This chapter surveys the analytical topography and introduces the conceptual framework that informs this study. Concepts from institutionalization theory and historical institutionalism are fused to create a unique lens through which to assess the process whereby Japan’s cabinet system evolved and the factors that molded its distinctive form and functions. It is posited that Japan’s cabinet system was transformed at seven critical junctures. In prewar times, significant changes followed the 1868 Meiji Restoration, the advent of party-led cabinets, and their violent demise with the “May 15th Incident.” In postwar times, American occupation planners orchestrated a dramatic reconfiguration, while significant changes followed the emergence of the “1955 system” that ushered in the Liberal Democratic Party’s protracted rule, the “shocks” of the early 1970s, the advent of coalition cabinets in 1993, and the emergence of “Twisted Diets” following the 2007 upper house elections. Consequently, Japan’s present system is the product of a developmental process that has resulted in the inability to establish a properly functioning system of cabinet government. A central lesson gleaned from this analysis is that growing democracy is not easy, and, in this regard, the Japanese case offers crucial lessons for understanding the challenges and disappointments that confront today’s developing countries.
Keywords: Japanese politics, March 2011 disasters, cabinets, cabinet government, parliamentary system, Westminster model, comparative politics, institutions, institutionalization, historical institutionalism
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