tokyo. He has been involved in many national/international survey research as the Principal Investigator of Japan, such as Japanese Election Study, World Values Survey, Asian Barometer, and Comparative Study on Electoral Systems(CSES).
Professor, Faculty of Social Studies Department of Media, Journalism and Communications
Organization for Research Initiatives & Development
Kyotanabe, Kyoto 610-0394, JAPAN