Social Democratic Party (Japan)

Social Democratic Party
Japanese name Shakai Minshu-tō
President Tadatomo Yoshida
Secretary-General Seiji Mataichi
Deputy President Mizuho Fukushima
Founded 1945 (Social Democratic Party of Japan)
1996 (1996) (Social Democratic Party)
Headquarters 2-4-3-7F Nagata-cho, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo 100-0014, Japan
Ideology Social democracy[1]
Political position Centre-left[2]
International affiliation Socialist International
Colours      Light blue
House of Councillors[3]
2 / 242
House of Representatives[3]
2 / 475

The Social Democratic Party (社会民主党 Shakai Minshu-tō, often abbreviated to 社民党 Shamin-tō), also known as the Social Democratic Party of Japan (日本社会党, abbreviated to SDPJ in English) and Japan Socialist Party (JSP) at various points until 1996, is a political party that advocates the establishment of a socialist Japan.[4] It now defines itself as a social-democratic party.[1]

The party was reformed in January 1996 by the majority of legislators of the former Social Democratic Party of Japan, which was Japan's largest opposition party in the 1955 system. However, after that, most of the legislators joined the Democratic Party of Japan. Five leftist legislators who did not join the SDP formed the New Socialist Party, which lost all its seats in the following elections. The JSP enjoyed a short period of government participation from 1993 to 1994 (as part of the Hosokawa cabinet) and later formed a coalition government with the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) under 81st Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama (from the JSP) from 1994 to January 1996. The SDP was part of ruling coalitions between January and November 1996 (first Hashimoto cabinet) and from 2009 to 2010 (Hatoyama cabinet). After the Japanese House of Councillors election, 2013, it has five representatives in the national diet, two in the lower house and three in the upper house.

A campaign van outside a station, 2012


Socialist and social-democratic parties have been active in Japan, under various names, since the early 20th Centuryoften suffering harsh government repression as well as ideological dissensions and splits.

The party was originally known as the Social Democratic Party of Japan (SDPJ, 日本社会党 Nihon Shakai-tō), and was formed in 1945, following the fall of the militarist regime which had led Japan into the Second World War. At the time, though, there was serious conflict inside the party between factions of the right and the left, and the official name in English became the Japanese Socialist Party, or JSP, as the left-wing had advocated. On the other hand, the right wanted to use the older "SDPJ".

The party became the largest political party in the first general election under the Constitution of Japan in 1947 (143 of 466 seats), and a government was formed by Tetsu Katayama, forming a coalition with the Democratic Party and the Citizens' Cooperation Party. However, due to the rebellion of Marxists in the party, the Katayama government collapsed. The party continued the coalition with the Democrats under prime minister Hitoshi Ashida; but the cabinet was engulfed by the Shōwa Denkō scandal, the largest corruption scandal during the occupation, allowing Shigeru Yoshida and the Liberal Party to return to government. In the period following the end of the Second World War, the Socialists played a key role in the drafting of the new Japanese constitution, adding progressive articles related to issues such as health, welfare, and working conditions.[5]

The party was split in 1950/1951 into the Rightist Socialist Party, consisting of socialists who leaned more to the political centre, and the Leftist Socialist Party, which was formed by hardline left-wingers and Marxist-Socialists.[6] The faction farthest to the left formed a small independent party, the Workers and Farmers Party, and espoused Maoism from 1948 to 1957.

Former SDPJ Head Office, Nagatacho

The two socialist parties were merged in 1955, reunifying and recreating the Social Democratic Party of Japan. The new party joined the Socialist International that year.[7]

The new opposition party had its own factions, although organised according to left-right ideological beliefs rather than what it called the "feudal personalism" of the conservative parties. In the House of Representatives election of 1958, the Japan Socialist Party gained 32.9 percent of the popular vote and 166 out of 467 seats. This was enough result to block the attempt of constitutional amendment by the Kishi Nobusuke-led government.

