The Parliamentary Systems of Japan and Germany: A Comparison

by Andrea Becker (Author) Maren Reyelt (Author)

Term Paper 2000 48 Pages

Politics - International Politics - Region: Far East


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. The Japanese-German relationship

3. Constitutional Developments
a. Meiji Constitution and Germany’s Constitution of 1871
b. Japanese and German Postwar Constitutions

4. The Parliamentary Systems Today
a. The Diet and other Governmental Institutions
b. Japanese Political Reforms after 1993
c. The German Parliament and other Governmental Institutions

5. Concluding Remarks



Parliamentary systems

“In a parliamentary system, the legislature is theoretically the primary institution reflecting the will of the people. The political authority of the executive rests with the prime minister and the cabinet, which together derive their mandate from and are responsible to the legislature, or parliament. This cabinet government (the prime minister and cabinet ministers) can govern as long as parliament grants its support or confidence. The head of government … is usually the leader of the largest party in the legislature, and this party may hold a majority of seats by itself or, alternatively, may be the largest of several parties in a coalition government. … In addition to the prime minister, who is the political executive, parliamentarian systems also have a symbolic executive head of state. … Although the head of state may be called the president …, the coexistence of this position with a prime minister distinguishes the system as a parliamentary, not presidential. The head of state formally appoints a prime minister, accepts the resignation of a government, and calls elections, but these functions are exercised only on the advice of the prime minister and under defined constitutional limits. There are numerous variations of this basic … pattern… Heads of state may differ: some inherit their positions (monarchs), whereas others are indirectly elected, for example by an electoral college. Legislatures may be bicameral or unicameral; and the ways in which the prime minister and Cabinet secure legislative support or confidence also vary…”


Sue Ellen M. Charlton: Comparing Asian Politics. India, China, and Japan, Boulder: Westview Press 1997, pp. 164-165.

1. Introduction

This paper wants to compare the parliamentary systems of Japan and Germany, especially the structure of the governments, the Diet, and the Bundestag. In our paper we will answer the following questions: Why can both countries be compared? What historical prerequisites led to the recent political systems? How do the respective parts of parliaments and governmental institutions work together? Therefore, we want to concentrate on the question, where there are similarities in the political procedures and where these ones differ?

Several reasons make both countries comparable. In this regard, our first item gives an overview over 130 years of a Japanese-German relationship, in which many parallel historical developments and treaties occurred. A description of the constitutional developments (item 3) shows that the Japanese Constitution of 1890 adopted general provisions (especially provisions for the emperor and the parliament) from the German Constitution of 1871. In addition, both postwar Constitutions were strongly influenced by the United States’ occupation politics, which established a parliamentary democracy in both countries. All of these are necessary fundamentals to show that both systems can be compared because of these several similar, historical, and political developments. Our fourth item compares the parliamentary systems today. Within the concluding remarks we will point out the differences and the similarities, both systems share or rather divide from each other.

2. Historical Parallels and the Japanese-German Relationship

Japan and Germany can look back upon 130 years of a more or less deep relationship. Sure, there are some differences within this old official Japanese-German relationship, and there are parallels with other states. But despite of all possible relativity, the degree of the Japanese-German similarity is succinct, and it is possible to discover parallels between certain historical developments in Japan and developments in Germany. The official relations began on January, 24th 1861 when the Prussian East Asian Delegation under the Duke Friedrich zu Eulenburg and the Japanese Shōgunat completed the “Freundschafts-, Handels-, und Schiffahrtsvertrag” (Friendship, Trade-, and Navigation-Treaty). The North German Confederation, and later on the German ‘Reich’ joined this treaty.[1]

Germany became well-known in Japan since the mission of the foreign minister Iwakura who traveled two years through America and Europe coming to Berlin in 1873. The members of the mission and the German chancellor Bismarck ascertained various parallels and similar problems in the development process of Prussia and Japan. For the Japanese, the Prussian technological and militaristic structure as well as their constitutional monarchy with limited democratic rights, but with a developed judicial and administrative system, seemed to be a good model for the development of Japan.[2] The Meiji reformer focused especially on the spheres Constitution, military, and education system on the Prussian-German model. The German lawyers Hermann Roesler and Albert Mosse had a strong influence on the drafts of the Meiji Constitution, which was adopted in 1890.

