Elections in Japan

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The Japanese political system has three types of elections: general elections to the House of Representatives held every four years (unless the lower house is dissolved earlier), elections to the House of Councillors held every three years to choose one-half of its members, and local elections held every four years for offices in prefectures, cities, and villages. Elections are supervised by election committees at each administrative level under the general direction of the Central Election Administration Committee, an attached organization to the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications (MIC). The minimum voting age in Japan's non-compulsory electoral system was reduced from twenty to eighteen years in June 2016.[1] Voters must satisfy a three-month residency requirement before being allowed to cast a ballot.

For those seeking office, there are two sets of age requirements: twenty-five years of age for admission to the House of Representatives and most local offices, and thirty years of age for admission to the House of Councillors and the prefectural governorship. Each deposit for candidacy is 3 million yen (30 thousand dollars) for single-seat constituency and 6 million yen (60 thousand dollars) for proportional representation.

National elections

The National Diet (Kokkai) has two chambers. The House of Representatives (Shugi-in) has 475 members, elected for a four-year term, 295 members in single-seat constituencies and 180 members by proportional representation in 11 block districts. In this system, each voter votes twice, once for a candidate in the local constituency, and once for a party, each of which has a list of candidates for each block district. The local constituencies are decided by plurality, and the block seats are then handed out to party lists proportionally (by the D'Hondt method) to their share of the vote. Often the parties assign the block list spots to single-seat candidates, so that unsuccessful single-seat candidates have a chance to be elected in the proportional block. Parties may also place dual district and block candidates on the same list rank; in that case, the Sekihairitsu system determines the order of candidates. General elections of members of the House of Representatives (Shūgiin giin sō-senkyo) are usually held before the end of a four-year term as the chamber may be dissolved by the cabinet (via the Emperor). Most prime ministers use that option. The only exception in post-war history was the "Lockheed election" of 1976 in which the Liberal Democratic Party lost its seat majority for the first time.

The House of Councillors (Sangi-in) has 242 members, elected for a six-year term, 146 members in 47 single- and multi-seat constituencies (prefectures) by single non-transferable vote and 96 by proportional representation (by D'Hondt method) on the national level. The proportional election to the House of Councillors allows the voters to cast a preference vote for a single candidate on a party list. The preference votes exclusively determine the ranking of candidates on party lists. Half of the House of Councillors comes up for election every three years in regular/ordinary elections of members of the House of Councillors (Sangiin giin tsūjō-senkyo).

Voting in Higashiōsaka, Osaka Prefecture, Japan, 2014.

The electoral cycles of the two chambers of the Diet are usually not synchronized. Even when the current constitution took effect in 1947, the first House of Councillors election was held several days apart from the 23rd House of Representatives election. Only in 1980 and 1986, general and regular election coincided on the same day because the House of Representatives was dissolved in time for the election to be scheduled together with the House of Councillors election in early summer.

Vacant district seats in both Houses are generally filled in by-elections (hoketsu senkyo). Nowadays, these are usually scheduled in April and October as necessary. Vacant proportional seats in both Houses and district seats in the House of Councillors that fall vacant within three months of a regular election are filled by kuriage-tōsen (roughly "being elected as runner-up"): the highest ranking candidate on a proportional list or in the electoral district who was not elected and is not disqualified takes the seat. Disqualifications may, for example, happen if a candidate for the House of Councillors runs for the House of Representatives or vice versa, or after a violation of campaign laws.

For many years, Japan was a one party dominant state until 1993 with the Liberal Democratic Party as the ruling party. It won a majority of the popular vote in House of Representatives general elections until the 1960s. It lost the majority of seats in 1976 and 1979, but continued to rule without coalition partners with the support of independent Representatives. After the 1983 election when it again lost the majority, it entered a coalition for the first time – with the New Liberal Club. In 1986, the coalition ended as the LDP won a large majority of seats and even came close to a majority of votes. The party suffered its first clear electoral defeat in the 1989 House of Councillors regular election when it lost the upper house majority and had to face for the first time a divided Diet (Nejire Kokkai, lit. "twisted Diet") where passing legislation depends on cooperation with the opposition. The LDP was out of government for the first time in 1993 after Ichirō Ozawa and his faction had left the party and the opposition parties united in an anti-LDP coalition, but then soon returned to the majority in 1994 by entering a coalition with its traditional main opponent, the Socialist Party. The 2009 House of Representatives elections handed the first non-LDP victory to the Democratic Party of Japan. Due to the majoritarian parallel voting system, it is unlikely that Japan will develop a multi-party system, but there is speculation that after 2009, Japan will develop a two-party system.