However, the party was again split in 1960 because of internal conflicts and the murder of Inejiro Asanuma, and the breakaway group (a part of the old Right Socialist Party of Japan, their most moderate faction) created the Democratic Socialist Party, though the Japan Socialist Party was preserved. After that, the JSPs percentage of the popular vote and number of seats gradually declined. The party performed well on a local level, however: by the Seventies, many areas were run by SDPJ mayors and governors (including those who were endorsed by the SDPJ), who introduced innovative and popular new social programmes.[8][9][10][11][12][13][14][15][16]

Logo of the JSP from the 1960s to 1996.


In the double election of July 1986 for both Diet houses, the party suffered a rout by the LDP under Yasuhiro Nakasone: its seats in the lower house fell from 112 to an all-time low of eighty-five and its share of the vote from 19.5 percent to 17.2 percent. But its popular chairwoman, Takako Doi, led it to an impressive showing in the February 1990 general election: 136 seats and 24.4 percent of the vote. Some electoral districts had more than one successful socialist candidate. Doi's decision to put up more than one candidate for each of the 130 districts represented a controversial break with the past because, unlike their LDP counterparts, many Japan Socialist Party candidates did not want to run against each other. But the great majority of the 149 socialist candidates who ran were successful, including seven of eight women.

Doi, a university professor of constitutional law before entering politics, had a tough, straight-talking manner that appealed to voters tired of the evasiveness of other politicians. Many women found her a refreshing alternative to submissive female stereotypes, and in the late 1980s the public at large, in opinion polls, voted her their favorite politician (the runner-up in these surveys was equally tough-talking conservative LDP member Shintarō Ishihara). Doi's popularity, however, was of limited aid to the party. The powerful Shakaishugi Kyokai (Japan Socialist Association), which was supported by a hard-core contingent of the party's 76,000-strong membership, remained committed to doctrinaire Marxism, impeding Doi's efforts to promote what she called perestroika and a more moderate program with greater voter appeal.

In 1983 Doi's predecessor as chairman, Masashi Ishibashi, began the delicate process of moving the party away from its strong opposition to the Self-Defense Forces. While maintaining that these forces were unconstitutional in light of Article 9, he claimed that, because they had been established through legal procedures, they had a "legitimate" status (this phrasing was changed a year later to say that the Self-Defense Forces "exist legally"). Ishibashi also broke past precedent by visiting Washington to talk with United States political leaders.

By the end of the decade, the party had accepted the Self-Defense Forces and the 1960 Japan-United States Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security. It advocated strict limitations on military spending (no more than 1 percent of GNP annually), a suspension of joint military exercises with United States forces, and a reaffirmation of the "three nonnuclear principles" (no production, possession, or introduction of nuclear weapons into Japanese territory). Doi expressed support for "balanced ties" with the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (North Korea) and the Republic of Korea (South Korea). In the past, the Japan Socialist Party had favored the Kim Il-sung regime in Pyongyang, and in the early 1990s it still refused to recognize the 1965 normalization of relations between Tokyo and Seoul. In domestic policy, the party demanded the continued protection of agriculture and small business in the face of foreign pressure, abolition of the consumption tax, and an end to the construction and use of nuclear power reactors. As a symbolic gesture to reflect its new moderation, at its April 1990 convention the party dropped its commitment to "socialist revolution" and described its goal as "social democracy":[17] the creation of a society in which "all people fairly enjoy the fruits of technological advancement and modern civilization and receive the benefits of social welfare." Delegates also voted Doi a third term as party chairwoman.

Because of the party's self-definition as a class-based party and its symbiotic relationship with the General Council of Trade Unions of Japan (Sōhyō), the public-sector workers' confederation, few efforts were made to attract non-union constituencies. Although some Sōhyō unions supported the Japan Communist Party, the Japan Socialist Party remained the representative of Sohyo's political interests until the merger with private-sector unions and the Japanese Trade Union Confederation (Rengō) in 1989. Because of declining union financial support during the 1980s, some Japan Socialist Party Diet members turned to dubious fund-raising methods. One was involved in the Recruit affair. The Japan Socialist Party, like others, sold large blocks of fund-raising party tickets, and the LDP even gave individual Japan Socialist Party Diet members funds from time to time to persuade them to cooperate in passing difficult legislation.