During World War I, Japan supported the Allies because it bound itself (after the failure of the German-British Confederation Dialogue in 1901) to Great Britain (1902 and 1905). The opposition between Japan and Germany during World War I had no further consequences. In 1921, the diplomatic relation was established again. The 1920s were characterized of special flourishing relations between the two countries. Cultural, scientific, and military sectors were strongly built up parts in the relationship. The parallels of the development were particularly strong during the 1930s. The dictatorship of Adolf Hitler and that one of the Japanese military were in their aims, methods, and especially in their moral concepts entirely different, but in their threat for the western democracies equally dangerous. During World War II there existed less political or militaristic coordination between Germany and Japan. A connection was only the common opposition against the Anglo-Saxon powers, but at no time existed common German-Japanese politics.[3]

The unconditional surrender led for Germany as well as for Japan to a deep historical decisive point. The parallel development of the countries emerged even more clearly in the time of the new beginning after 1945. Unconditional surrender, demilitarization, war criminal processes of Nuremberg and Tokyo, and the build up of parliamentary democracies under the influence of the American occupation show the same development.[4] In addition, both countries were step by step integrated in the western economy and safety system, and became central partners of the United States. On the contrary to Germany, Japan’s situation was not so difficult because the country was only occupied from the United States but could uphold its unity. So Japan was not divided in occupation zones of the four Allied Powers like it became unavoidable for Germany after the beginning of the cold war. During the occupation, the United States strove for a totally restructure and reorientation of the two defeated countries.[5] The aims were to punish the war criminals, a general demilitarization, and political reeducation. Moreover, they wanted to establish political pluralism with the foundation or rather with the revival of political parties.[6] The political continuity of Japan was maintained with the preservation of important institutions like the emperor, the centralized government, and the ministerial bureaucracy, while in Germany all federal authority was broken down.[7] Furthermore, a military government, like it was the case in Germany did not rule Japan in the postwar period.[8]

The beginning of the Cold War led to a fundamental change of the American politic towards Germany and Japan, but with different emphasis. The Truman Doctrine and the Marshall Plan and therefore the policy of containment were the concepts for Europe. In this context, Germany participated in the Organization of European Economic Co-Operation. At least with the Treaties of Paris (1954), Germany was introduced in the Atlantic Alliance that gave the country its sovereignty (with some limits). In Japan national sovereignty was re-established in 1952 with the San Francisco Peace Treaty.[9] A rearmament, like it occurred in Germany, was unthinkable for Japan, because of the pacifistic public opinion and the “no war clause” (Article 9) of the new Constitution, developed under the influence of the United States. To protect their country, Japan was dependent on the United States in the military sector, and therefore, it joined a cooperation with the United States. Instead of performing a common alliance (like it did the Federal Republic of Germany), Japan entered with the Security Treaty of 1951 (1961 renewed) into a bilateral security confederation with the United States. These structural differences in the connection with the United States left more room for the self-reliant foreign and political security positions for the Federal Republic of Germany.[10] For Japan, there existed no alternative to the security confederation with the United States that seems not to be a partnership, but more a one-sided subordinated relation. The Japanese-American security treaty guaranteed the United States their military bases in Japan, and from this presence of the military derived de facto the guarantee of protection of the United States for Japan.[11]

There occurred no conflicts or tensions in the Japanese-German relationship since the end of World War II, mostly because the relations were less substantial. The radical political changes happening since 1989 in Europe led to Japan‘s bigger interest in Europe. Therefore, Japan signed a declaration with the European Union in 1991, which dealt with the support of the strong underdeveloped European-Japanese side of the triangle North America-Japan-Europe. The common declaration built the frame for a stronger integration and network of the political, cultural, and investigative-technological relations between the European Union and Japan.[12]

Regarding the foreign politics, both countries have a lot of same interests and a strong relationship between each other. In the 1990s, Japan tried to delimit itself from the orientation towards the United States by building up a stronger relation to Europe and particularly to Germany. Moreover, Japan’s commitment in the United Nations and its interest in questions of regional cooperation and security grew stronger. During this period, Japan’s as well as Germany’s interest in a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council grew.[13] The change in the international role of Japan and Germany led to an increase of the bilateral dialogue between the two countries. The intensified dialogue includes various topics like the United Nations reform, decline of mass extermination weapons, no spreading of nuclear weapons, and environment.[14]

The statement of the German Federal Government in November 2000 on the occasion of the “Expo 2000” shows that Germany supports a widespread relationship with Japan:

“The German-Japanese relationship is good and intensive. We have a great interest in close and confidence-based relations with Japan which is not only our most important economic and trading partner in Asia but has also become an indispensable partner in efforts to resolve major international tasks and problems, a partner with whom we are engaging in dialogue to an increasing extent. Areas of common interest include the United Nations, free world trade, assistance for Russia, the CIS countries, as well as the Central and Eastern European countries, environment, development, disarmament, arms control, and non-proliferation.”[15]

