Japanese Populism in a Comparative Context

Dr. Gill Steel
Panel Code

Cross-nationally, advanced industrial democracies are in turmoil. Anti-immigrant sentiment; political scandals; austerity; economic instability; and perceptions of a ‘democratic deficit’ are fueling a crisis of democracy. Whether this is an actual crisis or simply a periodic panic remains to be seen, but these developments have aided the rise of populist movements on the left and on the right. The papers on this panel examine populism in Japan and how Japan fits with the rise of populist politics. The panel fits well with the “Borders and Margins” theme of the Congress since populism connects with nationalism/assimilation and “otherness.”

Since scholars are fond of commenting that ‘populism’ is both a widely used and widely contested term, Takeda and Yamamoto enhance our theoretical understanding of the concept. Martin and Steel claim that Japan has been largely immune to the consolidation of populist movements and discuss the specific social, demographic, and ethnic characteristics (Steel) and institutional issues (Martin) that have facilitated the rise of populist movements in other countries but are largely absent in national-level politics in Japan. Takeda and Yoshida examine the instances of both regional and short-lived national populist movements in Japan by examining the discourse of political actors (Takeda) and the characteristics of Japanese populism (Yoshida). Yoshida claims that Japan’s variety of populism is distinct from populism in Western Europe because it is rooted in neo-liberalism and is locally based and gubernatorially-led, rather than a national or grass-roots movement. Yamamoto draws together some of the elements from the applied analyses to explore populism theoretically and discusses whether different conceptions of populism can help us understand recent Japanese politics.