According to a survey by Yomiuri Shimbun in April 2010, almost half of Japanese voters do not support any political parties due to political inefficiency.[2]

Election of the Prime Minister

Between 1885 and 1947 in the Empire of Japan, the prime minister was not elected, but responsible to, chosen and appointed by the Emperor. In practice, the Genrō usually nominated a candidate for appointment. The Imperial Diet and its elected lower house, the House of Representatives, which were set up in 1890 according to the Imperial Constitution, had no constitutionally guaranteed role in the formation of cabinets.

Since 1947, the Prime Minister of Japan has been chosen in the "designation election of the prime minister" (Naikaku sōridaijin shimei senkyo, 内閣総理大臣指名選挙) in the National Diet. It is held after a cabinet has submitted its resignation – the outgoing cabinet remains as caretaker cabinet until the Imperial inauguration ceremony of a new prime minister –; a cabinet must resign en masse under the constitution (Articles 69 and 70) 1. always on convocation of the first Diet after a general election of the House of Representatives, 2. if the post of prime minister has fallen vacant – that includes cases when the prime minister is permanently incapacitated, e.g. by illness, kidnapping or defection –, or 3. if a no-confidence vote in the House of Representatives is not answered by the dissolution of the chamber. Though both Houses of the Diet vote in two-round elections to select a prime minister, the House of Representatives has the decisive vote: If the two Houses vote for different candidates (as they did in 1948, 1989, 1998, 2007 and 2008), a procedure in the joint committee of both houses (ryōin kyōkaigi) may reach a consensus; but eventually the candidate of the House of Representatives becomes that of the whole Diet and thereby prime minister-designate. The designated prime minister must still be ceremonially appointed by the Emperor in the Imperial Investiture (shinninshiki) to enter office; but unlike some heads of state, the Emperor has no reserve power to appoint anyone other than the person elected by the Diet.

In 2001, LDP president and Prime Minister Junichirō Koizumi instituted an advisory council to investigate the possibility of introducing direct popular election of the prime minister in a constitutional revision.[3]

Latest results

2014 General House of Representatives election

 Summary of the 14 December 2014 Japanese House of Representatives election results[4][5]
Political Party Local Constituency Vote PR Block Vote Total Seats +/−
Votes[6] % Seats Votes % Seats Total % Before Last
Coalition 26,226,838 49.54% 232 24,973,152 46.82% 94 326 68.63% 0 +1
Liberal Democratic Party LDP 25,461,448 48.1% 223 17,658,916 33.11% 68 291 61.26% -4 -3
Komeito NKP 765,390 1.45% 9 7,314,236 13.71% 26 35 7.37% +4 +4
Democratic Party DPJ 11,916,849 22.51% 38 9,775,991 18.33% 35 73 15.37% +10 +16
Innovation Party JIP 4,319,645 8.16% 11 8,382,699 15.72% 30 41 8.63% -1 New
Japan Communist Party JCP 7,040,130 13.3% 1 6,062,962 11.37% 20 21 4.42% +13 +13
Party for Future Generations PFG 947,395 1.79% 2 1,414,919 2.65% 0 2 0.42% -17 New
Social Democratic Party SDP 419,347 0.79% 1 1,314,441 2.46% 1 2 0.42% 0 0
People's Life Party PLP 514,575 0.97% 2 1,028,721 1.93% 0 2 0.42% -3 New
New Renaissance Party NRP - - - 16,597 0.03% 0 0 0.00% 0 0
Others 43,546 0.08% 0 364,965 0.69% 0 0 0.00% 0 0
Independents 1,511,242 2.85% 8 8 1.68% -7 +3
Total 52,939,789 100.00% 295 53,334,447 100.00% 180 475 100% -5[7] -