The JSP acquired seventy seats (down from 137) in the July 1993 House of Representatives election, while the LDP lost its majority in the lower house for the first time since the 1983 general election and was out of government for the first time in 38 years. The anti-LDP coalition government of Morihiro Hosokawa was formed by reformists who had triggered the 1993 election by leaving the LDP (Japan Renewal Party, New Party Sakigake), a liberal party formed only a year before (Japan New Party), the traditional centre-left opposition (Kōmeitō, Democratic Socialist Party, Social Democratic Federation) and the Democratic Reform Party, the political arm of the Rengō trade union federation, together with the JSP. In 1994, however, the JSP and the New Sakigake Party decided to leave the non-LDP coalition. The minority Hata cabinet lasted only a few weeks. The JSP then formed a "Grand Coalition" (dai-renritsu) government with the LDP (and the New Party Sakigake) under Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama, leader of the party from 1993 to 1996. Most of the other parties from the anti-LDP coalition forced back into opposition, united to form the New Frontier Party, overtaking the JSP as second largest political party in Japan. In the 1995 election, the JSP lost the election.

In January 1996, the New Socialist Party split off, Murayama resigned as Prime Minister, and the JSP changed its name from the Japan Socialist Party to the Social Democratic Party (SDP) as an interim party for forming a new party. However, a movement for transforming the SDP into a new "social-democratic and liberal" party was unsuccessful. Under Murayama's successor Ryūtarō Hashimoto (LDP), the SDP remained part of the ruling coalition. Long before the disappointing result in the 1996 election, the party lost the majority of its members of the House of Representatives, mainly to predecessors of the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) that was formed in 1996, but also some to the NFP and other opposition parties. After its electoral defeat in the 1996 general election when it lost another 15 of its remaining 30 seats in the lower house, the SDP left the ruling coalition which it had entered as the second largest force in Japanese politics as a minor party.

Recent events

The Social Democratic Party won six seats in the general election of 9 November 2003, compared with 18 seats in the previous elections of 2000. Its motives against the Self-Defense Forces have reverted into abolishing it in the long term, returning into its opposition against the force it had applied in the 1950s.

Doi had been the leader since 1996, but she resigned in 2003, taking responsibility for the election losses. Mizuho Fukushima was elected as the new party leader in November 2003. In the Upper House Elections of 2004, SDP won only two seats, thus having five seats in the Japanese Upper House and six seats in the Lower House. In 2006 the party unexpectedly gained the governorship of the Shiga Prefecture. Minshuto made large gains and the SDP maintained its base of 7 seats in the 2009 elections, becoming a junior partner in a new left government coalition. However, in May 2010 disagreements over the issue of the Futenma US base led to the sacking of Fukushima from the cabinet on Friday 28 May, and the SDP subsequently voted to leave the ruling coalition.[18]

As of October 2010, the SDP had six members in the house of representatives[19] and four members in the house of councilors.[20]

Following the 2012 general election the party retained only six seats in the whole of the Diet, two in the house of representatives and four in the House of Councillors. In 2013 the count lowered to five seats.

In 2013 the party's headquarters in Nagatacho, where the party's predecessor the Japanese Socialist Party had moved in 1964, were demolished. The headquarters moved to a smaller office in Nagatacho.[21]

During the nomination period of the July 2016 House of Councillors election, the party signed an agreement with the Democratic, Communist and People's Life parties to field a jointly-endorsed candidate in each of the 32 districts in which only one seat is contested, thereby uniting in an attempt to take control of the House from the LDP/Komeito coalition.[22] The party has two Councillors up for re-election, and is fielding a total of 11 candidates in the election, 4 in single- and multi-member districts and 7 in the 48-seat national proportional representation block.[23]

Current policies

(For all policies not cited below)[1][2]