This close and confidence-based relationship with Japan is reflected in the intensive exchange of high and top-level visits that has taken place for many years now. President Roman Herzog visited Japan from 5 to 11 April 1997. Japanese Emperor Akihito visited Berlin in 1993. Prime Minister Obuchi met with Chancellor Schröder in Berlin for consultations on 12 January 1999 in the context of a European tour. Chancellor Schröder visited Japan from 31 October to 2 November 1999. Foreign Ministers Fischer and Kôno met on the sidelines of the G-8 Foreign Ministers' Meeting held in Berlin on 17 December 1999. Foreign Minister Fischer visited Japan in July 2000 in connection with the G-8 Summit in Okinawa.[16]

Another part of the German-Japanese cooperation is the German-Japanese Dialogue Forum. It is made up of high-ranking prominent representatives of government (members of parliament), business, the academic community, the cultural community, as well as the media. The Dialogue Forum meets annually in Japan or Germany and strengthens German-Japanese relations in an advisory capacity to both governments. It deals with the roles of both countries in the United Nations; global, international and regional security issues, current problems of national and international politics; and bilateral relations. In 1996, Foreign Minister Kinkel and his Japanese counterpart Kôno created an Agenda for a German-Japanese Partnership with a view to improving and intensifying bilateral relations. The two governments are working together to achieve a closer bilateral relation on the basis of this agenda with the aim to strengthen high-level intergovernmental contacts and diplomatic cooperation, intensify wide-ranging economic and academic relations, as well as expand cultural and youth exchanges.[17] Aside from these dialogues there exist several other cultivations of German-Japanese relations in a wide range of different bilateral bodies. The Japanese-German Center in Berlin is the most important bilateral institution with a wide range of offerings in the academic, cultural, and political sectors. It was created in 1985 as a forum for academic exchanges at the initiative of Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone and Chancellor Helmut Kohl. It supports the cooperation between German and Japanese universities, and held conferences in the past that dealt with topics like the Japanese and German political and economic relations (bilateral, regional and international), international cooperation in investment, industrial cooperation, development aid, questions of national and international law, and regional and supraregional development and integration of planning (especially traffic and regional planning).[18]

The German-Japanese Cooperation Council for High-Tech and Environmental Technology was created at the suggestion of former Chancellor Kohl. It met for the first time on 12/13 December 1994 in Tokyo. It consists of German and Japanese representatives from the industry, the sciences and politics, and is an important instrument for the deepening of German-Japanese economic and scientific relations. Its main purpose is to promote an open dialogue and genuine cooperation between German and Japanese companies.[19] Today, the Japanese-German relations grow even deeper: On the 30th of October 2000 foreign minister Yohei Kono of Japan and his German counterpart Joseph Fischer met each other for the regular Foreign Ministerial Consultation, deciding the following (summary):

“1. Adoption and Exchange of the "Seven Pillars of Cooperation For Japan-Germany Relations in the 21st Century”

(1) A new document, the “Seven Pillars of Cooperation For Japan-Germany Relations in the 21st Century,” was drafted and exchanged by both the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Japan and the Federal Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Federal Republic of Germany at the opening of this Japan-Federal Republic of Germany Regular Foreign Ministerial Consultation, for the purpose of strengthening and expanding the "Action Agenda for the Japan-Germany Partnership" (drafted 1996, first revision 1997), a basic document pertaining to Japan-Germany cooperation.
(2) This document divided mid- to long-term cooperation between Japan and Germany in the 21st century into seven areas, and assigned a detailed action plan to each of these areas.

2. Content of the Foreign Ministerial Consultation

At the Foreign Ministerial Consultation, views were exchanged primarily on Japan-Europe relations, reforms of the United Nations Security Council and of financial contributions to the UN, and the establishment of diplomatic relations between Germany and North Korea. The outline of the consultation is as follows:

(1) Both Ministers agreed that the document adopted at the meeting ("Seven Pillars of Cooperation For Japan-Germany Relations in the 21st Century") was important to create a foundation of future relations between the two countries.
(2) Regarding reforms of the United Nations Security Council and of financial contributions to the UN, both Ministers reached a consensus on maintaining closer communications between Japan and Germany in order to facilitate future cooperation.”[20]

3. Constitutional Developments

a. Meiji Constitution and Germany’s Constitution of 1871

The Meiji Constitution of 1889 (in effect since 1890) had been presented to the Japanese people as a gift from the emperor (tennō), and created several political institutions: It established a bicameral parliament (Imperial Diet consisting of the House of Peers and the House of Representatives), formally recognizing the principle of popular participation in government. Both of the houses had equal powers of initiating legislation (Article 38), and the House of Peers had the right to veto the legislation, made by the House of Representatives (Article 39). The approval of the Diet was necessary to pass the government budget.[21]