2013 Regular House of Councillors election

 Summary of the 21 July 2013 Japanese House of Councillors election results[8]
Alliances and parties Prefectural constituency vote National PR vote Not up Total seats +/−
Votes[9] % Seats Votes % Seats Total % (pre-
   Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) Jimintō – 自民党 22,681,192 42.7 47 18,460,404 34.7 18 50 115 47.5 Increase31 Increase31
New Komeito Party (NKP) Kōmeitō – 公明党 2,724,447 5.1 4 7,568,080 14.2 7 9 20 8.3 Increase1 Increase1
LDP–NKP Coalition 25,405,639 47.8 51 26,028,484 48.9 25 59 135 55.8 Increase32 Increase32
   Democratic Party (DPJ) Minshutō – 民主党 8,646,371 16.3 10 7,268,653 13.4 7 42 59 24.4 Decrease27 Decrease47
Restoration Party (JRP) Ishin no Kai – 日本維新の会 3,846,649 7.2 2 6,355,299 11.9 6 1 9 3.7 Increase6 New (Increase9)[10]
Communist Party (JCP) Kyōsantō – 共産党 5,645,937 10.6 3 5,154,055 9.7 5 3 11 4.5 Increase5 Increase5
Your Party (YP) Minna no Tō – みんなの党 4,159,961 7.8 4 4,755,160 8.9 4 10 18 7.4 Increase5 Increase7
Social Democratic Party (SDP) Shamintō – 社民党 271,547 0.5 0 1,255,235 2.4 1 2 3 1.2 Decrease1 Decrease1
Others 5,096,372 9.7 1[11] 2,547,160[12] 4.8 0 3 4[13] 1.6 Decrease12[14] Decrease6[15]
Independents 2 1 3 1.2 Decrease3 Increase1
Total opposition parties 27,666,837 52.2 22 27,335,562 51.1 23 62 107 44.2 Decrease27 Decrease32
Totals 53,072,476 100.0 73 52,816,886 100.0 48 121 242100.0 Increase5* Steady0
Turnout 52.61% 52.61% *(vacant seats)

Under several regulations regarding political parties, elections and campaign finance, the 2010 regular House of Councillors election that elected 121 of the current 717 Diet members also counts as a recent national election in legal terms until 2016.


In the 1980s, apportionment of electoral districts still reflected the distribution of the population in the years following World War II, when only one-third of the people lived in urban areas and two thirds lived in rural areas. In the next forty-five years, the population became more than three-quarters urban, as people deserted rural communities to seek economic opportunities in Tokyo and other large cities. The lack of reapportionment led to a serious underrepresentation of urban voters. Urban districts in the House of Representatives were increased by five in 1964, bringing nineteen new representatives to the lower house; in 1975 six more urban districts were established, with a total of twenty new representatives allocated to them and to other urban districts. Yet great inequities remained between urban and rural voters.

In the early 1980s, as many as five times the votes were needed to elect a representative from an urban district compared with those needed for a rural district. Similar disparities existed in the prefectural constituencies of the House of Councillors. The Supreme Court had ruled on several occasions that the imbalance violated the constitutional principle of one person-one vote. The Supreme Court mandated the addition of eight representatives to urban districts and the removal of seven from rural districts in 1986. Several lower house districts' boundaries were redrawn. Yet the disparity was still as much as three urban votes to one rural vote.

After the 1986 change, the average number of persons per lower house representative was 236,424. However, the figure varied from 427,761 persons per representative in the fourth district of Kanagawa Prefecture, which contains the large city of Yokohama, to 142,932 persons in the third district of largely rural and mountainous Nagano Prefecture.

The 1993 reform government under Hosokawa Morihiro introduce a new electoral system whereby 200 members (reduced to 180 beginning with the 2000 election) are elected by proportional representation in multi-member districts or "blocs" while 300 are elected from single-candidate districts.

Still, according to the October 6, 2006 issue of the Japanese newspaper Daily Yomiuri, "the Supreme Court followed legal precedent in ruling Wednesday that the House of Councillors election in 2004 was held in a constitutionally sound way despite a 5.13-fold disparity in the weight of votes between the nation's most densely and most sparsely populated electoral districts".

The 2009 general House of Representatives election was the first unconstitutional lower house election under the current electoral system introduced in 1994 (parallel voting and "small" FPTP single-member electoral districts/"Kakumander"). In March 2011, the Grand Bench (daihōtei) of the Supreme Court ruled that the maximum discrepancy of 2.30 in voting weight between the Kōchi 3 and Chiba 4 constituencies in the 2009 election was in violation of the constitutionally guaranteed equality of all voters. As in previous such rulings on unconstitutional elections (1972, 1980, 1983 and 1990 Representatives elections, 1992 Councillors election), the election is not invalidated, but the imbalance has to be corrected by the Diet through redistricting and/or reapportionment of seats between prefectures.[16]

In 2016, discussions on lower house electoral reform, the main parties debate the timing of introducing the [John Quincy] Adams apportionment method (method of smallest divisors) for apportioning seats to prefectures as proposed by a panel of experts. The Democratic Party and Kōmeitō want to implement the change now, many in the Liberal Democratic Party are reluctant, want to wait until the 2020 census and conduct only a smaller reapportionment that cuts seats in six prefectures in the meantime. If the Adams method were adopted based on population figures from the 2015 census (under which the maximum malapportionment ratio in the current system amounts to 2.3) and including the reduction of total seats by six, 15 mostly rural prefectures would lose a seat, mostly urban prefectures including Tokyo (+4) and Kanagawa (+2) would gain nine seats.[17][18][19][20]

The malapportionment in the 2010 regular House of Councillors election was ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in October 2012.[21]

The following table lists the 10 electoral districts with the highest and lowest number of registered voters per member elected for each chamber of the National Diet according to the voter statistics as of September 2012 released by the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications,[22] – it does not yet take into account the redistricting in the House of Representatives in effect since the 2014 election and the upcoming changes to House of Councillors districts in the 2016 election.