No. Name Term of office
Took Office Left Office
Chair of the Social Democratic Party of Japan
1 Tetsu Katayama 28 September 1946 16 January 1950
Chair of the Social Democratic Party of Japan (Rightist)
Jōtarō Kawakami 19 January 1951 12 October 1955
Chair of the Japanese Socialist Party (Leftist)
Suzuki Mosaburō 18 January 1951 12 October 1955
Chair of the Social Democratic Party of Japan (Unified)
2 Suzuki Mosaburō 12 October 1955 23 March 1960
3 Inejiro Asanuma 23 March 1960 12 October 1960 (assassinated)
4 Jōtarō Kawakami 6 March 1961 6 May 1965
5 Kouzou Sasaki 6 May 1965 19 August 1965
6 Seiichi Katsumata 19 August 1965 4 October 1968
7 Tomomi Narita 30 November 1968 26 September 1977
8 Ichio Asukata 13 December 1977 7 September 1983
9 Masashi Ishibashi 7 September 1983 8 September 1986
10 Takako Doi 9 September 1986 31 July 1991
11 Makoto Tanabe 31 July 1991 19 January 1993
12 Sadao Yamahana 19 January 1993 25 September 1993
13 Tomiichi Murayama 25 September 1993 19 January 1996
Chair of the Social Democratic Party
14 Tomiichi Murayama 19 January 1996 28 September 1996
15 Takako Doi 28 September 1996 15 November 2003
16 Mizuho Fukushima 15 November 2003 25 July 2013
17 Tadatomo Yoshida 14 October 2013 present

See also


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 "OfficialWebO". Retrieved 12 July 2015.
  2. 1 2 "社民党OfficialWeb┃政策(時系列)". Retrieved 12 July 2015.
  3. 1 2 "社民党OfficialWeb┃議員". Retrieved 12 July 2015.
  4. "社会黨 憲法改正要綱". Retrieved 12 July 2015.
  5. Allied Occupation of Japan. Retrieved 12 July 2015.
  6. Socialist parties in postwar Japan, by Allan B. Cole, George O. Totten [and] Cecil H. Uyehara, New Haven : Yale University Press, 1966.
  7. James C. Docherty; Peter Lamb (2 October 2006). Historical Dictionary of Socialism. Scarecrow Press. pp. 186–. ISBN 978-0-8108-6477-1. Retrieved 29 January 2013.
  8. Contemporary Japan by Duncan McCargo
  10. Cities, Autonomy, and Decentralization in Japan. Retrieved 12 July 2015.
  11. Dictionary of the Modern Politics of Japan. Retrieved 12 July 2015.
  12. Local Government Development in Post-war Japan. Retrieved 12 July 2015.
  13. Routledge Handbook of Japanese Politics. Retrieved 12 July 2015.
  14. "FEATURE: Seeds planted by 'progressive' governments still sprouting in Japan.". Retrieved 12 July 2015.
  16. The Pursuit of Power in Modern Japan 1825-1995. Retrieved 12 July 2015.
  17. Ian Neary (12 October 2012). War, Revolution and Japan. Taylor & Francis. pp. 141–. ISBN 978-1-873410-08-0. Retrieved 29 January 2013.
  18. BBC News Socialists leave Japan coalition over Okinawa issue
  19. House of Representatives website Strength of Political Groups in the House of Representatives
  20. House of Councilors website List of the members
  21. Japan Times Japan’s Social Democratic Party moving HQ out of historic Tokyo building January 27, 2013
  22. "Opposition parties, activists ink policy pact for Upper House election". Japan Times. 7 June 2016. Retrieved 23 June 2016.
  23. "第3極衰退で候補者減、タレント候補10人に" [Fewer candidates with the demise of the third pole - 10 celebrity candidates] (in Japanese). Yomiuri Shimbun. 23 June 2016. Retrieved 23 June 2016.
  24. Inada, Miho; Dvorak, Phred. "Same-Sex Marriage in Japan: A Long Way Away?". The Wall Street Journal. September 20, 2013. Retrieved March 31, 2014.


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