In fact, the position of the parliament as a whole was severely limited by the superior status and powers of the emperor who was the ultimate source of sovereignty, and whose authority was “sacred and inviolable” (Article 3). But since the tennō did not rule, the effective location of sovereignty was shifting, dependent on the balance of power at any one time between the various political elites (phenomenon of dual or multiple government). The emperor exercised the legislative power (though with the consent of the Diet), gave sanction to laws (Article 6), had considerable powers over the duration of Diet sessions (Articles 7, 42, and 43), and dissolved the House of Representatives, this leading to new elections (Articles 7, 45).[22] Although there were several powers granted to the tennō, he did not rule personally (with occasional exceptions). The preamble of the Constitution stated that the ministers of state should be imperial advisers responsible for carrying out his constitutional powers.

The Meiji Constitution established also the institutions of prime minister and Cabinet, but without the key element of collective parliamentary responsibility of the Cabinet to the Diet. The Cabinet and Diet:


[1] Heinrich Kreft: Deutsch-japanische Beziehungen, in: Mayer, Hans Jürgen/Pohl, Manfred (Hrsg.): Länderbericht Japan. Geographie, Geschichte, Politik, Wirtschaft, Gesellschaft, Kultur, 2. akt. und erw. Aufl., Bonn: Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung 1998, p. 257.

[2] Bradley M. Richardson and Scott C. Flanagan point out that “the framers of the constitution leaned heavily on the Prussian model of controlled participation.”, Bradley M. Richardson/Scott C. Flanagan: Politics in Japan, Boston/Toronto: Little, Brown & Company 1984, p. 7.

[3] Heinrich Kreft: Deutsch-japanische Beziehungen, p. 259.

[4] Regarding this development, the two primary goals of the American occupation politics were the demilitarization and the democratization in Japan and Germany, J. A. A. Stockwin: Governing Japan. Divided Politics in a Major Economy, 3rd Edition, Bodmin: Blackwill Publishers 1999, p. 38.

[5] After the end of World War II, the United States decided not only to transform Japan’s political institutions but its society as well: “The decision to undertake an extensive program of directed political change in Japan was shaped by the American planners who had concluded from their reading of history that the harsh, punitive settlement which the victorious allies had administered to Germany following World War I had ultimately backfired, leaving a residue of bitterness and resentment that fueled the rise of the ultranationalist Nazi movement.”, Bradley M. Richardson/Scott C. Flanagan: Politics in Japan, p. 29.

[6] E.g. the formation of the German Social Democratic Party in the American occupation zone and the formation of the Liberal Democratic Party in Japan under the American occupation.

[7] Sue Ellen M. Charlton: Comparing Asian Politics, p. 139 and Heinrich Kreft: Deutsch-japanische Beziehungen, p. 261.

[8] Originally, the United States had envisioned a direct military government but the final important decision was to administer the occupation indirect through the Japanese bureaucracy.

[9] For further details see: Tetsuya Kataoka: The Price of a Constitution. The Origin of Japan’s Postwar Politics, New York: Taylor & Francis 1991, pp. 75-100.

[10] J. A. A. Stockwin: Governing Japan, pp. 50-51.

[11] Heinrich Kreft: Deutsch-japanische Beziehungen, p. 262.

[12] Ibid, p. 263.

[13] Sue Ellen M. Charlton: Comparing Asian Politics, p. 139 and Heinrich Kreft: Deutsch-japanische Beziehungen, p. 263.

[14] Heinrich Kreft: Deutsch-japanische Beziehungen, p. 263.

[15] Http://eng.bundesregierung.de/top/dokumente/Background_Information/EXPO_2000/Days_of_the_nations_/Japan/ix2924_14917.htm.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Heinrich Kreft: Deutsch-japanische Beziehungen, p. 264.

[18] http://www.jdzb.de

[19] Http://eng.bundesregierung.de/top/dokumente/Background_Information/EXPO_2000/Days_of_the_nations_/Japan/ix2924_14917.htm.

[20] http://www.mofa.go.jp/region/europe/germany/meet0010.html

[21] Holmer Stahn>

[22] Manfred Pohl: Historische Entwicklung, in: Informationen zur politischen Bildung Japan, Heft 255, Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung, Bonn 1997, p. 9 and J. A. A. Stockwin: Governing Japan, p.17 and 37.


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Parliamentary Systems Japan Germany Comparison Government Politics Asia



Title: The Parliamentary Systems of Japan and Germany: A Comparison