Electoral districts with the highest and lowest voting weight for the National Diet
House of Representatives House of Councillors
Lowest vote weight Highest vote weight Lowest vote weight Highest vote weight
# District Registered voters District Registered voters District Registered voters
per member elected
District Registered voters
per member elected
1 Chiba 4 497,350 Kōchi 3 205,461 Kanagawa 1,227,896 Tottori 241,481 1
2 Kanagawa 10 494,755 Nagasaki 3 210,149 Osaka 1,188,371 Shimane 294,037 2
3 Tokyo 6 486,353 Miyagi 5 212,262 Hokkaidō 1,147,071 Kōchi 316,870 3
4 Hokkaidō 1 485,001 Fukui 3 212,408 Hyōgo 1,138,829 Fukui 325,996 4
5 Tokyo 3 482,494 Kōchi 2 213,606 Tokyo 1,076,763 Tokushima 326,800 5
6 Tokyo 1 479,891 Tokushima 3 213,937 Fukuoka 1,031,611 Saga 343,737 6
7 Hyōgo 6 477,012 Tokushima 1 214,535 Aichi 979,962 Yamanashi 350,271 7
8 Tokyo 19 469,133 Kōchi 1 214,672 Saitama 979,885 Fukushima 406,880 8
9 Tokyo 23 464,989 Fukui 2 217,902 Chiba 845,925 Kagawa 413,684 9
10 Tokyo 22 464,807 Yamanashi 1 218,115 Tochigi 815,655 Wakayama 420,821 10

Prefectural and local elections

Prefectural assemblies and governors, as well as mayors and assemblies in municipalities, are elected for four-year terms. In April 1947, all local elections in the 46 prefectures (excluding Okinawa, then under US military rule) and all their municipalities were held at the same time in "unified local elections" (tōitsu chihō senkyo). Since then, some gubernatorial and mayoral elections, and most assembly elections, have stayed on this original four-year cycle. Most governors and mayors are now elected on different schedules as the four-year cycle "resets" upon the resignation, death or removal of a sitting governor or mayor. Some assembly election cycles have also shifted due to assembly dissolutions or mergers of municipalities. In the last unified local elections in April 2015, 10 of 47 governors, 41 of 47 prefectural assemblies, 222 mayors and 689 municipal assemblies were scheduled to be elected.

Unified elections

As of 2015, the major contests in the unified local elections are as follows:

Prefecture Governor Assembly Designated city races
Hokkaido Sapporo mayor
Sapporo assembly
Saitama Saitama assembly
Chiba Chiba assembly
Kanagawa Yokohama assembly
Kawasaki assembly
Sagamihara mayor
Sagamihara assembly
Niigata Niigata assembly
Shizuoka Shizuoka mayor
Hamamatsu mayor
Hamamatsu assembly
Aichi Nagoya assembly
Kyoto Kyoto assembly
Osaka Osaka assembly
Sakai assembly
Hyogo Kobe assembly
Okayama Okayama assembly
Hiroshima Hiroshima mayor
Hiroshima assembly
Fukuoka Fukuoka assembly
Kumamoto Kumamoto assembly

Although Tokyo's metropolitan governor and assembly elections are currently held on separate schedules, 21 of the 23 special wards of Tokyo follow the unified election schedule for their assembly elections, the only exceptions being Katsushika and Adachi. The majority of Tokyo's special wards follow separate cycles for their mayoral elections. Tokyo elected its governor as part of the unified elections until 2011, but was forced to hold a 2012 election and 2014 election due to the resignations of Shintaro Ishihara and Naoki Inose.

Iwate Prefecture, Miyagi Prefecture and Fukushima Prefecture are no longer on the unified election cycle due to the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami, which delayed their elections.

Other major local election cycles

Ballots, voting machines and early voting

Votes in national and most local elections are cast by writing the candidate's or party's name on a blank ballot paper. In elections for the House of Representatives voters fill in two ballots, one with the name of their preferred district candidate and one with their preferred party in the proportional representation block. For the House of Councillors, the district vote is similar (in SNTV multi-member districts, several candidates can be elected, but every voter has only one vote). But in the proportional vote for the House of Councillors votes are cast for a party list (to determine how many proportional seats a party receives) or a candidate (which additionally influences which candidates are elected from a party's list).[23]

Ballots that cannot unambiguously be assigned to a candidate are not considered invalid, but are assigned to all potentially intended candidates proportionally to the unambiguous votes each candidate has received. These so-called "proportional fractional votes" (按分票, ambunhyō) are rounded to the third decimal.[24] For example, if "Yamada A" and "Yamada B" both stood in an election and there were 1500 unambiguous votes: 1000 for "Yamada A" and 500 for "Yamada B"; five ambiguous votes for "Yamada" would then count for Yamada A as 5×1000/1500=3.333 votes, and for Yamada B as 5×500/1500=1.667 votes.

In 2002, passage of an electronic voting law[25] allowed for the introduction of electronic voting machines in local elections.[26] The first machine vote took place in Niimi, Okayama in June 2002.[27] In 2003, a system for early voting (期日前投票制度, kijitsu-mae tōhyō seido) was introduced.[28] In the Japanese general election, 2009, a record number of more than 10 million Japanese voted early.[29]

See also


  1. "Diet enacts law lowering voting age to 18 from 20". The Japan Times.
  2. Nishikawa, Yoko (2010-04-04). "Nearly half of Japan's voters don't support any party". Reuters. Retrieved 2010-04-05.
  3. Kantei: Advisory Council to Consider the Direct Election of the Prime Minister
  4. "Ruling coalition wins over 2/3 of seats in lower house election". mainichi.jp. The Mainichi Newspaper (Mainichi Shimbun). Retrieved 14 December 2014.
  5. "Japan Election / New balance of power in House of Representatives". the-japan-news.com. The Japan News (Yomiuri Shimbun). Retrieved 14 December 2014.
  6. Decimals from fractional votes (按分票 ambunhyo) rounded to full numbers
  7. The number of seats reduced from 480 to 475 compared with the last election.
  8. Final results. NHK. 17 December 2012.
  9. Decimals from fractional votes (ambunhyō) rounded to full numbers
  10. Increase6 compared to precursor Sunrise Party of Japan
  11. Okinawa Socialist Mass Party
  12. People's Life Party 943,836, New Party Daichi 523,146, Green Party 457,862, Green Wind 430,673, Happiness Realization Party 191,643
  13. People's Life Party, 2, New Renaissance Party 1, Okinawa Socialist Mass Party 1
  14. People's Life Party Decrease6, Okinawa Socialist Mass Party Steady, New Renaissance Party Decrease1, Green Wind Decrease4, New Party Daichi Decrease1, Others Steady
  15. Decrease9 if Sunrise Party of Japan is included
  16. Jiji Tsūshin, March 23, 2011: 09年衆院選は違憲状態=1人別枠方式「平等に反する」-廃止要請・最高裁大法廷
  17. The Japan News (Yomiuri Shimbun), February 23, 2016: Prompt introduction of Adams’ method crucial for lower house electoral reform
  18. Mainichi Shimbun, February 27, 2016: 衆院選挙区「9増15減」 アダムズ方式試算 格差拡大2.3倍
  19. Tōkyō Shimbun, February 27, 2016: 衆院、15年国勢調査・アダムズ方式なら 「9増15減」自民反発
  20. NHK News, March 5, 2016: 衆院選挙制度見直し 大島議長 週明けから各党調整へ
  21. Asahi Shimbun, Asia & Japan Watch, October 18, 2012: Japan's 2 Diet chambers both ruled all but 'unconstitutional'
  22. Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications (Sōmu-shō, lit. "Ministry of general affairs"): 平成24年9月2日現在選挙人名簿及び在外選挙人名簿登録者数
  23. Kamiya, Setsuko, "Some election campaign rules outdated, quirky", Japan Times, 11 December 2012, p. 3
  24. "FAQ>按分(あんぶん)票とは何ですか。" (in Japanese). [[Izumi, Osaka|]] city electoral commission. Retrieved June 5, 2013.
  25. 地方公共団体の議会の議員及び長の選挙に係る電磁的記録式投票機を用いて行う投票方法等の特例に関する法律
  26. MIC: 電磁的記録式投票制度について
  27. Kōbe Shimbun, June 28, 2002: 全国初の電子投票ルポ 岡山・新見市
  28. MIC: 期日前投票制度
  29. The Japan Times, August 30, 2009: Record-high 10.9 million voters cast early ballots
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